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Exploring The Back Roads Of Washington State: Scenic, Historic Steilacoom

Updated on January 27, 2014

On the Way to Nowhere

If it is history you want then it is history you will get in Steilacoom, Washington. Tucked along the coastline of Puget Sound, the town itself is amazingly secluded considering it is ten minutes from the busy and always hectic I-5 corridor.

Steilacoom was incorporated in 1854 and founded by a sea captain from Maine, one Lafayette Balch. It is the oldest incorporated town in Washington State and has four buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the quintessential sleepy bedroom community, out of sight, out of mind, and a prettier town you will not find in the Evergreen State.

At one time prosperity gently kissed this town as it was a busy center of lumber manufacturing and export to San Francisco. In fact, it was the leading candidate for quite some time to become the territorial capital before Washington became a state, but narrowly lost its bid when the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Tacoma for its west coast terminus in 1873.

Today it is simply a place to live a quiet life, away from the madness of Tacoma five miles to the north.

A trip to the past
A trip to the past | Source

Just the Facts

Steilacoom has a population of 6,070 and is located in Pierce Country. It is literally ten minutes to all the convenience you could ever ask for, but within the town limits you are comfortably ensconced in a time warp.

It has a per capita income that ranks it 61st of 522 areas in the state, it has a total land mass of 2.07 square miles, and it has breathtaking views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains to the west. The first jail in Washington was in this town as well as the first sawmill, and it has the oldest Catholic Church in the state.

All of those are just facts, though; what Steilacoom has in spades is charm.

World class golf
World class golf | Source

Things to Do

This is not a tourist trap. If you choose to spend a few days in a B&B in Steilacoom then you are choosing for rest and relaxation. You can of course walk the beach. You can of course rent a kayak and enjoy the waters of the Puget Sound.

If you enjoy golf then the world famous Chambers Bay Golf Course, site of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament, is five minutes down the road. If it is shopping and entertainment you crave, then the city of Tacoma is close by.

Bring a camera and bring an attitude of gratitude, for you are surrounded by beauty and serenity when you visit Steilacoom.

The view from Main Street
The view from Main Street | Source
History surrounds you in Steailacoom
History surrounds you in Steailacoom | Source
Bed and breakfast, anyone?
Bed and breakfast, anyone? | Source

My Favorite Reason to Visit Steilacoom

Having grown up in Tacoma, this writer is quite familiar with Steilacoom. In fact, Chambers Bay Golf Course is built on the site of the old Pioneer Sand & Gravel Company where my father worked for twenty years. As a child I would fish off the pier at Pioneer, and many a summer’s day my friends and I would drive to Steilacoom as teens and look for teenage girls on the beach.

My favorite reason to visit Steilacoom? History, folks, history!

I love Steilacoom for the history it provides. This is like stepping back in time, a simpler place and time where people greeted each other on the streets and life slowed up just enough to make it all palatable.

I love the preservation of history. I believe there is a great deal we can learn from the past if we are teachable, and I believe our heritage is vitally important.

In Steilacoom I find that history. In Steilacoom I find people who seem genuinely happy that I am visiting their town. In Steilacoom I can connect with my own history, rub shoulders with my own ancestors, and embrace a simpler lifestyle if only for a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Sit on the park bench and gaze across the Puget Sound at the Olympic Mountains, snow-capped and inviting. Watch the gulls swoop in for their next meal. Listen to the little children as they giggle and frolic on the beach, searching for their next great treasure. If you listen very closely, and squint just right, you will see the settlers as they come to town for their provisions. You will see Chief Tail-a-Koom standing among his tribe, trading goods with the whites and preparing for the fishing expedition that will feed his people all winter long. You will see the massive Douglas Firs being prepared as finished lumber, heading for construction sites across this great, young country. The trappers and the traders, the homesteaders and the mercantilists, all will come into view if your mind is accepting and your heart is willing to learn.

steilacoom, wa:
Steilacoom, WA, USA

get directions

Steilacoom Is Waiting for You

Yes, there are 6,070 permanent residents in Steilacoom, and they will be very happy to greet you should you decide to visit their quaint town. They are quite easy to find. Their town is on all the maps and easily accessible to the I-5 corridor, so getting there will be no problem.

You can pack for the trip but seriously, why bother? Everything you need for this journey is already inside of you. Just bring a willingness to relax. Just bring a desire to learn from the past. Just bring the present, and join with the past, and the heritage will continue to march forward.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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