On the Steilacoom town bulletin board, there between the barber shop and bank, you’ll find the Town Council agenda and the Town Council minutes alongside notices concerning a found cat, a missing cockatiel, an upcoming garage sale and other matters of importance to the citizens of Washington’s oldest incorporated municipality.
Steilacoom was founded in 1854.
On the menu at Bair Drug & Hardware – where owners Ed and Martha Lintott sell neither drugs nor hardware – you’ll find fresh peach cobbler.
On the tables you’ll find a notice, like the one at the front door, telling patrons that cell phones are not allowed.
Too noisy. Too much of a distraction stealing from the more important things – such as conversation, a classic Reuben sandwich or handmade milkshakes.
Just down the street, there’s a dinner house, E.R. Rogers, known for its prime rib and a shy ghost who lives upstairs.
There’s a pocket-size park nearby, nicely fit for an intimate wedding. Puget Sound stretches beyond as Fox, McNeil, Anderson and Ketron islands rise tree-green from the blue water.
McNeil hosts a prison, and workers use a dock near the boat moorage and fishing pier. Down the beach and down the tracks, beyond Chambers Creek, there’s a naked spread of sand and scrub soon to become, maybe, a golf course.
Mostly forest thereabouts, Fort Lewis hugs the town’s border south and east.
This is a place of butterflies, hummingbirds, happy children and retired military brass. But for islanders and people headed to or from the prison, it’s not a place where people typically go.
“We are truly a bedroom community. We understand that,” said Ron Lucas, Steilacoom’s mayor.
He’s running unopposed for a second term in the upcoming election.
Things seem to be working just fine.
After the town lost its major employer – Abitibi, a newsprint plant, in 2000 – doomsayers rose like chicken pox.
Lucas has a framed article hanging on his wall. It’s the one where County Executive John Ladenburg warned that the loss of Abitibi combined with losses associated with tax-cutting initiatives could cause the town to dissolve itself.
Abitibi, after all, had an assessed property value of $95 million, while the town itself now counts $450 million.
The council made cuts and established a set of core functions.
“People want to live here. We’re historic. We have a great school system,” Lucas said.
Townspeople do have concerns, he said:
• Historic preservation. Should the town preserve its heritage? What of the property owners who want to develop their land by building new homes or apartments?
• The golf course. This could mean an increase in traffic – for a town where the word “jam” more likely connotes something made with blackberries.
• Progress House. There’s a plan to move a work-release facility for released prisoners from its current location in Tacoma to a site at Western State Hospital, near Steilacoom.
“We’re not really tricky here,” Lucas said. “The economy of scale is smaller. You can address things better. There’s a small-town atmosphere. I know all the school board members.”
Town leaders meet one another on the street. A member of Kiwanis might also be on the Fourth of July fireworks committee. Folks gather at Bair Drug & Hardware.
“We’re the 411 of Steilacoom,” said Ed Lintott. “In the 1900s, this was the post office. It was the hub and heart of town.”
And there’s sarsaparilla on the menu.
Government: Strong mayor, council
Annual number of new homes built: Approximately 25
Assessed value of typical quarter-acre lot: $220,000-$350,000
Property taxes: Account for 35-40 percent of town’s revenue
Annual budget: Approximately $4 million
Number of “historically significant” homes in town: 70
Approximate percentage of homes that are rentals: 35
Major gatherings: Apple Squeeze, Steilacoom Salmon Bake and the Christmastime Elves & Bells Around Town
Latest rumor: Look for a French bistro and bakery on Lafayette Street
Major resident celebrity: Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, retired Gen. John Shalikashvili
Retired and active duty military members in town: Approximately 500
Future of the 80-acre Abitibi mill site, currently for sale: Mayor Ron Lucas believes it eventually will become a residential area.
C.R. Roberts: The News Tribune