Happy Birthday: Pierce County turns 150 years old

Editor’s Note: Dana Greenlee’s technology column, which normally runs in this space every Friday, has been bumped for this story on Pierce County’s 150th birthday. Dana’s column will return next week.

Tacoma was the center of a birthday bash of sorts, as Pierce County turned 150 years old yesterday.
Local, state and federal officials turned out at the Washington State History Museum to remember the county’s rich past and look forward to the future.
Those on hand enjoyed performances, historical reenactments, various exhibitions, lectures and films detailing Pierce County’s 15 decades of history during the six-hour event.
Pierce County was created by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Oregon on Dec. 22, 1852.
Historians have described Pierce County as one of the state’s most important, due to its natural resources – including an abundance of water, natural beauty and mild climate.
The Pierce County Council on May 25, 1999 adopted as the Pierce County Slogan, “Majestic Pierce County, Window to Northwest Grandeur.
The ordinary people that helped make Pierce County were the focus of a number of comments by speakers.
“This area indeed does have a blue collar history. That’s the stuff cities and counties are made of,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma.
Noting Tacoma’s recent renaissance, he added, “That hard-working, pioneer spirit is still here.”
“The real history is with the people who came after the Civil War, the Puyallup Tribe, Chinese-Americans.”
Pierce County Council Chairman Harold Moss, citing the success of July’s Ethnic Fest in Tacoma’s Wright Park – where over 50,000 attended – noted Pierce County’s diversity and the ability of people to get along.
“People are the best reason for the county’s success,” he said.
Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg agreed: “We have the most diverse county in the state of Washington.”
Providing a bit of personal history, Ladenburg said his grandmother came to the area in a covered wagon as a 6-year-old girl.
Mayors from cities and towns throughout the county were present, with the county’s oldest and newest represented.
Ron Lucas, mayor of Steilacoom, the county’s first incorporated town and original county seat, was there, as was Lakewood Mayor Bill Harrison.
Lakewood represents one of the county’s newest cities, having incorporated in 1996.
While the focus of the celebration was a tribute to Pierce County’s success over the last century-and-a-half, the not-so-good times were also acknowledged, including the sometimes poor treatment of the Puyallup and Nisqually Indian tribes, as well as Chinese workers.
“We don’t want to whitewash what has gone wrong in Pierce County,” Ladenburg said.
Though the historical reality was not always pleasant to remember, speakers did find time to bring some levity to the event.
Ladenburg pointed out that Pierce County is older than the state of Washington: “The county’s been here longer than most things.”
He also told the crowd he had been practicing pronouncing the word “sesquicentennial” – a big word meaning 150th anniversary.
“I’m probably the only one to admit I’m 150 years old,” Moss quipped, adding he planned to be around for another 150 years to celebrate the county’s 300th anniversary.
“We’ve had a rich history,” said U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Bremerton), who has served parts of the county for over 26 years. “I’m excited about Pierce County. We’ve got a good thing going.”