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PIONEER GLASS at SMITH COVE
Long ago a Californian named Florence Drummond, once a “child of Finntown”, sent a friend a handful of small captioned snapshots of that “Mud Bay” community on the shores of Smith Cove, and her friend shared them with me. Many of its floating homes, and beach cottages were concentrated below the Magnolia and Queen Anne bluffs that marked, respectively, the west and east openings to what were once the tideflats of Interbay.
This 1922 Drummond print is also the most intimate record I’ve seen of the glass works impressive landmark chimney, which here rises high above the squatting neighborhood clinging with it close to the then still exposed cliff at the southeast corner of Magnolia. The wood frame factory once attached to the tower is gone, unless it hung around reconstituted in these salvaged quarters.
The glass works had a fitful history. Researcher Ron Edge found perhaps its earliest footprint on an 1899 U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey map, where for the benefit of surveyors and navigators is it captioned “yellow chimney.” Edge notes, “At least we know its color.”
The works may have had more names – including Northwest, Puget Sound, and Pioneer – than glassware. Whatever the moniker, the factory rarely appeared in the press, except for litigation among a string of owners, and one sizable 1903 story in which Seattle’s then super-developer James Moore (of the theatre) trumpeted his plans to get it going with new equipment. It seems that the works were one of Moore’s few fizzle s, but still the yellow chimney survived as a helpful marker.
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In her letter Florence Drummond makes note of a Finnish necessity: the sauna or steam bath. John Reddin, the Seattle Times humorist from the 50s and 60s, remembered several of them in Finntown, frequented mostly by Finnish bachelors, whom he described as thereby “neat and clean.” He also lists “boisterous speakeasies” and “bootleg joints all around the Smith Cove area . . .That’s where the action was.” By a curious contrast, included among Drummonds snapshots is one of her posing grandmother, another of a line-up of no less than thirty-one children attending five-year-old Wanda Corbett’s birthday party on a Finntown boardwalk, and a helpfully captioned snap of courting Elma Jakkaneu and Charles Ivana on a Mud Bay footbridge. She explains, “later they married.”
I’ve included a few other glimpses of Smith Cove – from further south, looking towards the yacht club, and through the chain link fence of the Port of Seattle storage yard.
Anything to add, Paul?
Certainly Jean. We will start by continuing with some other examples of Florence Drummond’s snapshots in Finn Town’s 1920s. A string of 10 related features will follow concluding with another look into Finn Town – the part of it on the Queen Anne side of Smith Cove.
SMITH COVE & HILL’S TOO
(First appeared in Pacific 4-17-1983)
Photograph number 6577 is one of the some 30,000 negatives included in the Asahel Curtis collection at the Washington State Museum and/or Historical Society in Tacoma. Asahel was the younger brother of the celebrated Edward Curtis whose romantic posed photographs of American natives will currently cost you a pretty sum. However, number 6577 cost me only a little more than four dollars (in the early 1980s) paid to the Washington Historical Society, and it is easily one of the most popular images in the history of local photography.
Asahel’s photograph, actually, has its own variety of staged romance. Besides its pleasing composition, this scene resonates with a local industrial drama, which was staged here on Smith’s Cove in 1905, the year the younger Curtis recorded this view from Queen Anne Hill. In the foreground is the Oriental Limited rushing its passengers from St. Paul and all points west over the last few miles of trestle into Seattle. In a few months it will be trailing its white ribbon of steam under Seattle while passing through the Great Northern’s new tunnel. And soon it will exhale its last transcontinental gasps alongside the new King Street Station, which in 1905 was still under construction.
Beyond are the Great Northern docks and between them the largest steamers in the world, the railroad’s Minnesota and Dakota. They are being prepared for their trans-Pacific routine of delivering raw cotton to the orient and returning with raw silk.
The director for this industrial drama was James Jerome Hill, the Great Northern’s “empire builder.” Years before, Hill discovered that “one acre of Washington timber will furnish as many carloads of freight as 120 years of wheat from a Dakota farm.” So when the first Great Northern freight train rolled into Seattle in 1893, Hill was anxious to tum it right around and head east with carloads of lumber. This was a turn-around from the old notion that railroads to the West were built to carry people and cargo in that direction and then return east almost empty.
In 1905 J. J. Hill was moving his show onto the biggest stage. Acting like Atlas, Hill developed his double docks at Smith Cove to be the shoulders upon which the world would turn. Having moved the country around, Hill was here attempting to revolutionize international trade. For 300 years most trade with the orient had passed India and Africa. Now with the encouragement of Great Northern steam on both land and sea, the empire builder taught some of it to follow the shorter great circle route past Alaska. Here the perishable silk was unloaded from the jumbo steamers Minnesota and Dakota and sent rushing east on trains that had priority over all other service including mail, passenger, and that mainstay, lumber.
In 1853 Dr. Henry A. Smith built a log cabin at his namesake cove. Smith’s arrival was less mighty than the Minnesota’s but he stayed longer. For 63 years, Smith was easily one of the most remarkable characters on Puget Sound. Most of that time he spent at Smith Cove. Today he is best remembered as an ethnologist and linguist who “composed” Chief Seattle’s prophetic treaty speech. But Smith was also a surgeon who successfully used hypnotism as anesthesia, a psychotherapist who encouraged dream analysis for solving personal problems, a poet who published in Sunset Magazine under the pen name Paul Garland, a botanist who grafted the area’s first fruit trees, and a universally-loved gentleman farmer of whom one of his seven daughters, lone, wrote: “Papa had a passionate love for the beauties of nature, was kind to all the farm animals and they, in turn, seemed to understand and love him.”
Henry Smith was King County’s first school superintendent and a very rare statesman who seemed to inspire absolutely no resentment. As a territorial legislator for several terms, he still “never sought office, never asked for a vote and was never defeated in an election.”
When the 22-year-old Smith first arrived at Smith Cove, the highest tides filled potholes for sun-warmed swimming farther north than today’s Galer Street. When he died here at his Interbay home in 1915 at the age of 85, it was from a chill caught while setting out tomato plants in his garden. At that time the tide flats of Smith Cove were being filled in by the cove’s new owner, the Port of Seattle. The consequences were the half-mile long piers 90 and 91 which were the longest earth-filled piers in the world. The lucrative silk trade, which J. J. Hill had originally channeled through Smith Cove, was severely torn in 1940 by a filament made from coal with characteristics of strength and elasticity called nylon.
Years later the Navy took Smith Cove from the Port of Seattle for a condemnation fee of 3 million dollars. The Port bought it back in the mid-1970s for about 15 million and added another four million in improvements, including Smith Cove Park. There in the spring of 1978 a plaque was placed honoring the remarkable Dr. Henry A. Smith.
The DAKOTA and the OREGON
(First appeared in Pacific June 4, 2000)
This maritime scene is both delicate – afternoon light shapes the vessels and scatters upon the water – and monumental by reason of its largest subject, the steamship Dakota.
On the heels of its sister ship, the Minnesota, the Dakota was built in 1903 in Connecticut for the steamship arm of the Great Northern Railway and brought around the horn to its home port between the railroad’s long piers at Smith Cove in Elliott Bay. It began its first trip to Yokohama, Japan, in September 1905.
The steel-hulled cargo-passenger steamers were by far the largest vessels on the Pacific Ocean. Eleven decks high, they could hold the equivalent of 107 freight trains of 35 cars each. In fact, on its first voyage, the Dakota delivered more than one locomotive to Japan.
Clarence R. Langstaff, a carpenter and longtime resident of Magnolia, recorded this exquisite view in late 1905 or 1906. On the right is the 283-footsteel-hulled Oregon, oldest passenger vessel on the West Coast, built in Chester, Pa., in 1878.
Something beside this Smith Cove slip and the trail of smoke ties thes vessels. At midnight on Sept. 13,1906, while heading for Nome, Capt. Horace E. Soule ran the Oregon onto an uncharted rock near the entrance to Prince William Sound. On the clear afternoon of March 3 the next year, Capt. Emil Francke drove the Dakota onto a well-charted reef about 40 miles south Yokohama. Although the big ship was running at only 14 knots, its inertia was considerable, and the reef sliced through about a third of the Dakota’s 622 feet.
All the passengers were saved – but not the ships, most of their cargo and Francke’s job. While Soule was not held at fault, Francke lost his license and wound up working as a watchman on the San Francisco waterfront.
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CITIZENS LIGHT & POWER CO.
(First appeared in Pacific, April 7, 1996)
The quality of life for the hill folk living along the sides and summit of Queen Anne Hill has periodically been threatened from below. The recent hubbub over unloading acres of foreign automobiles onto Interbay’s parking lots was preceded by more than a century of railroad racket climbing the western slope of the hill. The Great Northern laid its Seattle yard down below in 1903.
The peace, quiet and clean air were peculiarly threatened at the beginning of this century, when the Citizens Light and Power Company began to drive piles for a gas plant just offshore in Smith Cove. Since the manufacture of gas from burning coal was a notoriously foul process, the residents of Queen Anne Hill had a right to be wary. They also had the political clout to win.
The gas plant was eventually built – it appears in the “then” view – but only after the company installed the first downdraft smokeless boiler furnaces used on the West Coast. With this innovation the plant spewed neither smoke nor smell, and since its height didn’t intrude on Queen Anne’s view of the Olympics, the gas plant was a good neighbor. (Nearby, years later, the Port of Seattle’s much taller grain elevator did screen this view in spite of objections by Queen Anne residents.)
The plant’s innovations were cited by Citizens’ business rival, the Seattle Gas and Electric Company, in its attempt to stop its new competitors from laying pipe into the older company’s preserve: the Central Business District. The SGEC claimed that the new gas from Smith Cove was more lethal and thus responsible for the slew of gas suicides reported in the newspapers. In fact, investigators determined that the victims did not discriminate in their choice of gas and were taking it from both pipes.
MAGNOLIA BRIDGE aka GARFIELD
(First appeared in Pacific, March 24, 1991)
When it was completed in 1930, the. sweep of the Magnolia Bridge as it ascends west of Pier 91 was considered a modern engineering wonder: At nearly 4,000 feet, it was the largest of only three reinforced concrete spans built anywhere. .
The big bridge was first proposed six years earlier when the West Wheeler Street Bridge was set on fire by a spark from a Great Northern locomotive passing beneath it. At first, the Seattle city council refused to build a high ridge to the bluff, since, it reasoned, only 4,000 people lived west of Interbay and south of Ballard. The city chose a humbler alternative by extending the West Garfield Street Bridge with a timber trestle that reached Magnolia at an elevation just a few feet above high tide.
Magnolians, however, organized the Garfield Bridge Club and eventually persuaded the city to replace the trestle with the soaring trusses shown here. The strewn timbers of the temporary low bridge, cluttering the base of the new span, are also evident.
The topmost view of the bridge was photographed Dec. 22, 1930, two weeks after the high bridge was dedicated with band music, the usual speeches and a procession of motorists and pedestrians. Then the tidelands of Interbay still reached far north of Garfield Street, requiring the bridge to be built above piles driven 20 to 40 feet into the ground. Now the tide basin has been reclaimed and blacktopped as a parking lot – most often for Japanese imports.
[Note: The public works destroyer earthquake of a few years back damaged the Magnolia Bridge so that it was closed for repairs, and locals had to abide the long detour over the Dravus Street viaduct several blocks to the north.]
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Looking south toward Smith Cove from the long-since destroyed Wheeler Street trestle for motorcars, the old Garfield Street trestle can be faintly detected on the horizon. Left of center is the sign of the Portland Cordage Company written on the west side of the long factory designed to make rope from hemp. (Historical picture courtesy of John Cox) With neither bridge nor tower to lift him as high as the plank floor of the timber trestle that once ran in line with Wheeler Street, Jean Sherrard substituted a stepladder and a ten-foot extension pole held by him high above his 6’7” frame. He nearly made it while looking directly into the sun.
In “Magnolia, Making More Memories,” the second volume on Magnolia history published recently by that neighborhood’s historical society, Hal Will returns to the rich story of transportation along and across the Interbay valley that separates the hills of Magnolia from those of Queen Anne. (Note the clay cliffs on the left.) In the first volume, “Magnolia, Memories and Milestones” Will wrote about “Magnolia’s Wooden Trestles.” Now in the second volume he goes after its “early railroad days.”
The first railroad here was the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern whose rails first crossed the soggy length of this valley in 1887 heading north on the bed that here supports a coupled string of tank cars. The SLSER originated on the Seattle waterfront and hoped to continue as far as both Spokane and British Columbia. Railroad history is well stocked with ironies, and here’s one. The SLSER was Seattle’s robust answer to the neglect of the Tacoma-oriented Northern Pacific Railroad. According to Will’s caption, “at the time of this photo, the track [with the posing train] was owned and used by Northern Pacific Railroad.” The Great Northern used the tracks on the right.
At first I imagined that this photo was recorded looking south from a water tower. The truth I discovered in Hal Will’s essay on trestles noted above. Here the unnamed photographer stood on the Wheeler Street timber trestle that ran the width of the valley, east-west from 15th Ave. west to Thorndyke Ave. West. The trestles one big span crossed the tracks here. Will gives this picture a ca. 1918 date. The trestle was a total loss to fire in 1924.
WEST MERCER PLACE
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 6, 1985)
It was a Wednesday afternoon late in the summer of 1921 when a photographer from the Seattle Engineering Department drove out to where West Mercer Place descends from Queen Anne Hill’s Kinnear Park to the waterfront and shot this week’s historical scene.
The Mercer Place opening to the waterfront was cut through in 1890 when Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman (remembered now in the Burke-Gilman Trail) started their ambitious service on the West Street and North End Electric Railway. It was built to move workers and settlers between downtown Seattle and their new manufacturing town, Ballard. It was one of the first interurban trolley lines in America.
The historical photograph looks south from where the timber trestle, called Water Street, turned with the municipal trolley lines for its climb to the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood. For more than 30 years the six-mile trolley line ran from downtown Seattle through Belltown and Lower Queen Anne, returned to the waterfront at this Mercer Place intersection and continued on to Ballard. For much of its two mile run between this Mercer Place intersection and Salmon Bay – part of it thru the Interbay wetland – the trolleys ran atop a low trestle from 20 to 60 feet off shore. For the entire distance between Interbay and Pike Street the waterfront was often home to squatters shacks and a scatter of sawmills and boat builders. In places, like that seen here, the waterfront was separated from the city by a dense greenbelt.
The trolley cars were powered by electricity generated in the basement of Burke’s namesake building at Second Avenue and Marion Street (now the site of the Federal Building). But the power was insufficient, and as the cars approached Ballard, their speed would decrease steadily, the lights in the Burke Building would dim and its elevators would slow to a crawl. One account of this slow ride to Ballard claims that the passengers took to carrying guns for protection against muggers who would crash from the forest along Queen Anne Hill to jump aboard the poking trolley for a stickup.
A different kind of danger and speed characterized the one hilly part of this nickel trip to Ballard. At West Mercer Place, after a speedy descent, cars occasionally would jump the track at the curve onto Water Street and, at high tide, take a bath in the bay.
By 1940, the rails had been pulled up and trackless trolleys were gliding on pneumatic tires along a concrete paved Elliott Avenue and a long way from sand, sawmills and shacks. Now only the greenbelt remains.
FULL CIRCLE ARTISTS COOP
(First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 4, 1998)
You may recall writer David Berger’s feature “Site as Folk Art,” which appeared Dec. 7 in this magazine. As fate would have it, two days after we first followed Berger’s reconnoiter through the charmed land of the Full Circle Artists Coop, his subjects got their eviction notice.
The city of Seattle plans to route Elliott Avenue traffic destined for the proposed Immunex plant at Interbay up and over Elliott and the Burlington Northern railroad tracks that run between that thoroughfare and the Smith Cove piers. This overpass – called a “flyover” in the plans – would cut directly through the artists’ homes, studios and gardens now nestled against the Queen Anne Hill greenbelt.
The cottage in the foreground (on the top) of this week’s comparison is the most northerly of the structures at the site. Its materials and houseboat design suggest it may have been dragged ashore during the reclamation of Smith Cove. The legal description defacing the older view was scrawled by a Works Progress Administration photographer during the WPA’s late-1930s inventory of every taxable structure in King County. “Little Finland” was then a popular name for this tidelands neighborhood. The larger structure on the right is still home to a sauna that for many pre-Full Circle years was a commercial operation.
The real splendor of this site – the folk art – is on the far, hidden side of this scene. Gardens for flowers , vegetables, sculpture and found objects meander between studios and greenbelt. This growing collage of plants and artifacts was included last spring in the Pacific Northwest Art Council’s Artist Garden Tour.
This site has also been reviewed favorably by a number of City Council members, nourishing a hope that at least part of this charmed land will be saved by turning the flyover into a “fly-nearby.”
FOUNDRY on ELLIOTT
(First appeared in Pacific Jan 12, 1992)
The brick shell of the N & S Foundry is one of the few early-century constructions that survives on the waterfront at the base of Queen Anne Hill. The two-story brick construction that appears on the left of the “then” scene, although similar, is not the foundry but the N ‘& S Machine Works, built in 1902. The foundry was added in 1906 on the lot to the south, or to the right and behind the construction site for the wooden boat. That means this picture was made between 1902 and 1906. (Remembering that this was all composed first 20 years ago, I now imagine that none of this survives, but would be pleased to learn otherwise.)
After 12 years of manufacturing bricks in New Zealand, the German immigrant Robert Niedergesaess moved to Seattle in 1887 to continue making bricks at his Seattle Brick and Tile Co. His three sons, Otto, Wilhelm and Wilson, soon moved up the industrial ladder to electrical engineering. With financial help from their father, they formed the Niedergesaess and Sons Electric Co.
The Niedergesaess boys took advantage of their waterfront site to build boats. There was, as yet, no off-shore landfill – Elliott Avenue -separating them from Elliott Bay. (The historical photographer is on the Niedergesaess dock with his back to the bay,)
The sons separated their business in the early 1920s, with Otto moving to New York to manufacture propellers, Wilhelm staying put with the dynamos, and Wilson moving two blocks south on Elliott to open the Wilson Machine Works, a business now run by Wilson’s grandson, Robert D. Wilson. (Much earlier, Wilson Robert John Niedergesaess, tired of pronouncing and spelling out his last name for the tongue-tied, dropped the Niedergesaess and swung his first name, Wilson, to last.)