In honor of Black history month, GRuB is lifting up Rebecca and Alexander Howard, Olympia food entrepreneurs, farmers, business owners and community builders.
Rebecca Groundage Howard was born in Philadelphia in 1827. She met Alexander Howard, a cooper (artisan wooden cask and barrel maker) from New Bedford Mass. They were married in 1843 and arrived in Olympia in the early 1850’s. Together they took over the Pacific House Hotel, renaming it the Pacific Restaurant, which became one of the most well known dining and lodging establishments in the Puget Sound area. Former President Rutherford Hayes and First Lady Lucy Hayes stayed there and the inn rivaled influential hotels in San Francisco, CA. Rebecca served as the hotelier and her spouse served as the cook. The Pacific Restaurant was located on the corner of State and Capitol Way, in the lot next to the present day Bread Peddler which has a mural depicting Rebecca’s visage.
Frequently lauded by early legislators and businessmen, the Pacific Restaurant was known for its delicious food (and recipes) and for Rebecca’s commanding of respect as she presided over the establishment. When legislators attempted to refer to Rebecca by ‘Aunt Becky’ without her permission, as was customary by whites asserting their superiority over blacks, she put them in their place and made sure they called her Mrs. Howard.
As the Howard’s business grew, they moved to purchase land via the Oregon Donation Claim Act and set up a thriving house, orchard and farm. Vegetables from their lush farm were featured regularly in fairs from their agricultural skill and creativity. They were known to have grown over 1200 fruit trees on their property.
The Howard’s took in and later adopted Isaac Glasgow, a biracial white and Native American boy from Pennsylvania who was being abused by his white father. Upon adoption, Isaac was renamed Frank Alexander Howard and he followed in his parents footsteps as a prominent businessman and property owner in Olympia, Seattle and on the East coast.
The Howards retired from the restaurant and inn and retired to their Farm, continuing to invest in real estate and later contributed land for the building of the first railroad in Olympia. Rebecca passed on in 1881 and Alexander in 1890.
We salute Rebecca and Alexander Howard for their strength, resilience and food genius and brilliance as Black businesspeople, restaurateurs and farmers and for embracing other historically marginalized groups. The Howards defied the norms, and were pioneers for incoming Blacks and people of all backgrounds at the time, showing the care and nourishment through genius in the art of cooking. We thank them for showing us what growing home and vibrant community in Olympia and the South Sound can be!
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