Seattle

Seattle is located on a neck of land between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington. The first settlers began arriving in 1851 and a town, named after a friendly Native American chief, was established in 1853.

The town's development was slow until the Great Northern Railway arrived in 1893. The opening of the Panama Canal and the Lake Washington Ship Canal also helped its growth and by 1995 had a population of 520,000.


History of Seattle, Washington

In 1851, a group of immigrants from Illinois, led by one Arthur Denny, arrived at Alki Point on the eastern shores of the Puget Sound. The settlement they created was named Seattle in honor of a helpful local Indian leader Chief Sealth. Alki Point is on the south side of the mouth of Elliot Bay. Finding the location at Alki unsuitable, the majority of those pioneers moved to the eastern side of the bay, where downtown Seattle, Washington, is now located. A shortage of marriageable women in Seattle prompted another Seattle pioneer, Asa Mercer, to make two trips to New York City in 1864 to recruit prospective brides. He brought back 100 women who became known as the Mercer girls. Seattle was incorporated in 1869. Before long, the settlement became the largest city in Washington. Its dominance was assured when the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Seattle over Tacoma as its western terminus. The discovery of gold, first on the Fraser River and later in the Yukon (1896), sparked gold rushes from which Seattle prospered indirectly as a principal location for outfitting the miners. Like many cities during the era, the town was subject to a huge fire on June 6, 1889. The Great Seattle Fire was started by New Yorker John E. Black when he tipped a hot glue pot over a gasoline fire, which destroyed nearly the entire business district. The town was quickly rebuilt and grew from a population of 25,000 to 40,000, owing to newly available construction jobs. Seattle is quite hilly, but in years past it was hillier yet. As the city expanded in the late 19th century, hills posed serious obstacles to its growth. The response was a series of regrades, from which massive amounts of earth were washed away by water under high pressure. The most notable was the Denny Regrade to the north of downtown that continued for much of the first three decades of the 20th century. Other projects were conducted to the south. After removal, the soil was deposited in tideflat areas to expand the land available for such projects as railroads and warehouses. Today, very little of the central district of Seattle lies at the same level as when the first settlers arrived. In 1909, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was held in Seattle. President William Howard Taft opened the exposition from Washington, D.C., by pressing a telegraph key. During its 138-day run, the fair attracted 3.7 million visitors. More permanent facilities resulted from Seattle`s second world’s fair. For the Century 21 Exposition in 1962, Seattle erected its landmark Space Needle as well as the monorail, a unique piece of public transportation connecting the site, now known as Seattle Center, with downtown. To influence a city to reach its highest potential, several vital ingredients go into the mix: the right people to inspire and raise the limits of human endeavor, places that exhibit cultural wealth, things that aid in the realization of dreams, the concrete edifices to showcase building prowess, and finally, the events that act as the catalyst to bring everything to fruition. Such people as Elmer H. Fisher, Chief Seattle, leader of the Suquamish, the Olmsted Brothers, and Historic Seattle, the preservation and rehabilitation organization, have influenced the city. Seattle is graced by numerous educational and cultural venues, including the University of Washington, Cornish College of the Arts, Ballard Avenue Historic District, Columbia City Landmark District, Pioneer Square and Skid Road Historic District, and Harvard-Belmont Historic District. Others include the Burke Museum, Frye Art Museum, the First Hill neighborhood, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and the Woodland Park Zoo. During its early history, the people of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest had to overcome barriers to survive and flourish. The Seattle area, and the Pacific Northwest, was a treasure trove of timber. To exploit it, the obstacle of poor or nonexistent roads had to be overcome. Seattle called upon the services of such sea-going vessels as the Sailing Vessel Wawona. For travel and excursions in and around the Puget Sound, they used such vessels as The Steamship Virginia V. Following the Great Fire, Seattle commenced a robust program of resurrecting itself from its ashes, creating an improved city to become a showplace for the Pacific Northwest. Commercial and residential buildings, from office buildings to apartments, constructed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, embody the realized dreams of those energetic men and women who faced the Great Fire and the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896. A sampler might include: the Arctic Building, Fire Station No. 25, Hoge Building, Northern Life Tower, Pioneer Building, Queen Anne High School, Sunset Hotel, Bell Apartments and Barnes Building, and Cobb Building. Also included on that list is the Eagles Auditorium Building, Times Building, Trinity Parish Church, the Coliseum Theater, The Paramount Theater, Phillips House, and The Stimson-Green Mansion. Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. The Boeing Company has long been the Seattle area`s largest industry. Such high-technology companies as Microsoft Corporation and Amazon.com now drive more of Seattle`s growth. The city also is famous for Starbucks Coffee, which opened its first outlet next to the Pike Place Market in 1971. Based in Seattle, Swedish Medical Center is the largest comprehensive non-profit health provider in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony have inspired the city from its early days.


10 Surprising Secrets From Seattle’s History

From salmon-tossing to being the birthplace of grunge, Seattle has many well-known claims to fame. The area is home to some of America's top corporations—Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks, to name just a few—and it’s known for its cloudy weather (on average, it has 152 days a year with precipitation). But Seattle has its stranger side, too. Here are a few odd items from the history of this booming Northwest metropolis.

1. VASHON ISLAND HAS A BICYCLE-EATING TREE.

Seattle has many islands just a short ferry ride away. A small-town, woodsy atmosphere characterizes nearby Vashon Island, which is about the size of Manhattan. In fact, the bucolic land is so woodsy that trees may be taking over.

Over a small footbridge on an unmarked trail, where Vashon Highway meets Southwest 204th Street, a Douglas fir has eaten an old bicycle. Tourists in the know make the pilgrimage to see the rusted two-wheeler, which has been swallowed by the tree and lifted about seven feet in the air. The bike's middle is lodged deep beneath the bark while its front and back wheels jut out on either side. Local Don Puz lays claim to the bike, saying he left it there around 1954 when he was a kid.

In the past few decades, the bike has become the stuff of local legend. Its fame got a big boost after 1994, when cartoonist Berkeley Breathed published a children's book about the tree, Red Ranger Came Calling. Unfortunately, vandals have stripped the bike of various parts over the years, but locals continue to mend it, replacing the pilfered parts with donations of their own.

2. A COLORFUL CONGRESSMAN WHO LEAPT TO HIS DEATH IS SAID TO HAUNT THE ARCTIC HOTEL

, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1933 until his death in 1936, may have been one of the craziest politicians in U.S. history. A son of Polish immigrants, he began his political career as a fighter for the poor and homeless, and was elected congressman as a fierce champion of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies.

While Zioncheck's heart was in the right place, his head seemed to be going in a different direction. A week after meeting 21-year-old Rubye Louise Nix, a secretary at the Works Progress Administration, Zioncheck married her. Their honeymoon in Puerto Rico was memorable: Zioncheck is said to have joined in a student riot, drove through a rich man's gate, lapped soup up like a dog at a dinner, and reportedly bit a driver's neck. He and his wife also were admonished for throwing coconuts out their hotel window. He told reporters that he invented a new drink while in Puerto Rico: "The Zipper," made from hair tonic and rum.

Returning to Washington, D.C. after the honeymoon, he and his bride made headlines after a drunken frolic in a local fountain. In an earlier escapade, the Seattle statesman had taken a crazed 70-mile-per-hour drive up Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., finally parking his car on the White House lawn. He also sent President Roosevelt a gift of a package of empty beer bottles and mothballs. J. Edgar Hoover, meanwhile, received a truckload of manure.

With his sanity in question, Zioncheck was sent to a sanitarium for a short time. In 1936, with most of his political support gone, he launched an independent reelection campaign. His prospects of winning were dwindling, and on August 7, a discouraged Zioncheck wrote a farewell note and threw himself out of the window of his fifth-floor office in downtown Seattle’s Arctic Building. He hit the sidewalk on Third Avenue, just outside the car where his wife was waiting. The Arctic Building is now a DoubleTree hotel, and several visitors have reported that his ghost haunts the fifth floor, occasionally riding the elevator and pushing random buttons.

3. BATMAN IS FROM THE EMERALD CITY.

Seattle has been home to several figures who have left their indelible mark on the world. One who looms large in the pop culture consciousness is Adam West, who became famous for his campy portrayal of Batman on TV in the late 1960s. West's caped crusader fought an array of flamboyant villains—all while coaching youthful viewers in good behaviors such as doing homework, drinking milk, and wearing safety belts.

After his parents divorced at age 15, West moved with his mother from Walla Walla, Washington to Seattle, where he attended Lakeside School. (Lakeside has had other successful alumni, most notably Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the founders of Microsoft.) Other notable celebrities with ties to Seattle include actors Rainn Wilson, Joel McHale, Jean Smart, Dyan Cannon, Rose McGowan, and John Ratzenberger (Cheers), as well as singer Judy Collins, choreographer Mark Morris, and cartoonist Gary Larson (The Far Side).

4. RUDYARD KIPLING ONCE CALLED IT A “GREAT BLACK SMUDGE."

On June 6, 1889, a fire started in a shop downtown, and within a few hours the central business district was destroyed. At the time, most of the buildings were wooden—the sidewalks were made of wood, and even potholes in the road were filled with sawdust. The fire not only engulfed buildings, it spread quickly to the wharves as well (which were also made of wood). To make matters worse, the system of hydrants and plumbing was inadequate, and the water pressure very low. Firefighters struggled to contain the quickly spreading blaze, and in the end, 120 acres were destroyed, with thousands of homes and jobs lost.

Soon after the fire, the author Rudyard Kipling visited the city, calling it "a horrible black smudge, as though a Hand had come down and rubbed the place smooth. I know now what being wiped out means."

After the blaze, the citizens of Seattle got to work rebuilding. A new building ordinance required buildings to be less vulnerable to fire, and within a year, hundreds of new buildings had risen from the ashes. Much of the new city was built on top of the remnants of the old. Today, remaining structures from before the fire form an underground city that is a popular attraction for tourists.

5. IT WAS HOME TO THE WINDSHIELD DAMAGE HYSTERIA OF 1954.

In the spring of 1954, windshields on cars in Seattle, Bellingham, and other nearby towns suffered a wave of damage. People began reporting that pits, dings, and holes were mysteriously appearing on their car glass. Within a couple of weeks, close to 3000 residents in the Puget Sound area had claimed their windshields were damaged. Even police cars were not immune.

Concern about the cause hit feverish levels, and locals spun plenty of potential theories. One sheriff speculated that the scarred glass was a result of nuclear fallout from tests conducted in the South Pacific, thousands of miles from Seattle. Others blamed radio waves, cosmic rays, and atmospheric conditions. Some even suspected that sand-flea eggs were somehow being laid in the car glass and then hatching.

Scientists at the University of Washington who looked into the matter concluded that all the damage was most likely the result of normal driving practices. Drivers just hadn't noticed the dings before, and now they were all under the influence of some sort of mass delusion. The rumors of windshield damage seemed to feed on themselves. Since then, some have labeled it a textbook case of a collective delusion.

6. IT’S HOME TO A MAN WHO MORTGAGED HIS HOUSE FOR LENIN.

Seattle is made up of a series of distinctive neighborhoods. Fremont is one that prides itself on its eccentricity: it’s the self-declared Center of the Universe, and host to an annual summer solstice parade featuring legions of nude bicyclists. Two massive statues also distinguish the community—one is a towering troll residing beneath the Aurora Bridge, and the other is a large bronze of Vladimir Lenin, striding forth in his signature cap and goatee.

The latter statue stood for a very short time in 1988 in Poprad, Slovakia, but after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the seven-ton, 16-foot-tall Lenin wound up face-down in the a local dump. When Issaquah teacher, construction worker, and Vietnam veteran Lewis Carpenter came across the statue, he decided to save this piece of history from being melted down. To cover his costs (about $40,000 by some estimates), including shipping, Carpenter had to mortgage his home. After getting the funds together, he cut the statue in three pieces and brought it to a new home in Issaquah, outside Seattle.

Unfortunately, Carpenter died in a car accident in 1994. Sculptor Peter Bevis, the founder of the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry, came to Lenin's rescue. He worked out an arrangement with the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and Carpenter's family whereby Fremont will hold the statue in a trust until a buyer is found (estimated price: $250,000). Of course, Lenin is a controversial figure whose policies led to mass terror and the deaths of millions, so feelings about the statue are justifiably mixed—often his hands get painted red as a symbol of the bloodshed and death attributed to his policies.

7. IT’S HAD MORE THAN ITS FAIR SHARE OF SERIAL KILLERS.

Maybe it's something in the water. Seattle seems like a peaceful place on the surface, but the town has had an unusual number of serial killers. The infamous Ted Bundy attended the University of Washington and served as the assistant director of the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Commission. Gary Ridgway, a.k.a. the Green River Killer, confessed to killing more than 70 women in the Seattle area. John Allen Muhammad—who along with his accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized citizens in the Washington, D.C. area in 2002—was a resident of nearby Tacoma and regularly attended a mosque in Seattle. Kenneth Bianchi, the famed Hillside Strangler of San Francisco, committed his final two murders in Bellingham, just north of Seattle, before getting caught.

8. IT HAS SOME SURPRISING CONNECTIONS TO NEW YORK CITY.

When settlers first came to the area in 1851, they established a town at what's now Alki Point that they first called New York-Alki. The settlers chose the name with the hope that the area would grow to the size and importance of New York City. Today, a tiny replica of the Statue of Liberty stands in Alki overlooking the bay, a reminder of the area's original New York name. While Frederick Law Olmsted designed New York's Central Park, his sons, the Olmsted Brothers, designed many of Seattle's parks—including Colman, Frink, Green Lake, Interlaken, Jefferson, Mt. Baker, Seward, Volunteer, Washington Park Arboretum, and Woodland parks.

The Pacific Science Center was designed by Seattle-born Minoru Yamasaki for the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. Yamasaki would later go on to design the World Trade Center in New York City. His signature look of narrow pointed arches appeared in both structures.

9. YOU CAN SEE MUMMIES ON THE WATERFRONT.

You expect to see a mummy in a museum, but Seattle has two on display in a gift shop along its well-touristed piers. Not far from the new ferris wheel and Ivar's Fish Bar, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop houses two mummies—a female named Sylvia and a male named Sylvester. Many visitors think the figures are fake, but researchers from the Bioanthropology Research Institute at Quinnipiac University in New Haven, Connecticut conducted CT and MRI scans in 2001 and 2005 and confirmed that they are the real deal. In fact, they declared Sylvester to be one of the best-preserved mummies they have ever seen.

According to legend, two cowboys found Sylvester's dried-out body in Arizona's Gila Bend Desert in 1895. Some say he was killed in a saloon shootout and has what appears to be a gunshot wound in the stomach. Sylvia is more deteriorated, but evidence shows that she is a European female who died at about the age of 30 from tuberculosis and lost her teeth while still alive.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop itself is an underappreciated Seattle treasure—its origins date back to 1899 when Joseph Edward Standley set up his curio and souvenir shop on the waterfront. Over five generations, the Standley family has enlarged its collection of oddities, bringing in shrunken heads, taxidermy treasures, and natural and artificial wonders from all over the world.

10. WANT TO GET AROUND DOWNTOWN? JUST REMEMBER THIS PHRASE.

Locals know this handy mnemonic device—the phrase “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest”—as a way to remember the street names downtown. Starting from the south and heading north, the street names are Jefferson and then James ("Jesus"), Cherry and Columbia (“Christ”), Marion and Madison (“Made”), Spring and Seneca (“Seattle”), University and Union (“Under”), and finally, Pike and Pine (“Protest”). Note, however, that some townsfolk use the word "Pressure" instead of "Protest."


Famous Birthdays

William Randolph Hearst

1863-04-29 William Randolph Hearst, American newspaper publisher (San Francisco Examiner, Seattle P-I), born in San Francisco, California (d. 1951)

    Bertha Landes, 1st woman elected mayor of a major US city (Seattle) Nikolai Sokoloff, Russian-American violinist and conductor (Cleveland Orchestra, 1918-32 Seattle Symphony, 1938-41 co-founder & dircetor of La Jolla Music Society, 1941-65), born in Kiev, Ukraine (d. 1965) Robert Stroud, American convict, "Birdman of Alcatraz", born in Seattle Washington (d. 1963) Frank Foyston, NHL Hall of Famer (Seattle) Alice Ball, African American chemist (developed treatment for leprosy), born in Seattle Washington (d. 1916) Guthrie McClintic, Broadway producer/dir (Winterset), born in Seattle, Washington Thomas Pelly, American politician, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1973) Josephine Hutchinson, American actress (Story of Louis Pasteur), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1998) Lanny Ross, radio singer (Show Boat, The Swift Show), born in Seattle, Washington Earl Robinson, American composer, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1991) William Douglas Denny, American composer, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1980) Gypsy Rose Lee [Rose Hovick], American burlesque actress (Gypsy), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1970) Mary McCarthy, American novelist (Group), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1989) Frances Farmer, American actress (Son of Fury, Flowing Gold, Among the Living), born in Seattle, Washington (1970) Matt Dennis, American pop singer, pianist, composer, and arranger ("Everything Happens To Me" "Angel Eyes"), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2002) Kevin McCarthy, American actor (Invasion of Body Snatchers, Death of a Salesman), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2010) Gordon Hirabayshi, American civil rights activist and WWII internment opponent (Hirabayshi v. United States), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2012) Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, American band leader, songwriter, and record producer (Little Richard Sam Cooke), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1985) Gene Nelson [Leander Berg], American screenwriter, director and actor (Tea For 2, Oklahoma), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1996) Theo Marcuse, American character actor (Mara of Wilderness), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1967) Carol Channing, American actress (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Hello Dolly), singer and comedian, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2019) Joe Sutter, American engineer and head of the Boeing 747 program, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2016) Leona Wood, painter and dancer, born in Seattle, Washington Steven Hill, American actor (Mission Impossible, Law & Order), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2016) Bonnie Guitar [Buckingham], American guitarist, singer and record executive (Dark Moon), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2019) Martha Wright, American actress and singer (South Pacific The Martha Wright Show), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2016) Guy Mitchell [Albert George Cernik], American singer and actor (Red Garters, 3 Redheads from Seattle), born in Detroit, Michigan (d. 1999) Dick Williams, American Baseball Hall of Fame utility (Brooklyn Dodgers) and manager (World Series 1972, 73 Oakland A's), born in St. Louis, Missouri (d. 2011) Mary Maxwell Gates, American businesswoman, philanthropist/mother of Bill Gates, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1994) Jo Baer [Josephine Kleinberg], American painter and minimalist artist, born in Seattle, Washington Richard F. Gordon, Jr., American naval officer and astronaut (Gemini 11 Apollo 12), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2017) Cathryn Damon, American actress (Mary-Soap, She's Having a Baby), born in Seattle, Washington Robert Joffrey [Abdullah Jaffa Anver Bey Khan], American dancer, born in Seattle, Washington Lloyd Lindroth, American harpist, The Liberace of the Harp, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1994) Frank H. Murkowski, American politician (U.S. Senator from Alaska, 1981-2002 Governor of Alaska, 2002-06), born in Seattle, Washington William Bolcom, American composer (Oracles), born in Seattle, Washington Paul Seiko Chihara, American-Japanese composer, born in Seattle, Washington Judy Collins, singer (Send in the Clowns, Clouds), born in Seattle, Washington John Hopcroft, American computer scientist, born in Seattle, Washington Ron Santo, American Baseball Hall of Fame third baseman (9-time MLB All Star 5-time Gold Glove Chicago Cubs), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2010) Jennifer Dunn, American politician (Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Washington), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2007) Signe Toly Anderson, American singer, founding member of Jefferson Airplane ("Chauffeur Blues"), born in Seattle, Washington (d. 2016) Kermit Zarley, American golfer, author (Canadian Open 1970), born in Seattle, Washington

Gary Kildall

1942-05-19 Gary Kildall, American computer scientist and entrepreneur who created the CP/M operating system, born in Seattle, Washington (d. 1994)


Seattle History

What might have happened if Seattle had retained the original name bestowed by its first pioneers, “New York – Alki?” Would we now be nicknamed “The Little Apple” instead of the “Emerald City?”

The little party of pioneers from Illinois who landed on Alki Point on a cold and rainy November 13, 1851 had thought to bestow lofty ambitions on their tiny community of log cabins when they named it after New York. They soon changed the name to Seattle, after the local Indian Chief Sealth, and moved it to its present location on the deep waters of Elliott Bay.

British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver had explored Puget Sound more than a half century earlier when he sailed to its farthest reaches aboard the sloop H.M.S. Discovery. Giving just about everything in sight an English name (Mt. Rainier, for example), Vancouver honored many of his friends and paid many a political debt.

During the last half of the 19th century, the soggy little city on Puget Sound gradually grew beyond its tide flats waterfront and its mud streets to become a major port of call for ships plying the Pacific Coast. The surrounding hills and islands furnished thousands of shiploads of lumber for a growing San Francisco and the California gold mines. The term “skid road,” meaning an unsavory part of town, originated in Seattle from the route (Yesler Way) down which logs were skidded from the hills to the waterfront.

South of the road, brothels and saloons thrived the respectable part of town began north of the road. The Northern Pacific Railroad was completed to Tacoma in 1887, connecting Puget Sound to the East. The competing Great Northern Railroad arrived in Seattle five years later.

In 1889 a disastrous fire burned most of the city to the ground. Seizing the opportunity for urban renewal, city engineers raised downtown streets several feet above the high tide level, leaving intact store fronts below street level. Today’s Underground Tour explores these old ruins.

The arrival of the steamer Portland in 1897 with a “ton of gold” from the Klondike signaled Seattle’s metamorphosis from grubby little waterfront town to primary commercial, shipping and marketing center of the Pacific Northwest it is today. The city served as outfitter, ship builder and transshipment port for the thousands of prospectors and millions of tons of goods heading north to the gold rush.

Seattle hosted the first of several world’s fairs held in the Pacific Northwest when the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition opened in 1909. Much of the present campus of the University of Washington is a legacy of that event.

During the next three decades, strikes, labor unrest and a strong union movement kept Seattle in the national news.

With the advent of World War II, Seattle boomed, as did most cities in the U.S. Puget Sound became a major naval base tens of thousands of troops received their training at nearby Fort Lewis and shipped overseas from Seattle’s waterfront. The Boeing Company, a small airplane manufacturer founded in 1910, grew to become the primary manufacturer of heavy bombers flown by the U.S. Army Air Force, the B-17 and B-29. The Museum of Flight, part of which is housed in the original Boeing factory building, traces this story.

Boeing figured prominently in the post-war era, introducing America’s first passenger jet (the 707) to commercial aviation in 1959. By 1957 The Boeing Company and its suppliers accounted for nearly half of all the jobs in King County. In the 1960s the company gained its leadership as the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial jet aircraft, a lead is still holds.

The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair signaled a renaissance in the Pacific Northwest that saw it emerge as a major tourist destination and one of the country’s most livable cities. The economy changed as well. Forestry, fisheries and agriculture gradually declined in importance while computer software manufacturers, bio-medical industries, and aerospace came to dominate the economy. With its proximity to the Pacific Rim, extensive port facilities, high-tech and communications industries and educational institutions, Seattle is already assuming the role of a primary participant in the trade and commerce with Asia that will lead the economy into the 21st century.


HistoryLink.org

Seattle is the largest city in Washington state and its economic capital. Settled in 1851, its deep harbor and acquisition of Puget Sound's first steam-powered sawmill quickly established it as a center of trade and industry. It gained the Territorial University (now University of Washington) in 1861, but was snubbed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1874 when it picked Tacoma as its western terminus. Despite this, the town prospered thanks to independent railroad development fueled by local coal deposits. It recovered quickly from its Great Fire of 1889, but languished during the aftermath of the economic Panic of 1893 until rescued by the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. In 1907, Seattle doubled in area with annexations of Ballard, West Seattle, and Southeast Seattle, and in 1909 held its first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Its population topped a quarter of a million in 1910, which grew to 365,000 by 1930. A strong "labor town," Seattle was the scene of the nation's first general strike in 1919. Hit hard by the Great Depression, the economy rebounded with World War II and orders for Boeing bombers and naval warships. Its large "Japan Town" was interned and largely supplanted by the migration of thousands of African American defense workers. Seattle marked its postwar prosperity in 1962 by hosting a second world's fair, the Century 21 Exposition, which gave the city the Space Needle, Monorail, and Seattle Center. Seattle's population reached 565,000 in 1965, then stalled. The "Boeing Bust" of the early 1970s depressed the economy, which was rescued by construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The subsequent expansion of investment in aviation, computer software, international trade, regional tourism, biotechnology, telecommunications, and other fields have helped to diversify and energize Seattle's economic, political, and cultural leadership. The city's population has resumed growing and passed 575,000 in 2005.

Before 1851

Seattle occupies a wasp-waisted strip of land sandwiched between the salt waters of Puget Sound and Elliott Bay and the fresh waters of Lake Washington. The topography is dominated by a series of ridges and valleys generally running north-south and by several large hills left behind by the retreat of glaciers. Flowing from the southeast, the meandering Duwamish River drains into Elliott Bay. The City is roughly bisected east to west by Salmon Bay, Lake Union, and Portage Bay, which were linked by the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1917.

The original home of the Duwamish and other tribes, the area was first surveyed by British explorers Captain George Vancouver and Lt. Peter Puget in 1792. The U.S. Navy Exploration Expedition under command of Capt. George Wilkes sounded and named Elliott Bay in 1841. Wilke's report led to an 1846 proposal for a transcontinental railroad linking Lake Superior with Puget Sound.

1851-1890: Planting the Seed for a City

Seattle's modern history began on the rain-soaked morning of November 13, 1851, when a bedraggled group of settlers rowed ashore from the schooner Exact and set foot on today's Alki Beach. Most of the party of two dozen men, women, and children had been led by Arthur Denny over the Oregon Trail from Illinois to Portland, Oregon. They were later joined by brothers Charles and Leander Terry from New York.

These pioneers had not come west to strike it rich prospecting for gold or to patiently clear wilderness for farms. They planned to build a city in anticipation of the transcontinental railroad they expected would soon connect the Pacific Northwest with the Great Lakes.

From Portland, Arthur dispatched his young brother David and John Low north to explore Puget Sound. They joined up with "Lee" Terry in Olympia and canoed north into Elliott Bay, where they were welcomed by Chief Seattle, "tyee" of the Duwamish and Suguamish tribes. They also met a party of farmers, led by Luther Collins, who had claimed homesteads in the fertile valley of the meandering Duwamish River just days earlier.

After exploring the area, John Low and Lee Terry staked claims on the western shore of today's West Seattle. David Denny sent a note to his brother with John Low which read "There is plenty of room for one thousand settlers. Come at once."

The group initially called its new home "New York" after the Terry brothers' home state, but they found the anchorage too exposed. In April 1852, most of the Denny Party relocated to the more sheltered eastern shore of Elliott Bay. They were joined by Olympia physician and merchant David S. "Doc" Maynard, who persuaded his new neighbors that "Seattle" was a better name for their future city than "Duwamps." Meanwhile, Charles Terry rechristened his New York settlement "Alki," meaning "by and by" in the Chinook trading jargon.

Seattle's economic future was launched in the fall of 1852 when Henry Yesler, after being bribed with cash and land, chose Seattle for the site of Puget Sound's first steam-powered sawmill. In December 1852, Seattle was named the seat of a new King County (first named after Vice President William Rufus Devane King and officially rededicated in 2005 to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).

Washington Territory separated from Oregon in 1853, and Seattle vied with Olympia to serve as the state capital. It lost, and settled for the Territorial University in 1861. The town grew slowly but steadily to reach a population of 1,100 by 1870.

When the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Tacoma over Seattle for its Puget Sound terminus in 1874, disappointed city founders built their own short railroads to connect the harbor to newly discovered coal deposits. Seattle's population tripled by 1880 while Tacoma languished waiting for the tracks of the stalled Northern Pacific to reach it. Seattle's growth accelerated after a spur line linked it to the Northern Pacific in 1884, and the city swelled to 42,000 during the decade.

By now the Sound buzzed with a "Mosquito Fleet" of private ferries and steamships, and railroad tracks were spreading across the territory. John Osborne introduced the city's first horse-drawn streetcars in 1884 and converted them to electric power in April 1889. Three months later, on June 6, an overheated pot of glue started a fire that consumed the entire downtown. The privately owned water system failed and 64 acres of wood-framed buildings and docks were reduced to ashes.

British writer Rudyard Kipling happened to be touring Puget Sound at the moment and called the aftermath "a horrible black smudge."

1891-1910: Urban Phoenix

Undaunted, Seattle quickly rebuilt -- with stone and brick. It also raised the sidewalks in today's Pioneer Square to improve drainage, and thereby created the labyrinth of areaways and interconnected basements for today's famous "Underground Seattle" tour.

One month after the fire, voters approved the city government's development of a public water system. City Engineer R. H. Thomson began laying pipe to tap a vast watershed on the Cedar River 40 miles to the southeast. He consciously planned it to serve a metropolis of one million.

Seattle gained its own direct transcontinental rail link with completion of James Hill's Great Northern Railway in 1893, and international trade with China and Japan kept the harbor busy. Hops grown in nearby river valleys supported the world's sixth largest output of beer, centered in Georgetown breweries. Seattle was now the largest city in Washington, which had gained statehood on November 11, 1889.

Then the bottom dropped out, A stock market crash and dwindling federal gold reserves triggered the national "Panic of 1893," which dried up East Coast capital for Seattle's development. The regional economy sank into a depression that wiped out many pioneers, including David Denny, who had grown rich on street railways and a sawmill on the south shore of Lake Union.

The city was rescued on July 17, 1897, when the steamship Portland arrived with two tons of gold scraped from the banks of the Klondike River in Canada's Yukon Territory, launching an international gold rush. Seattle declared itself the "Gateway to Alaska" (which offered the shortest route to the Klondike) and its merchants fleeced tens of thousands of eager prospectors on their way to and from the gold fields. The city marked its resurrection in 1889 with installation of a totem pole -- stolen from a Tlingit village in Alaska -- in Pioneer Square and ended the decade with 82,000 residents.

Renewed prosperity sparked a development boom as cablecar lines and electric street railways fanned out across the city. Many lines terminated in fanciful amusement parks intended to attract homebuyers to suburban neighborhoods. These included Golden Gardens in Ballard, Guy Phinney's Woodland Park resort and zoo near Green Lake, Madison Park baseball field and pavilion, Leschi Park, where cable cars connected with Lake Washington ferries, and West Seattle's Luna Park.

Control of the city's streetcar system was consolidated in 1900 by the Seattle Electric Co., a tentacle of the national Stone & Webster cartel, and antecedent of today's Puget Sound Energy. Fear of this monopoly spurred development of a municipal utility, Seattle City Light, which tapped the hydroelectric potential of the Cedar River watershed in 1905.

The teeming harbor was flanked by a wooden "Railway Avenue" crowded with trains and trucks. To relieve some of the pressure, the Great Northern dug a railroad tunnel beneath the city, which terminated in a grand new King Street Station in 1906.

The downtown expanded north from Pioneer Square to fill the University of Washington's former campus. Workers flattened towering Denny Hill, long topped by the empty Washington Hotel, and cleared a vast swath of land from Pine street to Lake Union for future development. The introduction of steel frame construction gave Seattle its first "skyscraper," the Alaska Building, in 1904.

Seattle doubled in land area in 1907 with the annexation of Ballard, West Seattle, and Southeast Seattle. The famed Olmsted Brothers were retained by Seattle in 1903 and again in 1908 to layout an ambitious system of scenic boulevards, parks, and playgrounds to serve the city's burgeoning population, which reached nearly a quarter million by decade's end.

Under the leadership of such progressive and imaginative leaders as engineers R. H. Thomson and Hiram Chittenden, Mayor George Cotterill, City Light superintendent J. D. Ross, and school superintendent Frank Cooper, the city built utilities, schools, and paved roads for growing numbers of automobiles (the town's first, a Woods Electric, had arrived in 1900). The city also established a "Public Market" at Pike Place in 1907 where consumers could buy produce directly from local farmers to avoid being gouged by greedy middlemen.

Seattle celebrated its good fortune in the summer of 1909 by hosting its first "world's fair," the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, on the new University of Washington campus north of Portage Bay. Nearly four million visitors, including President William Howard Taft, paid a call.

1911-1930: Golden Decades

With the support of women voters, who in Washington gained the vote in 1910, a decade ahead of the rest of the nation, progressives continued push forward ambitious plans for social and physical improvements. Foremost among these were the creation in 1911 of the Port of Seattle, a public agency which took over control of the waterfront from private railroad and shipping companies.

That same year, Seattle staged its first "Golden Potlatch" summer festival. The 1912 event turned ugly when the offices of the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as "Wobblies," and other socialist groups were attacked by mobs whipped up by conservative Seattle Times' publisher Alden Blethen. It was a preview of more trouble to come.

Seattle continued to grow with the expansion of highways, streetcar lines, and neighborhoods. Major department stores were established downtown around the busy intersections of Westlake, 5th, and 4th avenues, and a complex of farmers' stalls and specialty shops formed around the original Pike Place Public Market. Skyscrapers multiplied in the downtown, but none came close to the new 42-story Smith Tower, which opened on July 4, 1914, as the tallest building west of Ohio.

New heights were also reached on June 15, 1916, when William E. Boeing took off Lake Union in his first airplane, the B&W float plane. It is not recorded if he celebrated the event with champagne, but if he did, it was illegal: Washington had gone dry at midnight January 1, 1916, three years ahead of national Prohibition.

On July 4, 1914, more history was made on Lake Union as a long-held dream was fulfilled with the official dedication of the Government Locks at Ballard, which connected the fresh waters of Lake Union and Lake Washington with the saltwater of Salmon Bay, Puget Sound, and the Pacific beyond. The idea of such a canal had first been proposed by Thomas Mercer in a speech back in 1854 -- at the town's first 4th of July picnic.

America's entry into World War I fueled a temporary surge in ship building and orders for Boeing airplanes, whose production shifted from Lake Union to a former shipyard, "the Red Barn," on the Duwamish River. The Armistice did not bring peace to the homefront as the city's restless and radicalized work force demanded better conditions and pay raises that had been deferred during the hostilities.

In February 1919, a bitter shipyard strike boiled over into the nation's first true general strike, which shut the city down for a week before collapsing in disarray. Fearing a local version of Russia's 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, local and national authorities clamped down on "Reds" everywhere. The labor movement would not fully recover until the 1930s.

The private economy roared during the 1920s with expanding Pacific trade. Famed "silk trains" speeded Chinese fabrics from Seattle's harbor to the Eastern mills, and Japan became a eager customer of American steel and resources. New Seattle City Light dams turned the rapids of the Skagit River, 90 miles north of the city, into electricity for new skyscrapers and factories. The potential for growth seemed infinite as the city census approached 365,000 residents.

Then came October 29, 1929.

1931-1950: Gloom and Boom

The Great Depression hit Seattle fast and hard. Foreign trade shriveled, idling the port and orders for new ships and aircraft evaporated. Downtown construction halted in 1930, and a major new building would not rise for nearly 20 years. More than 1,000 unemployed men (and a few women) built a shantytown on an abandoned shipyard south of Pioneer Square. They named it "Hooverville" in ironic tribute to President Herbert Hoover.

The state government accelerated road construction to provide relief, and opened the spectacular Aurora Bridge across the Ship Canal in 1932. The end of Prohibition in 1933 brought relief of a different kind, and brewer Emil Sick built the city a new baseball stadium to showcase a team named the Rainiers after his popular beer and a certain mountain.

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal delivered more help and employed thousands to build new parks, highways, housing projects, and other public improvements. The waterfront's rickety and perilous wooden-planked Railroad Avenue was filled in with soil and sealed with a new seawall. The world's first floating concrete bridge opened across Lake Washington between Seattle and Mercer Island in 1940. Federal funds also financed the replacement of Seattle's aging streetcars with modern buses and electric "trackless trolleys."

Darkening war clouds over Europe and Asia had silver linings for local shipyards and for Boeing, which introduced its new B-17 bomber in 1936. Civil aviation also boomed, thanks in large part to new Boeing aircraft such as the world's first modern airliner, the Model 247, the "Boeing Clipper" flying boat, and the high-altitude "Stratocruiser."

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, stunned Seattle, which fully expected to be an early target if the Japanese fleet pressed on to the West Coast. Amid blackouts and air raid drills, the federal government rounded up more than 8,000 local citizens of Japanese descent, most of them loyal U.S. citizens, and shipped them to inland concentration camps. Their homes and neighborhoods were taken over by thousands of African Americans, migrated north to work in Seattle's shipyards and factories.

Thousands of patriots enlisted or bought war bonds at giant rallies in "Victory Square" in front of the Olympic Hotel, and women joined the work force to assemble tanks, ships, and airplanes in local factories. With federal funds, the Seattle Housing Authority erected instant neighborhoods to house defense workers, and the Port of Seattle built a new regional airport midway between Seattle and Tacoma.

Boeing quietly designed and tested a powerful new bomber, the B-29, but the secret almost escaped when the second prototype crashed near Boeing Field in 1943. Regardless, the B-29 went into production and two of the aircraft would bring the war to a close by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Prosperity did not necessarily follow peace as wartime orders for ships and planes dried up. The mounting anxiety of the Cold War fueled local anti-communist investigations and purges long before U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy lent his name to the cause.

1951-Present: From Century 21 to 21st Century

As Seattle neared the 1951 centennial of its founding, civic leaders decided it needed a good party. They organized a new summer festival, Seafair, which soon became famous for races featuring the world's fasted hydroplane boats. They also built the city a new museum as a showcase for its history and industry. In 1953, the city's first "freeway," the Alaska Way Viaduct opened to speed Highway 99 traffic around downtown along the waterfront.

With annexations of northern neighborhoods up to 145th Street in 1954, Seattle's population approached half a million, but growth was accelerating in the surrounding suburbs. The Baby Boom and new road construction spurred outlying housing development, and new shopping centers such as Northgate and Bellevue Square helped to lure residents the way amusement parks had done in the era of streetcars.

Development took its toll as urban and suburban sewage turned Lake Washington into a cesspool. Voters responded by creating a new regional utility, Metro, to take over waste management and clean up the lake, but they rejected more visionary ideas for mass transit, parks, and planning.

Work on Interstate 5 and the Evergreen Floating Bridge between Madison Park and the Eastside began in the early 1960s. Meanwhile, Seattle hosted its second world's fair, the Century 21 Exposition, in 1962. The fair left a permanent legacy of public buildings and attractions in today's Seattle Center, including major sports arena, an opera house (now McCaw Hall), the Pacific Science Center, several theaters, and a new civic totem pole, the Space Needle.

Seattle's population crested at 565,000 in 1965, then began a slow decline as the Baby Boom faded and cheaper housing and open spaces attracted new residents to the suburbs. The population of the rest of King County passed that of Seattle by 1970 and is today twice as large as the city's.

Competition from the suburbs led downtown business interests to advocate "urban renewal" projects that would have flattened Pioneer Square and Pike Place Public Market to make room for parking garages and apartment towers. This sparked an energetic movement for historic preservation and both were saved along with hundreds of other landmarks. Similarly, neighborhood activists armed by new environmental protection laws scaled back an expansion plan for Interstate 90 and scuttled proposals two local freeways.

County voters responded to the challenges and opportunities of growth by approving several "Forward Thrust" bond programs in 1968 for a new parks, fire stations, and a domed stadium (the Kingdome opened in 1976 and was imploded in 2001), but again rejected plans for rail transit. Voters later approved an all-bus system in 1972.

Congressional cancellation of funds for a supersonic transport in 1969 triggered the "Boeing Bust," and the company's payroll plummeted from 100,000 to 40,000 over the next two years. Seattle slipped into another deep recession which lasted until construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline began in 1974. Alaskan "gold" again revived Seattle's economy, but this time it was black gold.

The downtown began to explode with new highrises such as Columbia Center, which in 1984 briefly recaptured the Smith Tower's crown as the tallest building in the West. Metro Transit opened a bus tunnel beneath downtown in 1990, and voters finally authorized rail transit in 1996. The following year, Seattle voters also okayed a new monorail system, but this was later sidelined by inadequate funding.

By the end of the twentieth century, Seattle had gained worldwide cachet for urban chic thanks to such diverse enterprises as Microsoft, founded by native sons Bill Gates and Paul Allen and based in nearby Redmond, Starbucks coffee, Nordstrom fashions, and Redhook beer and other microbrews. Seattle was dependent on international trade but that did not prevent it from becoming Ground Zero for clashes over globalization when it hosted the World Trade Organization in late 1999.

Despite the WTO riots, Seattle was upbeat. It built new stadiums for the Mariners and Seahawks and voters approved huge bond issues for new libraries and park improvements. On the eve of its 2001 sesquicentennial, Seattle was shaken by "Fat Tuesday" riots in Pioneer Square and a major earthquake on Ash Wednesday. It was shocked again later that year when Boeing shifted its corporate headquarters to Chicago, although greater Seattle remains its major production center. Then the "dot-com bust" pulled the plug on scores of Internet and related software companies.

Seattle rebounded strongly and is now formulating ambitious plans to replace the Alaska Way Viaduct, expand rail transit, rebuild Seattle Center, and create a new neighborhood and bio-tech center on the southern shore of Lake Union to be served by the city's first streetcar in 65 years. The population resumed growing and exceeded 575,000 in 2005.

Seattle's founders would be proud of the city that grew from the fragile seed they planted at Alki Beach back on November 13, 1851.

Smith Tower (Gaggin and Gaggin, 1914), Seattle, 1920s

Postcard courtesy Bill Kossen

Norm Johnson & Joe Hastings on Ralph Anderson's impact on Pioneer Square

Courtesy Allied Arts Foundation

Paul Schell on Allied Arts' early activities

Courtesy Allied Arts Foundation

Waterfront showing sailing vessels anchored in harbor, Seattle, ca. 1889.

Photo by Boyd and Braas, Courtesy UW Special Collections (UW18559)

Ruins of Occidental Hotel, Puget Sound National Bank, corner James Street and Mill Street (Yesler Way), Great Seattle Fire, June 6, 1889

Photo by John P. Soule, Courtesy Seattle Public Library (spl_shp_5054)

Trolleycars on 2nd Avenue, Seattle, ca. 1910

Postcard courtesy Chris Burke

Seattle: Smith Tower from the foot of Columbia Street, ca. 1920

Stylized representation of Seattle, ca. 1930

Pike Place Market, Seattle, 1940s

King Street Station (Charles Reed and Allen Stem, 1906), ca. 1913

Courtesy MOHAI (1983.10.8749)

Alaskan Way Viaduct looking north, Seattle, ca. 1955

Courtesy UW Special Collections (SEA4806)

Standard Oil map to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Fremont Bridge shot from Aurora Bridge, Lake Washington Ship Canal, Seattle, July 2001

HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long

Columbia Center or Bankamerica Tower, formerly Columbia Seafirst Center (Chester Lindsey Architects, 1985), Seattle, August 2000

HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long

Sources:

Note: This Thumbnail History was adapted from an essay prepared for Historic Photos of Seattle (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Co., 2006).


06/30/2021

Enter the date of your visit above and see what is happening that day.

Through July 5, 2021

Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project

Following an election year like no other, Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project is an exploration of the power of self-government, engaging visitors in experiences that encourage them to take action now to create the change they want to see.

Permanent Exhibit

Bezos Center for Innovation

Explore how innovation shaped the Puget Sound region and changed the world. Through interactive exhibits, community and educational programs, and first-person insights from leading innovators, discover Seattle’s role as a nexus of big ideas and new directions.

Permanent Exhibit

True Northwest: The Seattle Journey

Discover how Puget Sound’s dramatic environment, diverse population, connections to the broader world, and inventive spirit have shaped its history.

Permanent Exhibit

Maritime Seattle

Maritime Seattle celebrates Seattle’s long relationship with water, and illustrates how maritime and industrial activities have shaped what the city has become.

Wed Jun 30, 11:59 pm

MOHAI Youth Advisors Application Deadline

Join MYA! MOHAI is looking for creative and motivated teens that are passionate about history and community to join the MOHAI.


Bet You Didn’t Know the History of Seattle’s Underground City

Below Seattle lies the older Seattle, in ruins - dark and scroungy. Historyplex attempts to scratch beneath modern Seattle's shiny wet surface to get to the history of Seattle's underground city. Read how a freak fire incident gave Seattle the opportunity to build a new city for itself. 12 feet above the old one!

Below Seattle lies the older Seattle, in ruins – dark and scroungy. Historyplex attempts to scratch beneath modern Seattle’s shiny wet surface to get to the history of Seattle’s underground city. Read how a freak fire incident gave Seattle the opportunity to build a new city for itself… 12 feet above the old one!

Seattle has seen five distinct cycles of industrial boom and bust – The Lumber Boom (1800-1850), The Klondike Gold Rush (Late 1890s), The Shipping Boom (World War I and II), The Boeing Boom (1945-1970), and The Dotcom Boom (1980-2000 many Seattlers opine that it is still on).

Seattle, situated in the state of Washington, 100 miles south of the Canadian border, is a major port city in the United States. It has been referred to with names like ‘Queen City’, ‘Emerald City’, ‘Gateway to Alaska’, ‘Rain City’, and ‘Jet City’.

While strolling down the Main Arcade in Pike Place Market, scouting for fresh salmons, have you ever wondered – what stood here before this 7-acre marketplace sprung up? Here’s the answer – NOTHING. The city of Seattle, as we know it today, did not exist until the turn of the 20th century. The Seattle we see today is located a good 12 – 30 feet above where it used to be before June 6, 1889.

City of the Yore!

Port of Seattle, Terminal 107, has archaeological evidence, that what is now known as the Seattle Metropolitan area, has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years. The Native American tribes of Duwamish and Suquamish were Seattle’s occupants until the latter years of the 19th century. George Vancouver, who undertook his expedition to explore the coasts of West Canada, Northwest America, and Alaska, was the first European to set foot in Seattle in 1792. But the actual founding of the city of Seattle happened only in 1851, with the arrival of the Denny Party scouts. As the new settlement started expanding, Europeans sat comfortably in the business of logs and timber. The Denny Party, David Swinson ‘Doc’ Maynard and Henry Yesler contributed immensely in making Seattle the leader of shipping logs in the country.

The villages that the Native American tribes lived in, rested on swampy mud land. As the town of Seattle started developing, it developed around villages located on the waterfront. Pioneer Square, located exactly where it is today, was the epicenter around which Seattle boomed. The town settlement began from Pioneer Square, from where onwards the city was a series of upward rising streets. At the base of these steeply rising hills was a low-lying marshland. This area overflowed with water twice everyday due to tidal waves, thus flooding the sewage line located on the corner of the waterfront streets. As all housing facilities were connected with the main sewage line lying on the waterfront, the reverse force of tidal water used to flood all the toilets in the city. A person sitting on the toilet seat could get blown off due to the force. Seattlers thus started following a tide timetable to carry out their loo-activities and other businesses that needed them to visit the waterfront. Due to this reason, many houses had their toilets located on upper floors of the house. Eventually, those who owned single-level housing also started following this formula, and constructed their toilets on a pedestal. To use these toilets, one had to climb a ladder or stairs. This was to eventually form the basis of construction for the new city of Seattle, as we know it today.

The Center of Nefarious Activities

Seattle, during the middle part of 19th century, was a lawless entropy. Schools barely existed, and there were no law enforcing agencies. The only way to bring criminals to record was public hanging (mob justice). The sewage system was poor and flooded daily, there were no paved or even walkable streets. Looting was common, bootlegging of illegal goods, trafficking of manual labor (Asian and African-American slaves), gambling, prostitution, etc., were all a part of Seattle’s daily routine.

Sometime around the 1880s, things changed for this city. The development of better infrastructural facilities led to the city improving its law and order situation. A large part of the change was brought, directly and indirectly, by the upcoming sawmill businesses.

The Great Seattle Fire

Seattle had become the leader of the Northwest by the early 1890s. The scene was changing, the city was getting more organized, and the womenfolk had striven hard to civilize Seattle and make it a better place to work and live. But the ball that was rolling was to come to a screeching halt – shocking all of Seattle and its people.

On June 6, 1889, sometime around noon, a worker in a cabinet-making shop spilled some glue over a gasoline fire. The glue boiled and caught fire, putting the entire workshop in flames, courtesy wood chips and turpentine. An unusually dry spring season led to the fire spreading quicker than normal. The fire started moving towards Second and Third Avenues, and caught a liquor store on its way. This led to a massive explosion, which further strengthened the fire. Buildings were made of wood, which made fire-dousing a difficult job. The fact that fire-fighting infrastructure was poor, only further compounded the problem.

Within twelve hours, the fire had destroyed most of its downtown area, taking along with it many public service buildings, churches, and even the courthouse. 120 acres of Seattle (nearly 33 downtown and neighboring city blocks) were destroyed, including all saw mills and wharves. Surprisingly, despite the massive scale of destruction (some put the total damage at nearly $20,000,000), there was only one human casualty.

The New City Atop the Old City

Rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts started almost immediately. The people of Seattle picked themselves up quickly. What they realized was, this fire had relieved them of a massive problem – rodents. Almost a million rats were killed in the fire. They saw in the ashes on the floor, an opportunity to build their city afresh.

Rather than relocating, Seattlers decided to rebuild the city as and where it was. Among the many new moves, wooden buildings were completely banned. Stone and brick construction was made mandatory. Seattlers decided to move their rebuilding efforts to a higher platform. To rid Seattle of the tide problem, downtown was leveled. Certain streets were raised as high as 22 feet to bring all downtown streets to the same height. This also gave Seattle a chance to rebuild their plumbing and sewage system, which in its existing form, was pathetic to say the least.

After rebuilding was finished, all businesses moved to the upper floors. Citizens still walked on the old streets and had to climb a staircase to get to a store. Even crossing a street required climbing up and down the stairs. The underground sidewalks were lit by glass prisms. Eventually, the fear that the underground city will again invite more infectious rodents, led to Seattle moving itself, bag and baggage, to the upper city, and leaving the old city in disuse. For the first few years, the spaces in the lower city were used as storage warehouses. Some people even carried out illegal activities there. Eventually, as almost the entire city seemed to wear its new skin, the old underground city was totally abandoned.

Until the 1960s, the underground area lay neglected. Many had forgotten it, and the new generation had little clue about it. Bill Speidel, a columnist with The Seattle Times, was a primary figure in the restoration of Seattle’s run-down Pioneer Square area. During this activism, he chanced upon Pioneer Square under Pioneer Square. He marked out old buildings in Pioneer Square which had been elevated after the fire, and asked the store owners for a visit. He paid a certain rent to the store owners for this visit. Here, he discovered a city lying in ruins, which gave him the idea that people may be interested in visiting the city, that was a now an old stagnating shadow of its new-self.

Going Underground

Bill Speidel established the Underground Tour in 1965, sensing that people (especially tourists) were interested in visiting the subterranean old city. The abandoned ruins made for great travel catch. Over the years, some of the underground structures were refurbished. Speidel passed away in 1988, but the Underground Tour is still operating being one of Seattle’s top tourist attractions.

The underground city was declared unsafe decades ago, but parts of it have been thrown open to tour operators. The tour includes a visit of old and rusty furniture, huge wooden beams, bank vaults, partially destroyed toilets, and a bunch of rats and cobwebs. The underground city is dark and musty. There have also been reported sightings of ghosts in the area.

Seattle is hard to define. We know Seattle as the Rainy City today. It is home to Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks. The city has a reputation as a haven for coffee connoisseurs. It is a city of old-world charms. It does have its share of hippies, new-age feminists, and artisan coffee shops, but then, every major city does. What sets Seattle apart from the big boys like New York or San Francisco is that there’s a charm to the Rainy City that makes it feel better than the big boys. A large part of the city, including its people, still retain the old world-ism, and the underground city’s mysticism only adds to it.


Seattle - History

Denny Party progeny live quietly among us

By Stuart Eskenazi
Seattle Times staff reporter

In this country's south and northeast, where first families are revered as aristocracies, a pioneer pedigree is a ticket to high society. But in this town, that and a nickel won't net a cup of coffee.

Descendants of the five families who settled Seattle a century-and-a-half ago live in relative obscurity. There is no exclusive club where they regularly gather to sip tea, no central repository that documents their every move.

In fact, descendants tend to be unaware of the others. This story, for example, unites two not-so-distant relatives for the first time. Ruth Moore, meet Peggy Nugent. You both descend from pioneer couple John and Lydia Low. Both of you have lived in the Seattle area most of your lives. Both of you are intensely interested in your lineage. Yet your paths have never crossed.

On Nov. 13, 1851, 22 adventurers landed at Alki Point on a schooner named Exact. There, they joined two explorers who had inspected the land. The contributions of the 24 pioneers are being remembered in this 150th anniversary of the landing. The family names are carved in a stone monument rising from the beach where the boat touched shore.

Boren, Denny, Low, Bell, Terry.

Some of the names are synonymous with Seattle. Ask Brewster Denny if he has any connection to Denny Way, and he responds: "Oh yes. I'm a member of the old Way family." Actually, he is the great grandson of Arthur Denny, often regarded as Seattle's founding father.

Brewster Denny's modesty stalks the example of Arthur Denny, who wrote in an 1890 autobiography: "It has not occurred to me that I have accomplished anything above the ordinary, and, if so, I should feel humiliated to claim it for myself."

In her North Seattle condominium full of bric-a-brac, the 80-year-old homemaker and mother of two is afraid to throw away an old letter without reading it first to see whether it contains an important slice of Seattle history. In an antique portrait hanging on her wall, she can see the forehead and eyes of her eldest son. It's a photo of Carson Boren, her great grandfather and one of the settlers on the Exact. The latest generation of Boren descendants, Cochran's two great grandchildren, resemble him less. They are half Chinese.

Cochran grew up with the name Denny - her grandmother, Mary Louisa Boren, having married a cousin of Arthur Denny. In school, teachers would pump her for historical information about the family. She would bring her father to satisfy their quest for knowledge.

"As a kid, I thought if I ever heard the name Denny again, I would trade it in," she says.

Now she sorts family memorabilia into scrapbooks and is thrilled that her grandson has offered to transfer that legacy onto computer.

At 6 weeks, Rolland Denny was the youngest of the 12 children who landed in the Exact. His mansion is possibly the only house left in Seattle where one of the 24 original pioneers lived. Today, the 7,700-square-foot home serves as the Seattle domicile for the Unification Church - the movement founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Arthur Denny, a straight-laced staunch Methodist, "would turn over in his grave if he knew," figures Fred Wright, Pat's husband.

Pat Wright never got to meet her great grandmother, Louisa Denny , the eldest of Arthur and Mary's three children who came on the Exact. But she did spend time with two of Louisa's daughters.

Those two were Sophie Frye Bass ("Aunt Opie") and Roberta Frye Watt ("Aunt Bobbie"), who both wrote heralded books on Old Seattle. On Wright's bookshelf is a signed original 1931 copy of "Four Wagons West: The Story of Seattle," signed by her Aunt Bobbie. They regaled her with stories and bequeathed her loads of memories.

Brewster Denny, educated at both Harvard and Tufts, worked in Washington for the Department of Defense and for the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.). In the summer of 1961, President Kennedy offered him a job as his intelligence adviser. Instead, Denny set out to Seattle to start the UW's Graduate School of Public Affairs.

"My connection to Seattle was so strong," Denny says. "It was inevitable that someday I was going to come back home."

Brewster Denny considers his last name more of a responsibility than entitlement. For the past forty years, he has rung the bell at Denny Hall on the UW campus to mark homecoming.

His pedigree and a nickel have bought him more than a cup of coffee in Seattle, but his work at the UW would please Arthur Denny.

"Our job is to train people to be in public service," he explains.

Several prominent Seattle streets are named for the original pioneers: Denny Way, Boren Avenue, Terry Avenue, Bell Street, Olive Way (after Olive Bell), Virginia Street (after Virginia Bell) and Lenora Street (after Lenora Denny).

But John and Lydia Low are ignored. He started building the first log cabin at Alki before returning to Portland to encourage Arthur Denny to make the trip north. The Lows, however, did not stay long in Seattle, staking land claims in Thurston County and, later, Snohomish County.

John and Lydia's daughter, Nettie Low Foster, reputed to be the first white child born at Alki, considered the absence of avenue accolade a slight. She joined sister Fannie, Rolland Denny and two other influential Seattleites in successfully petitioning the City Council in 1925 to change the name of 63rd Avenue Southwest, which dead-ends at Alki Point, to Low Avenue.

"In view of the fact that we have favored all of the other members of this Pioneer party by naming streets in their honor, we believe that it would be proper and fitting," the petition says. But 18 months later, the council ceded to pressure, likely from business people in the area, and returned the name to 63rd Avenue.

"We've always been the underdogs," says Brett Nugent, 34, the great-great-great-great grandson of John and Lydia. Nugent is an actor, dancer and singer who has performed at the Grammy Awards ceremony and at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. These days, he is serving customers and training waiters at Salty's on Alki. The Alki connection isn't lost on him.

In October, the intuitive Nugent called his mother, Peggy, about a strong feeling he had that his great-great-great grandmother, Nettie, had left something for the family. "I was hoping it was Salty's," he jokes.

Peggy Nugent hopes Nettie's spirit and the 150th anniversary will arouse her to learn more about the Low family. She could start by crossing the bridge from Bellevue to visit Ruth Moore in Wallingford.

Moore, too, descends from Nettie Low Foster but is two generations ahead of Peggy Nugent, three ahead of Brett. Her encounters with Nettie were real, not spiritual.

"My grandmother Nettie had a large strip of raspberry bushes in her yard near the fence," Moore recalls. "She'd go out in the morning and pick raspberries. She had pretty cut-glass bowls and we'd have raspberries and milk. I still love those type of bowls."

"Peggy Nugent?" says Moore, 77. "I don't know her. We should know each other. We're from the same family."

The Wanamaker siblings both worked in the Foreign Service for the State Department. Alice worked in Norway, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, Thailand and Hungary. Her brother, Temple, served in Spain, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Israel, Argentina and Costa Rica, where he now operates a dairy farm.

"I think all of us Bells had an adventurous spirit," says Wanamaker, 84, of Seattle. "We were eager to learn new things and visit new places. There are a lot of places to see in this world."

Gaffner, 66, attended Alki Elementary School and took part as a child in annual re-enactments of the Exact landing. He retired in sales at Boeing but also dabbled in downtown investments, including the Seattle Athletic Club and Café Sport.

The Gaffner family inherited a house at Western Avenue and Broad Street that William Bell had helped build with his own hands for one of his sons. The Gaffners tore down the old house and sold the property in 1953. Berry vines grew there for nearly 50 years until last summer, when excavation began for a new residential high-rise.

Gary Gaffner camped out at the construction site for a week, asking the crew to use the care of an archaeological dig when they broke up the concrete stairs. He remembered a story passed through the generations, told to him by his father. Legend had it that as the house was nearly complete, an elderly William Bell threw down his wheelbarrow and declared he was done doing physical work. Concrete for the last stair was poured over the wheelbarrow, effectively creating a time capsule.

Gaffner wasn't certain the story was true, but he didn't want to miss out on the chance of a lifetime. As the construction workers removed concrete from the stairs piece by piece, they hit pay dirt: an iron wheel rim with a few spokes. It was all that remained of the wheelbarrow of Gaffner's great-great grandfather.

"To me, it is as real an artifact as one could have," says Gaffner, who lives in Queen Anne. "I'll cherish that old wheel no matter how grungy it is."

Brothers Lee and Charles Terry came to Seattle from New York. Lee helped build the log cabin where the families lived, and Charles ran a general store at Alki. Several researchers at museums and historical societies specializing in Seattle history were unable to come up with the name of a single living Terry descendant.


Seattle - History

Today I found out how the city of Seattle got its name.

Seattle is one of the only major cities in the United States to be named after a Native American chief. In his native language, Seattle was pronounced “see-ahlsh” but it was difficult for English speakers to pronounce, so they anglicized it to the version that you know today.

Chief Seattle was born in the 1780s on the Kitsap Peninsula, just west of the city of Seattle today. Seattle was the son of nobly born members of both the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, and as he grew older, his leadership was recognized by both tribes. His proven abilities as a military strategist, a winner of battles, a good speaker and diplomat earned him the respect of his people, and he soon was recognized as a great leader by most Native Americans in the region.

When a trading post was built in present-day Olympia, Seattle was one of the Native Americans to trade animal pelts for imported European goods. It is likely that he started to gain respect for the Europeans and European Americans then, even while they took over his people’s land. In fact, Seattle was baptized Roman Catholic in 1852, with his Christian name being Noah, and was considered a friend of the white people.

Soon after his baptism, Chief Seattle convinced a man named David S. Maynard to move his general store to the village of Duwumps from Olympia. Seattle had to canoe to the store, and Duwumps Maynard renamed his store “The Seattle Exchange” which paved the way for the town, and then the city, to be named after the chief.

Chief Seattle is best known for a speech he gave that supposedly supported giving away the Native Americans’ land to the European settlers. However, in order to be translated into English, the speech had to be translated twice—once from Lushootseed, the native language of the Puget Sound Native Americans, to Chinook, which was a trade language, and then into English. It is likely that at least some of its meaning was garbled, misunderstood, or deliberately changed to be used as propaganda by the English newspaper that printed a version of it thirty years after Seattle’s death.

One of the other things that Seattle is most well-known for is signing the Point Elliot Treaty. The treaty was put forward by Governor Isaac I. Stevens in 1855, and detailed an agreement between the white men and the Native Americans. While the white men would claim the land for themselves, several areas now known as reservations would be put aside for use by the Native Americans. In return, the whites would make payments for education, health care, and other needs. However, understanding between the two parties was limited because of the language barrier. Again, in these cases, requests from the Native Americans had to be translated twice in order to be understood. Nonetheless, Seattle was the first Native American leader to sign the treaty, with three others signing after him.

Even in the 1850s, nothing moved swiftly through Congress, and it took them three years to ratify the treaty, which they did only after taking away many of the benefits promised to the Native Americans. In 1856, the “Treaty War” began, with many Native American chiefs going to war with the white people invading their lands. Chief Seattle stayed out of the war and attempted to convince others to do the same. He would also warn his white friends when an attack was being planned if he could. Ironically, on January 26, 1856, a battle raged called the “Battle of Seattle,” though the chief played no part in it.

When the fighting finally ended, the town of Seattle began to grow. Chief Seattle’s people were looked over—they had not gained everything they wanted in the treaty, and their reservations were crowded and diseases were rampant. Many white people treated them with disrespect, but the chief kept the promise he had made when he signed the treaty and would not fight them. He continued visiting his white friends until he died in 1866, probably from a fever. At his funeral, he was given both Roman Catholic and native rites, and “hundreds of white people” supposedly joined the Native Americans saying goodbye to their chief.

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