In 1853, members of a wagon train crossed over the Cascade Mountains through Naches Pass and settled an agricultural community in a fertile river valley at the junction of the Puyallup River and Stuck Creek (now known as the White River). They grew crops such as daffodils, rhubarb, hops, berries, vegetables, and turf grass.
In 1873 George Ryan came west from Wisconsin. He purchased 40 acres from Laura Kincaid Seaman and raised fruit, vegetables and hops. He also owned a sawmill, built a large section of the business district, and helped establish a railroad depot. Ryan House is now cared for by the City as part of its parks system and operated by the Sumner Historical Society.
The town itself was platted in 1883 on the 160 acres owned by John Kincaid. The establishment of the Northern Pacific rail line through the area and the construction of the depot influenced the development of the community. The downtown and core residential area developed within a 15-minute walk of the depot. With 127 registered voters and a majority vote, the town of Sumner incorporated in 1891 with George Ryan as the first mayor.
The reported population of Sumner was 538 in 1900. By 1998, it had grown to about 8,400. Agriculture remains important to the local economy, along with food manufacturing, wood products production, and warehousing and distribution.
The village was first called Stuck Junction. Later, J.P. Stewart named the area Franklin after his hometown in New York State. The U.S. Postal Department requested a new name since there were so many places named Franklin and delivering mail became confusing. Three townsmen–John F. Kincaid, L.F. Thompson, and George Ryan–could not agree on a name, so each placed a name on a slip of paper and put it into a hat. A boy was called into the store to pick one of the slips and it came out “Sumner.”
Charles Sumner was a Senator from Massachusetts and a popular statesman of the 19th century known for his efforts toward the abolition of slavery among other issues. The name of Sumner went on the railroad depot after the town incorporated in 1891.