A Northwest Valentine

In the early 1950s, Vera Dyar and her husband moved from British Columbia to a 160-acre plot of land just outside of Enumclaw, Washington. Over the next several years, the Dyars built up their ranch and turned the pond into a lake. After Mr. Dyar’s death, Vera found that things were just too quiet around the ranch and began using it as a site for friends’ weddings, complete with honeymoons in her two-room guest house.

In the late 60s or very early 70s, Vera (better known as Lady Dyar) began advertising her homestead as a wedding spot named Little Lake Ranch, and business boomed.

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Ring bearers?

In 1972, Lady Dyar invited a reporter from the Associated Press to attend a wedding. The short article produced appeared in newspapers from Georgia to Iowa to Texas throughout the spring and summer of that year. The article described Lady Dyar as “a woman who ‘just liked seeing people get married’.”

“‘I’m not really Lady Vera or Lady Dyar,'” she told the reporter. “‘I’m not a lady, just Mrs., but people have always called me Lady and I’m used to it. But isn’t this marvelous?'”

The price of a wedding was  $60 (about $344 today) and up, depending on the size and type of wedding. Couples were responsible for providing their own minister. What kinds of amenities did Little Lake Ranch have to offer? According to the article, the ranch offered a view of Mount Rainier, a dreamlike setting, and animal witnesses, namely geese, peacocks, swans, ducks, and cows.

About four years and 500 weddings later, the ranch was once again the subject of a short Associated Press article, appearing in newspapers around the state. By this time, Lady Dyar had married Gale Zerba, a man who had worked as a groundskeeper for the Dyars when Mr. Dyar was still alive.

Now dubbed Wedding Wonderland, the ranch provided much more than just a location for the wedding party. Lady Dyar also arranged the flowers, colors, food, entertainment, and contracted a photographer and minister. Prices were also raised, ranging from $100 to $1,000 (about $420 to $4,200 today).

“‘I like the excitement, the loveliness of the bride,'” Vera told the reporter. “‘I get caught up in the emotions of the parents and brides and often feel tears in my eyes.'”

Wedding Wonderland was still advertised as a venue for unique weddings. A couple could get married by the lake and waterfall, in a canoe, side-by-side on horseback, in a horse-drawn buggy, in the barn, while wearing turn-of-the century garb, or in next to nothing.

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WEDDINGS AT LITTLE LAKE RANCH. LADY DYAR. TA 5-3879. 5 miles east of Enumclaw, Wash. Have your outdoor wedding held in a jewel-like setting amidst tall firs, strutting peacocks, magnificent floral baskets. All this and more beside a shimmering 14-acre lake. Every Bride’s Dream. Indoor weddings and catering also available. Very Reasonable rates. Where Mom got married to Mike.

So, where exactly was Little Lake Ranch? The 1972 Associated Press article begins with an interesting set of directions:

“…Drive past the city dump, the pickle factory, and Pete’s swimming pool and then up a dirt road and straight into the forest to a secluded wedding haven called Little Lake Ranch.”

But not necessarily in that order. At least not in 2017. The roads may have been changed in the last 45 years, but if you approach via Highway 410, you would pass the pool, the abandoned factory, and then the dump before driving off into what was once a wooded wedding wonderland.

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Overhead view via Google Maps with labels

Besides the treasure hunt it led me on during my research, what is perhaps the most wonderful thing about this set of directions is the inclusion of local landmarks that are now simply memories.

First opened in 1935, Pete’s Pool was an enlarged pond complete with a fountain and grand log lodge. Now the Enumclaw Expo Center Field House, the pool has been paved over and sports fields have been built. Ironically, the lodge is now a popular wedding venue.

Established in 1944, Farman’s Pickles was located on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Pickle Factory Road (Now Farman Road). Known for their consistent quality and “King Pickle” character, Farman’s sold to Nalley’s Fine Foods in 1987 and production was moved to Tacoma.

The last mention of Little Lake Ranch I was able to find in a news article was in a Seattle Times piece from 1993. Lady Dyar estimated that more than 5,000 weddings had been held at her ranch over the past 20 years.

While it does not appear that Little Lake Ranch is still in business as a wedding site, a quick drive on Google Maps revealed this gem at the entrance to the property:

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“Little Lake Ranch, 440 SE, Around Corner”
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