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Historic Fort Steilacoom predates JBLM

Visit to enjoy tours and seasonal special events

Joseph Miller, left, is dressed as a 1st lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment. At right, Gideon Pete dressed as a private from the same regiment -- one of the units stationed at the fort in the 19th century. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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You may have noticed the older buildings on the grounds of Western State Hospital in Lakewood. They are what remains of what was Fort Steilacoom, a military base which predates the Civil War, and four buildings from the original fort are open to the public the first Sunday of the month from 1-4 p.m.

The tours are made possible by a group of dedicated volunteers who are members of the Historic Fort Steilacoom Association (HFSA), a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Each month, the group hosts monthly events that highlight the history and personalities of the historic fort.

HFSA President Gideon Pete said, "The fort was restored in the late 1980s, and it was all done by volunteers. The City of Lakewood gives us a nice grant each year to help run the place and Western State Hospital covers the cost of our utilities."

Pete has volunteered for more than 30 years, and he can be seen wearing the uniform of a private in the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment, which was a unit that served at the fort.

The fort was established Aug. 22, 1848, and it remained an active fort until it closed in 1868, according to Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph. D. In his essay, "Fort Steilacoom (1849 - 1868)" for, he noted as well that the property then reverted to the territory and became a psychiatric facility, Western State Hospital.

Start at the museum's interpretive center to see the exhibits and learn about the original fort. For a small fee you can take a guided tour through three of the original structures and learn about life while stationed at a western fort in the 1800s.

Each month, the HFSA offers special events, which are scheduled through December. On Oct. 20, Pete will give a lecture on, "U.S. Army Barracks: Housing the Frontier Army." The association will have a brief membership annual meeting prior to the lecture, which will take place at Quarters 2 at 2 p.m. Admission to the lecture is free.

A "Living History and Reenacting Swap Meet" will take place Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. HFSA hosts the event, which will feature original and reproduction items from the Revolutionary War up to present day.

This is a good opportunity to stock up for your hobby or collection, or maybe sell some unwanted gear. Tables are available for a $15 fee, which supports the HFSA. For more information, contact Gideon Pete at 253.720.8179 or

The association's biggest event of the year is "Christmas at Fort Steilacoom," which takes place Saturday, Dec. 14. More than 50 volunteers are involved to make the holiday event possible, enabling participants to enjoy a candlelight Christmas as the living historians -- all in period dress -- enact Christmas traditions of the 1800s. The festivities are underway from 4-7:30 p.m., and tickets will be available for purchase at the Interpretive Center. And don't forget to stop by the gift shop for some unique holiday gift items.

Historic Fort Steilacoom, 1 to 4 p.m., first Sunday of the month, 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood, more info at

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