Steilacoom Historical Museum Association
Nathaniel Orr Home and Orchard
1811 Rainier Street
Nathaniel Orr left his home in Virginia at the age of twenty-one, stopping in Missouri to learn the wagon-making trade, which complimented his experience in carpentry and tailoring. In the spring of 1851 he joined a wagon train leaving St. Louis bound for Oregon. While living in Oregon City, Nathaniel learned the skills of fruit tree propagation.
Hearing of opportunities to practice his skills in the Puget Sound area he sailed north, arriving in Steilacoom on August 24, 1852. He set up a small wagon shop near Saltar’s Point in Steilacoom. After serving in the Territorial Volunteers during the “Indian War” in 1855-56, Mr. Orr began building the present building in 1857. The first floor was a wagon shop, with bachelor quarters on the upstairs level. In addition to setting out fruit trees around the wagon shop, he and a partner (Philip Keach) established a commercial fruit tree orchard near the present site of Saltar’s Point School.
Emma Thompson met Nathaniel Orr during a visit to Steilacoom from her home in Victoria, British Columbia. The two were married in 1868. At that time the wagon shop/bachelor quarters was converted to a home for the newlyweds, and a new wagon shop was built lower on the property. That wagon shop, reconstructed by the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association in 1992, is still part of the Orr Home property.
After the death of Nathaniel in 1896, Emma continued to live in the house until her death in 1908. Thereafter Nathaniel and Emma’s son Glenn (married in 1944) and his family occupied the home. The Orr family sold the property to the SHMA in 1974, during Glenn Orr’s ninety-third year. Included in the sale was original furniture dating to 1868.
In response to a damaging accident to the structure, the Association began restoring the historic home in 1997. The building had remained basically unchanged in 120 years. The restoration effort was completed in 2002. Also on the property was a shed, which had been used as an automobile service station for many years. That structure could not be restored. It was demolished and a new museum building was built on its site.
The Orr Home is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, and has been designated one of “Save America’s Treasures.”
Click here for pictures of the Orr Home (includes scenes of restoration).