The Story of Olympia, Washington … Bordeaux, Our Black Hills Ghost Town

Bordeaux, Washington in its heyday 

In this chapter of the Story of Olympia we travel to the ghost town of Bordeaux, Washington, a lazy fifteen-minute drive from Olympia. We even get to visit with a couple of authentic Bordeauxans, Armeda Tupper and Roy “Jiggers” Layton. They grew up and lived in the town whose only residents these days are ghosts (or so it’s said).

Burrowed into the eastside of the Black Hills, Bordeaux was named for Thurston County ‘timber barons’ Tom and Joe Bordeaux. It was once a lively and busy place with houses for about 300 families, stores, a post office, a shingle mill, a planing mill, a railroad and hundreds of loggers, millers, cooks and machinists.

The town thrived from the 1890s until the middle of World War II when the final whistle for the mill sounded. Like a coal mine with no coal, the Bordeaux lumberjacks had trees to fall. They had cut, milled and sold every last one of them. So, the merchants left, the workers left, the families left and finally even the most resolute of Bordeauxans gave up on the place. Now, in a touch of irony, the forest has re-grown and re-claimed Bordeaux.

Little of the town remains. It sits on private land and is a designated a protected archaeological site … hikers, visitors, mischief makers and vagabonds are not allowed. But you can visit Bordeaux with us!

We’ll talk with with Jiggers and Armeda on location in Bordeaux, the ‘big’ city of the Black Hills that died not so very long ago.

A few decades ago, I tried to add a short page or two to the history of Olympia, Washington. At the time I counted among my friends many of the people from Olympia, and Thurston County, who’d been important to the area’s history. This was at the same time a new medium appeared in the county called community television which allowed for countless innovative ways ordinary people could display their various talents and interests. It was a hit and miss affair, but it was also a lot of fun. It presented an irresistible opportunity for enthusiastic lay historians to give voice to a part of Olympia’s history, straight from those who’d made it. What a perfect way to do something more than a dry chronology of events. We thought, here’s an opportunity to add warm flesh and a beating heart to what would otherwise be a calcified skeleton of past events and personalities.

Although we had between little and no experience in such things, we were given the keys to the studio and resources of Thurston County Television (TCTV), and off we went. I invited some of my more elderly friends who’d accomplished so much, and who have now sadly passed, to join me in the studio for conversations about their part in the region’s affairs over the past half-century or more.

We called it “The Story of Olympia”and TCTV cablecast it as a series. Dick Pust, hall-of-fame radio personality, provided voice-over for the intro script; a film of early twentieth century Olympia was given us by local entrepreneur Hob Zabel; and the incomparable, irrepressible Andy Crow added an original soundtrack recorded on an old pipe organ. We’re proud of what we did, and sincerely hope you enjoy listening in on talks with some of the great people who cared about their city and left it a better place because they were here. Please, feel free to share.

I hope that this series of videos will inspire you to record members of your family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances so that their memories and histories will be remembered. And today all you need a smart phone … so why not start shooting?

Have a listen here:


About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
This entry was posted in The Story of Olympia, Washington and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Story of Olympia, Washington … Bordeaux, Our Black Hills Ghost Town

  1. John Parks says:

    The best snakes, skunk, and bear stories I’ve ever heard.  Thanks Joe!


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