Every newsperson knows a hot news story on the historical detective search beats a feel-good seasonal story any day. So, today, we shelve the stories about the first recorded Christmas in the valley, along with reminiscences of Twinkle Lane in the 1950s and ’60s, and skip to a recently uncovered account book.
We received an email from a couple who have an old leather-bound account book that was uncovered while they cleared a derelict trailer from a piece of property. The accounts started in 1890 and contained such entries as Ezra Meeker, A.R. Heilig, The Park Hotel Company and the Tacoma & Puyallup Railroad Company.
Heilig, we know, was a lawyer, one of only three used by Ezra Meeker. The other organizations are corporations that Meeker had a hand in developing.
The accounts are sums due for types of legal work, some important, some menial, such as shorthand reporting.
A call to Dennis Larsen, Meeker’s biographer, put this document right in the middle of Meeker’s financial problems in 1890, and difficulties with his nephew, Frank O. Meeker.
Frank Meeker was the son of Oliver Meeker, Ezra’s brother, with whom Ezra and Eliza traveled west in 1852. Married and with a son, Oliver was subsequently lost in a shipwreck as he attempted to return from a buying trip to San Francisco stocking the Meeker Mercantile Company in Steilacoom.
Ezra took the widow, Amanda, and nephew, Frank, under his wing and even sent the lad of great promise east to study at Cornell University, from which Frank graduated in 1878. He then became a lawyer, albeit a shady one.
Larsen has unearthed unethical dealings between Frank Meeker and the railroad. In 1889, when the Tacoma & Puyallup Railroad Company platted the Maplewood property and put it up for sale, Frank somehow arranged to sell lots that still had mortgage liens from private individuals. Ezra stepped in, paid off the mortgage and obtained some return on his investment, but Frank Meeker’s association (and/or fraudulent business dealings) cost Ezra more than $70,000.
Ezra’s reputation also was sullied by being mixed up in the transactions. Lawsuits and court actions kept him embroiled in cases that dragged on for 10 more years, and they cost Ezra and the town of Puyallup the beautiful Park Hotel that was never completed and eventually razed for scrap.
Larsen pointed out an entry in the 1890 ledger on the Tacoma-Puyallup Railroad page, line 3. The attorney charged Meeker $10 to do the paperwork on a “note and mortgage to E. Meeker $24,411.29.”
Again, on line 5: “Surety agreement on $50,000 note.”
The attorney only charged Ezra $3 for that work. This $74,411.29 is what it cost Ezra to clean up the mess that Frank Meeker created.
In spite of all Ezra had done for his nephew, it was apparent Frank was not living up to the expectations of the Meeker family. By 1895, Ezra had ceased communication with his nephew, but he was also out of money.
The few lines of spidery writing in an unnamed ledger document all of this activity during an important time in Puyallup’s history.
Thanks, April and Lonnie, for sharing your fascinating find.
Happy New Year!Andy Anderson is the historian for the Ezra Meeker Historical Society. He can be reached at 253-848-1770.