Ezra Meeker, a Pioneering Instructor
Trailblazer, farmer, town founder, author, and politician Ezra Meeker accomplished many things in his long life. Early on, he pioneered and wrote instructional books about farming hops. But he was also known as a champion for historic preservation, especially of the Oregon Trail. He can easily be compared with today’s entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates or Richard Branson, always pushing boundaries in order to create better ways for people to live productively and enjoyably.
Over time, his reputation expanded nationally and internationally. He was sought out as a consultant to the best and brightest leaders of his time, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, and Queen Victoria.
In 1890, his wife, Eliza Jane, believed their small log cabin was no longer suitable for their status, after having held company with Queen Victoria, so she paid for an Italianate mansion to be built. The Meekers lived there for the next 20 years. Ezra Meeker, however, was often traveling during this time.
In 1906, when he was 75 years old, he drove a wagon with two oxen and a dog across the US to New York City and then down to Washington, DC, to raise awareness of preserving the Oregon Trail, returning in 1908. Even today, the parts of the Trail that remain visible are considered a credit to Ezra Meeker.
In addition to his instructional books about farming, Meeker wrote historic and creative stories in his later years. According to historylink.org: “In 1921 Meeker published 70 Years of Progress In Washington. In 1926, at the age of 96, Meeker published Kate Mulhall: A Romance Of The Oregon Trail, a work of fiction. Meeker also wrote several volumes of short stories for children.”
The house design was directed by Eliza Jane Meeker and the title was in her name so its stately architecture and decor are considered to be her crowning achievement. The house was ahead of its time, with running water and plumbing fixtures not common in most houses until many years later.
The house tour includes a look at items owned by the Meekers, such as artfully tiled fireplaces, beds, a bathtub, and a restoration of Ezra Meeker’s original desk, as well as items correct to the period. Details, like replicas of Mrs. Meeker’s dresses filling her wardrobe, an open Bible on the bed, an artistic rendering of the Meeker family tree, and a pool-table-size model of Meeker’s famous 1906 trek across the US, add to the charm of this important demonstration of history.
The house has undergone damage as the result of earthquakes and its previous use as a nursing home. Despite these challenges, the Ezra Meeker Historical Society in Puyallup is working hard to bring it to its original glory. A recent fundraising campaign reached its goal and renovations are in progress, as of the time of this writing in 2018. Donations are appreciated. A small souvenir shop is also available in the lobby. For information about the mansion, visit www.meekermansion.org.
As a supplement to visiting the Meeker Mansion, travelers interested in Washington history would do well to visit King’s Books in nearby Tacoma. We discovered a rare first edition of an Ezra Meeker book at this warehouse-deep shop.
If traveling north-south or south-north, this is the third stop on our Washington Author Adventures Trail. However, be sure to check the website for hours and tour availability as it is not open daily.