Fort Nisqually Living History Museum at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma is a restoration of a fort that once existed on Puget Sound above the Nisqually River delta. The fort was owned by the Hudson Bay Trading Company from 1833-1869.
The museum features volunteers and staff in period clothing who demonstrate crafts of the 19th century and engage visitors in historic dialogue, along with interactive exhibits and tours of the historic structures.
History of Fort Nisqually
In 1833, Fort Nisqually was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a fur trading outpost. It never had a military purpose.
The original Fort Nisqually was located in what is now DuPont, Washington, between Tacoma and Olympia. It was the first European settlement in the area and a principal port for domestic and foreign trade on Puget Sound. Initially a cabin on the shore of Puget Sound, late in the year, it was moved up the hill to a prairie.
In 1839, the decline of the fur trade necessitated a shift in focus from fur trading to commercial agricultural enterprises. So, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC)was established. The PSAC raised cattle, sheep, and horses along with crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and peas across the 160,000 acres claimed by the company. Products were exported to Russian America, Hawaii, Spanish California, Europe, and Asia. Native Americans were welcomed at Fort Nisqually as friends, customers, fur traders, farm and livestock employees, and as spouses.
In 1843 the fort was moved about one mile west, to the south bank of Sequalitchew Creek.
By 1869, the British outpost was surrounded by American territory and faced increasing pressure from settlers who wanted the farmland for their own use. The Hudson’s Bay Company sold its holdings to the United States government for $650,000, closed the fort, and withdrew from Washington Territory.
Civic-minded citizens preserved two of the original structures at the fort, the Factor’s House and Granary. These building were donated to the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma and are the only surviving Hudson’s Bay Company buildings in the United States. The House and Granary are listed on the National Historic Register.
Today there are no visible remains of the fort’s location in Dupont. However, the area is a protected archaeological site. A trail along the south bank of Sequalitchew Creek from Center Dive leads to a marker for the fort that identifies the location and describes the post. There is also a group of black locust trees originally planted in the 1850s near the Factors House.
In the 1930s, Nisqually Fort was reconstructed at it’s current location in Point Defiance Park by the Works Progress Administration, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal plan to lift the country out of the Great Depression.
Today, Fort Nisqually is a living history museum. Through exhibits, tours, and events, visitors can experience what life was like on Puget Sound in 1855.
Visiting Fort Nisqually
Be sure to follow all public health guidelines and do your part to keep everyone safe and healthy. Face covering is required.
Historic exhibits showcase objects from the Fort’s permanent collection and provide insight into the daily lives of the Fort’s residents and the workings of the Hudson’s Bay Company. All exhibits include hands-on activities for visitors of all ages.
- You can also search online for select artifacts from the Fort Nisqually Permanent Collection. You’ll find objects used by the people who lived and worked on Puget Sound in the mid-1800s.
- The Fort Nisqually Research Library is available to researchers. The non-circulating materials include transcribed copies of primary source materials related to Fort Nisqually, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Puget Sound Agricultural Company in addition to numerous secondary sources covering a broad range of topics related to this history.
The Heritage Gardens at Fort Nisqually represent the much larger historic garden that was located along Sequalitchew Creek at the original site of the fort, in what is now Dupont, WA. The gardens reflect 19th century agricultural practices. Due to their remote location, they grew as much of their own food as possible. The primary crops at Fort Nisqually were turnips, potatoes, onions, peas, carrots, and cabbage. They also produced foods to sell to Russian fur traders and to export wool to England.
- Today, some of the crops growing in the Fort Nisqually garden include “Hudson’s Bay Wheat” (aka Lammas) from the USDA seed bank in Washington D.C. and reintroduced to the Northwest by Richard Scheuerman of Seattle Pacific University and a fruit orchard, along with vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, flowers, and native plants. Some of the trees were grafted from survivors at the original Fort Nisqually site.
Fort Nisqually Ticket information
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum currently requires advance online purchase tickets in order to limiting the number of guests onsite at any time and ensure social distancing can be maintained.
- Regular adult admission: $9.00. Events and special exhibits are $9.00-$15.50. Members receive free admission; membership begins at $45.
The Museum Store is located inside the Visitor Center. Admission is not required to browse the intriguing selection of Pacific Northwest history books, locally made gift items, and artisan jewelry. It’s the ideal place to find unique gifts that reflect the history of the region. You’ll discover many hard-to-find historical items, from wooden toys made in the USA and children’s books to reenacting supplies and Green River knives. Proceeds from the store support Fort Nisqually’s educational programs and exhibits. Fort Nisqually Foundation members receive a 10% discount in the store.
For more information, visit the Fort Nisqually Museum website.