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18 May, 2013

It's the Fountain? An Olympia (and Tenino) Mystery Artifact

The front of a font, maybe.

Last Fall, I came across something that other people have probably seen for years, and others have forgotten about for even longer, but it was new and mysteriouis to me. Embedded in an old road berm on the Eastbay shore was a big piece of carved sandstone. Recently, I was around as a city crew pulled it free as they prepare for an environmental restoration project. In decades of archaeologizing, this stands out as one of the biggest and most interesting artifacts I've seen. It also holds a few mysteries.

Now that I've had the chance to look at it a few times, see the dirt it came out of, and talk it over with a few other archaeologists as we examined it, a few things are not so mysterious. Like, it was pretty obviously just dumped here along with concrete, asphalt, and brick rubble, part of the berm that blocked the mouth of a creek; a neighbor thinks the Salmon Club may have been involved, but it is also in a City park, at the bottom of an old road, and may have been deposited by them. I'll get to why I think that may be the case in a bit.

The stone is sandstone, and a partially obliterated inscription on one end is enough to convince me that it came from the Hercules Quarry in Tenino. The top features a square flanked by two octagonal basins, and a tunnel runs through it. There is rust surrounding one side of the opening, indicating that there was a metal attachment there, and along with pipes running from bottom to top, it suggests that this may have been a decorative fountain. The base, beginning immediately below the tunnel through the stone, at first appeared to be sandstones as well, but turns out to be stucco over concrete. The very bottom is unadorned concrete that contains glacial pebbles and bits of shell, more what you'd expect of a locally-mixed batch than what comes from commercial suppliers. More specifically, what you'd expect from a shoreline local batch than Tenino. (Ironically, the development of commercial concrete businesses is what did in the Hercules and other quarries in Tenino.)
The top.
And that's about it for what I know. A once fancy piece of stonework, stripped of metalwork and dumped on the Olympia shoreline. Maybe a fountain, and if my interpretation of the inscription (shown below, after considerable computer enhancement) is correct, it was a presentation piece. It just so happens that the abandoned road heading uphill from this spot leads to the former location of the "Swiss Chalet" that stood in Priest Point Park from not long after it's 1905 founding until the 1950s. Before that, the Chalet had been part of Olympia Brewing Company's pavilion at the Lewis and Clark Expo in Portland. A nicely carved fountain proclaiming a presentation and naming the quarry seems like just the sort of thing that may have appeared in that sort of setting, especially since Olympia Brewing even in those days was stating, "It's the Water."

Or, maybe the Hercules folks presented it to the park. Or, something else. Some sort of Park connection makes sense, though, given the proximity (seems like an awful big stretch to say that some Tenino resident hauled it all the way up here to dump it), and the fact that you need heavy machinery just to move the thing.

Odds are, this modestly monumental stonework, dumped and forgotten for years, is likely to be recycled by the City of Olympia. Maybe placed in the park, or maybe elsewhere, but people once again see it as something interesting, worth using for some better purpose than shoreline armoring. Maybe it could be fixed up and one of Olympia's artesian wells could bubble forth from it.

In the meantime, if anyone out there knows about this, or has photos of the chalet in Portland or in our park, leave a comment and let me know. If I find out anything, I'll write an update. 


  1. It would be a fitting artisanal treatment for an artesian well ...

  2. It does indeed appear to be a fountain of the type very similar to the one depicted in this photo in the digital collection from the University of Washington entitled "Fountain sculpture of a bull fighting a lynx, under construction at the Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland, Oregon, 1905.",2174

    As to a photo of the chalet, here's a link to page 56 of the "Official guide to the Lewis and Clark centennial exposition, Portland, Oregon, June 1 to October 15, 1905": The full guide is available at

    In the "American Brewers' Review" volume 19 (1905), page 191 states: "The Olympia Brewing Co., of Portland, Ore, is erecting a Swiss chalet at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in that city. The building proper will be 30x60 feet on the ground and two stories hight and will be surrounded by handsome gardens. About half of the main floor of the building will be occupied by a tank in which water from the springs from which the Olympia brewery gets its supply will be aerated and distributed free among Exposition visitors. The building, exclusive of the ornamental panels of the interior, will cost $3,500."

    Rich Edwards
    Historian, South Thurston County Historical Society
    Tenino Depot Museum

  3. You could check with Keith Phillips from Tenino, he is our current sandstone carver and would probably know much of the local history of the sandstone in the area.

  4. It is one of three fountains ordered by the city of Olympia for Priest Point Park from Hercules Sandstone Quarry in Tenino, in 1915. The quarry refused to accept payment and created them as a gift (and, apparently, in exchange for some advert space on the fountain)

    -Edward E

    Source: "Beauties of Park Enhanced, Morning Olympian, 19 March 1915, 1.

    1. Thanks so much to all of you who have shared your knowledge on this! To my knowledge, the City has the fountain stone, and will put it back on display at some point.