A-Z History of Sumner, Washington - Hops
Provided in part by Daffodil Valley Times and the City of Sumner.
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Hops are a perennial vine from the nettle family. Yeast, used in beer brewing, is made out of the catkins that grow on the hops vine. Olympia brewer Charles Wood ordered hop roots from England. In 1865 he passed some along to Steilacoom school teacher John Meeker. John walked twenty miles to drop some off with his brother Ezra in Puyallup and a few more with his father J.R. in Sumner. Hops have long roots-the virgin soil of the Puyallup valley was ideal for its propagation, and it became Sumner’s first major commercial crop.
A framework of poles and wires supports the growing hops vines. Sumner families and Canadian Indians picked the hops into large boxes with handles on each side. Mitts made out of women’s long black cotton stockings kept arms from being scratched by the prickly vines. When supervisors heard a picker cry hop box full, they delivered the hops to the kiln drying floor. The fumes form sulfur used in the drying process permeated the valley air. The hops were then bailed and shipped to San Francisco.
The boom in hops production reached its peak in 1880. Hops made local growers wealthy- Italianate and Queen Anne Style homes like the Herbert Williams House and Sidney Williams House were a testament to the phenomenal success. The hops bust came a decade later when the vines became furry with aphids, or plant lice. Desperate growers hauled sprayers through the fields on sleds to cover crops with quassia chips and whale oil soap, and even boiled the hops. Nothing worked. The crops failed and fortunes were lost. Growers continued to plant hops, but the crop never regained its commercial status.
The architecture of Sumner’s light rail station is taken from the hops kiln form. You can still see hops kilns in nearby Alderton.
Information on these pages is provided in part by Daffodil Valley Times Staff and The City of Sumner, Wa.
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