City council records in early 1900s were clear and beautifully written

Special to the HeraldJanuary 15, 2014 

Several times in the past month, I have had occasion to research the early records of the Puyallup City Council. As you would expect, they are beautifully hand-written with flowing paragraphs of complete, grammatical sentences. There are very few corrections, and they are much easier to read than, for example, Ezra Meeker’s scrawly handwriting.

Documents being referred to in the process of recording results had to be copied into the record by hand. You know this had to be a tedious process at the time, but the result, many years later, leaves little room for question of what the issue was, or how it was resolved.

On the last instance, I was researching a public argument between Ezra Meeker, a private citizen, and the City of Puyallup, under Mayor Ezra Meeker, over the Meeker gift of land for Pioneer Park. In fact, he, the citizen, was suing the city, and the council voted to contest the case.

The suit seems to have been an act of retribution by a cantankerous old man anxious to make the year in office of James Knox (the man who had been elected the second mayor by placing a keg of beer on a street corner along with a sign which read “Have a drink on me — Ezra Meeker”) as miserable as possible.

It seemed to work, and the most telling blow was when Meeker defeated Knox for mayor the next year by only two votes.

On the same research day, I was looking for a mention by the 1949 city council about the receipt of the Puyallup quota of gifts from the French people. It had arrived on the Gratitude (Merci) train car for Washington state.

Of course, by then, the minutes of the council under Mayor Stephenson were typed, more streamlined and dealt only with the business of the council. I could find no mention of the receipt of the French gifts, which had been assigned to Puyallup by a committee appointed by then-Gov. Langlie.

For those who have read recent minutes of the council, the report is much more businesslike, with much less detail of the discussion of an issue. They merely recorded the movement of an issue through the process of motion, second and passage or failure.

Why do I bring this up? A hundred years from now, some poor researcher will be trying to make sense of an issue being dealt with by today’s council, and with little newspaper coverage, they will be left with the sterile language of today’s minutes to try to breathe life back into a dry record.

In fairness to the city clerk, the entire session is recorded, and the recording is kept, but only for six years.

What was the outcome of Mr. Meeker’s lawsuit? The private citizen lost in the lower court and pursued the issue to the state Supreme Court, where he lost again.

The surprising thing to me, 120 years later, is that the issue was rendered moot by his action fairly early in the process of the lawsuit, but he pressed on to the bitter end.

The Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion wishes you all the best in 2014.

Andy Anderson is the historian for the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. He can be reached at the mansion at 253-848-1770.

The Puyallup Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service