The Water Street duplex is better known as the Margaret McKenny (or Nisqually) home. She lived in the home for many years and was a famous naturalist. This is a photo of her with students and one of her published books. She was an avid mushroom enthusiast, and loved to teach about the various fungi.
Margaret McKenny (1885-1969) was an educator, author, and conservationist. She attended Providence Academy, the University of Washington, and the Lowthrop School of Landscape Architecture in Massachusetts.
Margaret McKenny spent the early years of her career in the eastern US, where, she served in an executive capacity for the City Gardens Club of New York City. She also worked for the American Museum of Natural history and co-authored the classic "Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America," with Roger Tory Peterson.
When living in Olympia, she was a member of the Olympia Garden Club, and the Olympia Audubon Society.
McKenny returned to Olympia in 1943, and became active as a conservationist and defender of our natural resources and parks.
Some of her successes:
1919 - Taught a kindergarten and primary school in her Water Street home. She lived in the upstairs apartment, and taught her school downstairs.
1950 - Worked to prevent construction of a parking garage on the site of Sylvester Park and keep Sylvester Park as a public square.
1955 - Helped found "Citizens for the Future" and the Olympia branch of the National Audubon Society, and through petition led a successful effort in the Supreme Court to preserve the woods of the former City watershed in southeast Olympia, now known as Watershed Park.
1993 - The elementary School located at 3250 Morse-Merryman Rd SE, in Olympia was named the Margaret McKenny Elementary.
Advocated for the preservation of the Nisqually Delta. The Water Street home has been called the "Nisqually house" as it was the site of many activist activities in the fight to save the delta.
Fought to keep the oak trees on Legion Way from being destroyed.
As a well known naturalist, she published many field guides for wild mushrooms, wildflowers and birds. She was an expert on mushrooms, and wrote 15 books, including "Mushrooms of Wood and Field" (1929), "Birds in the garden" (1939), "Trees of the Countryside" (1943), "Wildlife of Pacific Northwest" (1954), "The Savory Wild Mushroom," (my favorite) published in 1962, and "A Field Guide of Wild Flowers" (1968).
The Margaret McKenny campground was named for her. This campground is in Capitol Forest, on the banks of a 1930's gold panning creek (Waddell Creek).
2009 - The City of Olympia created the Margaret McKenny Park (a 4.16 acre parcel located at 3111 21st Ave SE).
Margaret McKenny Park Location Map
OlympiaHistory.org photo from 1962 - Margaret at a book signing
Following are some letters and poems written by Margaret McKenny to a friend. There are several references to her home (mispellings and xxxxx's are hers.
I am grateful to Nathan Wilson of collectivesource.com, who is yet another person influenced by Margaret McKenny's teachings in mycology and has given me permission to post these letters. (Nathan's study and research have resulted in the creation of mushroomobserver.org, truly a work of such vast knowledge, Margaret herself would be proud).
Please enjoy Margaret's letters:
2201½ S. Water
COMES A DAY OF QUIET SILVER
Comes a day of quiet silver.
Silver day among the golden,
Golden days of glittering August.
Day that dawned in silver quiet
Mist held in the quiet tree tops,
Silent gulls on quiet waters.
Mounting foothills veiled in silver
Silver deepening into purple.
And the Mountain - did we dream it?
The stars have paled -
The trees still black against the dark,
And sharp, note on note,
The swallows weave a wreath of sound,
Then a liquid whistle,
First far, then nearer, near,
And the whole air
Vibrates with clear, ecstatic song,
On and on,
Repeating song on song,
To rise, to fall, and dwindle
To a mere thread of sound.
Now light is white,
And trees take color, shape,
The swallows' wreath
Of insistent, intertwining notes
Floats far away;
The thrush's last trailing notes
Floats far away;
The thrush's last trailing trill
And silence holds.
Soft coo-ah-coo -
A band of pigeons flaps its way
And it is day.
All flowers in my garden are free,
Except the wayward sweetpeas;
Out of love and gratitude,
Have forged tiny green chains,
And chained themselves
To my lattice
And to my heart.
2201½ S. Water
July 3, 1957
Do you realize that I haven't had a word from you since your Christmas card where you said four words - "we love it here!" Well, I do hope you still love it and I do hope that some day you'll welcome me if I surprise you! Every day I think of you and the other night I dreamed we went on a picnic and you brought a big roast mutton bone because you said "Margaret likes to get it, (the meat) off in chunks." Now wasn't that a romantic dream?
If you want to know what I've been doing, I'll tell you that Knopf wants a book of Indian legends and I have been deep in books on anthropology and ethnology. I have tried for years to find certain books at the Library(State) and now have succeeded with the goal of real publication by a good publisher like Knopf to spur me on. And it has been so interesting. I have found a wealth of material which has never been published, a great deal by Franz Boas. One side of the page the Indian language version;on the opposite page Boas' translation. Boas' translations are so picturesque and as far as possible I have tried to keep the style. Then I have ponderous tomes from the Jessup Expedition and in these books there is so much general information - enough for several books. I had sent the editor about 15,000 words and Miss Martignoni wanted a book of about 25,000 to 40,000 and ready by Nov. 1957. Then to be brought out in'58. I have the material ready now and can send it if she wants the illustrator to have more time.
Then of course "The magic Mushroom." Did you read the Life article May 15th? I first read about the Wasson in Saturday Review, then in the New Yorker and in the May Harper. If you haven't read the Harper be sure to get it. The article is called Toads, Mushrooms and Schizophrenia. Just at this time I knew that thousands of Amanita pantherina were growing in our prairie woods and wrote an article for the Olympia News. I wrote it before I read all these magazines. Then we had four cases of A. pantherina poisoning and that brought things to a head. Dr. Lux, who had the cases in his care, asked me to identify the mushrooms. Then I interviewed the patients and have written it up. I'll send you a copy. One woman, near Tenino, had all sorts of halluciantions. She had not read the article. I called Dr. Stuntz and told him Dr. Lux was giving atropine. He said:"Good Lord, No." You see Amanita pantherina not only has xxx muscarine in it, but also myco-atropine, and poisoned people often die of atropine poisoning rather than muscarine poisoning. These people had to be put in straight-jackets and saw all sorts of visions.
If you read Life you know of the book, Mushrooms, Russia and History. Well Leota ordered($125.00) and I saw it and her friend Mrs. Price ordered and I'm to have it and read it. It is simply beautiful. So now write me what you are doing and come to see me. Let's go up the Dosewallips and find flowers and mushrooms.
With much love to you + Corwin, too.
2201½ S. Water
Oct 23, 1957
Such a nice letter! Thank you. It is so nice to hear from you and with auch good news! Please tell Nancy I wish her all happiness. As she has waited a while she is more likely to have real companionship as well as love.
I do wish you were here with me now. I am getting ready for the annual mushroom meeting of the Audubon. It is Thursday eve. If you get this in time could you get over? We have a big exhibition and will show lots of slides, some of mine and of other members. We were up Mt. Rainier last Saturday. The mushrooms are not as plentiful as they usually are, but, even at that, we got a lot. The porch is full now and we put them up Thursday afternoon.
I was so interested in your saying you looked at the Jesup Expedition exhibition. I have been working on the contents of the big volumes issued by the American Museum of Natural History. I have been studying Franz Boas translations of Kwakiutl, Bella Coola and Tsmimshian Indian Legends. I have just sent to New York 31,000 words. I have been just fascinated by them. I never knew there was so much humor in the Indians and so much poetry, too. These stories are quite different from any I have ever seen published.
About the visit. I am so busy here. I do wish you could be with me for a visit here. If the weather doesn't turn cold we ought to be in the middle of the mushroom season. Chantarelles are still thick. I talked to a woman yesterday and she said she had gathered 35 lbs. near Millersylvania. I have had two big baskets of meadow mushrooms. I have canned or one of my friends has done it for me,13 half pints of chantarelles. If people weren't so eager for meadow mushrooms, I'd get some of them canned.
The sun is coming out, so I guess I'm going out to the fields. I'll write again soon, for I do want to see you,
With love to you both,
Oct 15, 1958
I do think of you all the time. How could I help it in mushroom season, for that was when we met? How many nice trips we had,didn't we? And particularly memorable because we combined birds and mushrooms.
Our Audubon Society meets next Thursday, the 23rd of October. Leota Kisor is going to show her slides. She has many beautiful ones, among them an Amanita group which received a silver medal at the Chicago International Exhibition. I thought it was better to have some other person show their slides as they had many of them seen mine. It makes it easier for me that evening. Can't you, Corwin and your mushroom loving neighbor come up that evening? I'd so like to see you.
Mushroom season has been so wonderful. It is always best when we have a hot summer and early fall rains. I was up at Mt. Rainier, that Tahoma Creek section, and the colors were just marvelous. By the way, did you see my article in the April Gourmet Magazine? They had eight full color reproductions from my slides. The plates were made by the four color process in Denmark. And best of all as I wrote immediately, they sent me the plates, four each of copper and they say they are worth at least $1500.00. I can use them in another book on mushrooms.
I am so happy for your happiness in Nancy and to know you are going places and seeing things. I seem like Thoreau - I am studying my own wood lot. But there is always something new and new friends to make. But why do my best friends go away?
You may be interested to know that I dramatized one of my Indian legends and it was presented with marionettes at our Arts and Crafts Show. Hundreds of children saw it. It was called How the Raccoon got his Stripes, and was climaxed by the showing of a live coon, tame and pet-able. So you see I keep busy. I do hope you can come next week.
With love to you both,
2201½ S. Water
Dec. 13, 1959
When you read this fairy tale you will know why I haven't written, for I truly have been busy. You remember the article I wrote for the Gourmet Magazine, April 1958? Well, Mrs. Sylvia Schur, calling herself a Creative Food Consultant saw it and called me long distance from New York. She wanted me to furnish chantarelles to a new restaurant just to open in New York. Well, to make a long story short, I sent her air express hundreds of pounds(helped by my good friends) and made enough to pay off my mortgage, pay for the furnace, new roof, new water heaters etc. and have enough for a new car! Isn't that a fairy tale for you? And they want morels in the spring and more chantarelles and Boletus edulis in the fall. Besides this the University of Washington want the mushroom book (I have it ready) and Binfords and Mort want a bird book. So now you know why I haven't been down. or up whichever you may call it.
Mushrooms are still in the woods. I'm going out today for Amanita pantherina which Dr. Andrija Puharich wants for experimental purposes. Have you read his book The Sacred Mushroom? Tell me if you believe in it? He is now in Carmel, California and doing research work for four foundations.
Dr. Tyeler, at the U. is still working on A. pantherina and A. muscaria. He also has very interestign finds in Psilocybe campanulata. We gathered forty pounds A. muscaria at the Ocean this year and many hundred pounds of A. pantherina around in the prairie woods.
Do let me know how you are and the birds. I have lots of chickadees at the feeding-station. Ruby ?egbert has a pair of kinglets that come to her suet. Isn't that unusual?
With love to you both - do come to see me soon,
I only tell my friends about my good luck - some one might bust in on my market - so mum's the word. But I wanted you to rejoice for me, beings as you knew of my many financial difficulties!! I have also lost 45lbs. purposely under Dr. Koch - another fairy tale!!
2201½ S. Water
June 9, 1960
Dear Enid and Corwin:
Sunday, June 12th we, the Audubon Society, are going to Port Orchard to visit Purdy's Woods. That is, about a dozen of the Club as far as I can find out. Anyhow everybody takes their own lunch so I'm not worrying. Do you know where these untouched woods are? You go on Highway 14 toward Purdy, then take Van Scriver road about ½ mile, then turn left to Purdy home. He is George Purdy, Real estate man. I don't know whether it is he or his son who is the photographer. Anyhow couldn't you and Corwin join us? I want you to see my new car that mushrooms bought and I want to see you. It seems so long. I have so many things to talk over with you. Do try to meet us.
Did you see the May House Beautiful with the beautiful picture of the chantarelles I sent the author? The new book is mentioned and four of my pictures used, but alas, not in color. But they paid me well and it was good to see how well they reproduced. One was taken in your old orchard in Olympia.
I want to mail this now. I hope you can come.
2201½ S. Water
Dec. 1, 1961
I was so glad to hear from you the other day. I was mad as you were at Corwin for not bringing you down to see me. You just show him by coming by yourself and staying a week. Please do, I'd love to have you. We are still finding mushrooms. I have shipped ten pounds each week which is nothing compared with the first year, but anyhow my car is paid for. We had a wonderful exhibition at the October 26th meeting of theAudubon Society. Just the week before we went to Mt. Rainier and one of the boys found a 25 lb. Sparassis radicata My butcher put it in his cool room and it was good for the exhibition. But it was bad afterward. Corwin would say:"What a waste of good-eating." Well, the boys broke off two five lb. pieces and they enjoyed|that much of it. It made a nice showing at the meeting. We dragged in a big stump and arranged it as if it was growing at the base with coral hydnums higher up, then lots of moss and wonderful specimens as big as a dinner-plate of Amanita muscaria. Then at least fifty or more other specimens. You ought to like hearing about exhibitions - if I hadn't had one, you would never have met me. Remember, we went mushrooming the next day down at Johnson Point.
A boy, later on, found one of the most beautiful specimens of what I think is Hydnum caputursi It was inside a maple log and I had to lie on my tummy to get the picture. It was like looking into a fairy-cave. The teeth were long and straight, like stalactites.
A man just brought me a basket of chantarelles. They are pretty water-soaked, but I think I can dry them out. I have been drying those that I felt weren't good enough to ship. They dry beautifully over my floor register and keep their golden color. This man says his wife has canned and frozen 40 pts. He eats them three times a day. Did you read the Sacred Mushroom by Andrija Puharich? I sent him many pounds of Amanitas for his experiments and he has written very interesting letters of his experiments. Then I just finished reading Psychic by Peter Hurkos, the man he worked with. Don't pooh too much - the mind is very strange. We ought to know more of it and less of bombs.
It is a shame we can't be in the same town, for I miss our walks and talks so much.
Do try and run in on me - I'd be so glad. With love to you both,
The mushroom book put until spring! 48 in color
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