Status: Most Endangered Places
Year Listed: 2023
Location: Sumner, Pierce County
The Ryan House was built as a one-room pioneer cabin in the 1800s for the Kincaid family. George Ryan, the first mayor of Sumner, bought the property in 1872 and added on to the cabin in 1875 and 1885 with lumber from his family’s mill. His wife Lucy was the postmistress of the temporary post office she ran out of her home.
In 1926, the Ryan family donated the property to the town of Sumner for use as the Sumner Public Library. The building served as the library from 1926 to 1979 and then housed the Sumner Historical Society, which operated the house as the Ryan House Museum until 2020. The Ryan House has been individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.
The City of Sumner began preparing for rehabilitation of the Ryan House, applying for and securing more than $1 million in funding from a variety of resources, including the Pierce County Lodging Tax Program and the Washington State Historical Society’s Heritage Capital Projects Program. Work began with a team of specialists to develop plans for the building and conduct an exploratory structural assessment. In the summer of 2023, the assessors reported significant structural compromise in the building, which prompted the City of Sumner to question the feasibility of rehabilitation and instead look toward possible demolition.
On September 18, 2023, the Sumner City Council voted to demolish the Ryan House. Demolition was tentatively scheduled for November 3, 2023. However, demolition was postponed pending ongoing litigation (an accompanying petition with the Growth Management Hearing Board has since been dismissed).
The City of Sumner, with its community partners, had committed to the rehabilitation and continued use of this important historic site. Significant time and energy went into securing needed grant funds, with expenditures made toward scoping, studying, contracting, and beginning work on the property.
Both increased costs and structural concerns pose additional challenges, but the Washington Trust—along with many community advocates—believes the Ryan House is worth saving. By including the Ryan House in our Most Endangered Places list, we hope to encourage the city to reconsider demolition and engage with community advocates on the long-term preservation of this important resource.