As I was driving down Meridian yesterday, I came across the sun shinning down on the Ezra Meeker statue and the ivy cabin area where his home originally was built before the Meeker Mansion we know today. Ezra and his family lived in the cabin for 26 years! The ivy was actually planted by his wife Eliza Jane to provide shade for the cabin in 1864. The ivy continued to flourish (as we all know it does) many years after the cabin walls rotted away. Ezra and his wife Eliza donated the “Pioneer Park” land to the citizens of Puyallup. The vines were saved to be part of the history of the city as well as the concrete pergola to support them.
Eventually, the Meeker family moved out of the Meeker Mansion in Puyallup. The statue of Ezra was created to honor him and his one-time home. Ezra came back to Puyallup for the local ceremony in 1926.
Just a few years later Meeker would be hospitalized with pneumonia while in Detroit. His condition got better and he returned back home to Seattle but he unfortunately got sick again. George F. Frye (built the Frye Hotel in Seattle) was married to Ezra’s oldest child Louise Catherine. While he was sick he was moved to a room at the Frye Hotel (room 412) and he eventually passed away a few months later on December 3, 1928. He was 97 – just 27 days short of his 98th birthday. His body was taken back to Puyallup where it rest today next to his wife at the Woodbine Cemetery.
Today, the Pioneer Park holds many events throughout the year. One of the new additions is the Kiwanis Kids Spray Park which was just finished in 2015.
Ezra Meeker, was born December 29, 1830 in Huntsville, Ohio, the son of Jacob Meeker and Phoebe Meeker. By the time he was 10 years old, the Meeker family had moved to Indiana, near Indianapolis. Even at this young age, Ezra Meeker had a pioneering spirit, insisting he walk and explore; he walked nearly every step to Indiana.
In 1851, he married his childhood sweetheart, Eliza Jane Sumner, and together they headed out west in search of land. After a bitter winter in Iowa, they joined the Oregon trail immigration, finally arriving in Kalama on the Columbia River. In 1853 they moved to McNeill Island, then again to Tacoma. After an unsuccessful mercantile venture in Steilacoom, Ezra moved his family to Puyallup in 1862. Until now, he had ignored the valley, preferring to live in other parts of the Puget Sound. In the 1860’s many settlers ignored the valley because the extremely dense vegetation and forest made land very difficult to clear. Soon however, the fertile soil underneath this thick vegetation was discovered for its ability to grow healthy and abundant crops, and settlers began the back breaking work of clearing small plots of land. It wasn’t until Meeker began to see the potential of reaping great profit from the land that he chose to settle in Puyallup. In fact, at first, Meeker only cleared the land immediately around his cabin, and in that narrow path, amongst the un-cleared stumps that still remained is where Ezra planted the first Hops in the valley.
Ezra Meeker was actually about 20 years behind the first valley settlers, and was not a founding father as many today believe. In part, it was a serious lack of money that finally convinced him to come to the valley. Ezra had very little money. For a coat, it was said he used a blanket with a hole cut in it for his head. He and his family lived in a tiny cabin (on site of our current Puyallup Library & Farmers Market – which Eliza helped to start) for the next 26 years (until his Mansion would be built). During this time, his only source of income was helping other landowners clear their land. That was until his Hop crops began to make Ezra Meeker and other land holders very rich – at least for a while…
A brief History of Meeker Days
Ezra Meeker Day’s began in 1939 when a group of civic leaders formed the event to promote the life and spirit of Pioneers as exemplified in the life of our community founder, Ezra Meeker.
The Day’s of Ezra Meeker, as it was called at the time, was cancelled for the years during WWII. In 1946 the celebration was revived, but then marred by tragedy. A popular event during the celebration was a Cops and Robbers type play, featuring the Kangaroo Kourt and Keystone Kops. During the performance of the play, a community member perished in a fall from a roof while attempting to “escape” the Keystone Kops. The event continued another two years, but finally cancelled as this tragedy weighed heavy in the minds of the community.
However, nearly 20 years later, the Puyallup Boosters and Puyallup Jaycees revived the event as a summer promotion. In 1978, the name was changed to the current Ezra Meeker Days, continuing the tradition of honoring the Pioneer spirit which gave root to our Puyallup community.
In short, the name came from an Indian phrase “pough,” which meant “add more,” and “allup,” which meant “the people.” The Indians who lived in Puyallup’s river area, he said, always gave more than needed or expected to other Indians who came to trade. They were a very generous people.
Our first settlers in the valley began to know the town as Meekersville, after Ezra Meeker, the one most considered the first to plat the land in the valley. Mr. Meeker wasn’t fond of the name, so when the first postmaster was asked by the government postal office the name of the town, he replied Franklin, named after the first postmasters (J.P. Stewart) hometown in New York. However, this name frustrated settlers who found that because Franklin was a common name for communities throughout the still forming United States, their mail often ended up in the various Franklin’s throughout the States. Once Washington became a state, Ezra Meeker was asked to supply a name for the town in which this land laid, he choose Puyallup as its name.
Why Puyallup? Ezra was determined to pick a name that no other town in the United States would have, or ever likely have in the future, so that citizens would be assured that any and all mail addressed to “Puyallup” would no doubt find its way to this distinctively named city.
In later years however, Ezra Meeker always questioned (and regretted) his decision, seeing the difficulty those from outside the region had in pronouncing the name or interpreting its spelling.
The Meeker Mansion in Puyallup is one of the cities most treasured attractions.
Born near Huntsville, Ohio on December 29, 1830 in a log cabin, Ezra Meeker life spanned a period of almost a century in which he lived to see a nation of 13 million spread to the far Pacific with the population increasing 10 times. He took a noticeable role in the expansion and development. (Ezra Meeker history & photos)
Ezra Meeker was a trailblazer, author and a superb salesman of the Pacific NW. Meeker is almost certainly known best for his 25 year struggle to interest the nation and particularly interest Congress to the marking of the Old Oregon Trail, over which three hundred thousand immigrants had travelled searching for a start that was fresh in the West.
Known throughout the World
Long before this epic adventure Meeker had already lived a three score and ten years of purposeful and vigorous life by pioneering and leadership that made him well-known not only locally and nationally but internationally. There are very few men who have accomplished so much in a lifetime.
In the late 1800’s, Ezra Meeker married Eliza Jane Sumner then in April of 1852, a son was born. When his son named Marion was only 7 weeks old they joined the trail west with total possessions of:
• two yoke of oxen;
• one wagon;
• three cows;
• provision for the trail;
• High hopes.
Five long, dusty, hot and very fatiguing months they finally reached Portland, Oregon on October 1st, with only 3 dollars.
Staked His Land
They eventually settled in today’s Puyallup. It was there that Mr. Meeker staked his claim, cleared the land and then became a very influential, and one of the richest men in the state, as well as internationally and nationally famous in commercial circles.
The Meeker Mansion is an Italianate Victorian mansion with 17 rooms. Located on Spring Street in Puyallup, this home built by Meeker and finished in 1890. Meeker finished building this very impressive mansion as a gift to please his wife. The home was designed by Ferrell and Darmer Architects from Tacoma. The Meeker Mansion is now owned and operated by the Meeker Historical Society which is a 300 member, private, non-profit corporation.
Lets continues its history….
Ezra Meeker accumulated his wealth during the 1870’s from the hops he grew in the fertile valley soil. Together with his wife’s inheritance, they had their home (today’s Meeker Mansion) built for a cost of $26,000. The mansion rooms included a billiard room and a third floor ballroom as well. It even was built with a rudimentary intercom system of speaking tubes to connect the rooms. The home was a show piece in the community, and a truly loved home of Ezra’s wife, Eliza Jane. However, within a few years, Meeker’s affluence was becoming less as the infestations of valley crops drained much of his wealth. The home was becoming a financial burden to Ezra and his wife Eliza Jane, but Ezra vowed he would not move his wife from the house she loved so dearly. The financial strain continued until Eliza’s death in 1909, but Ezra kept his promise. That same year he put the home up for sale.
After years as serving as a hospital, a home for the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, a nursing home, it was finally given to the Ezra Meeker Historical Society in the early 1970’s. The building was in a terrible state of disrepair. Water leaked through the ceiling into the once grand ball room. The gorgeous hand painted ceilings had been painted and plastered over. The building was an eyesore to the community. But, the society, with hard work, dedication, sweat and much manual labor, their persistence paid off. The Mansion is now on the National Register of Historic Sites, and again is the pride of our Valley’s past.
The Ezra Meeker Historical Society receives NO state or federal support. It is their fund raisers, admission, and mostly hard work that preserves this landmark.
In 1865, Mr. Meeker, with father and his brother, planted a few rows of hops and started an industry that soon was to affect the entire commercial world, bringing millions of dollars into the area of Puyallup Valley as well as the NW. During the next 30 years, he cornered the hop market of the world, accumulated a very large fortune, and became a merchant, then a bank president and promotor of the NW, lecturer and proponent of railroads and roads. (Read more about Puyallup’s hop industry)
Historic Society Formed
The “Ezra Meeker Historic Society” was established in 1970 to protect one of the town’s momentous historic places, Meeker Mansion. They then changed the name to The “Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion” and now are a non-profit organizationthat operates and restores both the home and the grounds.
Tours of the Mansion
There are tours at the Mansion, both guided and self-guided as well as educational tours for students. During the year, the Mansion can be rented for various parties as well as community events and weddings.
This Mansion is a must see attraction, when visiting in this area of Washington.