Bigelow House Museum
The oldest residence in Olympia Washington, and one of the old still standing in the Pacific Northwest this small house museum is dedicated to preserving the traditions and history of the Washington territory. The home was originally built in 1854 for Daniel Bigelow and his wife Ann Elizabeth it still retains many of its original furnishings. Daniel Bigelow was one of the first members of the fledgling legislature in the region and he and his wife were strong advocates for public education. Today the house is operated by the Olympia Historical Society and is open to the public.
Backstory and Context
Daniel R. Bigelow was born in 1824 in Belleville, New York. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1849 and began his move west. In 1851 he joined a wagon train headed out on the Oregon Trail. He sailed from Portland to Smithfield, which would eventually become Olympia, on the schooner Exact. He began laying down roots in Smithfield, opening a law office in 1851, and acquired a 350 acre tract of farm land.
Daniel Bigelow, Legislator
He rose to prominence in the politics of the Pacific Northwest. in 1852 he was elected treasurer of the newly created Thurston County, and in 1853 he and two other commissioners rewrote the laws of the Oregon territory. Bigelow was also instrumental in resolving the George Bush affair.
George Bush was a free black man, born to a black English sailor and a white woman. He arrived in Puget Sound in 1845 after fleeing from the racial bigotry of pre-Civil War Missouri. Bush had a prosperous farm and was a popular member of the community. However, there was a movement to fight his claim to the land, using an Oregon territory law which forbade the ownership of land by those of African descent. Daniel Bigelow was one of the strongest defenders of Bush. In the first legislature of the newly formed Washington Territory Bigelow represented Thurston county and presented a petition to support Bush’s claim. The 1854 legislature approved the act, as did Congress.
In 1854 Bigelow married Ann Elizabeth White, the local school teacher. They initially lived in a small cabin on Daniel’s property, but shortly later that same year the two-story house which still stands today was constructed. The couple had eight children, and their descendants lived in the original house until 2005.
The Bigelow HouseThe house itself has some very interesting architectural features. Made in a Gothic Revival style it maintains much of its original structural components and gingerbreading. It is laid out in a cross pattern, the arms running parallel to Glass Street. Its foundation is one of the most unique features of the house. Rather than stone, the house rests on a “raft” of cedar logs. Surprisingly this simple foundation has shown very little deterioration, despite its age of over 150 years. The house itself is fairly large compared to those around it, with 15’ by 15 ½’ rooms, and ver 10’ ceilings. In addition to maintaining much of the original building, the interior furnishings are largely original, having been lovingly preserved by the descendants of Daniel Bigelow who lived in the house until 2005 when it was handed over to the Historical Society. In addition to the furnishings, the house has Daniel Bigelow’s journal, which he kept from 1848 to 1854, when he ran out of paper. This journal covers everything from presidential elections to the trials of the Oregon Trail.