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Best of Olympia 2020: Lacey’s mysterious name origin

Writer's Pick: Best Mystery

Mystery surrounds how the city of Lacey got its name. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Although little known to most, the naming of the city of Lacey remains mysterious.

What is known is that in the 1850s, settlers populated the area. Two of those were Isaac and Catherine Wood.

Like many, they worked hard and prospered, but due to the Wood's good reputation as upright citizens, people began to refer to the area as "Woodland." 

In time, the Northern Pacific Railroad built a depot, and businessman Isaac Ellis built the Woodland Drive Park, a sulky horse racetrack. Sustained economic growth led to the petitioning of federal authorities in 1891 for the creation of a Woodland Post Office. They denied the request because a town named Woodland, Washington, already existed.

The local community submitted a second petition not long after that initial denial, but this time with the proposed city name of Lacey.

Why this name?

The answer remains a mystery, centering around an individual named Oliver Chester (O.C.) Lacey.

He had settled in nearby Olympia in 1891. There he practiced law and, with H.L. Forrest, speculated in real estate. In 1893, he was appointed as a justice of the peace.

As Deb Ross wrote in a May 2016 Thurston Talk article entitled "O.C. Lacey's Inkstand," Lacey was a questionable character.

"A February 1892 article in the Washington Standard described his as a ‘poor little fly (who) lights upon the cow's horn simply to be seen,'" she wrote.  

She also pointed out that the paper later accused Lacey of hiding evidence in a case, resulting in the startling headline: "Raped the Record."

And last, Ross strongly suggests that Lacey named the city after himself.

Her speculation centers on a patent inkstand (portable inkwell) that was found at the Woodland Driving Park around the time of the naming of the city in order to create the post office.

Ross uncovered a classified ad that appeared July 7 and 8, 1891, a short time after the application for the post office had been filed.

The ad read: "Lost. On Fourth Street or on the road to Ellis' race track, a patent ink stand. Finder please return to Lacey & Forrest, Olympia."

"This tiny ad establishes that either Lacey or Forrest was at Isaac Ellis' new racetrack in Woodland around the time of the signing of the post office application," wrote Ross.

One of them "brought along a patent (that is, portable) inkwell -- not something you would bring to a fun day at the races but would be required to execute a document," Ross continued in her piece.

To further her contention that Lacey named the city after himself, Ross compared the signature on the post office application to one of Lacey's signatures as a justice of the peace. 

"When one overlays the post office application onto the Justice of the Peace signature, the a, c, e, and y match up almost perfectly," she concluded.

Given Lacey's questionable character -- compounded by the lack of information about him -- this little-known fact about how the city of Lacey got its name remains a mystery. 

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