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History of Puyallup, Washington

Puyallup (pronounced Pyou-AL-up) is located 10 miles southeast of Tacoma and is named after an Indian tribe that numbered about 800 when the first white settlers arrived. The town was founded by Ezra Meeker, who came to the Northwest on the Oregon Trail in 1852 at the age of 22, driving a team of oxen and accompanied by about 2,000 fellow pioneers. Meeker platted the town and became its first mayor. In 1855, the Puyallup Indians as well as other tribes in eastern and western Washington went on the warpath against the whites. The Indians were angered because the white men trespassed on their land without permission while searching for gold. An Indian agent was killed, peace powwows were held, another attack left seven white men dead, and many pioneers fled their homes to the United States Army post at Steilacoom. Puyallup grew up via agriculture, and by 1890, it was one of the major hop-growing areas in the country. Meeker was awarded the title “Hop King of the World” for being the most successful hop farmer in the state. In 1891, an infestation of hop lice destroyed the crop, and farmers were forced to start growing other crops. Many of them switched to berries and flower bulbs, and agriculture is still a big part of the local economy. In 1890, Meeker built a 17-room home that is one of the finest early-Victorian mansions in the state, with carved cherry staircases, stained glass windows and hand-stenciled ceilings. The home is open for tours and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A life-size statue of Meeker stands in the center of Pioneer Park, South Meridian Street, and Elm Place. Marking and preserving the Oregon Trail was a quest that Meeker pursued for his entire life. In 1906, he set out in an oxen-drawn wagon with the goal of retracing and marking the trail from Washington to Nebraska, in order to draw attention to the need to preserve that important pioneer road. Meeker made three more trips along the trail, including one by car and the last trip at age 93 in an open cockpit airplane. Today, Puyallup is famous for exquisite fields of flowers and its huge state fair. The Spring Fair and Daffodil Festival is one of Puyallup’s main events. Sponsored by the region’s bulb farms since 1934, the two-week festival features a Grand Floral Parade, the third largest parade of flowers in the nation. The parade starts in Tacoma and travels through three more towns. During March and April, visitors are drawn to the Van Lierop Bulb Farm, just two miles east of Puyallup, to see magical spring gardens featuring a multitude of blooming crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and irises. Neil and Lore Van Lierop operate the business that Neil’s father started in the 1930s. The granddaddy of all events at Puyallup happens for 17 days in September. It’s the Puyallup Fair, officially known as the Western Washington State Fair, the largest single attraction held annually in the State of Washington. The fair has taken place every year since 1900, except during World War II when the fairgrounds were occupied by the United States Army. The fair began in 1900, then called the “Valley Fair,” and shares of stock were sold to finance the two-day event. By 1905, the fair had become a six-day event. By 1919, attendance was up to 75,000 and the fair was held on 30 acres. Following World War II, much cleaning up and repair was necessary to get the grounds ready to open again. The first postwar fair was in September 1946 and set a record of 100,000 for a single day’s attendance. The first and only fire at the fairgrounds was in June 1970, and despite extensive damage, the fair opened on schedule. In 1978, the fair was expanded from a 10-day to a 17-day event occupying 46 acres, and by 1989, it had grown to occupy 125 acres. When the fair celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2000, more than 1.3 million attended. It is the fifth highest in attendance in the United States.