Feature: Fort Steilacoom Park


Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Washington has been a popular spot for photographers for years. Namely it’s the collection of old, aging barns that draws the crowd. On any given weekend during the Golden Hour you’ll find a handful of photographers with families and couples in tow to capture the rustic charm of what remains of the farm founded in the mid nineteenth century. However, it was only a farm in the traditional sense for about five years, until it became Fort Steilacoom in 1849. Ultimately it’s time as a militaary installment was short-lived as well, because it was decommissioned in 1868.

It’s this point in the locaation’s history that most locals are familiar with. After it’s decommission, the government delegated it’s use as the Insane Asylum for Washington Territory, ultimately becoming Fort Steilacoom Asylum in 1871 where its residents would go on to make use of the barns in work therapy. Residents grew crops and tended orchards, planting many of the trees that surround Waughop Lake. It changed hands again in 1875 when the territorial government reclaimed it after complaints of poor patient care. It was again renamed in the Western Washington Hospital for the Insane in 1886, and finally in 1915 it was renamed once again to Western State Hospital.

Today the original grounds of Western State Hospital are now known as Fort Steilacoom Park. The original hospital structure has since been demolished, but it’s still possible to climb the hill and view the ruins of the foundation, as well as several historical plaques detailing the site’s history. While several structures have succumbed to old age, there remain several barns that are commonly used as backdrops for photos. It’s these barns that draw hundreds of photographers every year, however I would argue that they are, by far, one of the least interesting spots for photos in such an expansive 340 acre park. They’re also often covered in chalk writing that previous photo-seekers have failed to wipe clean.

In the spring and summer, Fort Steilacoom Park is awash with bright green colors. Surprisingly, to most people, Waughop Lake is just a short walk from the parking lot, seemingly appearing out of nowhere as you clear the trees. A paved trail circles the lake, providing easy access to lake-side photos. There are large, expansive fields in which tall grass now grows, providing a warm, golden backdrop during summer, and even the occasional wildflowers, though the window for these seems to be barely a couple of weeks. Many of the fields here are lined with tall trees, elevating imagery by providing some drama.

The sun sets so beautifully behind many of the trees as well, creating illuminated and vibrantly colorful backdrops. The grounds are scattered with old wooden fences, providing just the right amount of rustic. Most of the trees in the immediate area are deciduous, making it a great place for that October transition to fall when all the leaves are changing color. Even in winter, when the foliage is gone, a special kind of romantic image can be capture among all the empty trees quietly waiting for spring.