AKA: Meeker Mansion, Puyallup, WA; GAR Nursing Home / Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic Home

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Farrell and Darmer, Architects (firm); Carl August Darmer (architect); William Farrell (architect)

Dates: constructed 1885-1890

2 stories

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321 Pioneer
Puyallup, WA 98372-3265

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Building History

Ezra Meeker (1830-1928), a noted promoter of the Oregon Trail and Washington State, occupied two residences in Puyallup, WA; the first was a log cabin built by a settler named Jerry Stilly and later enlarged by Meeker, located in what is now Pioneer Park. His second, 17-room residence, designed by the prominent Tacoma firm of Farrell and Meeker, had Italianate styling and was furnished with high quality components, such as stained glass windows, long wood shutters, and imported tiles around the fireplaces; Meeker had become a wealthy man by 1886, raising hops on his surrounding acreage, and this extensive and elaborate house clearly reflected his prosperity. The house had lovely grounds on which Meeker planted various types of trees, including redwoods.

Meeker and his wife, Eliza Jane Sumner, (1834-1909), lived in the house until selling it in 1908. She passed away the following year. The building became the Meeker Rest Sanitarium between 1912-1915, and a nursing home for Civil War era elderly, the GAR Nursing Home/Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic Home from 1915-c. 1939. (It was also known as the "Grand Army of the Republic Widows Home.")

It served as the Valleyhome Convalescent Hospital from c. 1948-1957, but seems to have fallen into disuse after 1957, and efforts to demolish the house gained momentum by 1965. With the threat of demolition, local preservationists banded together to raise the $50,000 thought needed to restore it. The needless 1970 arson fire catalyzed fund-raising, and a preliminary renovation was completed by 1972. Formed in 1970, the Ezra Meeker Historical Society worked during the 1970s and 1980s to continue renovation efforts. In more recent years, the house museum has recovered from another fire and transitioned from strictly a house museum to a museum dedicated to Puyallup's history. It was renamed the "Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion" in 2013.

Following Frederick Jackson Turner's pronouncement about the "closing of the American frontier" in 1893, American historians began to voraciously document, analyze and reinterpret the nation's pioneer past. This activity by historians became intense by the 1920s, and a few 19th-century pioneers still alive at that time, like Meeker, became famous. Blessed with a long, healthy life and credited as the first person to cross the United States by ox team, railroad, automobile, and airplane, Meeker almost lived long enough to witness the centennial of the Oregon Trail in 1930; as this date approached, he became a celebrity across the country. The New York Times chronicled Meeker's later years--publishing 69 articles on him between 1920-1946. He became a treasured relic of the vanishing and virtuous pioneer past. His hazardous crossing of the Oregon Trail in an ox-driven wagon, hardships settling Washington's virgin territory and later prosperity, became an popular narrative of sacrifice, industry and reward. Meeker's fame lingered well after his death. During the discouraging depths of World War II in 1943, for example, Thomas J. Watson, (1874-1956), Chairman of the International Business Machines Company, reminded luncheon guests of "the courage, the boldness and the fortitude of our ancestors," demonstrated by Ezra Meeker, Edwin W. Denning, William H. Jackson and Walter Granger. (See "Pioneer Courage Lauded," New York Times, 03/29/1943, p. 12.) It was these inherited qualities, Watson predicted, that would insure an American victory. After the WWII, Meeker's memory faded, as the pioneer past seemed less and less relevant. America became ensconced in the Cold War, a convenient and bountiful consumer culture proliferated, and the Middle Class expanded and enriched its standard of living. Lessons of sacrifice and privation, so important during the Depression and war, temporarily lost their cogency.

Farrell and Darmer added a conservatory to the Meeker House in 1890. The Meeker Mansion experienced an arson fire on 09/20/1970; fund-raising of about $50,000 occurred in 1971 and a renewed dwelling was dedicated on 07/23/1972. Another fire occurred around Halloween in 1992 that caused more than $100,000 of damage. A restoration of the residence happened most recently in 2013. The remarkable Tacoma Pierce County Buildings Index has an exhaustive bibliography of changes to the Meeker Mansion at:

National Register of Historic Places (August 26, 1971): 71000879 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 8268