By Lanny Weaver for Lacey’s 50th Anniversary Committee

In 1891, the Woodland Driving Park opened to great fanfare in the community of Woodland, a mere four miles east of Olympia. The brainchild of former Olympia mayor Isaac Ellis, this one-mile horse racetrack sat just a short distance from the newly laid tracks of the Tacoma, Olympia and Grays Harbor Railroad. Also nearby were the recently constructed train depot and an elegant clubhouse, ready to welcome the visitors that were sure to come to what was at the time the second largest racetrack in the west. The major thoroughfare of the day, the Olympia-Steilacoom Road, provided yet another method of easy access to the location.

lacey history
Stephen and Margaret Ruddell were some of the founding people of Lacey. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

The investors fueling this growth came from Olympia. They saw the area known as Woodland as an extension of their city. The close proximity was not lost on the residents of Woodland either. For example, in 1890 when John Adams laid out the first plat in the area, he named it “Adams Acre Tracts Adjoining Olympia.” But for the people who lived in Woodland, they saw themselves as a separate community.

The area was settled much like most of the rest of Washington Territory with people from the East and Midwest following the Oregon Trail to make claims on large pieces of land. First to settle permanently was the David Chambers family in 1848 on the site of what is now Panorama. They were soon followed by other families whose names such as Eaton, Ruddell, Wood, Hicks, Parsons, Pattison, McMillan, Himes, Hawk, Fleetwood, Adams, and Carpenter now dot the landscape of Lacey on roads, lakes, streams and prairies.

lacey history
Ruddell Pioneer Cemetery Sign, 1954. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

The community developed organically as neighbors joined together to meet certain needs. In 1853, Stephen D. Ruddell set aside land for a cemetery needed after the death of the Eliza Jane Hicks, the young wife of his step-son, Urban East. In that same year, Ruddell was also the driving force in establishing the first school. In true pioneer fashion, the members of the community came together to build it not far from the cemetery. When the Indian War struck in 1855, William White was killed on nearby Eaton Prairie. Word spread quickly from farm to farm and neighbors made sure that everyone found a safe place to stay.

At first, the community was considered a part of Chambers Prairie, a huge swath of open land running from the edge of Olympia east to the meridian. When they voted, it was in the Chambers Prairie Precinct. The name Woodland appeared later. Isaac Wood, who had taken out a 320-acre Donation Land Claim just north of Hicks Lake in 1852, gave his farm the nickname “Wood Lawn.” According to Wood family lore, Isaac’s son Rollin devised the name “Woodland” for the farm and the community surrounding it.

lacey history
Lacey Train Depot, after 1902. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

New settlers added to the population. Children of pioneers married other children of pioneers. For instance, Urban East Hicks married India Ann Hartsock; Nathan Eaton married Lestina Himes; Helen Himes married William Ruddell; Stephen L. Ruddell married Emeline Himes; Nancy Parsons married David Fleetwood; William Fleetwood married Keziah Belle Ruddell; Stephen D. Ruddell married Margaret White, the widow of William. What had started as a community of mostly strangers grew to be one of friends and family.

Prior to 1891, along the Olympia-Steilacoom Road on the northern end of the community of farms and farmers, only one store opened by George Warren Carpenter and a sparsely populated subdivision along one street broke the pattern of open fields.

lacey history
Post Office application, 1891. Note “Select another name” written at top for the application for a Woodland Post Office. The section below shows the new name selected as “Lacey” and it is signed by postmaster George Warren Carpenter. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

But the arrival of the railroad, the Woodland Driving Park, and the clubhouse (later to become the Woodland Hotel) focused attention on this community; a post office for Woodland seemed like a natural progression. Unfortunately, the name Woodland had already been given to a post office in Cowlitz County and so the name “Lacey” was chosen instead. The name of the community remained Woodland.

Sources of Information:
United States Post Office Application, 1891
Washington State Archives, Southwest Regional Branch:
Thurston County Auditor, Plats, 1869-1994
Thurston County Auditor, Original Entries of Land, 1857-1900
Thurston County Auditor, Election Record, 1852-1886
Thurston County Auditor, Marriage Certificates, 1853-2013

Morning Olympian, April 10, 1891
“School Teacher Wanted,” Columbian, January 15, 1853

Himes, George. Transactions of the Fifty-third Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association. Portland: F.W. Baltes and Co., 1928

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