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Granary Restoration Throughout the Years

Granary Restoration Throughout the Years by Bill Rhind - Spring 2013

Fort Nisqually’s Granary holds a unique position among early original man-made structures that have survived in Washington State. For many years it was considered the oldest building in the state. Initially it was thought to have been built in 1843 when development of the second fort site near present day DuPont1 occurred.

However, later research uncovered records showing that the Granary’s construction took place between July 1850 and January 1851. Still the Granary can legitimately be considered the oldest standing structure in the Puget Sound area and it is also one of the very few remaining examples of original “post-in-sill” style construction in the United States.

Post-In-Sill Construction GraphicThe Granary’s history includes a pattern of being taken apart and re-constructed repeatedly throughout its life time. This cycle may have begun with some of the materials used in its initial construction. Within Fort Nisqually’s Journal of Occurrences there are 34 separate references to the Granary’s construction period between July 10, 1850 and January 3, 1851.

These fairly succinct statements mostly tell what workmen were doing on given dates, but interesting facts and some resulting questions were also brought to light. For example, on August 1st there is a specific notation of: “Chalifoux part of day pulling down Old Granary”.2 At this point workers had already been squaring timbers for 20 days for the “New Granary.” Therefore this journal entry raises the question of “Was the older granary being pulled down to clear space for a newer structure or were various components of the Old Granary being recycled into the new building?” This ‘recycling’ was a common feature of post-in-sill construction as building components (sill plates, upright timbers and infill) were standardized in size and if they had not deteriorated, they could be used again.

This theory appears to have merit since a 1984 restoration
of the Granary noted:
…a number of “filler” beams were found to have unnecessary mortise joint holes in hidden places. This would indicate that these beams were taken from other fort structures where they were placed higher in the walls and used for such purposes as door headers or collar ties. Such beams would have required mortise holes, whereas mere filler beams would have not .3

This suggests that older building materials were incorporated into the Granary either when it was originally constructed or possibly during repairs at a later date. As is often explained when interpreting the Granary, post-in-sill construction is somewhat analogous to Lincoln Logs. That is, it was built with standardized components that could be taken apart and re-used over and over. Although a structure like the Granary was not originally destined for a long life in the damp climate of the Pacific Northwest, the fact that it was repeatedly taken apart and often had rotting timbers replaced before being put back together had the unintended result of historic preservation.

Restoration Through The Years
Records show that after its initial construction in 1850, there have been four distinct restorations of the Granary that can be documented and have led to its continued survival.              

Edward Huggins moved the Granary from its location next to the Sale Shop at some point in the 1890s. Photographic evidence principally documents the move. First, in a photograph generally dated as 1885, the Granary is clearly in its original position.4 Subsequent photographs from the early 1900s through the 1920s show the Granary in its new location (some of these photographs suggest that Huggins used it as a chicken coop.) These later images verify that it had been relocated to an area to the right of the Factor’s House at least partially covering the area where the older “Tyee House” once stood.5 As Tyee House still stood on the site until about 1895,6 the Granary move must have occurred in the later 1890s. Edward’s son, Thomas Huggins further documented the move in a 1921 newspaper article when he recalled that the granary was moved by his father from its original location.7

By 1930, the Granary and Factor’s House were recognized as being historically significant and worthy of preservation. Newspaper articles from 1931 through 1933 document the process of planning for the relocation of the Granary and Factor’s House to Point Defiance Park.8 By all accounts the 1933/34 move of the Granary was, for the time, a thoughtful and professional approach to historic preservation:

At the time of its removal for restoration on the present site [Jan. 1934] each timber was marked and re-erected in its identical location in the building and the structure located in its original position in relation to the other buildings from which it had been moved by Mr. Edward Huggins, the last agent or factor. Except for the roof shingles, pair of shutter hinges, the sills and a few wall timber, the entire building is of the original material.9

Little is known about the preservation/restoration efforts of this period, except for the fact that it did happen. There are a few letters suggesting that the Granary underwent renovation work in 1962 and there is also some physical evidence of work done during this era. There is no indication however, that the Granary was systematically taken apart and put back together again as it had been in the 1890s and 1930s. The work was likely limited to replacing some rotting timbers and installing some inappropriate looking pier blocks.10 It might be described as a “Band-Aid” approach at best.

This thoroughly documented restoration took a more involved approach to the deteriorating conditions of the Granary. The existing building was measured, drawn and photographed. The roof structure was taken off in full with a crane. Afterwards sections of walls were dismantled and each timber or beam was marked with its location and a brass tag to insure it was accurately reassembled. Each piece was also cataloged and assessed for its likely date. At the end of the project, it was determined that the Granary was approximately 60 per cent original.11 It should be noted however that the term original does not necessarily mean from the year 1850, it just means original to when the Granary was relocated from the DuPont site in 1933/34.12

Continued Preservation

Even with routine maintenance, since 1984 the Granary has lost some structural stability. The walls are pulling apart due to time and the gradual downward pressure of the roof structure. Engineers from the local architectural firm of BCRA have donated their services to analyze the building and develop a plan for stabilizing the Granary and realigning the walls. This will hopefully ensure its long-term viability. The Granary is an integral part of the fort’s education and interpretation program as well as designated a Registered National Historic Landmark. We hope this restoration answers many questions and paves the way for a preservation plan that will last for many years to come. But as the past has shown, there are no real guarantees of never having to restore it again – after all it is just Lincoln Logs!   


  1. The other contenders for “oldest” structure are John R. Jackson House (1845) near Chehalis, Richard Covington House (1848) in Vancouver, U. S. Grant House (1849 but much modified) in Vancouver and Lancaster House (1850) in Ridgefield. Research provided by Drew Crooks in an email to Melissa McGinnis dated November 4, 2009.
  2. Nisqually Papers, Huntington Library San Marino California, Journal of Occurrences, August 1, 1850.
  3. Anderson, Steven A., The Physical Structure of Fort Nisqually, Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, 1988, page 94, Endnote 10.
  4. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division, Fort Nisqually seen from the northwest showing the blockhouse, Washington, ca. 1885, photographer unknown, negative number UW 1802a.
  5. “Tyee House” - As far as we can determine, the term was first used by Edward Huggins in a Portland Oregonian article about Fort Nisqually on August 19, 1900. Dr. Tolmie had labeled this building as the Officers Dwelling House (alternately referred to as the Big House or the Large House.) The name has a link to HBC terminology since “Tyee” is Chinook trade jargon meaning chief or headman. The house may have informally been called this, but there are no Journal of Occurrences references or any other sources during the HBC era which use the term. After the Factor’s House was constructed, this building was referred to in a couple instances as the “Old Dwelling House”.
  6. Huggins states in a letter to Edward H. Fuller dated November 15, 1900, that “the old house was demolished some three or four years ago”. Huntsman, Joe, Transcriptions of Huggins Letters, Fort Nisqually Research Library.
  7. Hull, Roy C., “Old DuPont Landmarks, Recall Days of Pioneer”, Tacoma Sunday Ledger, May 8, 1921.
  8. See Tacoma Ledger articles “C. of C. Plans Restoration” April 16, 1931, “Seek to Rebuild Fort Nisqually” June 25, 1931 and “Old Ft. Nisqually Will Rise at Point” December 13, 1933.
  9. Statement of Supervising Architect, Roland E. Borhek, as quoted in report The Restoration of the Granary at Ft. Nisqually, by Gene Grulich, unpublished manuscript, n. d., Fort Nisqually files.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Discussion on March 6, 2013 with former curator Doreen Beard Simpkins, who cataloged structural components during 1983/84 restoration.