For a year we planned to visit Historic Fort Steilacoom at 9601 Steilacoom Blvd, Lakewood, but they have limited hours (Sundays 1-4 during the summer and the first Sunday of the month from 1-4 from Labor Day to Memorial Day), and we have three different schedules, so it just took that long.
We thought it would be a small museum and perhaps it might be about Western State Hospital, but we were wrong on both accounts. The museum included several buildings and a two hour tour and was completely about the historic fort which had operated on the grounds. The tour guide was so incredibly knowledgeable and explained the fort’s history using the detailed model and in the other buildings to illustrate to us how the soldiers lived. I found it particularly interesting that the army would send representatives back east to meet new immigrants at the docks. The men would be offered transportation to the west coast and a job with room and board. Some eventually received free land. Such an opportunity. The fort’s history can be found on their website, but it is worthwhile to visit in person and go inside the actual buildings and talk to the terrific volunteers.
Talking about the volunteers, the green tint on the two gentleman is completely the fault of the lens! I was told that the lack of smiles is because people didn’t smile for photos in those days. They thought it made them look imbecilic.
Western State Hospital is the largest psychiatric hospital west of the Mississippi and is located on Steilacoom Boulevard in Lakewood, WA. It was originally named Fort Steilacoom Asylum when it opened in 1871 at the site of an army post. More than 3,000 patients are buried at the Western State Hospital State Historic Cemetery though not all of them have grave markers with their name and dates on it. Some have a small, concrete numbered block as a marker, which was originally considered proper because of the stigma of mental health concerns. The cemetery, which is located on the grounds of Fort Steilacoom Park (formerly former the hospital farm), ceased having burials in 1953. The Grave Concerns Association is a volunteer organization dedicated to the restoration of the cemetery.
Benjamin Hooper was one of the earliest burials. Benjamin (1792-1891) was the first patient admitted to the Western Territories Asylum for the Insane on 8/19/1871.
And a shout out to Shelley, who had the brilliant idea to go visit and was bold enough to drive all over Western State Hospital grounds looking for the cemetery (that was on the other side of the road!). I can hardly wait until we go to the Western State Hospital Museum!