Port of Olympia
Review and History

The Port of Olympia is the capital of the State of Washington in the United States. Lying on the mouth of the Deschutes River at the south end of Puget Sound, the Port of Olympia is about 70 kilometers southwest of the Port of Seattle and the same distance east-northeast of the Port of Grays Harbor in Washington. In 2000, over 44 thousand people lived in the Port of Olympia, and almost 229 thousand called the metropolitan area home.

The Port of Olympia is the base for a big merchant reserve fleet, and it houses a large industrial complex for seaborne containerized cargoes. The local economy depends on the port and on lumber-related business as well as oyster farms, dairies, breweries, and other light industries.

Port History

Before Europeans arrived in the area, the Port of Olympia region had been home for thousands of years to Salish peoples who used the waterways to trade goods and maintain contact with other tribes. Britisher Peter Puget first entered the harbor in 1792.

In 1831, the Hudson Bay Company established a settlement at Nisqually in the South Puget Sound. In the 1840s, two men claimed the land that is today downtown Olympia, and pioneers came to build the towns of Tumwater and Olympia.

The new town adopted the name Olympia in 1853 because of its beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains northwest of town. The Port of Olympia claims the honor of being the last point on the historic Oregon Trail.

In 1851, the Port of Olympia became the site of a customs house and the center of the Congressionally-established Customs District of Puget Sound. A small fleet of steamboats called the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet operated from the Port of Olympia for many years, and the well-known Olympia Brewing Company operated there from 1896 until 2003.

In early 1850, the Port of Olympia launched the first large commercial ship from the port carrying wood products to San Francisco. Over the rest of the 19th Century, sailing ships and steamboats brought increasing traffic to the Port of Olympia.

In 1909, work began to deepen the navigation channel into the Port of Olympia, and the dredged materials were used to create the Port Peninsula. The Port District was formed in 1922. The first marine shipping docks were completed in 1925, and the port developed quickly. In the 1920s, wood products were the major cargoes. Over 300 million board-feet of lumber was moved through the Port of Olympia between 1928 and 1930.

The Great Depression hit the Port of Olympia hard, but New Deal projects offered some relief with new transit sheds, dikes, and wharves. By 1939, the Port of Olympia handled its biggest cargo volume ever. At the time, the Port of Olympia was called a "week-end port," with vessels topping off cargoes on week-ends before beginning their voyages.

During World War II, the Port of Olympia with ship-building activities increasing during the 1940s when war-related cargoes increased dramatically. After the war, cargoes of wood products continued to be the major volume in the Port of Olympia, and 161 million board-feet of lumber passed through the port in 1957. In 1949, a serious earthquake destroyed many historic buildings in the Port of Olympia, and the city suffered earthquake tremors again in 1965 and 2001.

Port of Olympia expansions began in the early 1960s when the port moved into the air transport business when it bought the Olympia Airport. By the middle 1960s, the Port of Olympia property was full. The port bought tidelands in the East Bay and added lands to the airport. In 1967, three plywood mills in the area closed, and the Port of Olympia's lumber trade began to decline, even though its cargo of raw logs continued to be strong.

The Port of Olympia has become an arts and music center due to the presence of the Evergreen State College that was established by the State Legislature in 1967.

The Port of Olympia hit its record million-ton volume in 1970, and logs were almost all of the cargo. The berths at the Marine Terminal were deepened to accommodate modern deep-draft vessels. The Port of Olympia dedicated areas at the East Bay waterfront to a recreational boat marina. Completed in the early 1980s, today's Swantown Marina was first leased to a private operator, but it has been managed by the Port of Olympia since 1987.

Seeking to diversify, the Port of Olympia built a seven-thousand square meter warehouse at the Marine Terminal in the middle 1980s, and airport and industrial park facilities were also improved.

In the 1990s, the world market for wood products changed, and lumber shipping in the Port of Olympia fell dramatically. The port embarked on a major planning effort, establishing clear goals for diversifying and strengthening the Port of Olympia's businesses. Goals were set for the Marine Terminal, the Olympia Regional Airport, the NewMarket Industrial Campus in Tumwater, and the Swantown commercial areas in downtown Olympia. The Port of Olympia also acquired an option to buy 17 hectares of land in south Thurston County for a future light industrial park.

The Port of Olympia's downtown waterfront neighborhood prospered, and the port developed a waterfront park, Port Plaza, guest docks, and a public gathering area. The Port of Olympia also made important improvements to the Marine Terminal infrastructure. In 1997, the Port of Olympia became the State's third most container-capable port with the installation of new equipment and infrastructure improvements. The last timber docks were reconstructed to serve containerized cargoes in 1998, and international exports of wood products and project cargoes continued to increase.

The late 1990s economic slump in Asia and Russia was felt in the Port of Olympia, and cargo volumes decreased significantly. Today, the Port of Olympia is dedicated to creating more diverse opportunities for the Marine Terminal.

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