Thurston County Board of County Commissioners created this 12 member board in 1984. The Thurston County Historic Commission is responsible for promoting and conducting public information, education and interpretive programs pertaining to county history and county cultural resources.
About the Historic Commission & Staff Contact
Their duties include:
- Identify and promote the preservation of historic resources (buildings, structures, objects, trees, and other unique natural features, sites and districts);
- Organize events, as approved by the Board of County Commissioners;
- Increase awareness of our national, state, and county heritage among citizens;
- Conduct a comprehensive inventory of historic properties with the county; periodically update the inventory;
- Review and comment on proposals to construct, change, alter, modify, remodel, remove, demolish or significantly affect properties or districts on the county historic register;
- Serve as the local review board for the purpose of approving applications for special property tax evaluation.
Contact Us: Sonja Cady, Land Use Clerk. Phone: 360-867-2117. Fax: 360-754-2939. TTY/TDD call 711 or 1-800-833-6388 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historic Commission Programs
The Thurston County Heritage Grant Program provides resources to assist in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of Thurston County’s heritage. On behalf of the Board of County Commissioners, the Thurston County Historic Commission administers the Thurston County Heritage Grant Program to assist projects that promote the public’s access to County history.
The program is funded with a portion of document recording fees collected by the Thurston County Auditor. The allocation of these fees for projects that “promote historical preservation or historical programs, which may include preservation of historic documents” is authorized under RCW 36.22.170. The revenues accrue to a dedicated fund and may not be used for any purposes other than those stipulated in the statute.
Awards Granted for 2023
The Thurston County Historic Commission received and ranked eight complete applications. The eight grant applications that were awarded 2023 grant funding were:
- Window Seat Media- The Third Thirty: Honoring and Amplifying the Voices of our Elders
- Olympia Tumwater Foundation – Schmidt House Video Tour
- South Sound Maritime Heritage Association- Tugboat Parthia Project
- Washington State Society Daughters of the American Colonists- Stories of Women and Girls, early Thurston County
- Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum- Bigelow House Storm Window Project-Eastside
- City of Tenino- Downtown Interpretive Signs
- South Thurston County Historical Society- Tenino Historical Audio Walking Tour
- Washington Center for Performing Arts– Historic Andy Crow Wurlitzer Organ Performances
What is the county historic register?
The Historic Register is an official list of places important to the history of Thurston County and worthy of recognition and preservation.
The Register was established in 1986 when the County Commissioners enacted a Historic Preservation Ordinance. A county-wide inventory of over 140 historic resources was completed in August 1985 and the County hopes to see many of the historic places identified in this inventory placed on the Historic Register.
Chapter 10 of the Thurston County Comprehensive Plan discusses identification, preservation, and protection of Thurston County's archaeological and historical resources.
Where can I find the current historic register?
What qualifies a property as "historic" for the historic register?
The County Historic Register recognizes properties that are at least 50 years old (or of lesser age if of exceptional importance), and which are important for one or more of the following reasons:
1) Historical Importance -- the property is: the site of an historic event with an effect upon society; identified with a person or group who had some influence on society; or exemplifies the cultural, social, religious, economic, political, aesthetic or engineering history of the county.
2) Architectural Importance -- the property is: (a) an individual building that embodies those distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type, period, style or method of design or construction; is the work of an architect or master builder whose individual work has influenced the development of the county; or (b) a group of buildings that may lack distinction individually but together are easily distinguished as a unit and characterize an earlier era, way of living, and construction of the built environment.
3) Archaeological Importance -- the property has yielded or may be likely to yield archaeological information important in pre-history or history.
4) Birthplaces, Graves , Cemeteries -- the property is: a birthplace or grave of a person of outstanding historical importance; or a cemetery significant because of its age, distinctive design features or association with historic events or cultural patterns.
What are the benefits of historic register placement?
Free Advice -- Preservation is encouraged by providing a process for the Historic Commission to review any proposed exterior changes to register properties, as well as relocation or demolition. The review is tied to building permit applications or other review processes applicable to the proposed work. It is to take no more than 30 days. COMPLIANCE WITH THE ADVICE OF THE HISTORIC COMMISSION IS VOLUNTARY, but if the building's historic character is destroyed, the building may be removed from the register.
Educational Program -- From time to time, the County will prepare public information programs on historic properties.
Property Tax Exemptions for Qualified Renovations
A state law enacted in 1985 provides a 10-year “special valuation” property tax exemption for renovations to historic properties on the local register. Such renovations must cost at least 25 percent of the building's value. Click here for more information.
Building Code Relaxation -- Some relaxation of strict building code requirements is available to properties on the Thurston County Historic Register in the interest of preserving historic character, while still meeting safety requirements. This is discussed on a case-by-case basis with the Thurston County Building Official, located in the Development Services Department.
What is not affected by placement?
Placement on the Register does not affect the use of the structure, require repairs or restoration and does not apply to interior alterations.
How is the advisory review conducted?
Whenever a building permit or other county approval is applied for on a Historic Register building, the Historic Commission is notified. They arrange a meeting to discuss the proposed project with the owner or person responsible for the project.
The Commission will review the proposed work for the following considerations:
1) For work on an individual historic property: effects of the proposed work in storing, changing, destroying or maintaining significant historic features of the property.
2) For construction of a new improvement or addition: compatibility of its exterior with the existing historic buildings and structures on the site.
3) In the case of work being done within a historic district: the effect of the work on the historic character of the district and how it compares to design standards adopted by the County for the district.
The Historic Commission does not expect that buildings remain exactly as they were when built, nor does it expect that buildings will be restored to their original condition. Contemporary designs for alterations and additions will be encouraged when they do not destroy historical material and when the design is compatible with the size, scale, material and character of the property and its environment. COMPLIANCE WITH THE ADVICE OF THE HISTORIC COMMISSION IS VOLUNTARY.
What is not reviewed?
1) Ordinary Repair and Maintenance
2) Emergency Repair
Special Valuation: A Local Tax Incentive Program that Applies to Historic Buildings
Special Valuation: “… is a revision of the assessed value of a historic property which subtracts, for up to 10 years, rehabilitation costs as are approved by a local review board."
During its 1985 session, the Washington State Legislature determined that as the state approached its centennial year, the preservation of a lasting legacy of historic resources was an important goal. In order to reach this goal, the Legislature passed a law which allows a "special valuation" for certain historic properties within the state.
The primary benefit of the law is that during the 10-year special valuation period, property taxes do not reflect substantial improvements made to the property.
Prior to the passage of this law, owners restoring historic buildings were subject to increased property taxes once the improvements were made. This had the effect of discouraging some owners from rehabilitating their historically significant structures. The Legislature decided that restoration of these properties would be encouraged if tax relief were available. Property tax relief was selected as a tool which could provide the financial incentives necessary to promote rehabilitation of eligible historic properties.
How the Application Process Works
Before beginning work, contact historic staff at Thurston County (360) 867-2117 for more information and to arrange preliminary review of renovation plans. (This is not mandatory, but is desirable if you want to be assured the proposed work will meet the tax program standards.) Submit application to the Assessor no later than 24 months after beginning date of the rehabilitation work.
The Assessor will review your application for completeness and verify the legal owner, legal description, etc. The Assessor will submit the application to local review board within 10 working days.
Local Review Board ( Thurston County Historic Commission):
The Thurston County Historic Commission will review the application and attachments. The commission will approve or deny the application no later than December 31st of the application year. If the application is approved, the commission will notify the applicant, Assessor, and State Advisory Council within 10 days. The commission will execute the agreement with the applicant and return the application to the Assessor.
The Assessor will file the application, agreement and certification statement (if applicable) with the county recording authority. The Assessor will also determine special valuation and enter in tax roles separately from the normal assessed value.
Forms and additional information about this program can be accessed with the links below.
- Thurston County Special Valuation Brochure
- Applying for Special Valuation-scroll down the page to Historic Property Improvement Exemption
- Special Valuation Brochure from the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
- Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation of Buildings
- Special Tax Valuation Application
Historic Preservation Forms
- Heritage Grant Application Forms-COMING SOON
- Thurston County Historic Register Application Form
- Thurston County Historic Road Sign Application Form
- Thurston County Historic Register