Downtown, Puyallup

Ezra Meeker History & Photos

Ezra Meeker History

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.

Ezra Meeker Statue
Ezra Meeker statue located in Puyallup, Washington Downtown.
Ezra's wagon
In 1852, Ezra Meeker and his family came west by wagon over the Oregon Trail, eventually settling in the Puyallup Valley. As the years passed and cross-country travel became easier, Meeker worried that people wouldn’t understand the hardships of the early settlers. Beginning at the age of 75, he made several trips across the Oregon Trail and urged its preservation. He supported his project by selling his books and photos.
Ezra Meeker's Oxen Dandy and Dave
Believe it or not, Meeker’s Oxen, Dandy and Dave were “preserved” by a taxidermist and are on display at the Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma, Washington
Ezra Meeker Wagon Display
Also on display is one of Ezra’s Wagons used on at least one cross country trek. Carvings in the wood and writings on the covering canvas mark dates and locations along his journeys.

 

Downtown, Puyallup

The Hop Industry in the Puyallup Valley

Puyallup Valley Hop Industry

Growing hops was important to the development of Puyallup. Pioneer Ezra Meeker was known as the hops king of the World when this photo was taken about 1890. The hops boom went bust in 1891.

A brief History….

When settlers first began arriving in the valley in 1854 they found the valley floor consisted of dense strands of cedar and cottonwood trees, with often dense brush that was very difficult to remove with the tools available to them. Many of the first settlers continued to search for land elsewhere, unaware of the rich soil that lay beneath the brush. Ezra Meeker and his brother were among the first to arrive. After inspecting the valley, he at first rejected any notion of living in the valley, writing that it would take back breaking labor to clear the land.

As settlement in the valley started to take hold, settlers did work hard to clear enough land for a cabin, and to grow some food to sustain their families. Then, in 1855, Indians in the valley became increasingly dissatisfied with treaties being forced upon them by the U.S. government. They destroyed all but one of the settlers homes. Many settlers did not return to the valley. The settlers that remained were in dire financial need. The Meeker’s had suffered the greatest. Not only was property destroyed in the valley, but their mercantile business in Steilacoom had failed too because merchandise ordered – sank in a shipwreck on its transport to Washington. The money to buy the supplies had been borrowed, leaving the Meeker’s in desperate financial need.

At that time, another Meeker relative had been persuaded by a friend in Olympia to attempt to grow hops on his land, a thought that seemed crazy to most residents. On his way back to Sumner, he stopped off at Ezra’s cabin to drop off the hop roots. Ezra planted the roots among the tree stumps around his cabin, on the land that is now Pioneer Park in downtown Puyallup. From those few roots, Ezra Meeker made $157.27. In the 1800’s, that was like striking gold. The word about the “crop” spread quickly, and soon every farmer in the valley planted the Hop roots.

Hops quickly become Puyallup Valley’s biggest cash crop. During the next quarter century, hops brought the valley more than $20 million, making Ezra and his family wealthy.

Ezra became a hop broker, and frequently traveled the World marketing the valley’s hops. Disease and mildew finally put an end to the crops. Today we know the Puyallup valley for it’s daffodils, but it is the hops that started our history, and gave original valley residents the wealth, fortitude and persistence to stay in the valley and to shape our future.

Backup plan the Park Hotel in Puyallup:
The Grandiose Hotel that never was…One of the most talked about buildings in Puyallup in 1890 was the Park Hotel. The structure was to cover an entire block and would have been three stories high. It was to be built with an anticipated $40,000 from the booming hops industry. The construction of 83 luxurious suites, an adjoining restaurant, and the possibility of an additional 40 rooms, was well underway when the hop boom went bust. The hotel was never completed. After years of disrepair, the structure became “home” to unsavory individuals who used the building as a sort of flophouse. The amount of “guests” became larger, and the inhabitants began terrorizing the community for food and money. Finally, Washington States Governor came from Olympia and finally persuaded all to go home. For awhile afterwards, the building was used to store bailed hops, but the building had no other uses and went into further disrepair. Finally, a group of local citizens bought the building and property, and soon began to demolish the shell of a building that was to become Puyallup’s grandest, most beautiful building.

Downtown, Education, Puyallup

Warner Melvin Karshner Biography (Karshner Museum)

Dr. Warner Karshner Puyallup

Warner Melvin Karshner was born in December of 1874 on his father’s farm in Ohio. After a brief move with his family to Kansas, his restless father was unhappy with the weather of the Midwest and very quickly decided to move to the new territory of the Pacific Northwest. Soon after arriving in the Puyallup Valley, Warner’s father purchased a 3-acre farm in the N.W. corner of Puyallup. Warner quickly embraced his new town, loving his surroundings and the opportunities for work in the Valley. Picking berries and hops for area farmers was one of his first jobs, but he also was a janitor at the Central School, and was a sexton of the First Methodist Church where he rang the bell for services and stoked the furnace. But despite these opportunities, Warmer’s father wanted nothing more to do with civilization. He sold their farm to John R. Rogers (future governor of Washington and namesake of Rogers High School). The family moved to the Olympic Peninsula where the family filed a new homestead claim.

Despite his fathers desire to live a life on a farm without influences of civilization, his parents truly valued education and had a great desire for the best education for their children. So strong was this belief, it was decided that Warner, his 3 brothers, one sister, and his mother would move to Olympia where they could attend school during the winter. In the summer, all were needed on the farm, but this sacrifice was made during the winter where education could be the focus of family concern – and pride. Warner graduated from High School, then enrolled at the University of Washington. To save money, he and a friend lived in a shack they built on the university campus. During the summer months, he worked on a fishing boat to earn the money to pay his tuition. Incredibly, to save money, he would walk from Gray’s Harbor (where he fished) to Seattle each fall. In the Spring, he would then walk back to Gray’s Harbor.

After graduation in 1898, he returned to the Puyallup Valley to teach school. He primarily taught at Maplewood Elementary, although substituting at all Puyallup schools.

Karshner’s goal was not to be a teacher, however. He was saving his money to attend medical school. After saving enough for a years tuition, he enrolled in the Northwestern University Medical School near Chicago. there, during his last year of studies, he met Ella Hibbert and soon after, asked her to be his wife. After graduation, he returned to Puyallup to establish a medical practice and built a home on 4th St. S.W. and West Pioneer. With that done, he married his Ella on March 4, 1905. A few years later, their only child was born. Paul Hibbert Karshner became the centerpiece of his parents lives.

Dr. Karshner’s contributions to our city live on today in many ways, the most obvious being that of the Karshner Museum, and in the many lives he brought into the world with the over 2,000 babies he delivered in our community. For 25 years, Dr. Karshner had taken care of most all the health needs of Puyallup’s citizens, lovingly assisted by his wife Ella Hibbert Karshner, whom he married on May 14, 1905.

The early years of his practice were difficult. There were no health care facilities in the Valley, and few modern conveniences such as electricity, running water, and with only the basic medical equipment. Soon after he was appointed as Puyallup’s health officer in 1909, conditions quickly worsened as a case of Bubonic plague was discovered in Puyallup. U.S. Public Health officers visited Puyallup, ordering Dr. Karshner to clean up the city. This was a time in Puyallup’s history were many downtown buildings were in shambles from neglect and abandonment, where there was no sewer lines and no garbage removal systems in place. With Dr. Karshner’s insistence, several buildings were condemned and burned, and the City of Puyallup put in a sewer system and forced city residents to hook up to the sewer. With Dr. Karshner’s efforts, Puyallup became much cleaner, sanitary, and “modern” as a city. As a result, the plague was stopped. Incidences of typhoid fever also nearly vanished, a problem once prevalent in the growing city of Puyallup.

Even without modern facilities and patients lack of transportation, Dr. Karshner found ways to treat all his patients. This often included house visits, occasionally performing surgery on a patients kitchen table if needed. But always close to his heart was education. Before becoming a doctor in our city, he served for many years as a teacher in Puyallup before entering medical school. He also served for many years on the Puyallup School Board, and was elected to the Washington State legislature where he chaired the Education Committees.

In 1917, the same year he was elected to the State Senate, he entered the U.S. Army Medical Corps, serving as chief physician and surgeon of a military hospital in Georgia. He returned to Puyallup in 1919.

It was in 1924 that their only son, Hibbert Karshner, died of a polio epidemic in September of 1924. Paul was only 17 years of age, just beginning his senior year at Puyallup High School. In memory of their son, they established the Karshner Museum. The Karshner’s also established two scholarships at Puyallup High School in his memory. They continue to be awarded even today.

Shortly after his son’s death, Dr. Karshner decided to give up his practice in Puyallup and return to the University of Washington to seek another degree. He did in fact complete a Pathology Degree at Harvard University, returning to the UW to teach pathology the UW medical school.