Sandstone is likely Tenino’s most famed product. But few know that the United States Capitol has a stone representing every state, and Washington’s is Tenino sandstone.
Likewise, residents in the younger generations may not know Tenino used to have its own fairgrounds, a place that, when remembering his childhood, City Historian Rich Edwards called “magical.”
These factoids and more tales of tragedy and triumph are now compiled in a book about Tenino, co-authored by Edwards and the city’s Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture Director Jessica Reeves-Rush, where even the most seasoned historian is likely to discover new understandings of the South Thurston County community.
The city was platted — meaning subdivided and mapped out in sections — in 1873, and the final plat went in on July 5 of that year.
For its upcoming 150th birthday, the two passionate city workers have created, in a matter of just a few months, a book of articles and pictures telling the story of Tenino across the last century-and-a-half. As the Tenino Depot Museum, the former site of the train depot, opened on Friday morning, a line formed from the counter to the door with citizens hoping to buy their copy of “Tenino: 150 Years.”
Reeves-Rush has also been planning the city’s birthday party for July 8. Cake will be served, of course, and the festival, “Tenino’s 150th Jubilee” will see a day of games and field day activities, including a “silly procession” where attendees are encouraged to gather in any of the 150 years’ clothes and circle the museum and park.
The sesquicentennial book is now for sale at the museum for $20. Pages were kept in black and white because, as Edwards noted, only some of them would have had color to print anyways and removing color kept costs down. Reeves-Rush said she wanted it to be interesting and affordable to everyone, not just academics.
Proceeds from the book sale will go to the South Thurston County Historical Society, possibly for upkeep of the free museum. Both authors are members of the society, and their work is a donation, Edwards said.
Tenino: 150 Years is the second book by Edwards focused on the Stone City. Within the last few years, he released “The Naming of Tenino” debunking a wide range of rumors about how the name came about, such as one where the train station was numbered “10-9-0.”
But Edwards’ background is as a librarian, and his writing, he said, is on the dry end. Reeves-Rush is a former writer for Thurston Talk, which the authors described as an “online media outlet.” There, she got her interest in historical stories. She also worked for the city’s cemetery, where she could dig through genealogical records, obituaries and biographies to piece together more information on her town. Reeves-Rush aims to tell stories through the lens of individual characters, she said, making it more relatable for readers.
“I took these deep dives into weird minutia of research that nobody else really cares about,” Edwards said, adding, “(Reeves-Rush) has helped a lot with loosening my writing up so people actually want to read it.”
But both researchers had their fair share of deep dives, where more research would beget more questions than answers and, in turn, more research. For example, during the Great Depression and the COVID-19 pandemic, the city earned national recognition for its wooden money credit program. The pure welfare side of the program, though, is often untold: including how one local doctor wrote “prescriptions” for free shoes and other necessities.
“I actually wasn’t aware of the welfare program,” Edwards said.
Somewhere after the 40th story made the cut, the authors decided they’d have to save everything else for a second volume. They already have several ideas, too. The authors may compile another anthology, or something more specific such as a study of how fires shaped the city’s layout.
Laughing, Edwards said, “We have a secret code now for ‘Oh, I’m working on a new article.’”
In unison, the co-authors said, “Volume two.”
After the 150th birthday party, they may well have a third volume of stories to create, as in the days prior, the city will open a 100-year-old time capsule.
“Like every small Americana town, we’ve got hundreds of stories, and the question is what do we have left of them that we can research, remember and tell?” Edwards said. “And we’re just in love with our local history.”
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