George Anson Meigs (#313) was born on February 4, 1816, the eighth child of Whiting (#166) and Charlotte (Grennell) Meigs, in Shelburne, Vermont. He received his common school education and then ventured to Newark, Brooklyn, Key West, Memphis and New Orleans. He ultimately went to California during the gold rush of 1849.
He opened a lumber business in San Francisco. In 1854, Meigs purchase a mill from J.J. Felt who had moved it from Appletree Cove, Washington Territory (Kingston, WA) to Port Madison, Washington Territory. Port Madison was founded by Meigs. A newspaper reporter once wrote of it, "If ever we saw a place of all work it is Port Madison. Mills, machine shops, foundries, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, everything is driving full ahead. The mill runs night and day on orders ahead and the foundry and shops are kept hard at work to meet local demands and make fixtures for the company's new mill in California. Two ships in port are loading lumber and spars for New England." 1 The town has been described as a "prime little place, with its white houses, gardens, orchards and shade trees." 2
The towns entertainment included festivals, picnics and other community events, but Meigs did not permit saloons. Mrs. A. J. Hanford tells a story of her school when she was teacher at Port Madison: "I was the originator of one of the first Christmas entertainments given on the Sound when I taught school at Port Madison in 1860. I did not have a tree, but Mr. Meigs, who owned the mills, gave the men in his employ--and there were a number of them--three days to prepare for the entertainment. They were two days fitting up the hall and a day getting ready for the event, which was to cone off in the evening. They built a stage, with drop curtains and footlights, on which my twenty-five pupils rendered the various dialogues, songs and recitations I had drilled them in.... The audience was composed of the mill men and the parents of my scholars, with the officers of the ships at anchor in the harbor, and also a good share of Seattle's population--thirty having been invited and entertained as my guests. But Seattle hadn't candy enough in her stores then for the banquet with which the entertainment closed, for refreshments were a feature of every entertainment of whatsoever nature in those days, and we sent to Vancouver [probably meant Victoria] to make up the deficiency in sweetmeats, as well as for the two boxes of candles which were set in wooden cross pieces holding 100 candles each, and which illuminated Meigs' Hall." 3
He enlarged and improved the mill and spent most of his time there, leaving the lumberyard in San Francisco to William H. Gawley. By 1858, Meigs had developed a capacity at the mill of fifteen thousand board feet per day and it soon ranked with the principal lumber producing plants on Puget Sound. He later built the first brass and iron foundry in the Washington Territory (which lost money) and a shipyard. 4
From his shipyard came the first full-Rigged sailing ship ever built on the Pacific Coast--the Wildwood. Although there was an abundant supply of timber on the coast, the Pacific ship building industry had been held back by the fact that Douglas fir, the principle timber source, was found to decay rapidly. Not until it was discovered that Douglas fir was durable if cut in the winter, seasoned and salted was any attempt made to construct ships of it. The Wildwood, at 1,099 tons, was the first. The following is an account from the daily San Francisco paper, dated September, 1871.
The West Shore, a Portland, Oregon, paper wrote, "Vessels for the coasting trade have been built at San Francisco ever since 1853, but it was reserved for Washington Territory to turn out the first full-Rigged ship for blue water. Gilbert [sic] A. Meigs, of Port Madison, Kitsap county, was the man who stood the egg on its end. In 1871 he commenced, in connection with Aaron J. Westervelt, of New York, the construction of the ship Wildwood, now on her return from Liverpool to San Francisco. Unfortunately, a difficulty sprang up between them when the ship was first started and Mr. Westervelt returned to New York in disgust. This led to the vessel being finished in a very different style from Mr. Westervelt's design, as he intended her to be the counterpart of his celebrated ship Sweepstakes, which is accredited with two trips from New York to San Francisco inside of ninety days, but the Wildwood, though not what Westervelt intended she should be, is a credit to the territory. She sailed from Burrard Inlet, British Columbia, with a full cargo of lumber and made the run to Melbourne, Australia, in forty-six days." 6 The Wildwood was lost at Nushagak, Alaska in 1895. 7
Meigs assisted in the construction of the University of Washington and served as one of its regents during the early 1860's.
On February 18, 1861 came a severe setback. A boiler explosion made a wreck of Meigs' Puget Sound mill. Five men were killed. The cost of rebuilding just about broke Meigs. Again in l864 8 the mill burned and the loss was put at $100,000.00. Meigs rebuilt and enlarged the mills capacity. During the first six months of 1870, running day and night, it cut and shipped. 11,872,000 board feet of lumber. Meigs fleet of ships had also expanded to 45,000 tons, including the Northern and Tidal Wave.
Meigs weathered business depressions and other problems, including Gawley's (now a partner) speculation with funds taken from the company. Finally, by 1881, financial and legal difficulties could not be overcome and the mill complex was sold at a sheriff's auction. He was "just about the most sued man on Puget Sound." 9
Meigs spent the last years of life on his property at Port Madison. On March 3, 1897, Meigs had gone to testify in a libel action in Seattle. On his way back to the ship which would leave that night for Port Madison, he disappeared. His body was found the next morning on the deck of a freighter. The coroner's jury held that he had gotten lost in the dark and the death was accidental.
He married Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Ogden Tappan, in Boston, Massachusetts, during 1858.
Copyright (c) by Rick Meigs