(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 19, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 22, 2020)
In their 125th year, these pioneer ancestors
are a study of history in repose
By Clay Eals
When I first saw this juxtaposition of “Then” images, I had to smile. It’s tough enough to get a large group to pose pleasantly for just one photo. But this is a pair, taken before and after a 1904 reunion. Why two? Doubtless some turned up later and wanted to be represented, and someone wisely reckoned that pasting together both shots would please everyone concerned.
These days, with renewed urgency over ensuring equal standing and justice for all, it’s difficult for any pursuit — particularly an exclusive club — to achieve universal harmony.
Enter the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington, the state’s oldest history organization, having first gathered in 1871 and incorporated on Dec. 5, 1895.
That date points to a 125th anniversary, which the members plan to celebrate with an online talk and toast at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, with a focus on their artifact-filled Washington Pioneer Hall, built from brick in 1910 on the site of an earlier wooden hall, in Madison Park along the western shore of Lake Washington.
The word “pioneer,” common in historical conversation, statuary and sites (Pioneer Square, anyone?), denotes someone who discovers a new place or founds something. For some, the synonyms “explorer” and “trailblazer” conjure inspiration and heroism.
One person’s pioneer, of course, can be another’s oppressor — which, as everyone knows, was exactly the case in the settling of our state in the 19th century.
The association focuses its three-story hall on families whom its voting members can trace to ancestors living in Washington or Oregon territories prior to Washington statehood on Nov. 11, 1889. Those lacking such roots can join as nonvoters.
Inside the hall is a forest of exhibits, early furniture, framed photos and an extensive genealogical library. Prominent in the entry, a portrait of Chief Seattle hangs near a replica of a wooden chair that the city namesake used in later years on his Suquamish porch.
Over time, a few voting members with Native American ties have joined. Teresa Summers, with 9% lineage to the Yakama Nation, has edited the association newsletter. Her membership “means I can help honor all my ancestors,” she says. The late Norman Perkins, association president in the mid-1980s, traced his roots to Chief Seattle.
Pioneer Hall, says Junius Rochester, past president, “acts as a kind of viewpoint from today backwards, and I think students — adults, too — should be reminded that our roots are important.”
That’s an inclusive “our,” even when some turn up later.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Below are a video, a brochure, 5 supplemental photos and, in chronological order, 12 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.