Steilacoom at 150

Tour heritage gardens and historic homes in a waterfront town

Steven R. Lorton

Peeking past the hedges and picket fences of Steilacoom, visitors see just a hint of Washington's oldest gardens. But come Saturday, June 19, many of these gardens will be open to the public during "Celebrating Steilacoom Gardens: 1854-2004," a rare opportunity to stroll through rooted history.

Founded 150 years ago, Steilacoom is the state's oldest incorporated town. Of its oldest buildings, 32 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including houses that look as if they belong on Nantucket, with fruit trees, spirea, rugosa roses, and plots of vegetables.

Even if you miss the garden tour, it's fun to explore the town on foot ― tour maps are available at many local businesses. Stop in at Bair Drug & Hardware (1617 LaFayette St.; 253/588-9668), built in 1895, for sodas and excellent milkshakes. Next, head to Puget Sound at Sunnyside Beach Park on the town's north end. Wrap up the day with a steak or seafood dinner in the E.R. Rogers Mansion ($$$; 1702 Commercial St.; 253/582-0280) , built in 1891.

INFO: To reach Steilacoom from Seattle, take I-5 south to exit 119 west and follow Steilacoom Rd. 7 miles. Tickets for "Celebrating Steilacoom Gardens" are $15; meet at city hall on LaFayette St. or Steilacoom Community Center (2301 Worthington St.) . For information about this and other garden-related events, call 253/964-6441.