Olympia’s Hidden Histories Walking Tours

Olympia’s Hidden Histories Walking Tours

Fall programs and the Evergreen community are invited to the Friday, October 7 public launch of the “Olympia’s Hidden Histories” self-guided walking tours. The multimedia StoryMaps tours seek to make visible the stories of Olympia’s diverse communities and natural ecology. While the true extent of Olympia’s rich cultural and ecological history has been historically erased from the dominant narrative of the city, many stories are still detectable in the landscape. 

In winter 2022, student teams in the Evergreen program “American Frontiers: Homelands and Empire” (taught by Kristina Ackley, Zoltán Grossman, and Mike Ruth) developed four StoryMaps walking tours about downtown and the Deschutes River Estuary: 

  • st̓əč̓as (Steh-Chass): People of the Water – A story of the original people of Olympia;
  • Tidelands: “When the Tide is Out, the Table is Set” – A story of downtown Olympia’s waterfront, oysters, and industries;
  • Olympia’s Chinatowns: Exclusion and Endurance – A story of the moving Chinese communities of downtown Olympia; and
  • The 5th Avenue Dam: Reflections on Capitol Lake – A story of community and ecosystem displacement in the Deschutes Estuary.

The public launch will be at the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural (Capitol and State) on Friday, October 7 (the first day of Fall Arts Walk) at 10:00-11:00 am. Student authors will speak about the tours, together with project partners who offered guidance and editing from the Squaxin Island Tribe (including Chairman Kristopher Peters), the Olympia Historical Society, and Locke Family Association. The audience will then be invited to walk all or some of the tours on their smartphones. The tours collection can be accessed on any internet-connected device (no app download is needed) at https://artforces.org/hiddenhistories 

Together the tours reveal hard truths about how the landscape of Olympia today was created: through forced removal of the Indigenous inhabitants, destructive settler-colonial practices and industrial development, the racialized displacement of immigrant and working-class communities, and subsequent altering of the natural ecology. Yet equally as prevalent in this history is the resilience of the natural and social communities, and the power of contemporary efforts for their revitalization.

Using the ArcGIS StoryMaps platform, the web-based tours combine narrative text with historical and contemporary imagery including maps, audio, video, and data visualization, bringing Olympia’s history to the palm of your hand. Users can follow the tours in chronological order, or select particular topics to learn about at different times; each tour takes about an hour.


The tours collection is part of the “Walls Tell Stories” project, created by Art Forces (based in Olympia and the San Francisco Bay Area) and supported by the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice (Olympia). “Walls Tell Stories” is partially funded by a Washington Humanities SHARP grant and a Thurston County Heritage Grant, recommended by the Thurston County Historic Commission and awarded by the Thurston County Board of Commissioners. 


Evergreen’s “Taking Back Empire” program will be adding new walking tours to the collection in winter 2023, revealing Olympia’s important connections to the rest of the country and world, and students from the program will be meeting downtown for the October 7 event. Other fall programs and individual students, faculty, and staff are invited to attend, along with the general public. The Mural is one block west of the central bus terminal, so is accessible to public transportation. 

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