Seattle Now & Then: Surgeon Taylor's Blockhouse

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN:In late 1855 the citizens of Seattle with help from the crew of the Navy sloop-of-war Decatur built a blockhouse on the knoll that was then still at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street. The sloop’s physician John Y. Taylor drew this earliest rendering of the log construction.  (Courtesy, Yale University, Beinecke Library)
THEN: In late 1855 the citizens of Seattle with help from the crew of the Navy sloop-of-war Decatur built a blockhouse on the knoll that was then still at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street. The sloop’s physician John Y. Taylor drew this earliest rendering of the log construction. (Courtesy, Yale University, Beinecke Library)
Here for comparison is Phelps wide panorama also sketched from the bay. (This is noted in the text above.)
Here for comparison is Thomas Phelps wide panorama also sketched from the bay. (This is noted in the text below.) The pan extends from Columbia Street on the left, with the "White Church" at the southeast corner of 2nd and Columbia, to the King Street bluff on the far right. South of King it was all tidelands then. Phelps map is included below the block house photos far below.
NOW:Jean Sherrards “repeat” for Dr. Taylors drawing was taken from the southeast corner of Colman Dock, a location that in 1855 was still in water deep enough for the USS Decatur and close to the proper perspective for his drawing of Seattle’s then new north blockhouse.  Sherrard’s “now” is also capped by two competing Pioneer neighborhood landmarks, the Post Street smokestack and the Smith Tower.  In 1902 the Seattle Electric steam plant began delivering its sooty black cloud to the neighborhood, which after the terra-cotta clad tower’s dedication in 1914 helped dim its gleaming facade.
NOW: Jean Sherrards “repeat” for Dr. Taylors drawing was taken from the southeast corner of Colman Dock, a location that in 1855 was still in water deep enough for the USS Decatur and close to the proper perspective for his drawing of Seattle’s then new north blockhouse. Sherrard’s “now” is also capped by two competing Pioneer neighborhood landmarks, the Post Street smokestack and the Smith Tower. In 1902 the Seattle Electric steam plant began delivering its sooty black cloud to the neighborhood, which after the terra-cotta clad tower’s dedication in 1914 helped dim its gleaming facade.

Lorraine McConaghy, historian at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), spent the summer of 2005 in “the other Washington” hoping to find treasures in the U.S. Navy’s archives.  The object of this ardor was the 117 ft U.S. Navy sloop-of-war, the USS Decatur, which one hundred and fifty years earlier visited Seattle and stayed for nine months defending the village during the Treaty War.

The result is adventures all around – aboard the Decatur, inside the blockhouse, which the sailors helped the settlers complete, and in the village and in the woods behind it.  All are wonderfully recounted in McConaghy’s “Warship Under Sail, The USS Decatur in the Pacific West,” a new book from the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest in association with the University of Washington Press.

John Y. Taylor, a navy doctor on board, drew this detailed likeness of the blockhouse Fort Decatur – named for the warship. Until the historian uncovered it, the drawing was buried in the archives.  One of the two oldest renderings of any part of Seattle, this sketch is totally new to us.  The other, also drawn from the Decatur ‘s deck, is by Thomas Phelps, Taylor’s friend and shipmate.  Taylor’s rendering has greater detail.  The rightfully enthused McConaghy proposes, “You could build the blockhouse from this drawing, I think.”

When the heavy boxes of microfilm copied for her from Taylor’s journals first arrived in Seattle from Yale’s Beinecke Library McConaghy recalls, “I raced to the MOHAI library and my hands were shaking with such excitement that I could hardly thread the reader. But there were Taylor’s drawings, right up on the screen, of Seattle (and much else).  I laid my head in my hands and wept.”

McConaghy’s recounting of the Decatur at Seattle and in the five-year Pacific cruise required years of searching and shaping but now the book is readily available to readers and deserves lots of them.  She is right:  her work “allows us to see (pioneer) Seattle with completely new eyes.”

(The public is invited to Dr. McConaghy’s lecture about her book at Horizon House, on First Hill, Thursday, February 18 at 7:30 pm.)

WEB EXTRAS

Paul suggested we illustrate our web edition of this week’s Seattle Now & Then with several photos of surviving blockhouses, featured in our book Washington Then & Now.

THEN: the Crockett Blockhouse on Whidbey Island, taken by Asahel Curtis in the early 1900s.
THEN: the Crockett Blockhouse on Whidbey Island, taken by Asahel Curtis in the early 1900s.
NOW: Restored and moved by the WPA in 1938 alongside Fort Casey Road.
NOW: Restored and moved by the WPA in 1938 alongside Fort Casey Road.
THEN: The English Camp Blockhouse on San Juan Island, also snapped around 1900. Site of the infamous Pig War (a 13-year standoff between Yanks and Brits beginning in 1959 with the shooting of a British pig by an American settler) which eventually led to U.S. possession of the San Juan Islands.
THEN: The English Camp Blockhouse on San Juan Island, also snapped around 1900. Site of the infamous Pig War (a 13-year standoff between Yanks and Brits beginning in 1959 with the shooting of a British pig by an American settler) which eventually led to U.S. possession of the San Juan Islands.
NOW: English Camp Blockhouse in 2005
NOW: English Camp Blockhouse in 2005. It too has been significantly restored.

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean once more we have some BLOG EXTRAS.  (!!!)

UP ABOVE – and already – we inserted Thomas Phelps panorama of the village also rendered, as it were, from the Decatur.  And then just below these notes and in order, we include  Phelps map of the village both as he drew it (nearly), and then as incorporated in into a larger map of the first settler’s claims.   Below that are two paintings of scenes from the “Battle of Seattle.”  One by one of the Denny daughters show the villagers rushing to the blockhouse.  The other is an “Indian’s-eye view” from the woods of First Hill.

Phelps map of Seattle.  He by now famously misplaced the blockhouse one block too far north of its real location on a knoll at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street.
Thomas Phelps' map of Seattle by now famously misplaces the blockhouse one block too far north of its real location on a knoll at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street.
The Phelps map later and helpfully extended into a map of the city's street grid and an indication of the borders between the original settlers' claims.
The Phelps map later and helpfully extended into a map of the city's street grid and an indication of the borders between the original settlers' claims. This map - and more - get more explanation in this blogs' Pictorial History of the Seattle Waterfront. (Much of it is "up" but it is also still a work in progress - as time allows and/or we hold out.)
Settlers running to the blockhouse with the first rifle fire from the woods.   No one was hit during this scramble.
Settlers running to the blockhouse with the first rifle fire from the woods. No one was hit during this scramble. The original painting was by Eliza Denny, of the second generation Dennys. The original is kept by the Museum of History and Industry.
This print comes with an excuse.  I have a better rendering but could not find it.  For decades, it seems, I thought this was the best surving copy of a painting - that may be lost - showing the battle of Seattle and  the peninsual aka "Piner's Point" upon which most of the village was first built, during the Battle of Seattle.  Another version surfaced that does not also feature the glare of a light at the bottom-center.
This print comes with an excuse. I have a better rendering but could not find it. For decades, it seems, I thought this was the best surviving copy of a painting - that may be lost - showing the battle of Seattle and the peninsula aka "Piner's Point" upon which most of the village was first built, imagined from the point of view of the resisting/attacking Indians on First Hill. Another photographic copy of the painting surfaced about ten years ago (for me) that does not also feature the glare of a light at the bottom-center.

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