Washington is a beautiful state with an incredible balance between nature and humanity. Steilacoom is no different, it’s a beautiful little town from which the view is incredible. However, like any town, there are plenty of reasons that it may not be for everyone.
1. The Weather
Do you like rain? Maybe you like it now, but would you still like it if it rained every day for two hundred days straight? I’m going to answer that question for you: Unless you’re already living in either the Pacific Northwest or Great Britain, you probably wouldn’t.
A lot of people move to Western Washington knowing that the rain is going to be there and expecting to be okay with it. Most of them end up becoming miserable victims of the weather. Scientific studies have shown that a lot of people who experience prolonged exposure to sunless gray skies can actually develop depression, even if they’ve never had it before. This is similar to seasonal depression, but it can happen anywhere that experiences lots of rain.
No matter how tough you think you are, the lack of sun will hit you hard. (As a side note, everyone will know if you have a fake tan, since it’s virtually impossible to get a real one in Steilacoom without leaving the state.)
2. It’s a Small Town
Steilacoom is not a very big town, but it isn’t the same kind of small town that you get in the American midwest. It is sparsely populated, but its proximity to beaches and nature has made it a hotspot for retirees and rich people who can afford to work from home.
As of 2019, Steilacoom only had 6,270 people living in it, but people are always coming and going. If the small population turns you off, it is completely understandable. You’ll have to drive out of your way to access most big stores and larger cities.
This means that along with having many of the disadvantages of being a small town (you need to go an entire town over just to get groceries) it also has relatively high property values.
3. Expensive Homes
While there are homes in town that are only $100,000 to $300,000, most will fall in the range of $500,000 to $1 million dollars. Property in the area is fairly expensive, with a median of about $580,000.
This is somewhere around $100,000 higher than the median home price for the west coast in general, especially considering that a large number of homes in the town are priced significantly higher than that.
Maybe that isn’t so much of a problem for you if you have the money, but if you’re trying to save money, Steilacoom might not be the best place for you to settle down.
4. The Name Is Easy To Misspell
I lived in Steilacoom for almost twenty years. If you move there, not only will you be struggling to help others spell the name of your hometown, but you will also be struggling to spell or even pronounce the names of lots of the surrounding towns.
Only a few hours away sits Puyallup. Puyallup looks like it should be pronounced Pu-yal-up, but it’s actually pronounced Pyoo-al-up. Prepare to have your mind absolutely obliterated every time somebody says the name of a place, because it will be confusing.
5. Its Most Memorable Landmark Is A Mental Hospital
Steilacoom is one of the oldest settlements in Western Washington, and because of this, it has a prominent civil-war era military base. Or, at least it used to. The base was decommissioned in 1668, and two years later it was converted into a mental hospital.
This hospital was the site of various horrors, as many were during that era, and there are rumours that it’s original buildings were so haunted they got torn down. In reality, they were probably torn down because they were structurally insecure and people kept going in to look for ghosts. But what’s the difference between people thinking there might be ghosts in a place and there actually being ghosts in a place?
After the original buildings were deemed unfit for keeping people in, the state built the monolithic Western State Mental Hospital.
I should say that the hospital is a beautiful building, and that it is technically only adjacent to Steilacoom. But for a lot of people having many of Washington State’s most dangerous criminally ill people so close by can be a source of anxiety.
6. Crazy Schools
The school system in Steilacoom is fine. You can give them some credit for being willing to experiment. For instance, when I was a student in the Steilacoom School District, they started a Washington Virtual Academy homeschooling program. That program is now over though, and their in-person schools have a lot of problems.
Steilacoom’s 4-6th grade elementary school, Saltar’s Point, is a little infamous in the community for being kind of awful, and the student test scores definitely reflect this. Steilacoom High School is a lot better, but they do refuse to fire a few particular teachers who have a reputation for sexually harassing students. Things can always change over time, but their track record is far from pristine.
Fortunately, there’s a better High School just up the street in Lakewood, so at least there’s an alternative for concerned parents.
There’s also a sense that Steilacoom High School doesn’t really do much to serve their low-income and minority students very well in comparison to their rich white students (of which there are altogether too many). Since the only alternative schools are out of town, this inequality can be a big problem.
7. Sunnyside Beach
Sunnyside is Steilacoom’s claim to fame in its general region. This is unfortunate, as most of the year the wind and rain make it a terrible place to visit, but in the summer it tends to get fairly crowded. And since the sand portion of the beach is actually fairly small, space can run out pretty quickly.
If you do live in the town and you want to get around the crowds, you can either go when the weather is cold and cloudy or you can go in the evening when most tourists have moved on. However, the crowding certainly makes for a less than pleasant visit during the optimal beach-going conditions.
8. Too Many Vacation Homes
I’ve always been utterly baffled as to why Steilacoom of all places attracts so many wealthy vacationers. Sure there’s a nice view, but that’s true of so many places in the world where the sun actually shines sometimes.
Even historically, in the early 1900s the town was known as “the playground of the rich,” and there was a trolley built just to bring wealthy business people from Tacoma (which was at the time the biggest city in the state) to Steilacoom so that they could play golf.
Now, this manifests as the entire town being almost nothing but huge homes overlooking the Pudget Sound. This might sound nice, but it’s not.
For one thing, they obstruct everyone else’s view of the sound from the best hill in town. For another, if you have a job anywhere else in town, you’ll have to deal with terrible entitled old people, and anyone who’s ever worked retail knows how much that sucks.
9. Chamber’s Bay Golf Course
The Chamber’s Bay Golf Course is only a problem sometimes. It’s a world-class golf course, which would be a good thing if you really care about golf. For everyone else in town, it’s just a pretty park with a nice view.
The exception is when it’s being used for a golf tournament. A few years ago the US Open was held there, and Steilacoom and the neighboring town of Lakewood had to house all the people who came for the event.
This turned out to be utterly impossible, and not only was there not enough room to house all of those people, but their presence also created a never-ending traffic jam for over a week.
Now, this doesn’t happen that often, and given the disaster that was the last time it may be a long time before it happens again. But you can never underestimate the ruling class’s lust for golf. They could be back any time, and that’s a risk that all the locals have to take.
10. There’s Nothing To Do
The only things to do in Steilacoom are: go to the beach and go to the other beach. The closest movie theater is in Lakewood, just like the closest grocery store and all of the nicest restaurants. Is Lakewood terribly far away? Not really. But depending on where you live, this can be pretty inconvenient. It’s especially brutal for children and teenagers who don’t have access to a car.
Certainly, it makes going out to do things impossible for a lot of people, as the weather makes it difficult for most of the year.
11. No Nearby University
The closest Higher Education to Steilacoom is Pierce College in Lakewood, a community college with a fine reputation but a community college nonetheless. If you’re looking for a town with good educational opportunities then you’ll have to look elsewhere.
12. Proximity To Joint Base Lewis-McChord
This is another thing that is certainly a mixed bag. Living near a military base certainly grants a lot of cool opportunities that can’t really be gained anywhere else. Growing up in Steilacoom, I knew a lot of people who worked in the military in all sorts of positions, which definitely had a good effect on me.
On the other hand, Lewis-McCord is an Army Air Force base and it’s one where the air force sometimes tests new planes and helicopters that are just so loud. The volume is annoying sometimes and they do this at all hours of the day, which is definitely not fun.
13. Loud Trains
An extremely important part of Washington’s industry is its south-bound rail line, which carries goods from Canada and Northern Washington south to Oregon and California. It also carries people sometimes, although there isn’t a train station in Steilacoom where you can take advantage of that.
What is there is a rail crossing right next to Sunnyside beach where pedestrians frequently cross. In order to avoid hitting people, the trains passing by Steilacoom always use their horns as they pass the town.
Now, even if they didn’t use their horns, they would still be incredibly loud simply because they are loud things. But once you factor in the sound of the horns, it can easily be enough to wake you up whenever they pass, especially if you’re a light sleeper.
14. Poisonous Dirt
In some parts of Steilacoom the dirt is literally poison. In Steilacoom, there used to be a huge paper mill, and one of the things that this paper mill did was pump huge amounts of arsenic and lead into the earth.
This is something that is awful for so many reasons. For one thing, if you have children, it’s so hard to get them to not eat the dirt. For another, if you choose to grow a garden you have to spend extra effort to make sure that they don’t take any nutrients from the town’s natural soil, since if they do they will be infused with arsenic and lead.
On the hot dry days that come in July and August (the region’s only two summer months), the arsenic can actually end up in the air as well, which means that spending a long time outside can end up making you and your kids feel sick.
I actually remember only being able to play outside for a couple of hours at a time because I would end up feeling so bad. Definitely a con, especially for young families and retirees.
15. Nobody Knows Where It Is
Steilacoom is not a very big town, and this leads to most people, even people who live quite close to it, not really knowing where it is. A lot of the time when I’m talking to other Washington natives,I just end up saying that I’m from Lakewood.
This is fairly inconvenient if you’re trying to describe where you live to someone.
16. Blackberry Bushes
Maybe you like eating blackberries. I do. But these bushes are still just about the worst weeds in the entire western Washington region.
They can grow anywhere, and they will not die. We had a bush growing in our backyard before we moved out that we tried just about everything to kill and it survived all of it. Fire, poison, salt, nothing could kill it.
And these spiky awful bushes are just about everywhere in Steilacoom, pricking unsuspecting pedestrians and generally terrorizing the wildlife.
17. No Nearby Hospitals
There is a small hospital in Lakewood, but if you need medical treatment beyond basics you need to go all the way to Tacoma. Steilacoom is probably a pretty bad place to hurt yourself or to get sick. It’s definitely a bad place to get arsenic poisoning, but that might just be inevitable.
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