WSU Grad Student Finds Liquid Gold in Foundation Archives

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WSU grad student Megan Ockerman holds original advertising artwork from the Olympia Brewing Company.

Finding a thesis subject for a master’s degree in History can be a daunting task. Professors prefer subjects that are interesting, previously unresearched, yet with plenty of research material available, and open to new interpretations. Olympia resident Megan Ockerman, who already has her bachelor’s degree in History, had been thinking of doing her thesis work on 1940s residential architecture in the Tri-Cities area and how it was affected by the “company town” atmosphere of the Hanford nuclear plant. However, she wasn’t entirely sold on that idea.
In a Pacific Northwest History class at WSU, a guest speaker talked about hops—history, culture, processing, all related to brewing beer. The speaker also showed an old photograph of Native Americans picking hops in the Nisqually Valley area. Megan’s curiosity was piqued, and over spring break, she delved into Northwest hop history on her own, but found little information.
Serendipity soon came into play. Megan grew up surrounded by Olympia Beer memorabilia, as her father has been collecting it for years. At some point, her interest in the history of hops clicked with her family’s interest in Oly, and a new idea for her thesis was born.
Although Megan was excited about her potential thesis subject, she wasn’t sure about finding enough resources to provide background material. But her Eureka! moment came when she found out about the extensive archives of brewery records at the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. With a few emails to curator Karen Johnson, Megan was convinced that researching the entire history of the Olympia Brewing Company would make a great thesis. Her WSU advisors agreed.
Megan is more than enthusiastic about her subject, and has spent a good part of her summer vacation here in the basement of the Schmidt House, poring over old records from the earliest days of the brewery. After collecting material here, she will return to Pullman and spend much of this winter and next spring writing her thesis, which she’ll defend in April 2017. If all goes well, she plans on turning her thesis into a book. Then she’ll go about finding a paying job in the history field.
We wish Megan the best of luck in her thesis pursuit, and look forward to working with her in the future.

Guided Tumwater History Walking Tours at Tumwater Falls Park: The new season has begun

Riverwalk_CardAre you ready for a historic adventure?  The Olympia Tumwater Foundation’s “Heritage Builders” program invites you to a free guided walk through history with local historian and Public History Manager, Don Trosper.  The 2016 weekly tours are offered every Thursday morning from 10:30 to 11:30 now through September 15.

You’ll begin at the Falls Park main office by the history panels overlooking the river’s upper falls and the salmon ladders.  You’ll learn about the rich and significant history of the first permanent American community north of the Columbia.  Don will talk about the founders, the early businesses using the water power of the Deschutes River, how the town grew through the decades since 1845, and the history of the Schmidt family and the Olympia Brewing Company;  all centered upon this historic and beautiful river location.

The tours last about an hour and cover roughly a half mile of trail and are limited to 30 people.  The park is at 110 Deschutes Way, located off I-5, Exit 103, Deschutes Way and “C” Street.  Reservations are not required, but for further information or to arrange a special group tour call 360-786-8117 or email history@olytumfoundation.org.  You can also check out our website and the blog to see our three minute Tumwater history videos called “Talking Over Old Times” (www.olytumfoundation.org).  Our thanks to the City of Tumwater for their assistance for these special programs.

IN CASE OF NUCLEAR ATTACK, DRINK THIS BEER

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In 1951, members of the 11th Airborne Division watch the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb test at Frenchman’s Flat in Nevada. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

In its November 1961 company newsletter, the Olympia Brewing Company reacted to the threat of nuclear war by volunteering its plant and facilities to the Civilian Defense program, “should this area be subject to bombing. In the event of any attack, providing, of course, that the plant is not seriously damaged, we believe that with our totally enclosed water system, [and] the auxiliary power plant, pure water could quickly be supplied to contaminated areas as long as a supply of bottles and cans, or other suitable containers, were available. Detailed plans are being worked on to rapidly convert and utilize our brewing kettles and other equipment, if necessary, into a massive food kitchen capable of turning out daily enough hot foot to properly feed over 100,000 people.”In the late 1950s and early 1960s, nuclear war was a hot topic, no pun intended. The Cold War was a reality, atomic bombs were being tested in Nevada, and fall-out shelters appeared in many a backyard. I vividly remember teachers instructing us to hide under our school desks, as if thin plywood could protect us from a blast or radiation.

Community spirit notwithstanding, the brewery also promoted Oly beer as a vital part of any survival kit, as evidenced in the special message below:

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by Karen L. Johnson, Curator

Our Congressman Loves Local History

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Karen Johnson, Congressman Denny Heck and Don Trosper with an original art piece from the Foundation archives

The “Heritage Builders” program of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation had a special treat on Friday, July 1st, as we hosted 10th District Congressman Denny Heck for a guided history tour of Tumwater’s Schmidt House.  During his visit with his aide David Bremer, he was not only led through all three floors of the home of the founding family of the Olympia Brewing Company, but also explored the many treasures and stories of the rich historic archives with Curator Karen Johnson and Public History Manager, Don Trosper.  Great stories were shared back and forth as the Congressman shared his love of local and state history and learned about the history program here at the foundation.

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Denny Heck holds a book on brewing beer printed in 1742.

The executive director of the Foundation, John Freedman, along with two of the trustees (Waite Dalrymple, and Lee Wojnar) also met with Mr. Heck while he was here, both to welcome him and to talk a little about the work of the non-profit Olympia Tumwater Foundation. The visit lasted an hour and a half and everyone involved agreed it was a good, informative time well-spent.  The Foundation hopes to be a good resource for him and other public servants for a historic perspective on our area’s rich culture and heritage.

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John Freedman and Denny Heck

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Waite Dalrymple, Don Trosper and Congressman Denny Heck

by Don Trosper

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Mildred Parker, Last Grandchild of Olympia Brewing Founder Leopold F. Schmidt, Dies at 103

A recent donation from the estate of a New Jersey resident has intrigued our archives staff.

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Mildred (Schmidt) Parker

In 1912, a daughter was born to Leopold F. Schmidt Jr. (son of Leopold Sr., founder of the Olympia brewery) and his wife, Louise Barksdale Schmidt. The daughter was named Mildred Virginia Schmidt, and she grew up in the family home in Olympia. Mildred died recently at the age of 103, and a box of photos from her estate arrived at our office. We’ll use several of those photos to illustrate Mildred’s life, Continue reading