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All over the map: How Washington got the name ‘Evergreen State’

(Feliks Banel, KIRO Radio)

Washington became the 42nd state in the Union in November 1889, and it was just a few months later that young man named Charles Tallmadge Conover — just 27 years old at the time — had a brainstorm.

C.T. Conover was a former newspaperman who had gone into real estate. To drum up business from out of town, he and his business partner Samuel L. Crawford commissioned a booklet extolling the virtues of this verdant, lush, and forested wonderland.

Early Seattle historian Frederic Grant wrote the copy for the booklet, but Conover came up with the title: “Washington, The Evergreen State and Seattle, Its Metropolis.”

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This booklet didn’t advertise specific properties for sale. It was more of a general promotional piece. Today, it wouldn’t be called an infomercial, exactly – this would probably be considered “branded content.”

The real estate firm of Crawford & Conover spent something like $30,000 (or more than $800,000 in 2019 figures) to print 50,000 copies and distribute them around the country.

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It’s unclear if the booklet helped sell any property, but regardless, the “Evergreen State” nickname caught on with Governor Elisha P. Ferry and then Governor John Harte McGraw. “The Evergreen State” started appearing on materials produced by chambers of commerce and tourism bureaus all over Washington, and it figured prominently in Washington’s significant promotional efforts at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Even before the fair, Conover had had “Evergreen State” ribbons and buttons made up for the 1892 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Future historian Edmond Meany took a pile of this swag to hand out to delegates, and Conover later claimed that one of the items was named the “most handsome and striking badge” at the convention. However, even the presence of this handsome Evergreen swag couldn’t help Republican President Benjamin Harrison, who that autumn lost his bid for a second term to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

And there’s at least one odd legislative footnote to all of this. The “Evergreen State” nickname was never legally adopted by the state. Some sources say that the Washington State House did officially approve it in 1893, but this couldn’t be confirmed. And, as recently as 2009, Republican State Senator Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside introduced a bill in the Washington State Senate to make “The Evergreen State” truly Washington’s official nickname, but the bill did not pass.

Senator Honeyford was consulted earlier this week to find out exactly why that 2009 bill didn’t go anywhere. He told a reporter that not only could he not remember why it hadn’t passed, but, in fact, he also couldn’t remember introducing it. Both the senator, who’s a good sport, and the reporter had a good chuckle.

The man behind all of this, C.T. Conover, who wrote a newspaper column about local history for The Seattle Times titled “Just Cogitating” for the last 15 years of his life, died in August 1961 just two days shy of his 99th birthday. He’s buried among the other Washington pioneers in Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery, surrounded by some of that lush landscape that his wordsmithing celebrated so long ago.

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