Rich Williams spreads historical black-and-white photos all over a large conference table. They’re just a handful of the thousands and thousands he’s helped collect as head of the Eatonville Historical Committee.
There’s a photo of T.C. Van Eaton, the man who arrived at a homestead near Ohop Valley not long before the turn of the 20th century with dreams of starting a small town — a dream that would materialize in the form of Eatonville, an outpost forged on the promise of timber.
There’s a distinguished looking headshot of B.W. Lyon, the first school superintendent and principal of Eatonville High School — which, in 1916, opened a brick schoolhouse that was state of the art for a community of its size. The new high school, which at the time cost $45,000 to build and attracted state Gov. Ernest Lister to its opening, received glowing press as far east as Chicago.
There’s Torger Peterson, known as a pioneer from Norway, who in 1888 built a small log cabin in Ohop Valley and began clearing land for a farm. In a few months, he’d have 100 acres ready to cultivate. Later, he’d be the driving force behind the creation of the Mountain Highway.
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And there are plenty of others. Williams spends close to an hour thumbing through them, describing, in fantastic detail, the importance of each to a big-city columnist smitten by a quintessential small-town story.
All of the characters Williams describes are just a few of the many who’ve played key roles in the history of Eatonville, today a town of 1.8 square miles and just under 3,000 residents in the shadow of Mount Rainier.
It’s a generating force behind the whole town. … If that school wasn’t there, Eatonville would not be near the town it is.
Rich Williams, head of the Eatonville historical committee
On Saturday, all of these characters will take center stage during the one-time-only production of “Timber Town Tales,” described as a decade-by-decade musical revue of 100 years of historic events in the lives of residents.
Think of it as “Eatonville: The Musical.”
The modest production, which will raise money for the creation of a philanthropic Eatonville Community Foundation, begins with a prologue honoring the area’s original Native American inhabitants before stretching all the way to current events.
Fittingly, it will take be staged at the Eatonville High School building that has been at the center of this small town — literally and figuratively — for a century.
This year’s celebration of the iconic school building’s 100th birthday, according to Williams, was the perfect excuse to remind residents of the history that came before them.
“There’s just something magical about that school,” Williams tells me. “It’s a generating force behind the whole town. … If that school wasn’t there, Eatonville would not be near the town it is.”
According to Terry Van Eaton, the grandson of Eatonville’s founding father, T.C. Van Eaton, creating a first-rate school was nearly as important to Eatonville’s origin story as the logging that first sustained the town.
“(T.C. Van Eaton) was a different kind of guy. He came with the intention of founding a town,” says Terry, who will soon celebrate his 78th birthday and these days runs Founding Family Antiques on Lynch Creek Road.
“The school system is the core,” the Eatonville High School grad of 1956 continues. “My grandfather believed that an education was essential to your success, and that kids who lived in the country should have at least as much opportunity as kids who lived in the city. … The focus of the town is the school. It’s the central gathering place, and the common denominator for the area.”
I give a lot of respect to people’s memories and traditions. There’s a lot of pride, and they should be prideful, because they do things right out here. It’s a good place to raise a family.
Eatonville High School Principal John Colgan
When it comes to the place Eatonville High School holds in the community, not much has changed except, perhaps, the number of students, according to John Paul Colgan, the current principal who follows in the footsteps of B.W. Lyon. In 1914, two years before Lyon helped open the brick building that celebrates its centennial this year, the graduating class was all of two. Today the school has some 660 students.
“It’s a big responsibility. I give a lot of respect to people’s memories and traditions,” explains Colgan, whose father wrote the musical production. “There’s a lot of pride, and they should be prideful, because they do things right out here. It’s a good place to raise a family.
“It’s kind of a simple lifestyle,” he adds. “They’ve been able to keep this up. It’s to be respected.”
Timber Town Tales
Where: Eatonville High School auditorium
When: Saturday at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20 general admission, $15 seniors and military, $10 children under 12 — available by calling Eatonville High School at 360-879-1200 or Lynette Henricksen at 253-219-6178