Olalla and its History

Olalla is a small unincorporated community in Kitsap County, Washington, United States. It is located on Colvos Passage on Puget Sound, just north of the Pierce County county line. Olalla used to be as large as Port Orchard, the county seat of Kitsap County.

Olalla was settled in its early years by a large number of Norwegian and other Scandinavian immigrants because of its similarities to their native countries. Noted as early as the 1860s Olalla developed a commerce center by way of its good sea water access. The “old town” port located by the Olalla Bay was made up of many business buildings, most on piers. Shipping and the mosquito fleet (ferrying system at that time) was very busy moving materials, goods and people.

Olalla’s name is the Salishan and Chinook Jargon word for “berry” or “berries” (usually olallie or ollalie in most lexicons of the jargon).

By the end of the 19th century, the cutting down of all old-growth forest was well on its way out. Olalla was no exception. The land was stripped clean leaving a barren landscape. This created an opportunity for farming as dynamiting stump and clearing the land became a standard operation. With European immigration fueling the growth spurt, new commerce came by growing strawberries and vegetables. Olalla being a port of commerce flourished as the logging, farming and boat building were king.

Olalla was served by many steamships, including the Virginia V which is the last operational example of a Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet steamer. She was built along the shores just south of Olalla near Maplewood. She was once part of a large fleet of small passenger and freight carrying ships that linked the islands and ports of Puget Sound in Washington state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On 21 October 1934, a severe Pacific storm swept through the Puget Sound. Virginia V was attempting to dock at Olalla, when the brunt of the storm hit. The powerful winds pushed the ship against the dock as the waves pounded the ship into the pilings. The result was the near destruction of the upper decks.

All is gone now. Since the Narrows Bridge was built, Olalla has enjoyed a quiet rural setting while being converted into a residential community for commuters to nearby cities and towns. Al’s Grocery Store is the only old structure left by the lagoon and the locals hold it dear to their hearts.

On the way up hill along the Olalla Valley Road from the lagoon, the Olalla Bible Church and the Olalla Community Club stand.

The Olalla Bible Church or “”The Family Church with a Big Heart” was built around 1906 by the Modern Woodsman of America and in 1937 they deeded the structure to the community. The OCC was incorporated and chartered to serve the community. It is a rare treasure passed on by generations of Olalla families.

Learn more about Olalla Bible Church

Olalla Community Club. Its mission is to support the citizen, organizations and maintain the building for social and civic needs. Over the decades, several renovations have taken place. In 1976, the OCC created its non-profit status and in September 2007 a new metal roof was installed. The current president is Marty Kellogg. Next to the OCC is the Olalla Bible Church, built around 1910. Together they represent some of the oldest and largest historic buildings still in working order in South Kitsap. Throughout Olalla’s history, the strong sense of community has played out in various forms of a community celebrations. Most notable was the Strawberry Festivals in the 60’s and beginning in 1991, a 25-year run with the Olalla Bluegrass Festival. Currently, the name has changed to the Olalla Americana Festival to support a wider genre of music. Learn more about the Olalla Community Club

Olalla has some small claim to fame as the location of an early 20th-century health retreat (Sanitarium) called Wilderness Heights a.k.a. “Starvation Heights”. The sanitarium was owned and operated by Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard. Hazzard’s practice of starvation to cure one’s ills resulted in the death of a visiting English heiress in 1911, and the conviction of Hazzard for her murder. The original bathtub where Hazzard performed autopsies is still in the house, which has a family residing there.

Olalla author Gregg Olsen wrote about Starvation Heights in his award-winning book of the same name.

In addition to that, Gregg Olsen has recently acquired Al’s, after its shutdown during the covid pandemic and opened the Olalla Bay Market & Landing.

Learn more about Starvation Heights

Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest

In 1911 two wealthy British heiresses came to a sanitarium near Seattle to undergo the revolutionary fasting treatment of Linda Burfield Hazzard. It was supposed to be a holiday for the two sisters. But within a month of arriving at what the locals called “Starvation Heights”, the women were emaciated shadows of their former selves, groaning in pain, waiting for death.

It was in this house in Olalla, Wash. that Claire Williamson breathed her last breath.

Williamson had fallen into the hands of Dr. Hazzard, a woman of extraordinary evil and greed who would stop at nothing short of murder to achieve her ambitions. Her story is told in Starvation Heights by acclaimed author Gregg Olsen, it’s a true crime story and a haunting saga of medical murder set in an era of steamships and gaslights.

Buy Starvation Heights on Amazon or Audible

You can see a list of all Gregg Olsen’s books here

Olalla Music Americana Festival

The Festival will return in 2024.

The one-day festival features local and national music artists, great food trucks and regional fare, artisan handmade arts and crafts, old time craft demonstrations, local breweries featured in the beer garden, a variety of activities for children, and the legendary Berry Pie Baking Contest; all in the village of Olalla; a true idyllic setting.

The Olalla Americana Music Festival (OAMF) is a long standing event in Kitsap County. It began in 1991 as the Olalla Bluegrass Festival founded by the board of Directors of the Olalla Community Club. As its popularity grew over the years, it represented a larger opportunity to showcase the Americana genre from many talented individuals and groups in the communities of the Pacific Northwest and across the United States. Thus in 2016 the festival was re-branded as the Olalla Americana Music Festival, and, with its new name, began to shape its future as an entirely volunteer run music festival providing a full day of community engagement against the backdrop of American musicians and artists.

Visit the Olalla Music Americana Festival website to check out photos and footage from previous festivals.

Olalla Bay Market and Landing

An Olalla gathering place since 1884.

Olalla’s favorite spot to enjoy the beauty of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and the company of each other is making a big comeback! The Olsen family of Olalla bought the shuttered Al’s Market in early 2021 with a vision of restoring the historic property and creating a one-of-a-kind gathering place for their community.

Nearly two years, and several disappointing setbacks later, the family and staff opened their doors in mid-April 2023.

Operating hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 8am – 9pm. Coffee and breakfast sandwiches and pastries start the morning, then salads, charcuterie and soft pretzels starting at 11am, and finally, house-made (best) sour dough pizza service at 4pm.

Learn about the house-made sour dough pizza at the Olalla Bay Market.

Hungry for updates? Visit the Olalla Bay Market website, sign up for their newsletter or follow them on Facebook!

Olalla’s Polar Bear Plunge

While some folks will start the New Year with a cup of strong coffee and a football game, dozens of intrepid souls will gather to jump from the Olalla Creek bridge into the icy waters below.

They call themselves “Polar Bears.”

It’s a decades-long tradition New Year’s Day tradition. Although the origins of the Polar Bear jump have become hazy, old timers remember that it was started by John Robbecke and a couple of other undaunted — some say crazy — locals. Robbecke was the longtime owner of Al’s Store, now Olalla Bay Market. Way back when.

The jump officially begins with a cannon shot at noon on Jan. 1, but many people take their first plunge earlier and do multiple jumps.

Costumes and refreshments

Some jumpers wear costumes. Some jump to clear their heads of New Year’s Eve over-indulgence. Others do it on a dare. Still others have made the leap every New Year’s Day for years and think it would be bad luck to miss it.

Traditionally, every jumper is entitled to an official “Olalla Polar Bear” certificate, suitable for framing. And specially designed sweatshirts are sometimes available for purchase.

Gregg and Claudia Olsen, owners of the Olalla Bay Market and Landing, kindly provide free hot cider to all who need a warm-up. This year Harbor Haute Dogs was also selling gourmet franks in the market parking lot.

Read the rest of this article on GigHarborNow.org

The Olalla Community Club

Through the decades, the Club has meant something to each generation and holds a history to be maintained. Olalla is on the southern end of Kitsap County and is unincorporated. The Club is a place for the community to come together for social purposes and deal with issues that affect it.

The Club’s mission statement is to preserve and maintain Olalla’s heritage and foster a sense of community.

You can visit the Club website for more info and follow them on Facebook.


  • Olalla Jam Session every other Thursday from 6pm til 9pm.

Backline provided. Bring your instruments. Both acoustic and electric.

This experience is for all musician levels to engage. Please help bring open mic music to Olalla! Just come hang out enjoy the evening…it’s free!

  • The Second Saturday Concert Series

A great way to spend an evening enjoying music, food and the setting. Starts again in October 2023 Thru May 2024. Check the Club website for more info

  • Swap Meet

Regular swap meets are organized throughout the year (Friday and Saturday) from 9am til 4pm. Many treasures to be found!

  • The 2024 Olalla Americana Music Festival

Next edition is on August 17th 2024: bands, variety of food, beer garden and much more… Treat yourself to a well established local event focused on a full day of fun in a rural setting! More about this festival here

  • Olalla Polar Bear Jump

It’s a decades-long New Year’s Day tradition! While some folks start the New Year with a cup of strong coffee and a football game, dozens of intrepid souls will gather to jump from the Olalla Creek bridge into the icy waters below. They call themselves “Polar Bears.” More on the Polar Bear Jump here.

Santa A-Round Olalla!

A community event that has brought smiles to the faces of our kids for generations. Schedule will be posted on the Community website and Facebook page and shared throughout Olalla Bay Market and Olalla social media channels.


In 1906 or thereabouts, the building or “hall” was built by The Modern Woodsmen of America Insurance Company, a fraternal organization dedicated to community involvement and support. Their creed was, “There is a destiny that makes us brothers, none goes his way alone, all that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”

In 1937 they deeded the property to the community and the Olalla Community Club was incorporated. In the 70’s we became a 501-c-4 organization. The OCC mission and purpose as stated in the original and 1972 amended Articles of Incorporation, are as relevant today as they were in 1937:

  • To engage in and promote worthy community projects for the benefit of the community of Olalla and contiguous territory;
  • To acquire, own and hold a community hall for social, fraternal and scientific purposes;
  • To promote and foster various community projects of a scientific, educational and charitable nature; and
  • Any resident of the community of Olalla shall be eligible for membership in the Olalla Community Club.

For over 80 years, the Clubhouse has served as the heart of the community with countless dances, meetings and socials. But in the 1980’s the building fell into disuse and disrepair.

In 1991, buoyed by the renewed community spirit that included a fight to save Banner Forest, a small but enthusiastic group began the formidable task of renovating the historic building. Shoveling ankle-deep pigeon guano from the upper level was just the beginning. Plumbing, painting, bathroom and kitchen remodeling, foundation work—even digging a well—have brought the Clubhouse to comfortable standards. In the years since, the Clubhouse has served as the scene of swap meets, weddings, scout meetings, political forums, ice cream socials, dances, potluck dinners, birthday parties, and community events, gatherings and support—anything and everything that brings friends, neighbors and families together.

The clubhouse is one of the few remaining buildings from Olalla’s historic past, and they’re working hard to preserve this community treasure. Today, people in the community are invited to pay a membership fee of $35/per person or $50/family rate to support the mission and upkeep of the Clubhouse. Some of the events held at the Clubhouse generate use fees.

If you want to support the Club by becoming a member or donating, please see the dedicated Membership page on the Club website.