Historic Village (c1940)
(Museum Photo Collection)
Craftsman-style Bungalow Homes in the Historic Village
(Museum Photo Collection)
DuPont, Washington has a rich history that stretches far into the past. For thousands of years Native Americans lived in the area. Hudson’s Bay Company employees and American settlers came to the region in the nineteenth century. Then in 1909 the DuPont Village was established by the DuPont Company. The Village has survived many changes over time. Today it remains the City of DuPont’s historic heart.
The Eluthere Irenee DuPont De Nemours and Company (or simply DuPont Company) reorganized in 1903, and became a national corporation with plants scattered strategically across the United States. As part of this expansion, the Company in 1906 purchased land in Southern Puget Sound that was accessible to roads, rail lines, and shipping lanes. For a time development of a new DuPont Company facility on Puget Sound was slowed down by the economic Panic of 1907.
Still, in 1908 the DuPont Company made the decision to push ahead with the construction of an explosives plant on its land in Southern Puget Sound. Company workers at first inhabited temporary tar paper houses on the site of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s 1843 Fort Nisqually. Later this short-term community became known as Old Town. In 1909 the DuPont Company started to create permanent housing for its employees with the first phase of building DuPont Village, located southeast of Old Town.
Fifty-eight houses were constructed in this initial phase, including impressive residences for the local Company superintendent and assistant superintendent. More houses followed in a series of construction phases carried out over the next decade. Interestingly, DuPont Village was designed to reflect the organizational hierarchy of the local Company operations with larger houses assigned to higher ranking employees.
Street names in DuPont Village referred to people, places, and things important to the DuPont Company. For example, Barksdale Avenue was named for Hamilton Barksdale, a Company official who helped select the Southern Puget Sound site; Brandywine Avenue for the first DuPont Company plant built in 1802 on Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, Delaware; and Hercules Street for a Company subsidiary called Hercules Powder Company.
DuPont Village was created to be a company town with its inhabitants directly associated with the DuPont Explosives Plant, a facility that produced dynamite powder for both industrial and military uses. The DuPont Company owned all the houses in the Village. A close-knit community developed, with strong ties between employers and employees. Every Thanksgiving, for instance, the Company gave away turkeys to workers and their families.
Over the years, various activities from bowling to Boy Scouts helped bring people together in DuPont Village. Schools also united the community, especially the large brick DuPont School that was built in 1917. Other local landmarks in the Village included the DuPont Hotel and DuPont Club House. The school, hotel, and club house are gone now. Another historic structure in the Village, however, remains standing and still in active use. This is the DuPont Community Church that was constructed in 1917.
Economic and social ties connected DuPont Village to the nearby U.S. Army post of Camp Lewis which was established in 1917 and played a key role in American military training for World War I. The post was renamed Fort Lewis in 1927, but the ties have continued to the present day. Many current residents of the City of DuPont work at Fort Lewis.
Great changes came to DuPont Village in 1951. At that time the DuPont Company sold the Village houses, and the community incorporated as a town. The DuPont Explosives Plant continued to operate for another twenty-five years. Then in 1976 the DuPont Company closed the Plant and sold its remaining land holdings to the Weyerhaeuser Company. Weyerhaeuser tore down the Plant’s industrial buildings, decontaminated the land of pollutants, and constructed the Northwest Landing development of houses and businesses.
Including DuPont Village and Northwest Landing, the City of DuPont is now a growing, modern community. However, there remains much interest in local heritage. The DuPont Historical Society’s Museum is located in a Village building that previously served the roles of butcher’s shop and first city hall. In 1987 the Society successfully pushed to have DuPont Village listed as a district on the National Register of Historic Places. Many dedicated people in DuPont continue to work hard to preserve and interpret DuPont Village, a historical gem in Southern Puget Sound.
Drew W. Crooks graduated from the University of Washington with a masters degree in museum studies. For over twenty-five years he has worked with various museums in Southern Puget Sound, and written extensively on the region’s heritage. Drew is especially interested in the history of DuPont, and the Nisqually Valley and its inhabitants over time, including Native Americans, Hudson's Bay Company employees, and American settlers.
For more information about DuPont' history former Mayor, Pola Andre, read "The Iron Lady of DuPont: Mayor Pola Andre" by Jennifer Crooks (published on SouthSoundTalk.com).