The Fort Nisqually Living History Museum at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park has reopened its giant wooden gates after a two-month hiatus.
The museum was closed while the state Department of Ecology removed 2,000 tons of contaminated soil inside the fort and in the nearby meadow. Clean soil and fresh sod were laid down and new pathways were created.
The work was part of an effort by the Ecology Department over the past 10 years to clean up contaminants spread over 1,000 square miles of the Puget Sound basin by the former Asarco copper smelter that operated in Ruston for about a century.
A $94.6 million settlement between Asarco and the state paid for the $370,000 cleanup. Similar work has already taken place at many local parks, most recently Vassault, Baltimore and Optimist.
The living history museum at Fort Nisqually reopened Wednesday.
“We’re excited to be back open,” said museum supervisor Jim Lauderdale. “It’s been really strange to not have lots of visitors and staff wandering about the fort as they would be normally.”
With the museum back in business, ropes will block off the fresh sod until the grass grows in.
Workers at the museum — a restoration of a Hudson’s Bay Co. outpost on Puget Sound — will again be taking visitors on a journey back to the 1850s, when Fort Nisqually was in the area that now is DuPont.
Guests are welcomed by the smell of trees, fresh raindrops and burning wood, along with the sound of birds chirping.
Two of the museum’s buildings, the granary and the factor’s house, are original structures that were moved to the modern day location in the 1930s.
The whole setup is intended to be an accurate interpretation of how the original fort would have appeared.
Kettles, pots, pans, wash bins, scrubbing brushes, gardens, tools, and flint and steel implements reflect a time when the outpost was a major player in the international fur and shingle industries.
The fort’s store — essentially the first store in Puget Sound — sold settlers many items that were not easily made by hand.
Visitors to the fort can see interpreters growing and preparing food, doing housework, working with trading goods and forging metal at molten-lava temperatures.
The fort’s interpreters give tours while dressed in clothing of the time and acting out what daily life was like then. More than 100 volunteers donate their time to the museum each year.
Darryl Hall, an interpreter since 1991, said he loves the opportunity to work with people and with nature.
“It’s nice being here in such a tranquil environment,” he said.
Erik Soderquist of Tacoma visited the museum with his 3-year-old son just before it was closed. Soderquist said that while his son enjoyed running around and playing, he enjoyed the historical experience.
“It was intriguing to actually be in a room with real history,” he said. “It's almost like a time portal.”
Now that the museum is back open, he said he would most likely visit again.
“It's not an amusement park by any means, but if you actually want to understand what life was like back then, I would recommend a visit,” he said. “It’s good fun.”
Lauderdale said he received many calls from people eagerly awaiting the fort’s reopening.
“Our volunteers are all very excited,” he said. “This is something they're all very passionate about.”
The fort hosts about 40,000 visitors annually, Lauderdale said.
“Right now is actually a great time of year to come out to the fort,” he said. “Coming into spring, leaves are budding out on trees, flowers are starting to bloom. It’s a beautiful time to start coming to the park.”
Find out more
More information about the state Department of Ecology’s cleanup projects and soil contamination is available online at the agency’s Tacoma Smelter Plume page (soil safety program) at 1.usa.gov/1HYAFQi.
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Where: Point Defiance Park, 5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Admission: From free for children 4 and under to $22 for a family.
Upcoming event: “Sowing for Sewing” will display spring activities such as preparing crops and the household for the growing season. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23.
More information about Fort Nisqually: Visit FortNisqually.org.