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Although the Port of Olympia’s history extends back to 1922, the maritime heritage of OlympiaTumwater and the entire Puget Sound area dates back tens of thousands of years. The first residents of the area, now known as South Sound, were the Salish people of the North Pacific Coast. They, like the European-American settlers who followed them, used watercraft to transport themselves and their goods to trading and cultural sites throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The first contact between Native American and European people came with the arrival of British Navy Lieutenant Peter Puget as part of the 1792 expedition of Captain George Vancouver. In 1831, the British Hudson’s Bay Company established the first settlement in the South Sound area at Nisqually. Ten years later, the first United States expedition arrived, and in 1845-1846, American pioneers established settlements at Tumwater and Olympia.


Fledgling Commercial Center

The first major commercial ship to call at the new town of Olympia was the sailing brig Orbit in early 1850, carrying what was to become the new community’s most significant cargo, wood products, to the San Francisco market. Sailing ship and steamboat traffic to and from Olympia continued to increase during the next half century.

The turn of the century saw Olympia boosters pushing for better marine trade access. Beginning in 1909, a deeper marine navigation channel into Olympia was dredged. The Port Peninsula was created from the dredged material.

Following the completion of the dredging and fill in 1911, a public campaign to establish the Port of Olympia was spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce. Formation of the Port District was approved by a countywide vote on November 7, 1922.

Airport History

The Olympia Airport is among the oldest public airports in the United States. Aircraft operated from the location, formerly known as the Bush Prairie Airfield Site, as early as 1911. The City of Olympia bought the airport property in 1928 and began paving runways and taxiways and building facilities.

World War II

The military obtained control of the airport and it was operated as a satellite facility to McChord Field at the start of World War II in 1941. When the war ended, the airport and adjoining property was transferred back to the City of Olympia under the War Surplus Act of 1944, with permanent restrictions that the land and facilities would be maintained and operated as a public airport.

In 1963, the Port of Olympia purchased the airport and its 700 acres of adjoining property from the City of Olympia to facilitate economic development. The airport consists of 835 acres and the adjoining industrial campus has 440 acres.

Growth & Expansion Watershed

In the early 1960s, a new manager and a new comprehensive plan led to significant developments for the Port.

The Port expanded into the air transportation business in 1961 with the purchase of the Olympia Airport, now the Olympia Regional Airport, from the City of Olympia. Several years later, an Industrial Development District, now called the NewMarket Industrial Campus, encompassed 700 acres of the airport property.

Continued Expansion

By the mid-1960s the Port had filled its property in Olympia’s West Bay area, purchased tidelands on the East Bay side of the Budd Inlet peninsula and added acreage to the airport.

The year 1967 marked the beginning of the twilight of Olympia’s lumber trade when three plywood mills located on the Port Peninsula closed. By the end of the decade, however, total shipping volume consisting mainly of raw logs was almost 100% higher than any previous year.


Development & Diversification

The Port recorded its first million-ton cargo year in 1970, with logs totaling 98% of the volume. Marine Terminal berths were again deepened to keep pace with the trend toward larger, deep-draft ships. However, strong growth at the Marine Terminal was offset by retrenchment at the airport, when the 30-year air passenger service was suspended.

In the midst of these changes, the Port dedicated some of its growing East Bay waterfront property to a recreational boat marina, the first such non-industrial Port facility for the residents of Thurston County. Completed in the early 1980s, East Bay Marina, now called Swantown Marina, was initially leased to a private operator. The marina has been managed by the Port since 1987.


Further diversification efforts led to the construction of a 76,000-square-foot, clear-span warehouse at the Marine Terminal in the mid-1980s. Port facilities at the Olympia Regional Airport and the NewMarket Industrial Campus (formerly Thurston Airdustrial Center) were also improved and linked more closely to the Interstate 5 corridor with the construction of the Airdustrial interchange in 1986.