Founder of Eatonville Thomas Cobb Van Eaton

Thomas Cobb Van Eaton was an amazing man. Through his deliberate planning and strength of character, his dream of building a town became a reality. However, the whole story of the formation of Eatonville, WA is broader and not only includes TC Van Eaton, but other amazing individuals as well.

1889 Settlement

Survival of a Settlement

Hans Pederson’s pack team
Van Eaton was not the only one with ideas of starting a town.  Off Scott Turner Road along the Mashel River lay the settlement of Meta.  In 1887, Walter Baker, a Texan, built a general store, post office (November 11, 1892), and accommodations for his guests.  He named the settlement after his wife and made it their home.  Guests dined on home cooked meals with fresh meat provided by Indian Henry (He charged Baker a $1.00 a deer).  Folks from the nearby settlement of Alder (now gone) shopped at the Meta store.  After getting supplies and perhaps some mail, settlers loaded up a horse to carry their goods back to their homes.  Once arriving, the horse was unloaded and trained to head back home to Meta.  Baker also rented his horses to overnight guest for trips to Mt. Rainier.  As time went on, Eatonville drew more travelers, and Meta closed down in 1897. 
           
While still in Texas, Baker’s mother gave him a seedling from a butternut tree.  He told his mother that wherever he put down his roots, he would plant that tree.  As of 1964, the tree was still there.  Walter Baker and his family remained in the area.  He rented the buildings to the newly arrived family of Josef and Anna Mensik in 1902. 
           
A seemingly favorite town story is that Baker invited several townsfolk up to his place to celebrate the Presidential election of 1893.  Supposedly, because of Baker’s disdain for Van Eaton and others from the town, the coffee had been spiked with croton oil.  Many fell ill except the intended victim, Van Eaton, who apparently did not drink coffee.

 Another would-be town builder was Mr. Holland.  In 1892, he constructed a saloon, hotel, and store at the base of Ohop Hill.  “Hollandale” it was called but did not survive financially and was sold.
Jane Osborn Van Eaton in front white horse with TC next to her.  Whole settlement of 27 in front of Trading Post.

When T. C. Van Eaton came back in on March 20, 1889 to what is now Eatonville, he brought along his brother-in-law Nate Williams and a man named Bill Stone.  Van Eaton constructed a horse barn and larger cabin that served as trading post and home.  The Van Eaton Trading Post was a “godsend” according to early pioneer Paul Haynes. The homesteaders found relief in the proximity of supplies closer to them.  The Indian people took advantage as well and made up the majority of his first customers. Pack trains of horses or mules were used to bring supplies into Eatonville and folks from the surrounding area carried it back out to their homes.

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Around 1894, Robert Fiander took his five year old daughter Susie to see the settlement of Eatonville.  She remembered the trip being a bit frightful as they almost collided with a bicyclist coming down around Ohop Hill.   Once at the post, her father gave her a nickel to spend.  Being shy, Susie was at a loss for words as to her purchase.  Van Eaton, sizing up her inner turmoil, picked out a big stick of red and white striped candy from a glass jar.  Her pretty little smile was payment enough.

Out of the trading post, Van Eaton ran the “post office.”  His first task as Post Master was to receive a registered letter, delivered by stagecoach, on December 13, 1890.  Letters were few and far between.  Five years later, with the increase in mail, Van Eaton built a separate cabin on the corner of Mashel Street to house the Post Office.

Van Eaton knew if he wanted to start a town, he needed businesses to draw people from the surrounding areas.  He needed an edge over the other competing settlements.   With plenty of land and few stores and services, he offered parcels of land for free to those who started certain businesses. By 1890, seven people lived in Eatonville.

In 1892, Frank Groe established the Groe Hotel on the south corner of Mashell Avenue and Groe (Center) Street.  Groe was a man of jovial humor within his short, chubby stature.  He later changed the name from Groe to Pioneer Hotel.  The hotel was constructed from split cedar boards without using any sawed lumber and nailed to a frame.  It was 20x40 feet and two stories high. 
           
Rant White
The hotel served as a place to stay, eat, and socialize.  Eight guest rooms provided cozy rest for overnight guests.  The cook had to get up early not only for the guests but for men driving cattle to Tacoma.  After a long day of working or just whenever a break was needed, many went over to the hotel bar to gripe and swap stories.         

One such teller of tales spinning stories from the Pioneer Hotel was Rant White.   Rant White first appeared in Eatonville sopping wet after crossing the Ohop Creek.  Jane Osborne (later Van Eaton) while at work at the Groe Hotel saw him outside, brought him in, and put him by the fire to dry.  It is said that he never forgot her kindness. 
           
White came to Eatonville about 1891 with his wife and started a homestead on a hill close to town many called “White’s Mountain.”  Sadly, his wife died soon after.  He never remarried and spent most of his time at the Groe Hotel.  He was said to be a short, thin man with a nasal, somewhat high pitched voice, and eyes that seemed to wander from one to another.  To most, he seemed ancient and did not change much in appearance over the course of his life. 
           
Rant White worked as a handyman, but his real skill was in spinning tall tales and fiddle playing.  He told vivid stories of man-eating cougars and of a vast, petrified forest with petrified animals and birds somewhere out among the firs.  Frequently, several boys and girls rushed over after school to secure a spot near Rant to hear the next new tale. 

His fiddle playing brought sweet sounds to the little town.  At social functions, many were up on their feet dancing to his merry tunes.  Many times, he would wander with a knapsack on his back and stay with friends like the Osbornes, McCulloughs, and John Mensik.  Rant and his friends serenaded folks nearby with impromptu fiddle playing secessions. 
           
White was tough and willing to protect those who became like family to him.  One day some Yakima Indian men came into town and demanded to know where they could find Wickersham Henry.  Wickersham was Indian Henry’s grown son.  Apparently, he had “taken” a wife from Yakima.  These men believed she was taken against her will and wanted to hunt Wickersham down.  If no one was going to tell them where to find Wickersham, then they wanted some hard drink.  Rant White suspecting big trouble, confronted the men, refused to let them get drinks, and sent them out of town. 
           
The Yakima Indian men did catch up with Wickersham and the girl.  They were pretty angry and accused him of abduction but were persuaded to go before a judge instead of talking with their guns.  Ironically, they met before Judge James Wickersham who Indian Henry’s son was named after.  Herbert Hunt wrote this account:

Indian Henry and family were placed on one side and the Yakima Indians on the other.  The comely maiden was seated between the rival factions.  The judge, after discussing for a moment the sanctity of the marriage tie and the menace of unlawful force, told the girl to choose.  She took her seat beside Wickersham [sic].  The rest was but a matter of ponies and blankets.

Rant White died in 1931 and was memorialized as a pioneer, trapper, fiddler, teller of tales, and a true citizen of Eatonville.

To advertise and draw more citizens to his little town, Van Eaton also ran a stagecoach from Spanaway to Mt. Rainier.  The journey took a day and a half and made a rest stop at Eatonville for the night.  Alfred Lovell’s account in 1893:

We arrive at Eatonville at four in the afternoon.  This village consists of a hotel, a store, post office, real estate office, and one house.  All are situated in a small clearing in a dense forest and all the buildings are of home-made lumber.  Boards, clapboards, shingles, etc. being split from cedar logs, by hand.  The only piece of millwork being the outside of the front door of the hotel and possibly some of the sash.  Even the floors and partitions are of split cedar boards, some are 12 or 14 feet high and a foot or eighteen inches wide.  This cedar is remarkable for splitting freely and straight and all buildings from Eatonville to Elbe are either made from fir logs or split cedar lumber and usually a combination of both.

The man who actually built the Pioneer Hotel was named Paul Haynes.  He not only constructed the hotel but built the Folker and Tomlin Sawmill at Mill Pond.  The mill was steam operated and was the first of its kind in the area.  It was 54x75 foot large with a 3x5 foot flume, which was 1200 feet long.  At times the circular saw came loose and spun out of control busting through the roof.
           
Needing a bigger roof, Van Eaton grew out of the cabin trading post and built a large two story store on the corner of Mashell Avenue and Groe (Center) Street.  Van Eaton’s sold sugar, flour, and other staple items. In addition, hard candy and other sweets for an extra special treat.  There were rifles, ammo, boots, hats, and other clothing.  For high-end customers, there was ready-made butter and bread prepared for sale.  At one time a large doll took up counter space and the attention of many a little girl.  His store was filled with the smells of smoked meats hanging by hooks, and fresh ground coffee from the grinder.  The grinder sat on a large, wooden counter with bins that tipped out for easy retrieval of goods.  His step-daughter Ann Miller Crow remembers, “Dad never gave us money for candy.  He brought candy home.”  
           
Unfortunately, this landmark does not exist.  The store was sold and later torn down.  The empty spot serves as parking lot first for Colt’s Pharmacy and now, Kirk’s Pharmacy.
           
Tourism to Mt. Rainier also brought good business to Eatonville.  People came from all over to see the crown like peaks of the mountain.  They traveled by horseback, wagon, foot, and even by bicycles.  At times up to 150 bicycles were seen parked in front of the Eatonville Hotel for an overnight stay or a meal. 

T.C. Van Eaton also improved his home.  After using the original cabin, Van Eaton built a real house.  Earlier, a larger house on the farm burned down.  In 1898, the increasing number of saw mills made getting finished lumber readily available.  The structure was modeled after the latest styles in architecture.  The new home contained eight rooms within two-stories making it the highest building in town.  Lou Osborne hand-planed the cedar and scroll work.  The house contained different woods from several mills.  Next, Van Eaton built a house next to his for his mother Caroline.
           
The first homes in Eatonville were modest dwellings containing a stove, bed, table, chairs, washbasin, and a tub.  The houses were made from cedar that split so evenly making the formation of walls and roof easier.  Sturdy Douglas fir was used for the floorboards. 
           
Because transportation was still difficult, most made their own furniture or had someone they knew make it and repaid the favor.  Poles stuck in holes in the walls and crossed with slats held up some early beds.
           
1st School House
As homes were being built, the need for a school in town became imminent.  There were several one room school houses in the area but none right in Eatonville.  In 1891, the first school building was hewn from large logs by settlers from Scandinavia who were “Broad axe men” able to slice through the timber evenly and with precision.  The school “year” was three months long, and the first teacher was Miss Alice Dodge. 
           
Happily, that same school house still exists.  It was moved and now and rests by the Glacier View Park.  Children’s voices can still be heard as it serves at the Eatonville Cooperative Preschool.   
           
The growing community was slowly taking form; however, there was not an official form of peacekeeper or police close by.  John Van Eaton told of his father T.C.’s efforts:

            The only law that was here to begin with was my father, and he carried it with him on his hip.  Even after quite sometime, Tacoma was 30 miles away.  It took a day each way.  If there was anyone who didn’t fit into the community, my father issued an order-tell this guy he’s got till it gets dark to go.
           
Williams boarding for the Yukon
From time to time, some notable citizens left Eatonville when work was slow or nonexistent or when high adventure called them away.  Fulfilling a desire for adventure and needing money, Nate Williams with son Charlie joined the throngs of gold seekers headed to the Yukon Gold Rush in Alaska.  On August 9, 1897, Nate and Charlie Williams boarded the steamer Willamette from Seattle.  They mined on the 70-Mile River 120 miles from Dawson for at least two summers.  While there, Nate assisted in building the Skagway Trail. 
           
Paul Haynes also left Eatonville for the Yukon Gold Rush.  Prior to leaving and later returning, Haynes was an early figure around the settlement of Eatonville.  He brought his family from Texas to Tacoma.  As most did, the family stayed with Robert Fiander who helped them down the Ohop Hill and stayed with Indian Henry for a night.  However, Haynes ventured past Eatonville to settle in the Succatash Valley (now Ashford).  He once said, “I was the only one foolish enough to take a homestead right on a piece across the Nisqually.”  After trying that spot, he took his family and lived at the Ohop Settlement then on to Eatonville.  In addition to construction, Haynes owned a shoe shop housed in Van Eaton’s store the first year in town.  He left for the Klondike Gold rush returning with nothing to Puyallup then to Wenatchee in 1899.  It is unclear when Paul Haynes came back to Eatonville but his son, Otto, recalls going to the first school house in Eatonville.
           
Otto Haynes and Potlatch
Otto Haynes was a man involved in many of Eatonville’s historical events.  He worked alongside his father to build the first hotel, dug the first grave, served as Fire Warden, hunted many a critter large and small, worked as a logger, a stage driver bringing folks from Tacoma, aided in developing the Mashell Telephone Company, and owned O. E. Haynes Shake Mill.  Otto Haynes even designed a shake-splitting machine from pawnshop tools with the help of his brother.  His hunting prowess was legendary.  In one year he killed five cougars with just a pistol.  He and dog Potlatch brought in many a kill.  Potlatch gained famed as a hunting dog.  Sadly, he was stolen, and Otto spent many hours searching for his companion with no luck.  Otto Haynes cared about Eatonville’s history and even helped orchestrate the movement and preservation of the original log school house. 

 Haynes married Ann Christiansen in 1914 by eloping to Wenatchee, which was a scandal at the time.  They kept it a secret for many months, but the marriage would last for 56 years.  He died in 1982 and was survived by his children Elwin, Ruby, Rulien, and Arne Haynes with many decedents still in Eatonville today.
           
Christiansen Family
Along with his wife Maren, N.P. Christensen journeyed to Tacoma, Washington in 1890.  They were both from Denmark and had met in Neenah, Wisconsin where they married in 1889.  Now, in Washington, they ventured out all the way to Ohop Lake.  Carrying his infant daughter Katie in his arms the entire trip, they settled at Ohop Point.  Unfortunately, they were on land owned by the railroad.  In need of a home, Christensen was able to purchase a claim from another settler.  The claim was about 3 ½ miles east of Eatonville.  For eight years the Christensen’s lived there until moving to land near Clear Lake.  
           
Later, Christensen acquired the Franklin property, turned it into a dairy, and delivered fresh milk and cream in Eatonville.  He and his family relocated two more times finally becoming townsfolk in Eatonville.  They raised five children: Katie, Anne (Haynes), Henry, Edward, and Dan. 
           
Before any doctors resided in Eatonville, one had to go by stage, horse, or on foot to the nearest doctor.  Many times folks went all the way to Spanaway.  A woman by the name of Mrs. Garret possessed some natural healing arts.  Many came from all around to seek her attention.  She and other women were skilled in natural remedies to treat the sick and injured.  Mrs. Garret assisted many of the births and later helped document birth certificates.  
           
Dr. O. A. Martiny was Eatonville’s first doctor.  It is told that his horse would knock off a mug of beer poured for it in the saloon and then stagger out with the rest of the patrons.   Martiny treated many and tried to give comfort to others.  In 1905, typhoid fever hit several individuals in and around Eatonville.  To curb the spread, Dr. Martiny removed and separated the sufferers placing them in a building next to the Methodist Church and a house across from the school.

Young and Cole 1907
Clyde Williams and George Martin 1902
Harvesting timber was the oldest of man’s tasks in the area of Eatonville.  Many early settlers relied on the trees for shelter and furniture.  Prior to 1907, many saw mills existed.  Owned by friends or family members, timber was milled at the closest location to the logging site for local use.  One of the earliest mills was at Muck Creek.  It was powered by water wheel and owned by a man called Andrean in 1894.  This mill produced the wood used to build T. C. Van Eaton’s home on Rainier Ave.  The Lynch Creek Mill used steam donkeys to power the saws.  Eppler’s Mill was at the Triangle, Fisk’s Mill, Young and Cole Mill, and as mentioned earlier, the Tomlin and Folker Mill in Eatonville.  After Tomlin operated the shingle mill since 1896, he sold it to G. Savage.  He expanded and converted it into a sawmill.  Larry Smith was a hook tender along with George Martin and Clyde Williams were teamsters.

Though Van Eaton gave John Potter a spot to sell his shoes and a house on Mashell Avenue, Potter purchased eighty acres for $2.50 and acre at Packwood in 1894.  Years later, the land was sold 70 acres to the University of Washington with the contingency that the land was to be used to teach the students from the university.  Prior to this sale, Potter sold 10 acres to famed photographer Kincaid

1st Railroad Station
The Tacoma Eastern Railroad established a stop in Eatonville in 1902.  This brought more tourists and potential citizens to town.  One could travel from Tacoma to Eatonville in an hour and a half.  The mail was also delivered by train until competition from the Tacoma-Ashford Transit Company brought it to an end in 1928.
           
Around 1900, Cyrus C. Snow was directed to the Eatonville area to find mineral deposits.  The Success Paint Company used copper ore as a base for paint pigments.  Snow was in charge of construction then acted as its superintendent.  The mine was off the Alder Cutoff road near the Mashell River.  The rock was crushed making it easier to refine with linseed oil.  It had a unique red color.  So many buildings and homes used it that it became known as Mashel Red.  He operated the company for three years until manufacturing changed to Tacoma, and the Eatonville site was closed down.
           
Before coming to Eatonville after many years of roaming, Cyrus C. Snow was happy to settle in one place.  Snow was born in Indiana in 1850.  C.C. Snow’s mother was Lydia Harlan.  Her brother James Harlan served as Secretary of the Interior under President Abraham Lincoln.  His daughter, Mary wed Robert Lincoln son of the President. 
           
During the Civil War, his father was an Indian agent taking the family with him to Kansas.  As an adult, Snow drove cattle in Texas before going to Colorado where he worked in the mines.  When he went to Montana, Snow discovered mineral deposits mining silver, lead, and gold.  It was after roaming various parts of the west and southwest that he was sent to search in Eatonville.
           
Hotel Snow
Snow had purchased the mineral rights to the property and decided to make Eatonville his home.  C.C. Snow had been married and had a daughter but his wife Julia and daughter Nettie both died by 1906.   He married Agnes Mensik in 1911 to which were born Florence, Anna, and James.  Snow also owned the Snow Hotel later called the Eatonville Hotel.

 He became committed to his new community.  Though he was not Eatonville’s first choice for mayor during the first election, he turned out to be a good one securing a water system for the town.

Red Men Hall
The Red Men Hall, built in 1905, was used by more than just the members who built it.  It was a multipurpose center of sorts.  Many times meetings are referred to as being held at the hall.  Its primary function was to house the Improved Order of Red Men, Nisqually Tribe #81, of Eatonville.  Though by today’s standards, it appears to be a mockery, like “playing Indians.”  In practice, this group of men met to uphold important values of patriotism as those who dressed, as Indians and dumped tea into the Boston Harbor.  They held charity events, raised money for those in need, and sponsored a baseball team.  The Red Men Hall was a two story building constructed by the dedicated membership of 150 men in 1905.
           
Degree of Pocahontas (though in 1914)
Connected with IORM was the Topeka Council #26 Degree of Pocahontas.  “The degree work of the Pocahontas is very beautiful and interesting, commemorating many of the legends and ceremonies of the Indian race.”  Ironically, one had to be a white man to join this group.  To be a member one also had to be a citizen of the United States and believe in a Supreme Being.  The Red Men Hall was situated on Mashell Avenue and Carter Street just up above where Jebino’s is now.

The Salsich Lumber Company built the McKenna Lumber Company at McKenna.  A man named Mitchell came out to supervise the installation of the machinery.  Mitchell informed the company that expanding to Eatonville would be profitable.  Appointed as manager, Mitchell and his sons came over to Eatonville and built a mill in 1907.  The mill was not making money, and the bank took over the site.  In the fall of 1909, T. S. Galbraith was hired by the Bank of California to run the mill.  Business was good so Galbraith brought up his family in 1910.  A few years later in 1913, Galbraith and a Mr. McNeely bought out the company.  The Eatonville Lumber Company attracted many people from all over the country and the world.  Workers from Japan, Italy, and from several states across the country came, worked, and lived in Eatonville.  The population in 1900 was 70.  According to the Federal 1910 Census, the population jumped to 725. Clearly the Eatonville Lumber Company caused a surge in population.
Eatonville Lumber Co. 1908
           
In 1908, the Eatonville Lumber Company built a company store and twenty-two company rental houses for mill employees.  These employees came from all over the United States and the world.  Some workers grouped themselves together and formed little “towns.”  Many from Italy settled in and around what is now called Milltown.  Several from Japan lived together and years later organized Sumo challenges, dances, and even a magazine entitled Kyomei (meaning resonance).     
           
T.S. Galbraith’s son John Galbraith grew to love Eatonville.  He raised his family here even serving as mayor for 22 years and as Chairman of the School Board.  Galbraith was said to be strong in personality sometimes making unpopular decisions.  His passion served as a catalyst to see projects to their end.  He was very involved the construction of the school.  His wife was also active in town matters and became involved on many committees.
Mashel Ave (High School now stands where the trees are)
           
Picnicking in Eatonville 1897
Life was a struggle and life was good.  Eatonville had many good people and businesses and the population was growing.  Just one major element needed: township.

Enjoy some more pics of life in Eatonville prior to township.

Postal Service Fred Matheny 1900