Kent has grown tremendously over its 125 years. In 1890, Kent was a small town on the valley floor. It was one of many collections of houses and small businesses where folks lived. Over time, Kent served as the hub for business and grew out, eventually incorporating the outlining burghs. Once thriving communities on the valley floor, like Pialschie, better known as Thomas to the south and O’Brien to the north were absorbed, while to the East a couple of small communities were established on the Suise Creek Plateau.
Tonight, I would like to speak to one of those communities in particular. The Meridian Community was centered on Cow Lake and grew to include all the land within a few miles of the lake. The first western settlers probably started scouting out the land for settlement in 1881, but real settlement didn’t occur until 1883. As people moved in, they developed a distinct community.
By profession, the people of Meridian were similar to those in the valley. Lumber was the first big business. The locally owned Allan shingle mill was located where the Lake Meridian Park is today on the south east side of the lake.
The workers would cut logs around the lake, then drop them in the water to float to the mill. Reports of old growth trees, 300 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter were reported. Such great lumber brought in lumbermen from Kent, with the Covington Lumber Mill, the Calhoun Mill, and the Kent Lumber Company all starting successful operations. However, these companies were all oriented to the growing Kent.
As the land was cleared, the farmers moved in, with dairy farms predominating. However, the farms that the people worked were also different from the Kent farms. Down in the valley, the early land holders got donation land grants, up to 360 acres of flat fertile land needed to be cleared. In Meridian, the stakes were platted out so that farmers could buy the even number segments but the odd number segments were owned by the Northern Pacific Rail Road. Farmers could expand their property, for $6.00 an acre in 1890. That is $156 today.
The people who moved in to Meridian were also a different group than settled the valley. Most of the folk were Scandinavian in origin, and most were recent immigrants. Norwegians and Swedes dominated the area, and the Zion Lutheran Church (founded in 1903) continued services in Norwegian until the 1920s. Zion Lutheran is still an active part of this community out by the Wilson Play Fields
As with so many small farming communities, the Grange was important. The building was located on 132nd Ave and Kent-Kangley, where the Chase Bank is today. It was the meeting place for social events, like dances, but also other important community meetings. The Granger’s Warehouse was the collective distribution center for Meridian farmers, and was founded in 1912. The next year, the farmers moved the agency to Kent, to this location where Burdic’s Feed Store was located.
The schools were also an important uniting factor for the small community. Elementary education was obtained from the Brace School.
In 1914, the Meridian High School was established to provide advanced degrees for Plateau students. It served not only the educational needs of the students, but as a source of community pride as the students participated in sports, music, and drama productions. The Kent-Meridian school gets its name from the contentious moment of unification back in 1948 but that deserves its own story. The Meridian Elementary School, part of the Kent School District still serves as a center for Meridian activity, and it located across the street from where the old Meridian High school was located.
It can be hard to find a dividing line between Kent and Meridian these days, what with the growth of commercial and residential properties along the way. However, there is still a population that knows Meridian as that small community of Scandinavians, farming around the spring fed lake.
A group of them can reliably be found at the Soos Creek Botanical Garden. Located on 132nd, across from the Auburn Mountainview High School, this is not just a master gardener’s playground but also is home to an excellent heritage center full of great pictures and research on the Meridian area. Take a look at their website and you can plan your visit there.
In addition, Maurice Skagen is putting the finishing touches on a book entitled “History of the Soos Creek Plateau from 1860 to 1960” which includes an in depth look at the entire area on the East Hill between Renton and Auburn,
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