Historic fort gets $250,000 surprise, courtesy of dead Lakewood legislator

July 8, 2013 

State Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood came to the aid of the Historic Fort Steilacoom Association one last time, though the beneficiaries didn’t realize it until after he died.

Association leaders were surprised to learn in late June that Carrell, who died in May at age 69, had tucked $250,000 into the state capital budget for improvements to the four historic houses they operate as a museum on the grounds of Western State Hospital.

Treasurer Ken Morgan had met with Carrell in the spring of 2012 to request funding to paint the houses for the first time in about 30 years. Morgan wrote in a follow-up letter that the “exterior paint on the buildings has failed to the point where damage to their actual structure is imminent.”

Carrell, a Republican who served nearly two decades in the Legislature, wrote back that it was too late in the 2012 session to secure funding but said the request “has been placed at the top of my list for next year’s Capital Budget requests.”

The association didn’t pursue the matter after that, Morgan said, and it raised money to paint two houses. The second structure was finished last month.

News of this year’s legislative funding came out of the blue. Carrell died May 29 from complications related to treatment of a pre-cancerous condition.

“There was no hint that (Carrell was) working on this,” said Joe Lewis, the association’s secretary.

The association was grateful for Carrell making good on his earlier pledge.

“These new funds are indeed welcome and are a fitting tribute to Senator Carrell,” Morgan wrote in an email. “ He has been a long-time friend of Fort Steilacoom and the preservation of this important resource.”

In 2007, Carrell was successful in securing state funding to repair the roofs of some houses that were damaged by wind and rain.

“This is a very unique set of buildings, “ he told The News Tribune at the time. “Where else do you have something like this?”

The houses were among numerous buildings constructed on Fort Steilacoom in 1857. The federal government established the fort, the primary Army headquarters in the Puget Sound, in 1849 to provide security to settlers from Indian tribes living in the area. The government shut down the fort in 1868; the Washington territorial government then used it as an insane asylum.

The Fort Steilacoom Historic District, which includes the houses and early hospital buildings built between 1887 and 1889, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lewis said it cost about $30,000 to paint the two houses, and the Nisqually Indian Tribe donated $20,000 toward the effort. That means there will be money left for other projects once the remaining two houses are painted. One potential project is replacing the deteriorating wood foundation under one house.

As the association figures out what to do with the full $250,000, Lewis said it will work closely with the state Department of Social and Health Services, which owns the houses but leases them to the association.

“I think there’s a lot of things that money can be used for to preserve these buildings,” he said.

Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 christian.hill@thenewstribune.com @TNTchill

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