Small-town values thrive on the eastern shore of Puget Sound.

By Susan Haynes
November 06, 2006
Matt Brown

"I got hooked the first time I visited," says Steilacoom,Washington, resident Robyn Shalikashvili. "I drove around thecorner through a tunnel of trees, and saw amazing blue water andevery inch of the Olympic Mountains." At each turn in this tinyhamlet of 6,200 people, she found another engaging vista. Thetown's appeal inspired Robyn to move here in 1998.

Steilacoom (pronounced STILL-a-come), about 45 miles southwestof Seattle, was once a bustling frontier port. The state's oldestincorporated municipality, it celebrated its 150th birthday in2004. Even so, in one resident's words, "The town's kind of asecret. Some people think you need a passport to get here."

It's more likely you'd need a time machine. Along Lafayette, thetown's main street, the small red-swirled pole of a barbershopcatches your eye. Nearby, The Bair Restaurant & Catering'sold-fashioned soda fountain serves up thick malts. And at theSteilacoom Historical Museum, Brad and Patricia Randall labor topreserve period clothing, photographs, farming implements,woodworking tools, and some stuff you'd be hard-pressed to guesswhat the heck it did. (Though they can tell you who owned it andwhere the owner's family currently resides.)

The town wasn't always so serene. "An old newspaper clippingwarned of wild and woolly Steilacoom," Patricia says. "Saloons usedto outnumber everything else."

Today, the only night crawlers are sold as bait near the ferrylanding, and you'll find few speed limits over 30. "We're walkersand talkers," says Mayor Ron Lucas. "No one moves fast, becauseyou're always stopping to talk with someone."

Such community spirit explains how local volunteers logged morethan 10,000 hours helping schools last year. "Volunteers mentoredstudents, worked with sports teams, helped in the library," saysTown Administrator Paul Loveless.

Steilacoom's stunning location shows why the Fourth of Julycelebration draws up to 18,000 people every summer. "It always getswritten up as one of the best shows on Puget Sound," Paul says."Imagine fireworks going off over Sunnyside Beach with the water,Narrows Bridge, and the Kitsap Peninsula as the backdrop."

Yet another aspect sweetened Robyn's move to Steilacoom eightyears ago. She loved her native, rural, inland Washington town."But here, there are all types of people, and our community is verydiverse," she says. "That means a lot to me for my three boys, now6, 10, and 12. I wouldn't want to raise them anyplace else."

(published December 2006)