Tumwater incorporates on November 25, 1869.

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 7/20/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22518
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On November 25, 1869, Tumwater in Thurston County is officially incorporated when the Washington Territorial Legislature completes passage of an act providing for its incorporation as a town. Originally known as New Market, Tumwater is located along Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River just south of Olympia, the territorial (and later state) capital. Residents will elect a five-member Board of Trustees to govern the new town on December 6, 1869.

An Early Settlement

The area that would become Tumwater was the site of the first American settlement on Puget Sound. In 1845, George Bush (1790?-1863) and Michael T. Simmons (1814-1867) led the first wagon-train party from the United States to settle north of the Columbia River, staking claims along the lower Deschutes River where it empties into Budd Inlet at the southern end of Puget Sound. Simmons named the settlement New Market. The town's name was changed to Tumwater when a post office opened there in 1863.

Clanrick (1814-1879) and Phoebe Louise Crosby (1843-1925) platted the town of Tumwater on October 14, 1869. By then, residents considered that it was time to incorporate a local municipal government. Growth was continuing, with businesses that included sawmills, flouring mills, sash and door factories, a tannery, the post office, school, and church, and various stores.

Incorporated by the Territorial Legislature

On November 19, 1869, House Bill No. 102, an act to incorporate the town of Tumwater, was presented to the Washington Territorial Legislature. The House of Representatives passed the legislation on November 22. Three days later on November 25, 1869, the Council, as the upper house of the territorial legislature was known, passed the act, which according to its provisions took effect on its date of passage, officially incorporating Tumwater as a town.

As provided in the act, the first town election was held on Monday, December 6, 1869, with residents gathering to cast their votes at the newly built Lee & Biles Hall. The law called for the election to be managed by James Biles (1812-1888) as inspector and Clanrick Crosby and S. N. Cooper as judges. The voters elected the first five-member Board of Trustees, choosing Hugh Connell, Clanrick Crosby, Nelson Barnes (1798-1886), S. N. Cooper, and Anton Kuhn.

After the trustees were elected, they selected the first officers of the town. Nelson Barnes was chosen to be President of the Board of Trustees, Samuel C. Ward (1830-1902) was named Clerk and Treasurer, Clanrick Crosby became Committing Magistrate, and George Wiley Biles (1839-1911) was named Marshal.

Nelson Barnes, Tumwater's first executive official (the president of the board of trustees was equivalent to a town mayor), was born in Vermont on December 19, 1798. He married Anne Barnes (1801-1878) in 1820 and they arrived in New Market (Tumwater) sometime after its first settlement in 1845. The couple had six children -- George Anson, Nelson, Dudley R., Lucy A., Charlotte, and Mary. Nelson Barnes owned the Tumwater Sawmill, served as a bridge commissioner, and assisted in building the Methodist Church.

On December 15, 1869, the new city's first official meeting was held with the newly elected officers. Connell and Biles were appointed to develop and submit a plan for building sidewalks and Ward was authorized to purchase books and stationery as needed.

In the century and a half since its incorporation, Tumwater transitioned from an early industrial site relying on the water power from the falls of the Deschutes River to a more diversified economy, attracting some new industries, including beer brewing, and thanks to its location adjoining Olympia, the state capital, becoming home to many state offices. Tumwater in the twenty-first century offers features that bring new residents, including some from major metropolitan areas ready to escape the big city. By the 2020s Tumwater's population surpassed 26,000.

On November 25, 2019, exactly 150 years after its incorporation took effect, Tumwater marked its 150th anniversary with a Sesquicentennial Celebration focusing on its history.


"An Act to Incorporate the Town of Tumwater," in Statutes of the Territory of Washington ... 1869 (Olympia: James Rodgers, Printer, 1869), 481-84; "Map of C. Crosby's Donation Claim," Washington State Archives website accessed June 1, 2022 (https://digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/156BB6FE1D53E829F776565D638914CA); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Tumwater -- Thumbnail History" (by Linda Holden Givens), "Thurston County -- Thumbnail History" (by Phil Dougherty), http://www.historylink.org (accessed July 20, 2022); Sarah Dana, email to Linda Holden Givens, May 12, 2022, in possession of Linda Holden Givens, Auburn, Washington; Benjamin Helle, email to Linda Holden Givens, June 10, 14, 17, 2022, in possession of Linda Holden Givens.

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