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Edmund Sylvester and Levi Smith stake a claim on the future site of Olympia in October 1846.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5088 : Printer-Friendly Format

In October 1846, Edmund Sylvester and Levi Lathrop Smith stake a joint claim to 320 acres on Budd Inlet at what will become Olympia. Smith choses a two-acre clearing to build a 16-foot-square log cabin. The Squaxon tribe maintained a winter settlement there that they called "Cheet-woot" or bear (at high tide, the shoreline resembled a bear). Smith names the property Smithfield. Sylvester settles on Chambers Prairie.

Smith was elected to the Oregon Territorial in 1848, but fell out of a canoe and drowned enroute to his first session. As Smith's partner, Edmund Sylvester assumed ownership. He moved into Smith's cabin in what will become Capitol Way between State and Olympia Avenues.

In 1850, Smithfield was dedicated as a town. Whidbey Island settler Isaac Ebey (1818-1857) attended the ceremony and offered lines from a poem that included:

"Olympia's gods might view with grace
Nor scorn so fair a dwelling place" (Newell, 7).

Sylvester called his town Olympia.

Gordon R. Newell, So Fair A Dwelling Place: A History of Olympia and Thurston County, Washington (Olympia: The Olympia News Publishing Co., 1950), 2-7; J.C. Rathbun, History of Thurston Co., Washington, (Olympia: 1895) 9.

Travel through time (chronological order):
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Edmund Sylvester, n.d.
Courtesy Washington State Library

Early Olympia settlers (l-r) Isaac Ebey, Winlock Miller, Alonzo M. Poe, 1850s
Courtesy Washington State Digital Archives (Image No. AR-07809001-ph004223)

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