Seattle Now & Then: Piner's Point and Plummer's Bay

(click TWICE to enlarge photos)

THEN: An unnamed photograph here looks down from Beacon Hill to the flooded mudflats south of Seattle’s Pioneer Place neighborhood either very late in December 1883 or, more likely, early in 1884. The pilings in the bay that are not useful trestles are land speculators freelance markings meant to set precedents of ownership to the tideflats. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: We have added some sky and city to Jean Sherrard’s repeat to help orient the reader.

Seattle’s first commercial center was built on a small peninsula south of Yesler Way, which the exploring Navy Lieutenant Wilkes called Piner’s Point in 1841, a decade before the first settlers arrived. The commercial buildings, upper-right, are on Piner’s Point. To the south the peninsula ended with a small bluff at King Street.  Beyond that were the mudflats seen here, and to the east a salty marsh that was flooded at high tide.  This little inlet east of Piner’s Point was called Plummer’s Bay for a pioneer that lived beside it.

This view was – I think – recorded from a knoll that once topped Beacon Hill like a hood ornament.  If Charles Street had climbed the hill it would have reached the knoll.  Charles is one block south of Dearborn, and if I have calculated it correctly that wide pathway extending from the bottom of the photograph to the bay is Dearborn – or very near it.  This is a quarter-century before there was any Dearborn Cut through the ridge that previous to the cutting merely slumped between First and Beacon Hills.

Jackson Street is on a timber quay far right, and King Street is the narrow-gauge railroad trestle curving quickly to dry land to be free of the wood boring Teredo worms. Here pioneer Joe Surber built the trestle with piles 65-feet long because of the mud. It took only two poundings of his pile driver’s hammer to push the piles through 35 feet of mud to hardpan. The King Street rails can be followed west to the King Street wharf, where the coal brought from mines near Renton was delivered to ships.  This wharf, here with a coal collier tied to its north side, was the biggest thing in town and coal Seattle’s biggest “cash crop.”

In “Orphan Road,” Kurt Armbruster’s helpful sorting of the often snarled history of railroading hereabouts, the author names the wide trestle extending out of frame to the left the “broad gauged strip” because regular gauge track was laid on it. Armbruster has it completed in Sept. 1883, which most likely means it was then “connected” with the Point. The laying of tracks followed.  The date for this scene may be as late as early 1884.  If you can see it, the little cupola or fog bell tower built atop the south end of the Ocean Dock, right of center, was completed in mid-December of 1883.


(Greetings, Paul and friends. As we are trying to run a leaner, meaner operation here at DorpatSherrardLomont, we are reducing the size of our front page. For those interested in more content supplementing and expanding upon this week’s ‘Seattle Now & Then’, please click on WEB EXTRAS.)

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Piner's Point and Plummer's Bay”

  1. I saw your article about Piner’s Point in the Times. You mentioned Lt. Wilkes. I recently finished Sea of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick. It’s about America’s U.S. Exploring Expedition. An undertaking bigger than Lewis and Clark to map vast parts of the Pacific Ocean. It recounts the group entering the Columbia River and exploring Puget Sound. Wilkes Land in Antarctica is names for Lt. Wilkes.

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