Seattle Now & Then: Professor Conn

Courtesy, Lawton Gowey
Courtesy, Lawton Gowey
By Paul Dorpat
By Paul Dorpat

[The feature that follows first appeared in Pacific Northwest Mag. for Nov. 1, 2009.]

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The hand-written caption “Prof Conn family” can be imperfectly read at the base of this week’s historical subject.  I know Conn not for his professing but for his photographs.  His views around Green Lake and Ravenna are probably the best record of those neighborhoods in the 1890s.  Through the years of this feature I have used three or four of them.

Conn has here joined his wife Margaret and son Neil to pose on the front law of their home, I assumed.   So I was surprised that none of the few addresses listed for George E. Conn could be stretched to approximate this view, which includes a patch of Green Lake in it.  My solution was a turn to Rob Ketcherside and his zest for then-and-now hide-and-seek, supported by his spatial relations intelligence and gift for modern on-line research.  Rob soon determined that my assumption about the “family home” was wrong. The Conns are here posing on the front lawn of East Green Lake’s biggest realtor then, W. D. Wood, who was also briefly – about the time this photograph was recorded – Seattle’s Mayor for parts of 1896-7. Wood took, as it turned out, a permanent leave of absence from politics to follow the gold rush.

While “Professor” Conn, shown here posing with his familynear the east shore of Green Lake, is listed in city directories as a school teacher at both nearby Latona and Green Lake schools his name does not appear in the Seattle School District’s archives. Eventually, the Conns moved to Thurston County where the “professor’s” teaching at a “common school” is traceable in the 1920 census.

In the “now” view Ketcherside, on the left, joins author and Green Lake historian Louis Fiset on the north side of Northeast 72nd Street and near where the Conn’s pose in Wood’s lawn overgrown with flowers.  Years ago Fiset introduced me to the Woods, who in 1887 purchased these east Green Lake acres, which included the cabins still standing here on the right. He bought it all from Green Lake pioneer Erhard Seifried, AKA “Green Lake John.” Both Rob and Louis (and Ron Edge too) have helped me with the details of this story.  Readers can find many of Ketcherside’s own “now-and-thens” on Flickr or search Flickr for his name under “people.”

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