Olympia and Thurston County, WA History

Thurston County Place Names
Submitted by Roger Easton: WaResearcher@hotmail.com || Roger's Homepage

Much of the information regarding the location and brief history of  communities and origins of their names is from Thurston County Place Names: A Heritage Guide, published November 1992 by the Thurston County Historic Commission. The book, which also includes photos and origins of names of  land forms, streets, and other names found throughout Thurston County, can be obtained from:

Thurston County Historic Commission
c/o Shanna Stevenson
2404 B Heritage Court
Olympia, WA 98502-6031
360.786.5480. stevens@co.thurston.wa.us

Note: All locations listed below are in the Willamette Meridian.

About six miles southwest of Tumwater (Secs. 5&7, T17N, R2W) Belmore was established in 1895, when a post office was built. It was located on the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks.
This townsite in western Thurston County (Sec. 5, T16N, R3W) was named for Thomas and Joseph Bordeaux, who arrived in the Black Hills in 1887. They started a large sawmill, the Mumby Lumber and Shingle Company, which was the “magnet” which drew people, and the community of Bordeaux began.  The town was abandoned by 1941 when the timber ran out. By that time, there were many residences, and even a sizeable hotel.  Now, there is little evidence a town was even there.

Boston Harbor

Located in northeast Thurston County was named and platted 19 1907, by C. B. Hillman,a Seattle real estate developer. He believed that its site (Secs. 11&14, T19N, R2W) on Puget Sound promised an excellent place for industrial development, easily reached by the“mosquito fleet” of steamships. (See Harriman City)
Incorporated in 1910, the town was founded by Aaron Webster in 1854. He used the water from the Skookumchuck River to operate a sawmill in 1857. Oliver Shead purchased Webster’s farm, then named the community “Seatco”, an Indian word for “Ghost” or “Devil”. After coal was discovered, many mines were developed. In 1878 the Washington Territorial Prison was established there [Roger Easton has a copy of the original register admitting prisoners - Valuable Genealogical Information]. In 1890 the Washington Legislature changed the name to Bucoda. The name arose by using the first two letters of the town’s most important miners -- James M. BUckley, Samuel COulter,and John B. DAvid. Its location is (Sec.12, T15N, R2W).

Butler Cove

On the west shore of Budd Inlet in Puget Sound (Sec. 4, T18N, R2W), Butler Cove was named for John L. Butler, who had a DLC of 640 acres in the upland area of the cove. He was born in Boston in 1827, and came to Puget Sound in 1850. During the 1920s the area was developed in conjunction with the Olympia Golf & Country Club as a residential district.
Coal Bank (See Tenino)

Coinmo (McIntosh)

Located 4.5 miles east of Tenino on the Tenino-Rainier Road (Sec. 23, T16N, R1W) established a post office in 1888. It was later renamed “McIntosh”. A mill town, its mill operated to the 1920’s. In 1889, the Northern Pacific Railroad built a station there, and named it for a resident there.
Situated west of Olympia, near Capitol Forest (Sec.11, T17N, R3W). Early resident, Dolcey Brown named gave its name, which means “place of the Gods”. The post office operated until 1892. The Mud Bay Logging Company had extensive logging operations in the Delphi area until about 1919.

East Olympia

In the center of Thurston County (Sec.17, T17N, R1W), this community was the closest railroad stop for Olympiaon the Northern Pacific line.

Fir Tree

Just south of Chamber’s Prairie (Sec.15, T17N, R1W), the community was named for the Fir Tree Lumber Company, which operated in the Rainier area about 1910.

Fort Eaton

Built on Eaton Prairie during the Indian War of 1855-56 (Sec 6, T17N, R1E), Fort Eaton consisted of 16 log buildings constructed in a square. Nathaniel Eaton owned the land on which it was built. The site is now marked with a plaque and the original large oak tree still stands above it.

Fort Henness

Built in 1856 on Mound Prairie (Sec. 6, T17N, R1E), Fort Henness had a large stockade with buildings named for Benjamin and Lucretia Henness, who arrived in the Territory in 1850. Henness served as a Captain in the Washington Territorial Volunteers during the 1855-56 Indian War. A Plaque and markings showing the placement of buildings exists today.


Nine miles east of Olympia (Sec.1, T17N, border R1E, R1W), Freedom was founded in the 1850’s. In 1854, a log school house was built on the edge of the Marcus McMillan homestead, and named the “Freedom District”.


The town of Gate (City) was founded in 1881 in southwest Thurston County (Sec.26, T16N, R4W). When the railroad extended through the area, it was considered the “Gateway to the Coast”, and was considered a main junction of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  The townsite was platted by developer Sam Woodruff, an Olympia businessman, in 1890. Thriving as a railroad center and mill town at that time.

Grand Mound

Located 25 miles south of Olympia (Sec. 12, T15N, R3W), the town was named for a hillock that rises 125 feet (possibly a glacial drumlin). The name was suggested in 1853 by Leonard Durgin, the first owner, who built a home on top of it.  He was a member of the Territorial Legislature, and even suggested that the mound be the site of the Territorial Capitol. The present unincorporated town is at the junction of Interstate 5 and State Highway 12. It supported its own post office from 1854-55.

Harriman City

Only a city on paper, it was to be located where Boston Harbor is now. In 1904, P. P. Carroll of Seattle announced that “Harriman City” was to be founded at Boston Harbor (meaning the harbor) east of Dofflemeyer Point. It was to be named for the President of the Southern Pacific Railway, who he announced would extend his line to that point.  Carrol had no ownership of any of the land near there, and nothing became of his project.

Helsing Junction

Located in the southwest corner of the county (Sec6, T15N, R4W), Helsing Junction was named by the Northern Pacific Railroad. A group of settlers from Finland preferred the name Helsingfors in honor of the capital of their native land (“Helsinki” in Finland; “Helsingfors” in Swedish.)  Its post office was named “Helsing”.

Hodgden’s (See Tenino)

Stephen Hodgden was an early settler on the overland route between Monticello and Olympia.  His home served as a stage stop, known as Hodgdens’s Station.


An early post office located southeast of Bucoda (Sec. 20, T15N, R1W), was named for the Hurn family, early settlers on the Lewis-Thurston County border. Mary Ann Hurn served as postmistress of the post office. It served the workers of the Washington Union Coal Company mine. The mine was in Lewis County, the headquarters in Thurston County. Later the post office was given the name “Tono” (See Tono)


On Chamber’s Prairie (Sec. 31, T17N, R1E), the name “Ilkumeen” designated the post office, as well as a region on the prairie.  In 1858, Nathan Eaton (See Fort Eaton) established a post office, which operated until 1860. The exact site is unknown at present, but was possibly on Eaton’s property, or at Tenalquot (also called “Tanalquot”) where a later post office was established in 1870.


Three miles south of Rochester (Sec. 14, T15N, R4W), Rochester is situated on the Thurston County-Grays Harbor County boundaries. The name was chosen about 1878 for the post office, whose postmaster was Ebenezer B. Couch. It operated from 1878 to1890.
A colony was established in southwest Thurston County (Sec 12, T15N, R3W) by Samuel and Ann Maria James, from Cornwall, England. It extended two miles west of “the Grand Mound” along what is now “James Road”.  There was a school house serving the community. Several descendants still live at the site.
Situated on the Northern Pacific line (Sec 36, T18N, R1W), its name was coined by the railroad officials at J. D. McIntyre’s request. He was president of Planter’s Nursery Company in Seattle. At this time the name’s origin has not been discovered.


This city, located three miles east of Olympia (Sec.21, T18N, R1W), Lacey was incorporated in 1966. Originally named “Woodland” for Isaac and Catherine Wood, for their DLC filed in 1853, the name needed to be changed as there was another Woodland in southern Washington, on the same railroad line.  O. C. deLacey, an attorney and land developer wishing to develop the community, filed to have the name changed to “Lacey”.  The town was distinguished as the best horse racing site on the west coast.  It is now the second largest city in the county.


A community in southeastern Thurston County (Sec.25, T16N, Between R2E & R3E), it is located a few miles south of the Nisqually River. In 1916 the Lackamas School District was consolidated here, and a school building (which has been fully restored) was built.  The name “Lackamas” comes from camas, a favorite edible root of the Indians.

Little Rock (Viora)

Nineteen miles southwest of Olympia in southwestern Thurston County (Sec.2, T16N, R3W), the town was named by a Mr. Shumach, a local resident, for a stone which he stated “is shaped by nature for a perfect mounting stone” The stone still rests along the Little Rock-Rochester road just south of the town.  The proposed name for the town was “Viora”, which was composed from the names of some of the early settlers. V from Vincent; a family who came in 1889; O from theYoung family, Rutledge, still a prominent family in the area; and A from the Marcy family. Other early pioneers seemed to be left out (Shotwell, Quinn, and Dodge families).


On the south shore of McIntosh (Clear) Lake, 4 1/2 miles east of Tenino (Sec.23, T16N, R1W), this site was earlier named “Coinmo” (See Coinmo).


This community located just west of Olympia (Secs. 23&24, T18N, R3W) was named for William McLane, who arrived in the area in 1852.  He and his wife, Martha (McLeod) took up a claim on 307 acres at Mud Bay.  He was active in local and state politics, serving two terms in the Territorial Legislature, 1872 and 1876.
Nine miles northeast of Rochester (Sec.4, T16N, R2W), Maytown was founded by the Taylor Lumber and Shingle Company. Isaac Noc named the town for his hometown in Kentucky.  Others say the name came from a remark by Joseph Shelley, who planted the town in 1910, "Well, it may become a town, and it may not, so I’ll call it “Maytown."
The community of Mima (Sec.16, T16N, R3W) is 10 miles west of Tenino, and three miles southwest of Little Rock. It was a stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad. It is thought that the name is an Indian word meaning “a little further along” (Meany).  The first post office was called “Mima Prairie”, and was established in 1893, closing in 1898, when the mail went to Gate.

New Market

This was the original name for Tumwater. Michael T. Simmons, founder of the community on the Deschutes River named it New Market, as he saw it as the site of the first businesses on Puget Sound.  He built a mill there at New Market Falls (Tumwater Falls). (See Tumwater)

Nisqually (Sherlock)

The name comes from the Nisqually Indians, who live throughout this region. Earlier spellings were Nasqually, Naskwalli, N’skwali, Nesqually, Nisqualli, Askwalli, Sqally-o-bish, Squalliamish, Si-qwal-ichie, and Qualliamish. “Squallli” was the name given to prairie grass bordering the Nisqually River. Nisquallys are the “people of the grass country”. There are various other meanings. The Thurston County post office was originally established with the name Sherlock. It is located at Sec.8, T18N, R1E. (See Sherlock)


(Sec.33, T17N, R1W)  Located five miles north of Tenino, it was named for the Offut brothers that had a pioneer land claim nearby. James Warren Offutt and Levi Hart Offut came to this region in 1853 from Ohio.  A post office was established there in 1913, but closed in 1918. The area is a resort community situated on Offut Lake.

Old Port

Old Port is situated on the shore of Budd Inlet, south of Butler Cove (Sec.33, T19N, R2W). It was developed by Olympia businessman, Millard Lemon, and takes its name from the landing on the west shore of Budd Inlet, previously known as “Brown’s Wharf”.  It was a port site for larger ships, that may have difficulty navigating the shallower depths  nearer Olympia.


The capital city of Washington State, and largest city in Thurston County, Olympia is located at the southern end of Budd Inlet (T18N, R2W). Platted in 1850 by Edmund Sylvester, it received its name at the suggestion of Colonel I. N. Ebey. He thought the snowcapped Olympic mountains easily seen from Olympia harbor was an apt reminder of the Mountains of the Gods, and Olympia was an important early city in Greece, home of the Gods. Olympia had several other names. Indians called it Schict-woot or Cheet-woot, meaning “place of the bear, Smithter (from the combination of early partners Smith and Sylvester, Smithfield, and Marshville. There are various other Indian reference to the area.  (See Thurston County Place Names: A Heritage Guide.)

Plumb Station

Elihu Plumb established a post office on the Port Townsend and Southern Railway line six miles  north of Tenino (Sec.30, T17N, R1W). The railway served as a link between Olympia and Tenino, where it joined the Northern Pacific line. The post office was in operation between 1879 and 1885.

Puget City

Also called “Puget”, this community was situated on the west side of the Nisqually Delta at Hogum Bay. It was platted in 1873 by T. I. McKenny and George Barnes, Olympia businessmen. It prospered until 1893, when a great recession halted development throughout the region.  The post office began operations in 1890, but closed in 1893.  Later in 1904, another attempt was made to open a post office, which ran until 1928.  Though elaborately platted, the city did not grow to expectations.


A former saw mill town on Tenalquot prairie, 12 miles southeast of Olympia (Sec.9, T16N, R1E), Rainier was named in 1884. Northern Pacific Railway officials, noting the clear visibility of Mt. Rainier from this point, named the town for it.  In 1890, Albert and Maria Gherke had a homestead there, and a post office was established the same year. The town was platted in 1891 by George Ellsbury of New York. The Bob White Lumber Mill opened in 1906, making Rainier a prosperous city. Later Lindstrom and Handforth Lumber, and later DesChutes Lumber Companies located there. Still later, Fir Tree Lumber Company and Gruber & Docherty began operations. Both the Milwaukee and Northern Pacific Railroads served the town.  Many of the mills and town buildings were destroyed by fires in the 1920s.


Rignall is located on Eld Inlet one mile south of Hunter Point (Sec.3, T19N, R2W). A post office was installed here in 1920, but was relocated in Olympia in 1927. It is believed it is named for an early resident.


A railroad junction and trade center, Rochester is located southwest of Olympia on the edge of Baker’s Prairie (Sec.32, T16N, R3W). Platted in 1890 by Gaily Fleming of Centralia, she named it after her home town of Rochester, Indiana.  In early days the town had a hotel, large store, and three sawmills. The name was reestablished in 1904 by John L. Nye, who wanted to honor his home town in Rochester, England.

Saint Clair

Located in east central Thurston County, Saint Clair is a station on the Northern Pacific Line. It was one of several stations located between 1912 and 1914 on the line between Tacoma and Tenino. It is situated near Lake St. Clair

Seatco (See Bucoda)

Sheldon’s Station

Another of the stations located on the Olympia-Tenino Railway. A family living near there owned “Sheldon’s Cabins” an auto camp on Highway 99, just north of the Rich Road Intersection.

Sherlock (See Nisqually)

The area is about 2 1/2 miles south of  Nisqually (Sec.8, T18N, R1E), and was a Northern Pacific Railroad stop.

Smithfield (See Olympia)

South Bay

A community at the extreme southern end of Henderson Inlet (Secs. 28&29, T19N, R1W), South Bay  had its own post office and school district. It is now part of the North Thurston School District, and a suburb to the north of Olympia.

Spurlock Station

A station on the Olympia-Tenino Line (Sec.31, T17N, R1W) named for J. D. Spirlock who had a farm in the area. (It was always spelled Spurlock, a varient spelling of Spirlock.


This settlement was directly east of the first settlement in Olympia (Sec.13, T18N, R2W).  It was named for John M. Swan, who settled here in 1850. This native Scotsman filed a 317.5 acre DLC, which was adjacent to the Edmund Sylvester Claim. It is now encompassed by Olympia.


A post office was established at Tanalquot  (Tenalquot) in 1870. Located on a prairie of the same name, it is 12 miles southeast of Olympia in south central Thurston County near Rainier. Ten-al-quelth, was an Indian term meaning “best yet”.


Located 14 miles south of Olympia (Secs. 19&20, T16N, R1W), the town is said to have been named for an Indian word meaning “junction” or “meeting place."  Locals often tell the story that the town was named for railroad engine 10-9-0.   It is the site of five sandstone quarries, which provided stone for many of the towns buildings.


This community lies on the border of Thurston and Lewis Counties, southeast of the town of Bucoda (Sec.16, T15N, R2&3W). It is said that the term “ton of coal’ on the conductor’s manifest when picking up shipments from the mines there was shortened to Tono. It still is a site of coal mining for the Centralia Steam Plant.


Incorporated in 1875, Tumwater was the site of the first American settlement on Puget Sound.  Michael Troutman Simmons and his party arrived in the area near the mouth of the Deschutes River (Sec.27, T18N, R2W), in 1844. (See New Market). The present name is an Indian word, Tum-wa-ta, meaning “a waterfall or cataract”. See Thurston County Place Names: A Heritage Guide, for still more native American names.

Union Mills

This small community was located on the Northern Pacific Line at the north end of Long Lake (Sec.22, T18N, R1W), and was a saw mill town, with a hotel, and several residences. It was named by F. J. Shields and F. A. Leach in 1910, for the Union Mills Company. A post office was located there from 1911-1931, when mail service was moved to Olympia.


Located in southern Thurston County (Sec.26, T16N, R1E), Vail was a company town for loggers working for  Weyerhauser Timber Company. The post office was active from 1930 to 1963.

Viora (See Littlerock)

Woodland (See Lacey)


A fast-growing city located in eastern Thurston County (Secs.19&24, T17N, R1E), Yelm was incorporated in 1924. The name is Salish, which is alternately spelled Schelm, or Schelm, and means “heat waves from the sun”. Yelm was also an important village site for the Nisqually Tribe.  John Edgar filed for a DLC here, and was a stopping off place for members of the Puget Sound agricultural Company.  The Longmire family settled on Yelm Prairie in late 1853.


Gayle Palmer and Shanna Stevenson. Thurston County Place Names: a Heritage Guide (Olympia: Thurston County Historical Commission, 1992).


Updated October 27, 2001