In 1895, a German brewmaster named Leopold Schmidt chose a site at the foot of the Tumwater Falls as the location for his new brewery. It had everything that he needed: access to saltwater shipping, electrical power produced by the falls, and most importantly, artesian springs of pure water that was perfect for brewing beer. In 1906 the Olympia Brewing Company, owned by Leopold Schmidt, constructed what is now called the "Old Brewhouse". It is six stories tall and constructed of red brick, elegant arches, and a copper roof with Tenino sandstone trim.
The Old Brewhouse served as the proud centerpiece of the Schmidt family brewing operation until Prohibition. The Old Brewhouse has long been associated with the Olympia Brewery which was the Capital community's largest private employer for a significant part of the past century. The importance of the structure was recognized in 1978 when the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is seen by tens of thousands of people every day from Interstate 5 and is one of the community’s most iconic structures. The Old Brewhouse influenced the design of dozens of new buildings in the region including Tumwater's City Hall, Fire Station, and the Timberland Regional Library in Tumwater.
In its prime, the Olympia Brewery was a tourist destination. Some accounts provide that the company gave tours to 100,000 visitors each year. Nearly 250,000 toured the brewery in 1962 during the World's Fair. The tasting room was most certainly a primary attraction. Children were offered root beer. The Brewery was also a key employer in the community. Many citizens have their own stories to tell about working for the brewery or about their family members’ experience.
The Historic Brewhouse today
Over the years the Old Brewhouse fell into disrepair. In 1995 it was named to the the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation's "Ten Most Endangered Properties List." In 2003 it was moved to the Trust's "Endangered Properties List." Since 2004 to the present, the Old Brewhouse has been on its "Watch List."
The City of Tumwater has taken a number of actions designed to protect the Old Brewhouse. These have included adopting Comprehensive Plan goals and policies to "protect designated … national landmarks" and "encourage the development of the Tumwater Historic Commercial Zoning District." In the mid-1990's the City adopted special zoning and shoreline designation for the Old Brewhouse to encourage its preservation and redevelopment.
Today the Old Brewhouse stands as Tumwater’s most important architectural landmark. It is a symbol of the crucial role the Olympia Brewing Company played in the history of our community, and the last reminder of the flourishing riverside industries that once formed the heart of this town.
Revitalizing this community asset is a City and community priority.