Tacoma is a fairly young city as far as Western civilization is concerned. But at just over one hundred years old, the city still offers some fun bits of history.
If you’ve ever passed by the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, you may have wondered why it’s in Tacoma and asked, “What the heck it is?”
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum is one of 14 libraries around the nation that make up the world’s largest collection of manuscripts and historical documents in private hands. The archives include everything from original movie scripts to a draft of the Bill of Rights and Albert Einstein’s E=Mc2 formula.
The libraries were founded in 1983 by real estate magnates David and Marsha Karpeles, with the goal of stimulating interest in learning, especially in children. They were collectors who basically became the Andrew Carnegies of historical documents and established libraries around the country to share their collection with the nation.
Tacoma’s museum, which is free, is housed at 407 South G St. right across from Wright Park. The building is a former veterans hall and offers large Greco-Roman columns and a cannon out front.
The current display, which runs through April, covers documents associated with the War of 1812, including documents leading up to the war through to the Treaty of Ghent.
The museum is a destination gem because it is also across the street from the W.W. Seymour Conservatory, a glass, Victorian-style greenhouse with more than 500 plants from around the world growing inside its walls.
The conservatory, which is listed on the City of Tacoma, Washington and National historic registers, features a variety of seasonal flora displays and rotating events designed to better connect conservatory visitors to the natural world around them.
Not far from the conservatory, the Murray Morgan Bridge, also known as the 11th Street Bridge or City Waterway Bridge, is a gem that is hidden in plain view. Built 103 years ago, the bridge connects downtown with the tide flats, spanning the Thea Foss Waterway. In 2007, the bridge was closed because of safety concerns and the general wear and tear that the bridge had suffered in its lifespan. But as an icon of the city, it was repaired and reopened in 2013. The current name was added to honor the noted historian who worked on the bridge and wrote in its control room at night.
The Pythian Temple, located at 924 Broadway, is a building from a different time. Knights of Pythias Commencement Lodge #7 is a fraternal lodge based on “friendship, charity and benevolence.” The lodge still resembles what it looked like a century ago under the direction of noted architect Fredrick Heath, and it’s open for tours Monday nights during the Broadway Farmers Markets, special events and by appointment. The building is a hidden gem simply because Tacomans have largely walked by it for decades without seeing the grandeur that awaits behind its walls.
The Prairie Line Trail is the definition of a hidden gem since it represents Tacoma’s past like few other landmarks. Dating back to 1873, when the Northern Pacific Railroad was working on the final leg of the transcontinental railroad, the strip of railroad cuts right through downtown Tacoma. The train tracks have now been converted to a walking trail through the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus as a way to bring history to the present day with historical markers.