The site of Olympia has been home to Lushootseed-speaking peoples for thousands of years, including Squaxin, Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, and Duwamish.
The first recorded visit by Europeans was in 1792 when Peter Puget and a crew from the British Vancouver Expedition charted the site. In 1846, Edmund Sylvester and Levi Smith jointly claimed the land that now comprises downtown Olympia. In 1851, the U.S. Congress established the Customs District of Puget Sound for Washington Territory and Olympia became the home of the customs house. Its population steadily expanded from Oregon Trail immigrants. In 1850, the town settled on the name Olympia, at the suggestion of local resident Colonel Isaac N. Ebey, due to its view of the Olympic Mountains to the Northwest. The area began to be served by a small fleet of steamboats known as the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet.
In 1896, Olympia became the home of the Olympia Brewing Company, which brewed Olympia Beer until 2003.
The 1949 Olympia earthquake damaged many historic buildings beyond repair, and they were demolished. Parts of the city also suffered damage from earthquakes in 1965 and 2001.
In 1967, the state legislature approved the creation of The Evergreen State College in Olympia. Since 1984, Olympia has also been home to the South Puget Sound Community College. Olympia has become a hub for artists and musicians, and has been named one of the best college towns in the nation for its vibrant downtown and access to outdoor activities.
Olympia is located at 47°2′33″N 122°53′35″W / 47.04250°N 122.89306°W / 47.04250; -122.89306 (47.042418, −122.893077).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.68 square miles (50.97 km2), of which 17.82 sq mi (46.15 km2) is land and 1.86 sq mi (4.82 km2) is water.
The city of Olympia is located at the southern end of Puget Sound on Budd Inlet. The Deschutes River estuary was dammed in 1951 to create Capitol Lake. Much of the lower area of downtown Olympia sits on reclaimed land. The cities of Lacey and Tumwater border Olympia.
The region surrounding Olympia has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csb), whereas the local microclimate due to its dry summers and cool July and August overnight lows. It is part of USDA Hardiness zone 8a, with isolated pockets around Puget Sound falling under zone 8b. Most of western Washington's weather is brought in by weather systems that form near the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. It contains cold moist air, which brings western Washington cold rain, cloudiness, and fog. November through January are Olympia's rainiest months. City streets, creeks, and rivers often flood during the months of November through February. The normal monthly mean temperature ranges from 38.4 °F (3.6 °C) in December to 64.1 °F (17.8 °C) in August. Seasonal snowfall for 1981–2010 averaged 10.8 inches (27.4 cm) but has historically ranged from trace amounts in 1991–92 to 81.5 in (207 cm) in 1968–69. Olympia averages 50 inches (1,270 mm) of precipitation annually and has a year-round average of 75% cloud cover. Annual precipitation has ranged from 29.92 in (760 mm) in 1952 to 66.71 in (1,694 mm) in 1950; for water year (October 1 – September 30) precipitation, the range is 32.71 in (831 mm) in 2000–01 to 72.57 in (1,843 mm) in 1998–99. According to one MSNBC study, Olympia had more rainy days per year on average over the past 30 years than any other city in the lower 48 states. With a period of record dating back to 1948, extreme temperatures have ranged from −8 °F (−22 °C) on January 1, 1979, up to 104 °F (40 °C), most recently on July 29, 2009; the record cold daily maximum is 18 °F (−8 °C) on January 31, 1950, while, conversely, the record warm daily minimum is 69 °F (21 °C) on July 22, 2006. On average, there are 6.3 days annually with temperatures reaching 90 °F (32 °C), 1.8 days where the temperature stays at or below freezing all day, and 78 nights where the low reaches the freezing mark. The average window for freezing temperatures is October 8 through May 3, allowing a growing season of 157 days, nearly 100 days shorter than in nearby Seattle.
Olympia has a wide array of public parks and nature conservation areas. The Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area is a 600-acre (2.4 km2) parcel that preserves more than 5 miles (8.0 km) of Puget Sound waterfront along the Woodard and Chapman Bays of the Henderson Inlet. Percival Landing Park includes 0.9 miles (1.4 km) of boardwalk along Budd Inlet, as well as a playground, picnic areas, and a large open space. Percival Landing closed in 2010 for an extensive remodel after saltwater degradation and opened again to the public in the summer of 2011. The Watershed Park is the site of the former waterworks for the city and today features a loop trail with a large second-growth forest. Other parks include Priest Point Park, Burfoot Park, Sunrise Park, and Yauger Park, which is home to one of Olympia's public skate parks, including Friendly Grove, which is nestled in a small Eastside Community, and Trillium Park, which was created by the efforts of adjoining neighborhood associations with the easement of private property. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located just outside Olympia, as is the Capitol State Forest.
Olympia was historically dependent on artesian waters. Early settlers in Swantown and Tumwater used artesian springs for their main water supply. The artesian spring at Fourth Avenue and Main Street (now called Capitol Way) was the main community well where settlers gathered to socialize. The artesian well at Artesian Commons park, a former parking lot, is active. Another still flows at the corner of Olympia Avenue and Washington Street.Bigelow Neighborhood. The northeast end of Capitol Lake was the location of an artesian well until the construction of a new park that included changes to the shoreline. McAllister Springs, the main water source for Olympia, is fed by artesian wells, and the former Olympia Brewery is supplied by 26 artesian wells.
Recent efforts to protect and preserve the free flowing artesian well on 4th Ave in downtown Olympia began in 1991 when Jim Ingersoll, a local psychologist, called on the city council to acquire the well and develop it as a community park. Ingersoll’s interest in the well started in a conversation with Dick Batdorf, co-founder of Batdorf and Bronson coffee roasting. Batdorf told Ingersoll that the secret to great coffee was great water – specifically artesian water. Subsequently, Ingersoll met at the Spar restaurant with Herb Legg and John Robinson both of whom had worked in the 1950s and 60s to protect the artesian wells in Watershed Park. Legg and Robinson worked behind the scenes to get an article published in the Olympian on February 24, 1992 calling for community support of the well. Ingersoll was flooded with phone calls offering time, talent, resources and money following the publication. Herb Legg and friends sponsored a public meeting at the Library where more than 50 people each donated $50. And a single $3000 donation followed the next day.
With hundreds of people using the well every day, community support grew to become “The Friends of Artesians,” an informal organization of advocates who over the course of 20 years mapped and researched the history of artesian wells in Olympia, raised money to test water quality and make improvements to the site and kept the vision of a free flowing community well alive. In the fall of 2008, The Friends announced they would stop testing the water quality after February 2009. These actions renewed interest in protecting the well and lead to the creation of H2Olympia, a non-profit organization.
In downtown Olympia, efforts to preserve the use of artesian water at the one remaining public well has been the mission of H2Olympia: Artesian Well Advocates. In 2011, the city of Olympia committed $50,000 towards improvements of an artesian well, located in a parking lot that was recently purchased by the city. Renovations at the artesian well were completed in late 2011, including surface improvements, solar lighting, and a raised area to fill bottles. In Spring of 2012, sea-themed mosaic artwork created by community members was also installed at the site of the well.
As of the census of 2010, there were 46,478 people, 20,761 households, and 10,672 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,608.2 inhabitants per square mile (1,007.0/km2). There were 22,086 housing units at an average density of 1,239.4 per square mile (478.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 83.7% White, 2.0% African American, 1.1% Native American, 6.0% Asian, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 1.8% from other races, and 5.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.3% of the population.
There were 20,761 households of which 25.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.2% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.9% had a male householder with no wife present, and 48.6% were non-families. 36.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.83.
The median age in the city was 38 years. 19.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 11.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 28.5% were from 25 to 44; 26.7% were from 45 to 64; and 13.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.3% male and 52.7% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 42,514 people, 18,670 households, and 9,968 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,544.4 people per square mile (982.3/km²). There were 19,738 housing units at an average density of 1,181.3 per square mile (456.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 85.3% White, 1.9% African American, 1.3% Native American, 5.8% Asian, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 1.7% from other races, and 3.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.4% of the population. 15.0% were of German, 11.3% Irish, 10.0% English, 6.0% Norwegian and 5.3% American ancestry. 91.6% spoke English, 2.9% Spanish and 1.7% Vietnamese as their first language.
There were 18,670 households out of which 26.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.6% were married couples living together, 10.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.6% were non-families. 35.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the city, the population was spread out with 21.5% under the age of 18, 11.9% from 18 to 24, 30.4% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $40,846, and the median income for a family was $54,136. Males had a median income of $41,267 versus $31,515 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,590. About 6.9% of families and 12.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.4% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.
Olympia's main public school district is the Olympia School District. Olympia School District enrolled 9,231 students in K-12, based on the 2005–06 school year enrollment report. The school district has a total of 18 schools: 11 elementary schools, 4 middle schools and 3 high schools. Its high schools are Olympia High School (originally known as William Winlock Miller High School), Capital High School, and Avanti High School.
In the 2007–2008 school year, Olympia began the new Parent Partnership Program, which provides more opportunities to homeschooling families. Olympia's online high school, Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA), is also part of the same program. Private elementary schools include Olympia Waldorf School, Olympia Community School, St. Michael School, Holy Family, and Evergreen Christian. Private middle schools include Olympia Waldorf School and NOVA School.
In addition to primary & secondary schools, Olympia has a number of institutions of higher learning, including The Evergreen State College, South Puget Sound Community College, and Saint Martin's University. The Evergreen State College (TESC) offers bachelor's degrees in Liberal Arts and/or Science, and master's degrees in Environmental Studies, Public Administration, Masters of Education, and Masters in Teaching. The South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) offers associate degrees in Arts, Science, Biology, Elementary Education, Pre-Nursing, Applied Science, General Studies, and Business. Saint Martin's University (SMU) offers bachelor's degrees for 25 majors spanning liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering as well as graduate programs including Master of Business Administration, Master in Teaching, Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, Master of Civil Engineering, Master of Mechanical Engineering, and Master of Engineering Management.
Olympia is a regional center for fine arts. A number of theatrical experiences are available with companies such as Animal Fire Theater, Olympia Family Theater, Theater Artists Olympia (TAO), Olympia Little Theater, and Harlequin Productions at the historic State Theater. The Olympia Symphony Orchestra performs five regular season concerts at the Washington Center and two pop concerts. The Masterworks Chorale Ensemble performs four regular season concerts at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
Visual art venues include some of the local coffeehouses, Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., Batdorf & Bronson, Caffe Vita, and Obsidian in downtown. A gallery called Art House Designs presents works of sculpture, painting, and printmaking and hosts a jazz performance space. Murals and public art installations of sculpture are prevalent in Olympia and are especially featured on the State Capitol Campus and along Percival Landing on the urban waterfront. The Washington Center for the Performing Arts also presents visual art exhibitions throughout the season in the spacious lobby areas.
Notable art venues near Olympia include Art in Ecology, housed in Washington Department of Ecology's 322,000-square-foot, three-story building on the campus of Saint Martin's University. Art in Ecology is a long-established art-in-the-workplace venue that features works by numerous northwest artists. Permanent installations by Alfredo Arreguin, commissioned by the Washington State Arts Commission, are accompanied by changing solo and group exhibitions throughout the year. Appointments to view the works are needed; tours take about an hour.
The South Puget Sound Community College has a gallery in its Minnaert Center with rotating exhibitions. The Evergreen State College, northwest of Olympia, has a professionally curated gallery with rotating shows in the Dan Evans Library building. To the south of Olympia, Monarch Contemporary Art Center and Sculpture Park offers an 80-acre sculpture garden and art gallery.
Each year, the Olympia Film Society (OFS) produces a film festival and fosters film and video education in Olympia. It also shows independent, classic, and international films year-round at the art-deco Capitol Theater. A mostly volunteer-powered organization, OFS supports and presents a variety of cultural events, including All Freakin' Night, an all-night horror film screening with a cult following.
On the fourth Saturday in April, in honor of Earth Day, Olympia is host to one of the region's largest community celebrations – the Procession of the Species. Held in conjunction with the city's biannual Arts Walk, the Procession is organized by the community-based non-profit organization, Earthbound Productions, and is the culmination of an annual Community Art Studio that is free and open to the public. In its July 2009 Best of America feature, Reader's Digest magazine honored the Procession of the Species with the top spot in its “can’t resist” parades and processions list. Open to all, the Procession of the Species attracts up to 30,000 viewers, while its costumed participants of all ages frequently number nearly 3,000. On the Friday evening before the Procession of Species, a Luminary Procession is held.
In 1984, Olympia hosted the U.S. Olympic women's marathon trial. The winner of the event was Joan Benoit who would later win a gold medal at the first women's Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles.
Olympia is the home of the Oly Rollers, the local women's flat track roller derby league whose travel team (the Cosa Nostra Donnas) became the 2009 national champions of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) by winning the national "Declaration of Derby" tournament in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 15, 2009.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail system provides service to Olympia-Lacey at Centennial Station. Amtrak train 11, the southbound Coast Starlight, departs Olympia at 11:21am with service to Centralia; Portland; Sacramento; Emeryville, California (with bus connection to San Francisco); and Los Angeles. Amtrak train 14, the northbound Coast Starlight, departs Olympia at 6:22pm daily with service to Tacoma and Seattle. Amtrak Cascades trains, operating as far north as Vancouver and as far south as Eugene, Oregon, serve Olympia-Lacey several times daily in both directions.
Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and the surrounding area are primarily served by Intercity Transit, with connections to Grays Harbor Transit, Mason Transit Authority, Pierce Transit, and Sound Transit. Intercity Transit maintains a free shuttle route called "Dash". Dash runs from the Capitol Campus to the Farmers Market at the far edge of downtown. Intercity Transit's Olympia Express provides service to Lakewood and Tacoma, with connections to regional bus and commuter rail service. In 2009 Intercity Transit won an award for America's best Public Transportation System in the midsize category by the American Public Transportation Association. The fleet runs entirely on biodiesel fuel and is composed of about 20% biodiesel-electric hybrid buses.
The Olympia Regional Airport, operated by the Port of Olympia is located just south of Olympia in Tumwater. It serves general aviation as well as corporate aviation. The airport plays host to the Olympic AirShow, a moderate-sized airshow that occurs on Father's Day weekend each year.
The Olympian is the local daily newspaper. The Weekly Volcano has covered Olympia entertainment since 2001. The statewide government channel TVW is based in Olympia. Olympia has had a Public, Educational and Government access television station since 1983, called Thurston Community Media.
In 2012 NorthAmericaTalk.com, an online aggregate for local community news including ThurstonTalk.com, was established with headquarters located in Olympia. Olympia Power and Light is a bi-weekly independent newspaper, while Works in Progress is published monthly.