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Originally published July 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 6, 2007 at 11:10 AM

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Museum of the Month

Washington State Capital Museum

Museum location: 211 21st Ave. S. W., Olympia. Permanent displays: The museum is in the historic 1923 Lord Mansion, which was built by a...

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Museum location: 211 21st Ave. S.W., Olympia.

Permanent displays: The museum is in the historic 1923 Lord Mansion, which was built by a prominent Olympia banker who once served as mayor. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, incorporating elements of Mission Revival, Italianate and Beaux Arts design. A high-ceilinged entrance hall leads to a grand central staircase. A variety of beautiful woods are used throughout the house, including glossy Brazilian mahogany paneling in the dining room.

In 1853, Olympia was the center of the most populated area north of the Columbia River. Documents and displays on the first floor describe how Olympia was initially selected as the territorial and later state capital, but for years it had to fend off attempts to move the capital to other cities, including Vancouver, Port Townsend and Ellensburg. Upstairs in the museum, a room built to resemble a Native American cedar plank house celebrates the area's native heritage, and features artifacts created by local tribal members for children to examine.

Temporary displays: On display until mid-September is the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, "From Sea to Shining Sea." This series of posters celebrates the 200-year history of the Coast Survey, now part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Associated events include lectures on early Puget Sound mapping, seafaring female sailors, and a presentation by Bill Holm, curator emeritus at Seattle's Burke Museum, on Northwest Coast canoes. The museum is also developing an intriguing Sasquatch exhibit that will open this fall.

Highlights: The mansion's beautiful grounds were initially laid out by a gardener who learned his skills at London's famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Large trees and spacious lawns are complemented by an ethnobotanical garden, where native plants used for food, tools, and medicine by Native American tribes in Western Washington flourish beneath large Western red cedar trees.

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; closed Sundays through Tuesdays. Check the museum Web site for special events, including lectures and events related to temporary exhibits. The gift shop offers many books on Northwest topics.

Admission: $2 adults, $1 kids 6-17, $5 family.

Directions: From Interstate 5 in Olympia, take Exit 105, following signs to State Capitol/City Center. After going through a tunnel (get in the left lane), turn left on Capitol Way. Turn right on 21st Avenue Southwest, and the museum is two blocks ahead on your left.

For more information: 360-753-2580 or

— Cathy McDonald, Special to The Seattle Times

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her:

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