History Lives On at Meeker Mansion in Puyallup

Meeker Mansion
An early Mansion photo, ca 1900.

 

By Carly Calabrese

Meeker Mansion
Ezra and Eliza Meeker resided in Meeker Mansion for 20 years, until Eliza’s death in 1909. Image courtesy of the Puyallup Historical Society.

Home to the Puyallup Historical SocietyMeeker Mansion is celebrating its 125th birthday this year. The mansion, which is the same age as the city of Puyallup, is a well restored Victorian structure that was once home to Ezra Meeker and his wife, Eliza.

It was 1853 when Ezra Meeker first traveled to Puyallup with his brother, but they did not stay. Andy Anderson, a historian at the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion, says Ezra was quoted as saying, “If only I would have stayed around 90 days, I would’ve had the neighbors help me clear the land for farming.” Ezra couldn’t crop the land on his own since there were heavily overgrown trees in the area.

However, in 1862 the Meekers came back and settled in a two-room cabin located in what is now downtown Puyallup’s popular Pioneer Park. There were nine people in the Meeker family and all of them lived in the small cabin. The Meekers resided in the tiny cabin for 28 years, until Eliza wanted better and designed and purchased what is now known as the Meeker Mansion.

The Meeker Mansion, which is located at 312 Spring Street in Puyallup, was built for Eliza in 1887 by a Tacoma architect and used for the marriage of their youngest daughter in 1890. (Dinner after the wedding was held at a restaurant Ezra owned in town.)

Before building Meeker Mansion, the family of nine lived in a small, two-room cabin.
Before building Meeker Mansion, the family of nine lived in a small, two-room cabin. Image courtesy of the Puyallup Historical Society.

The Meekers lived in the mansion for nearly 20 years until Eliza’s death in 1909. Not interested in keeping the mansion after the death of his wife, Ezra had his son-in-law help him sell it. In 1915, the mansion sold to the Ladies Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republican Civil War.

After Eliza’s death, Ezra moved to Seattle where he spent the last 25 years of his life working to preserve the Oregon Trail. Preservation of the trail was a passion of Ezra’s, and just a few years before Eliza’s death he journeyed to Washington DC in an effort to convince the government to put up markers along the trail. The elderly frontiersman spent the last years of his life protecting the historic trail.

While Ezra was working hard to protect and preserve the Oregon Trail, new residents of the Meeker Mansion were taking care to preserve what would one day be another symbol of Pacific Northwest history.

Andy says, “It’s surprising to me that the house was in such good shape. It’s obvious that each user after the Meekers took particular care in maintaining it.” This, unfortunately, is not the case with the mansion’s hand-painted ceilings. “[The ceilings] are covered with 13 coats of paint and there are no records underneath the many coats of paint of what the original painted design on the ceiling looked like,” explains Andy. “The Historical Society is bringing an expert from Portland to have the original ceiling paintings slowly dissolved by using Q-tip cotton swabs and de-natured alcohol.”

Ezra Meeker's walnut desk/bookcase.
Ezra Meeker’s walnut desk/bookcase. Photo credit: Carly Calabrese.

The Meeker Mansion has been a museum for the past 45 years. After serving as a home to the Meekers for 20 years, it was a hospital from 1911 to 1912. Then it was a retirement home for several nurse widows from 1915 to 1948. Next it was a critical care nursing home from 1948 to 1970. In 1970, the Puyallup Historical Society took possession of it. Andy says, “The challenge was if we could move the land below the home. It was impractical, so we swapped the property. The historical society worked out a deal with the daffodil bulb dealer that is no longer in business. The historical society traded the land here instead (he owned land) however, the dealer owned the building. It’s been a museum since 1970 and has been under restoration essentially all that time as funds were available.”

Andy says what most people don’t know is that the wood changes from room-to-room. “The fireplaces and their surrounding areas came from a ship from Europe, and the wood in the room was made to match the fireplace.”

The Meekers spent most of their time in a two-room log cabin raising children. The mansion was their retirement home. At the time the mansion was finished, the Meekers’ source of income, along with most of the area’s economic activity, dried up during the panic of 1893. The Meeker family was unable to maintain the standard of living they were used to.

Meeker Mansion
A 2006 photo of the Mansion, featuring Mr. Meeker’s wagons and the Centennial travelers. Photo courtesy of the Puyallup Historical Society.

Today, visitors can explore the mansion’s 17 rooms, which include Ezra and Eliza’s bedroom, the basement and many more.

As for events at the mansion, Andy says the Puyallup Historical Society hosts a lot of tea service for both large and small groups.

Andy says his favorite thing about the Meeker Mansion is the people who donate their time to maintaing the historic home. “The volunteers are interesting people and [they’re] interested in history and helping people understand their history. We do get lots of interesting visitors as well.”

Meeker Mansion is celebrating 125 years in Puyallup with special events from August 15 to August 23, 2015. Events include history activities, guided tours in the cemetery, a history tour of downtown Puyallup, an old time musical, tea at the mansion, and more.

For more information, call the mansion at 253-848-1770 or visit Meeker Mansion online at meekermansion.org.

 

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