(click to enlarge photos)
Sixty-three safes were counted in the ruins south of Yesler Way after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889; 63 plus one.
The Dexter Horton Bank, Seattle’s first bank, at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Avenue South) and Washington Street, was still standing, although without a roof and stripped of its lacquered appointments such as tellers cages, furniture and window casements. But in the back was the vault, the bank’s own safe, seen here over the shoulder of a guard standing at the missing front door. There the valuables survived, and the room and its locks were kept working and guarded for a few weeks after the fire.
Dexter Horton arrived in Seattle penniless but fortunate: He came early in 1853. By working hard in Yesler’s sawmill, and saving his pay, Horton managed to start a store and then, in 1870, a real bank at this corner with a real safe, one he brought back from an extended visit to San Francisco to study banking. Five years later, in 1875, he replaced his timber quarters with this brick and stone creation, one of the first in Seattle.
Before he was a banker, Horton got a reputation for honesty by taking care of working men’s savings as they were off exploring. He secreted their wealth about his store in crannies and most famously at the bottom of a barrel filled with coffee beans.
A few days after the 1889 fire, The Seattle Times suggested that it had, “perhaps, been more beneficial to that portion of the city around Washington Street so long inhabited by prostitutes . . . It may be well to notify the painted element here now that cribs will no longer be tolerated.” In this case, the paper was, of course, half wrong. Both the prostitutes and the bankers returned.
Not many extra photos on my end this time, Paul. Just this one, as per your request, with a slightly wider angle, revealing the ‘For Lease’ sign on the second floor:
What about you? Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean, and no. As you know, and now the reader will too, you have at your place the opera of the nearly 1500 now-thens done over the past 29 years as you study them to make choices for the Repeat Photography book we intend to do in concert with a show/exhibit on the same subject at MOHAI. It opens next April and my! we have lots to do. You will need to take more than a hundred “nows” (repeats) for the book and exhibit, as well as some more “nows” for new stories in Pacific Magazine through the coming year. But first you must winnow the horde of now-then stories for the few you prefer, and since you have them all – the clippings – I don’t. And this returns us to Dexter Horton. There are three or four apt early stories – from the 1980s – for which I have not digital files Jean (as you know), just the clippings. So, for the moment, those relevant additional features will not be added. Instead we might have one story – a more recent one – and a few photographs with captions.
[CLICK to ENLARGE]
THE DEXTER HORTON HOME
Sometime in the 1870s, Dexter Horton moved with his second wife, Caroline Parsons, (his first wife had died) into their new home at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Seneca Street. From their back porch they could look up at the classical cupola of Territorial University’s main building less than a block away. Except for the low fence that enclosed the campus, the landscape was continuous because Fourth Avenue was then still undeveloped between Seneca and Union streets.
Horton arrived in Seattle in 1853 with little more than the clothes he wore. Like most others, he eventually worked in Henry Yesler’s sawmill. His first wife, Hannah, worked for Yesler as well, managing the cookhouse attached to the mill. With their combined incomes, the couple opened a general store near the mill and even ventured to San Francisco to try their hand in the brokerage business. When they returned to Seattle in 1869 or ’70 (sources disagree), they brought with them a big steel safe and the official papers to start Seattle’s first bank.
The popular story that Horton’s first safe had no back was discounted much later by his daughter, Caroline, who told off Seattle Times reporter Margaret Pitcairn Strachan: “You don’t think my father was that stupid do you?” The daughter speculated that the backless safe was one of her father’s jokes, since he was well known “for telling stories and laughing heartily at them.”
For all its loft and ornament, the banker’s distinguished home was the scene of a constant battle to stay warm in the colder months. Three fireplaces were the entire source of heat. The home’s many high windows admitted drafts at all hours.
But when Dexter Horton died in 1904, a few months short of 80, he was still living here.
THE LATIMERS OF FIRST HILL
[This feature first appeared in Pacific in 2006.]
There are certainly two artifacts that have survived the 99 years since the historical view was recorded of the Latimer family – or part of it – posing in the family car and in front of the family home on First Hill.
We are confident that the scene was recorded in 1907 because a slightly wider version of the same photograph shows construction scaffolding still attached to the north side of St. James Cathedral’s south tower, far right. The Cathedral is the most obvious survivor. By the time of the church’s dedication on Dec. 22, 1907 the scaffolding was removed. The second artifact is the stonewall that once restrained the Latimer lawn and now separates the Blood Bank parking lot from the sidewalks that meet at the southwest corner of Terry and Columbia.
In the “now” Margaret Latimer Callahan stands about two feet into Terry Street and near where her banker father Norval sits behind the wheel in the family Locomobile. Born on July 22, 1906, Margaret is the youngest of Norval and Margaret Latimer’s children.
For a while, Margaret, it was thought, might be a third visible link between the then and now — although certainly no artifact. The evidentiary question is this. Who is sitting on papa Norval’s lap? Is it his only daughter or his youngest son Vernon? After polling about – yes – 100 discerning friends and Latimer descendents the great consensus is that this is Vernon under the white bonnet. And Margaret agrees. “I was probably inside with a nurse while three of my brothers posed with my parents.”
Margaret also notes that her father is truly a poser behind the wheel, for he was never a driver. Sitting next to him is Gus the family’s chauffeur with whom he has traded seats for the moment.
The clever reader has already concluded that Margaret Latimer Callahan will be celebrating her centennial in a few days. Happy 100th Margaret.
LANGSTON’S LIVERY STABLE – DEXTER HORTON NEIGHBOR in the 1880s.
Helen and John Langston moved to Seattle from Kent in 1882 and soon opened their namesake livery stables on the waterfront at Washington Street. Like all else in the neighborhood it was, of course, destroyed in the city’s Great Fire of 1889. Sometime in the few years it served those who wished to park or rent a horse or buggy downtown a photographer recorded this portrait of a busy Langston’s Livery from the back of the roof of the Dexter Horton Bank at the northwest corner of Washington and Commercial Street (First Ave. S.).
In Helen’s 1937 obituary we learn from her daughter Nellie that Helen was “known for her pen and ink sketches of horses and other animals and scenic views.” Perhaps the livery stable sign, far right, showing the dashing horse with buggy and rider is also her work. It was Helen who saved the family’s business records from the fire and was for this heroic effort, again as recalled by her daughters, “severely burned before she left the livery stable.” After the fire the couple quickly put up the St. Charles hotel, seen in the “now.”
Helen married the 38-year-old John in 1870, the same year he began providing ferry service across the White River at Kent and three years after he is credited with opening also in Kent “the first store in King County outside Seattle.” During these pre-livery years in the valley the Langstons also managed to carve a model farm out of the “deep forest.” Before they sold it in 1882 their farm was known county-wide for dairy products produced by its “75 excellent milch cows.”
After the fire the Langston’s soon opened another Livery Stable uptown beside their home at 8th and Union. In the 1903 collection of biographies titled “Representative Citizens of Seattle and King County” John Langston is described both as “now living practically retired” and also busy “in the operation of his magnificent funeral coach, which is one of the finest in the northwest and which is drawn by a team of the best horses.” Three local undertakers kept him busy. For the moment we may wonder – only – if when he died in 1910 the then 68-year-old pioneer took his last ride in his own coach.
A CLIPPING OF ANOTHER FIRE NEAR PIONEER SQUARE
[And when we find the real photos that illustrate this story, we will plug them into it.]