Seattle Now & Then: The Evelyn May in the Belltown Ravine

(DOUBLE CLICK to ENLARGE) A rare look into the "Belltown Ravine" circa 1900. The scene, which also shows the sloop Evelyn May cradled on shore, was photographed from an offshore railroad trestle. (Coutesy, Ron Edge)
The ravine was filled long ago, and the rough but often charmed neighborhood of squatters' sheds is now spread with a campus of condos and other attractions protected behind glass walls. (Now photo by Jean Sherrard)

It was Ron Edge, a friend and collector and guide for our sometimes feature here of “Edge Clippings,” who gently pulled this week’s subject from a short stack of historical prints and asked, “Do you know where this is?” I did and my heart leaped because of it.  The sheds were easily referenced to two other surviving glimpses into parts of the Belltown Ravine. (See below for one of them.) Ron’s third view is the most recent and the most direct.

The ravine was unique for there were only two breaks in the embankment or bluff that once rose abruptly from the beach to varying heights for the mile between Columbia and Broad Streets.  A small ravine near Seneca Street was used for a tribal graveyard. This much larger ravine between Bell and Blanchard Streets cut nearly three blocks into the northwest slope of Denny Hill before reaching grade near Bell, between First and Second Avenues.

The sheds, some of them built for squatting, were removed when the Great Northern cut into the bank to dig its tunnel beneath the business district.  The ravine was filled by fits between the 1880s and 1920s and then forgotten.  I found its topography on a map when asked to figure out the source of human bones that were found in what I soon determined to be landfill brought from another place.  Since the lost ravine had no name, I took the “explorer’s right” and named it the “Belltown Ravine” for the neighborhood it penetrates.

It was another old friend, the yachtsman, wit and author Scott Rohrer who’s heart also leapt when first shown this photograph.  But Scott’s stir was more for the 32’ sloop Evelyn May here held steady in her cradle at the mouth to the ravine.  Scott identifies Seattle Yacht Club Commodore C.D. Stimson as the one who ordered the Evelyn May and naval architect Leigh Coolidge as the sloop’s designer.  In an essay he wrote on this subject for the Binnacle, fittingly the Yacht club’s periodical, Scott notes, “We have no record of her builder who may have made his home in this little pocket and worked for a larger yard.”  And the maritime historian adds, “She won a number of races, some in heavy weather.”

This topographical map of the waterfront at Bell Street shows the feature of the "Belltown Ravine" intruding into the hillside and neighborhood from the waterfront. Although dated 1893 some of the features - footprints - are the same (or nearly) as in ca. 1900. With this map north is to the left. West is Western. Water is merely a platted street not an "improved" one. Here is runs along the steep incline - sometimes cliff - that connected the beach with the hill above it. Note the steep stairway drawn in between the beach and the west end of Blanchard Street. It - or a variation on it - also appears in the photograph directly below. It climbs the bluff about one-third of the way left of the photograph's right border.
A. Wilse's late 1890s wide view of the entrance to the ravine, or peek at the south side of it, may be compared to the uncredited view at the top. Some of the same structures appear here. Part of Wilse's platform, the viaduct, shows bottom-right. Although Wilse seems a bit high. Perhaps he was in a railroad car.
In this look across Elliott Bay from Duwamish Head the Denny Hill Regrade is well underway with grand effects for the Belltown Ravine. It is mostly filled in. Here the fill dirt can be detected to the right of the trestle-flume that is spouting the hill-as-mud into the bay. You can see the spouting. What you cannot tell is that this trestle extended far off shore, and it was continuously extended as new trestle members - pilings - were driven into the fill when it piled high enough on the floor of the bay to allow for the extending. Ultimately, this created a submerged Denny Hill off shore, which required some dredging for the safety of bigger ships. The principal structures of Belltown, including the brick Austin Bell Building and the Belltown AKA Bell Hotel, a large frame structure, can be found to the left. The sat on the east side of First Avenue between Bell and Battery Streets. (That's the then new Volunteer Park Standpipe on the horizon.) The principal regrading scar that reaches across most of this scene is the moving cliff that marks the eastern border of the regrade work. The cliff was steadily moved or cut to the east until it reach the east side of 5th Avenue where it held until 1929 when the regrading resumed and the razing of Denny Hill was completed by 1931. This scene is but one part of a panorama, which can be seen with three other pans from West Seattle on our web page Washington Then and Now. Please visit it and explore a hundred year comparison of the entire bay (the east side of it). (Keep Clicking to Enlarge - multiple clicks please.)
(CLICK TWICE! to enlarge.) This look into Belltown from Denny Hill is, I believe, by the itinerant Watkins and he took it either in 1880 or 81. (Somewhere, someone knows.) There's the Bell home at the northeast corner of First and Bell Street, right-of-center. No brick building here yet. That's Magnolia upper-right. But the point most fitting here is on the far left. What is it? A fence? That structure with the regular features is too low and roofless to be a building. Note how the landscape is smooth to this side of the structure (a garden in preparation?) and rough to the north or far side of it. I believe that the east end of the Belltown Ravine, just where it approaches First Avenue and peters out, is on the other side of that structure. At this point it is more like a ditch than a ravine. I remain clueless regarding the character/identity of the structure. It seems too substantial for a fence. A low chicken coop?

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