There is a lot of history to be shared from the Puyallup Public Library’s early days. This year marks the city institution’s 100th anniversary since the Carnegie Library opened along Meridian Avenue at Pioneer Park on Feb. 11, 1913. But even before the Carnegie Library, roots lead to one pivotal person: Eliza Jane Meeker.
As planning began six months ago for the library’s 100th anniversary, Debi Rinehart and Deborah Larkin first thought about how many 100-year-old books the library had in its possession.
That led to the historical relevance of Meeker, the wife of Puyallup pioneer Ezra Meeker, as the town’s first librarian.
“We thought, ‘Let’s focus on Eliza as the first librarian,’ ” said Rinehart, a library assistant. “Once our focus was on Eliza, then everything just blossomed from there.”
Local historian and actress Karen Haas portrayed the role of Eliza Jane Meeker on Saturday at the library. The Friends of the Puyallup Library provided refreshments. Wearing a period costume she made, Haas spoke as if it was 1890.
Haas said she has been a living-history performer for many years, and she’s portrayed people from Washington state’s past. She didn’t know much about Eliza Jane Meeker in the beginning, but she found her to be a fascinating character and learned how she was part of the suffrage movement, met Susan B. Anthony and traveled to the White House.
In character, Haas described Eliza Jane Meeker’s life when she first met Ezra Meeker to the time when she became Puyallup’s first librarian, when she opened her cabin home in Pioneer Park to the public.
“People don’t realize what a fantastic woman Eliza Jane was,” said Haas, who added that, while Ezra Meeker was off earning money, Eliza was at home, managing the farm and caring for their children.
In conjunction with Saturday’s performance and in collaboration with the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion, Rinehart and Larkin, a library technician, acquired some of Eliza Jane Meeker’s personal items, which are on display at the library.
Rinehart said Andy Anderson, historian at the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion, opened the vault of Meeker family artifacts to the library when he learned Haas would portray Eliza Jane Meeker.
Rinehart and Larkin filled antique display cases from the Lakewood Historical Society with artifacts and photos from the Meeker family collection. A pictorial timeline of the library’s history, dating back to the late 1800s, also was displayed on the lobby’s back wall.
Some of the artifacts included a black-and-white platter circa 1880s that the Puyallup Historical Society suspects the Meeker family took with them across the Oregon Trail. Another artifact includes baby shoes worn by Eliza Jane Meeker’s son, Marion, who was born on the Oregon Trail.
“I love the connections, the collaborations and the people working together to create something so historical and fascinating,” Rinehart said.
Larkin said she enjoys the breadth of resources the library has available.
“The fact that we have historical items to be shared with the public is fantastic,” Larkin said. “We’re hoping people see the library as the keeper of the stories of Puyallup.”
Puyallup Library Director Tim Wadham said the the inaugural Puyallup Festival of Books will be held Sept. 27-28. Featured will be the Jim Taylor Memorial Lecture, including fantasy author Susan Cooper.
The lecture series is in memory of Jim Taylor, a beloved English teacher who taught at Rogers High School and died in 2001. Wadham hopes it will become an annual event.
Cooper will speak about her life and sign her latest book, “Ghost Hawk.”
“This is the biggest event I have done so far in my career,” Wadham said. “I’m so happy for this opportunity to work with Susan Cooper. It will be very rewarding to revisit her work and be reminded about what it was about her books that affected me so profoundly as a teenager.”
If You go
The Puyallup Public Library will host the following events to celebrate its 100th anniversary:
• Puyallup Festival of Books, including inaugural Jim Taylor Memorial Lecture that will feature fantasy author Susan Cooper, 7 p.m. Sept. 27, Liberty Theater, 116 W. Main Ave.
• Rotary Stage music performances from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 28
• Reading and book signing by Ursula K. LeGuin, 2 p.m. Sept. 28 at the library
• Comic Con, Sept. 28 at the activities center
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew. Joan Cronk is a freelance reporter for the Herald.