Queen Anne Addendum #2 – Ralph Waldo Johnson & His Darkroom

Not Ralph Waldo but his friends examining a negative and pouring a chemical, two darkroom routines that do not always require a red light darkness. This comes from Ralph's album and it may be or may not be his darkroom in Lower North Queen Anne, aka South Fremont and Ross.
Ralph Waldo Johnson at the door to his darkroom to the rear of the family home on Etruria.


Like any mill town “Greater Fremont” was once scattered with modest residences. Of the many that survive, a few have been mercifully spared the trauma of remodeling and appear today much as they did in the 1890s.

One example is the Johnson home at 169 Etruria near the south end of the Fremont Bridge.  This is the smaller section of Fremont that climbs the north slope of Queen Anne Hill and somewhere along the way leaves the mill town for the hill town.  (Since I last visited the site the home in 1991 it has been effectively walled away from the sidewalk and street, as testified with Jean’s recent return to Etruria.)

Ion Johnson married Ellen Maud O’Grady in 1893. They had a son, Ralph Waldo, who purchased a camera and built a darkroom in the backyard shed. The first of Ralph Johnson’s pictures above is of the family home.  As noted it was scanned from a photo album that survives with the home. The darkroom-shed is also still standing – or rather was when last I visited 19 years ago.

Johnson’s album is packed with rare glimpses into the life of his neighborhood during the construction years of the ship canal and the bascule Fremont Bridge. The album is also a confession of one young adult male’s interests in boats, women, and motorcycles. The album’s last pages are filled with snapshots Johnson made as an infantryman in France, or on his way to France. Badly gassed in the trenches, he was predisposed to respiratory illnesses the rest of his life. He died of pneumonia in 1980 at age 87.

Looking north from teh Johnson's front porch to Etruria's insertion at Nickerson.
West on Etruria from Nickerson. The Johnson front yard and sidewalk are on the far left.

By his friends’ descriptions, Ralph Waldo was a natty man who loved opera, the theater and dining out. Good-humored and generous, he was active in the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society and sometimes wrote for its publication, the Sea Chest.

Inside the Johnson home. The profile on the lad in the rocker does not look like Ralph, but then he is taking the picture. That may be the photorapher's mother in the light of the window.

As an adolescent Ralph briefly worked as a candy boy on the celebrated Puget Sound steamer Yosemite until his mother overheard some of the language used on deck.  Waldo’s father, lon, died in the early 1920s, but his mother continued to live in the family home until her death in the mid-1940s. Thereafter Waldo’s only sibling, his younger sister Beryl, lived there until her death left the little home to Waldo alone. Heirless, Ralph Waldo Johnson willed his family home to Margaret Wilhelmi, the daughter of a close friend. She has protected (still in 1991) both the little residence’s architectural integrity and Waldo’s revealing photo album.

(Next we visit the home of Ralph’s neighbor Annie Craig, and conclude with a sample of other scenes pulled from Johnson’s surviving album of youthful snapshots.)



Ralph Waldo captions this recording of his neighbor, “Mrs Craig, 1915.” However terse, this is a good lead. The Polk Directory for 1915 reveals that an Annie Craig, widow of Charles, lived at 200 Florentia at the north end of Queen Anne Hill near the Fremont bridge. The woman standing here with her birds is surely that Annie Craig.  She lived across the alley from Ralph Waldo’s home on Etruria, and her young neighbor took this snapshot and printed it in his darkroom shed on the alley.

Searching back and forth from 1915 through other Polk directories reveals that Anna and Charles Craig moved to Florentia in the late 1890s from a home on the other side of Queen Anne Hill, at 232 First Ave. W., about three blocks north of Denny Way. Charles is first listed there in 1890. His 1899 registry is more elaborate; he is tabbed as a tallyman for the Stetson and Post Lumber Company. That 1899 recording is ‘Charles Craig’s last. Following directories list Anna (or Annie) Craig as his widow.

In the 1909 Polk Directory, Anna is identified as vice president for the Flatow Laundry Company on First Avenue in Belltown. The directory also reveals that Isador Flatow, the president, lived at 69 Etruria, or just up the alley from Annie.

After that listing, there is nothing to quickly learn about Annie Craig except that she nurtured a most inviting flower garden and had more than one parrot to adorn it.

“Annie Craig (widow Chas) 200 Florentia” is last listed in the 1921 city directory.

Ralph left no caption for this enchanting tableau of costumed flower-arrangers.
Ralph Johnson recorded the collapse of the Fremont Bridge after the lake's dam broke in 1914, sent a flood into Salmon Bay and lowered Lake Union by about seven feet putting many houseboats on the lake bottom - although still tied to shore.
The Stone Way Bridge taken by Johnson from the Fremont Bridge or near it. The Stone Way Bridge connected Westlake with Stone Way as a detour for trolleys - mostly - before and during the construction years of the Fremont Bascule Bridge. It was built in 1911 and razed in 1917. Beyond it and to the left is the barrel factory that survives as a marina, although reclad. The Gasworks are also evident and a horizon line made from Capitol Hill's long northern slope.
This is, perhaps, the only (or one of two) photograph in Ralph's book of snapshots that was taken by a commercial photographer. It looks north through the old Fremont Bridge to Fremont in 1903. B. F. Day school is on the horizon.
Digging the canal through Fremont in 1915. The view looks west towards Ballard's mills and the open Northern Pacific Railroad's bridge near 8th Ave. West.
A "fifty ton beam" used in the construction of the Fremont Bascule Bridge. Bridge work goes forward on the far left. The Fremont lumber mill is directly across the lake, and B.F.Day school tops the center horizon.
July 4, 1917 dedication day for the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Ralph took this photo across the Fremont section of the canal from the south shore - a spot near his family home.
Ralph Waldo beside his motorcycle and posing for someone on the red brick road to Bothell. This was the primary highway that then made connection with the sunset highway to Snoqualmie Pass which was reached for the use of "regular traffic" the following year in 1915.
Ralph poses with his motorbike inside the famous Snohomish Bicycle Tree, which I still remember from the early 1970s, but which was subsequently removed as a hazard to cyclists.

Somewhere - most likely - on the northern slope of Queen Anne Hill. A dogged review of Google street views might uncover those homes - on Warren Ave. maybe.
This view of muscular soldiers on the Mexican border in August 1916, may also be a commercial recording. It is captioned. The 2nd Washington Infantry was packed off to the Mexican border to challenge Poncho Villa - or prepare to.
Scenes' from Ralph's part in the First World War.

2 thoughts on “Queen Anne Addendum #2 – Ralph Waldo Johnson & His Darkroom”

  1. On the last photo in the series, the photo in the upper right-hand corner of the group is the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.