By Marianne Lincoln, lifelong Elk Plain resident
Bethel Station is a shopping center, not a community. Spanaway Plaza, Pacific Commons and the new Mountain Plaza are also shopping centers in Spanaway, but no one is trying to name communities after them. The name Bethel Station was picked up by the Post Office in Washington D.C. when the second branch of the Spanaway Post Office was built in the mid-1990’s. They stuck the name Bethel Station on it because of the nearby shopping center. I spoke with the Spanaway Postmaster at the time and even he was surprised they had not chosen the community name.
The original name of the community is Elk Plain. In 1907, the railroad put in a whistle stop at the site where RFP Lumber now stands and named it Loveland. Therefore, the community has had a battle of names for some time. All the new settlers saw the community as Loveland until Chester Thompson, the grange historian, did a little digging as to why the school was called Elk Plain. He discovered the Hudson Bay Company map and the story the local natives told of the great herds of elk that roamed the prairie they called Elk Plain.
Today I was reading an article online in the News Tribune and there was a banner ad for Timberland Bank at the top. On it was touted the local branch locations, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Edgewood, Puyallup/South Hill, Spanaway/Bethel Station. Which one is not a real community name? You guessed it, Bethel Station.
When did Elk Plain become “Bethel Station?” If you said, it has not, you are correct.
Note to Timberland Bank, your branch is located in Elk Plain. To you and future businesses, welcome to Elk Plain; where residents like our name and would like you to appreciate us for it. The Dispatch newspaper also received a call from me a couple years ago about their list of community names. Many of us actually went to school here before the Bethel Station Shopping Center was built. We like our shopping center and we like the fact that we have a bank here, and we like our name.
Ruth Bethel, for whom this district is named, got her start as the principal of Roy High School. There, she faced incredible challenges when that school burned down, but classes still needed to be held, wherever there was space. She pushed for consolidation of the local districts here and got credit for her many years of effort by having the high school and the district named after her. Since the Bethel District is far bigger than just Elk Plain, the community name should continue to be the traditional, historic name as mapped by the cartographer John B. Chapman in 1852 (photo).
For those who actually like renaming places, there’s a mountain up the street named after a British naval officer who never set foot in this part of the world and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. There’s a Facebook site, Restore Native Names to Sacred Places looking for a better name for that mountain.