Seattle Now & Then: Gather Ye Rose Buds While Ye May

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: When the Phinney (of the ridge) family began developing their country estate in 1889, plans included a small zoo, a hotel, a stone chapel (Episcopalian) a boat house on Green Lake, a hunters lodge beside it, a mansion for the family, a bandstand and this green house. Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive.

NOW: A representative sample of zoo enthusiasts head for its entrance on an inviting spring Saturday.

The photographer of this satisfying record of Guy Phinney’s Woodland Park Green House is unidentified because although she or he signed the negative at its bottom-right corner, someone’s fingerprint sooner or later smudged it beyond recognition.  The early view (ca. 1890) looks east-southeast across the park’s extension of Fremont Avenue.

For his repeat Jean Sherrard moved a few feet to the west of the historical prospect in order to include samples of the illustrated banners that now decorate the entrance to the zoo.  Jean used his extension pole to approximate the elevation of the historical view, which was photographed somehow from the roof of the well-wrought stone home in which the Phinney family was temporarily living at this entrance to their big country estate.

The Phinney family shared the park with that part of the pubic that obeyed park rules.  Out of frame to the right was a grand granite arch with “Woodland Park” chiseled across it and next to it a large sign posting the commandments.  These included prescriptions against dogs, guns, spitting, swearing, drinking, picking the flowers, and teasing the animals in the Phinney’s small zoo.  The stars were one bear and two ostriches, caged but not together.

The Phinney’s grand plans for their park, including a mansion for the family, were stopped with the father’s sudden death in 1893.  In 1899 the prudent city council overruled the mayor’s veto and purchased the park for “future generations.”  The green house, which was used to nurture starters for landscaping in other city parks, was succeeded in 1912 by Volunteer Park’s new plant conservatory, and Phinney’s charming glass house for plants was sacrificed for what later, with the activism of the Seattle Rose Society, became Woodland Park’s prized Rose Garden.


Now we’ve moved to our new Cadillac server, Paul, I’m hoping we can return once again to our tradition of lengthy blog posts on the front page.

So, without linking to an inside page, I ask the weekly question:  Anything to add, Paul?

A little Jean – a few features from the dozen or so subjects I’ve given to Woodland Park or Green Lake over the past 30 years.  The choices here have to do either with matters near to the main entrance to Woodland Park or with ways to get to the park and across it.  We will also include a few distant looks at Phinney Ridge to feel the effects on the horizon of the old growth that was kept in the park part of the ridge for a few years, at least, into the 20th Century.

An original print for this subject identified the place as "Woodland Park" but the name we assume for the subject holding the box camera is a scrawl that may - only - read "J.A. Pierse."
This Woodland Park rose was photographed probably by Robert Bradley on July 7,1962 in the park's Rose Garden, which is a dirt clods throw from the site of the original Phinney green house. The fortunate rose is identified as a Lucky Pierce.
A wider look at the Rose Garden, also on July 7, 1962.
Looking north in line with Fremont Ave. to the granite gate into Woodland Park and the "gardener's home" on the left.
This elevated look into the park was taken quite early and it would seem from something attached to the front gate. The "pedestrians" included here are found in other early shots, probably taken the same day. Many among them may be related to the Phinneys and/or working for them. This and the photo above it are used compliments or courtesy (or both) of the Seattle Municipal Archive. I found them there in the Park Department's Sherwood Files on city parks. There's an example of one of Sherwood's very many hand-written pages near the bottom of all this.
A close-up of the arch, probably recorded somewhat later and after Guy Phinney's death in 1893, nearer the year 1899 when the city purchased the park from his widow. Here the park rules are printed on the sign to the right.


(First appeared in Pacific, March 11, 1990)

The electric trolley on the right of this scene did not, at least in the beginning, have a regular run. Rather, it was the private car of Guy Phinney, and his name was inscribed on the trolley’s sides. The tracks for Phinney’s Woodlands Railroad ran only from his park to Fremont, where it hooked up with the Seattle Traction Company’s line from Seattle.

Guy Phinney brought his car from the East in 1890, one year after he began developing his acres on Phinney Ridge. Soon Phinney made his family car somewhat public, carrying passengers to a park he first intended to be his country estate, but which soon developed into a popular retreat but not without conditions.

Post at the arched granite entrance, Phinney outlined his rules. The first read: “This is a private park, but free to all persons who obey these rules and conduct themselves in an orderly manner.” Rule Two continued, “Positively NO DOGS allowed in this park. Any dog seen within its limits will be shot.” Phinney’s other prohibitions against guns, animal abuse (except his own on visitors), picking flowers and vulgar language were backed up by his physique.  Guy Carleton Phinney stood 6 feet 3 inches and weighed almost 300 pounds.

Phinney does not seem to be included in the above informally posing group at the entrance to his Woodland Park. The year is probably 1890 or ’91. The Phinneys’ dream of building a permanent home at their park was interrupted when Guy died in 1893 at the age of 42. The park and trolley continued to be used for retreats and recreation.  In 1899 Mrs. Phinney sold her country estate to the city for $100,000.

Looking nearly the length of Lake Union from Capitol Hill towards the dapple of construction in Edgewater and Fremont on the far shore in the early 1890s. Some old growth forest still crowns Phinney Ridge. Across the lake the nearly new Westlake trestle is seen hugging to the steep side of Queen Anne Hill. (Courtesy Dennis Andersen)


The Westlake trestle looking north towards Fremont and Edgewater.


This is probably the earliest panorama of the mill town Fremont taken from the Queen Anne side of the Lake Union outlet. It must date from the early 1890s, and before the 1892 opening of the big brick B.F.Day elementary school, which is not in the picture.
An early 20th-Century Oakes recording looking from Queen Anne Hill across the Lake Union outlet to Fremont and a Phinney Ridge profile. Here's B.F.Day school is in the picture, right of center. Here we also find the tall firs of the park, on the horizon, right of center.
Norwegian Sami (Laps) and their reindeer pose before Woodland Park’s granite gate and flower conservatory during their 1898 week-long stay here. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)


(This feature first appeared in Pacific June 21, 1998.)

One of the curious stories attached to the Yukon and Alaska gold rushes of the late 1890s is the adventure of nearly one hundred Laplanders – or Sami as they are more correctly called – and their reindeer.

By order of President McKinley the U.S. Army’s Reindeer Service launched an expedition for rescuing reportedly hungry American miners on the Yukon River with meat bought on the hoof in Lapland.  After funds were appropriated by Congress in December, 1897, 538 harness-broken reindeer (all gelded bucks), with their Sami herders, were carried across an Atlantic Ocean stirred by winter storms from Norway to New York’s Pennsylvania Station.  There they were boarded on special trains for a trans-continental trip pursued by a press and public still stimulating on the gold rush story.  With their March 7th arrival on a sidetrack to Fremont these sensational attentions continued.

Sami mother and child

After the reindeer were led up Fremont Avenue to the fenced enclosure of the still private Woodland Park, the Sami and their stock were soon surrounded by locals there to enjoy the Laps and their exotic costumes.  This sightseeing climaxed on Sunday, the 13th when 8000 picnickers came to Woodland Park gawk and talk loudly – to make themselves understood – to the visitors.  The next day’s Seattle Times headlined their report “A Day For Reindeer And Dears That Reign.”

Sami herder

Actually, the Samis’ troubles began here, but not from sightseeing.  Assuming that the reindeer could eat the grass of Woodland Park, Major W.R. Abercrombie, the officer sent to temporally command the expedition, ordered that the larger portion of their packed supply of moss be destroyed.  Twelve reindeer soon died from a combination of park grass and the junk food fed them by curious tourists.  By time the expedition reached the gold fields on the Yukon River months later, the majority of the herd had died of starvation for want of their destroyed staple.  By then, however, it was universally known that the first reports of the miner’s hunger were wildly exaggerated and none of them were found starving.

The expedition’s story was recorded at the time by one of its Norwegian herders.  Pacific Northwest readers who wish to follow this journal and story in detail can read Reindeer and Gold, past Western Washington University’s professor Keith A. Murray’s history of this extraordinary expedition.

Remembering that this feature is now 13 years old, left to right, Carl Nilsen, Scott Granlund, Norma Hanson, Earlene Clark, Paul Tornensis, Tina McMaster and Bill Wilcox, posing here near the contemporary entrance to Woodland Park, will participate in the Sami Reunion planed for the last week of June (1998) in Poulsbo. Most are direct descendants of the Sami who visited Seattle one hundred years ago. The reunion will be joined by a delegation of about fifteen Sami from Norway.
In 1898 Fremont, the Seattle neighborhood that describes itself as “The Center of the Universe”, welcomed about 100 Laplanders (Sami) and their reindeer. Here perhaps the tail end of the herd poses at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and 34th Street. Fremont Drugs, the building upper-left survives, although it was recently moved one block west on 34th to make way for the new commercial buildings now (in 2003) under construction.


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 23, 2003)

This odd scene of eight or nine reindeer posing near the middle of Fremont’s main intersection of 34th Street and Fremont Avenue was recorded probably on either March 7th or March 15th 1898 – most likely the latter.

On Monday the 7th a few more than 500 reindeer were unloaded at Fremont after a transcontinental railroad journey.   The trip created a nation-wide commotion as locals in most of the towns along the line knew the special trains were coming and lined the tracks to get a glimpse of the herd and the about 100 Norwegian Samis (Laplanders) who cared for it.   It was first reported that they were on a journey of mercy – to carry food to the starving gold miners on the Yukon River.  But by the time the trains left New York it was reported that while the miners were not starving the U.S. Army Reindeer Service would still deliver.

From Fremont the reindeer were marched up Fremont Avenue to Woodland Park and fenced in.   There they also served as a week-long sensation while the Reindeer Service arranged steerage for Alaska.  The human herd that rushed to the park to get a glimpse of the visitors was many times greater than the exotic visitors.  The curious hordes so taxed the electric trolleys that lights dimmed downtown.

On Sunday the 13th it was estimated that 8000 visited the park.   A Seattle Sami – living in Ballard – was hired as interpreter.  One reporter claimed that “stylish ladies kissed the Lapp men” and there was considerable reciprocal drinking as well.  The casualties were 12 reindeer who died from a combination of park grass and snacks fed them by the crowds.   The dimwitted officer in charge had destroyed the moss – their normal diet – shipped with them believing that reindeer could eat hay and park grass instead.

The herd and herdsmen left Woodland Park and their celebrity on Tuesday March 15.  They paraded back down Fremont Avenue to Fremont and there boarded cattle cars for a short trip to the waterfront where the three-masted bark “Seminole” awaited to carry them to Alaska.  The trip that began in Norway on February 2, 1998 reached Dawson nearly one year later on Jan 27, 1899.   Most of the heard was lost to starvation and exhaustion on the overland trek between Haines, Alaska and Dawson.  The miners asked to buy the survivors to slaughter for fresh meat.  They were refused.

A conclusion to the sad Sami story that shows the same Fremont Intersection during the 1916 snow. This surely would have been more inviting to the reindeer.


(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 19, 1992)

Beginning in the spring of 1890 it was possible to make a comfortable and relatively speedy trip from downtown Seattle to the north end of Green Lake. Until the completion of the electric trolley to Fremont along the future landfill of Westlake, the Green Lake trip required a ride on a small steamer across Lake Union.

Construction of the Green Lake Electric Railway was made easier with the purchase of the old logging railroad that skirted the east shore of the lake.  The logged-away landscape around the lake was not so picturesque except for one portion, the southwest corner of the lake where developer Guy Phinney’s (hence the ridge) private park was saved from the woodman’s axe. Appropriately, they called it Woodland Park.

Soon after the Phinneys sold their park to the city in 1900, the Green Lake Electric railway was extended along the west side of the lake and through the park. In 1903 Green Lake developer and once Seattle Mayor W.D. Wood wrote, “A first-class electric railroad now belts the lake, so that the beauties and privilege of this lake and of its shores and Woodland park are available to all. Any intrusion of the car line is offset scores of times by the increase of public service and enjoyment afforded by its presence.”

The Olmsted Brothers, the park’s designers, did not agree. They wanted the noisy railway removed from the park, or at least hidden behind paralleling earth embankments. The famous landscaping firm, however, lost this battle to the railway’s owners, the Seattle Electric Company. The trolley entered the park at North 59th Street and Whitman Avenue North and exited at North 55th Street and Woodland Park Avenue. It proceeded directly south through the park atop a system of appropriately rustic wooden viaducts that spanned the undulating topography of the park’s eastern slope.

(It would seem that the above subject was photographed from the rustic stone and timber bridge shown several times below.  It looks north to the trestle that crossed a shallow ravine up which a paved park road now climbs until it is stopped by the Aurora interruption.  This may be used for another now-then.  The prospect may surely be reached by the tall Jean with his 10-foot extension pole.)



Earlier this afternoon I searched for a feature I imagined, it seems, that I had written about a rustic bridge that once crossed above the Green Lake trolley as it passed through Woodland Park near its northern border.  The dirt approaches to the bridge were supported by river rock walls and the span itself  was made of rough-hewn lumber.   I could not find it, and now doubt that I ever wrote it.  I should have, for, as we show below, there are many surviving photographs of this landmark, which still exists as a pars pro toto, which Latin phrase is one of the very few fragments that I remember from my high school Latin class.  Another is “Puella est parva.”  In the early 1950s it was still a regular curriculum practice to require young American teen barbarians to study Latin.  Pars pro toto – if I have spelled it correctly – means the “part for the whole.”  All of us are for ourselves the most important pars pro toto in the universe.  Mothers who adore their children may be the exceptions.

Looking north then.
Looking north now. (April 16, 2011) The rock fragment is just south of N. 59th Street and east of Aurora where it passes through the park. You cannot miss the noise of the speedway from the cook-out picnic tables in this part of the park.
Looking south then.
Looking south now
Stone bridge looking north from trestle.

If this is another scene from the 1916 snow, then the bridge came to an early ill end.


(First appeared in Pacific, Oct 31, 1993)

This “then” looking north across a field of stumps and through the center of Woodland Park was recorded May 17, 1932 by a photographer from the Seattle Engineering Department. Three days shy of one year later, the first traffic rolled on what its enthusiasts called the “Great Aurora Highway.”

When an ordinance permitting the park’s bifurcation was passed by the Seattle City Council over the objections of the city’s park board, a front-page battle to save the park ensued. The leading advocate of this preservation and opponent of “park vandalism” was The Seattle Times. “It is proposed,” The Times’ editors wrote, “to build an 8,800-foot speedway 106 feet wide over a hill 293 feet high, and through 2,400 feet of the central portion of Woodland Park to save 25 seconds of time required to drive the 9,850 feet by way of Stone Way.” The Times figured the difference was about the length of three city blocks, and said 107 homes would be sacrificed to the thruway.

Much earlier, when the park’s hired landscapers, the Olmsted brothers, were designing the city’s boulevards and parks, they included West Green Lake Way, connected with Stone Way, as the principal route for north-south traffic and thereby circumvented Woodland Park. The landscapers proposed that the undeveloped center of Woodland Park be saved for, among other things, the expansion of the park’s zoological garden. In the meantime the Olmsteds recommended that the old-growth forest in the park’s undeveloped interior be preserved. However,  here are the stumps.

The campaign to save the park failed.  The highway was approved by public vote. Answering an imaginary commuter’s question, “What will I get out of the Aurora thruway?” The Times answered, “A reminder at least twice a day that you sacrificed Woodland Park.”

Another municipal photograph and an early one of the new speedway through Woodland Park. Both view used courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archive.


Looking north into the park from near its entrance at 50th Street and Fremont Avenue.
North through the intersection of 50th and Fremont.
Looking north through the same intersection while turning a few degrees to the west. Connected to the Standard Service on the left is John E. Nelson's Hob-Nob Sandwich Shop. It is listed at 4909 Fremont Ave. N. in the continuous street listings of the 1938 Polk City Directory.
A mere fragment from Don Sherwood's history of Woodland Park. While working as an engineer for the Park Department, Sherwood prepared elaborate histories for all the city parks while also collecting and protecting the ephemera - letters, photographs, maps - and sharing them. Here is page 12 from his Woodland Park history. These can be read on-line through the Seattle Park Departments website. It is easy to find, and look there for Sherwood History Files.
Finally and representing all the remaining attractions of Woodland Park and Green Lake here is the fallen fir that was often used as a platform for posing. It was eventually removed after either rot or lawyers got to it.



2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Gather Ye Rose Buds While Ye May”

  1. Hello Paul,
    Thanks for the great Now&Then series. The image in the April 17 article shows the Phinney family greenhouse. The NOW photo says the greenhouse was sacrificed for the Rose Garden. What confuses me is that I don’t see the Rose Garden in the current photo.


  2. Jean is standing west from the prospect taken by the historic photographer. Also he has the “sky falling” on the scene and limbs are in the way for what is seen above the above. The Rose Garden extends, as you know, a good way east of the Fremont Ave. extension into the park. And there are hedges too along the borders, big trees to see through (for Jean’s camera at the top of his long pole) and much of the Rose Garden is north of the drive over which Jean has taken his “now” with the banners. In sum it is there but blocked from view for all of the above reasons. Best bet Roger is to visit the site with a street view in Google Earth, and you will see in detail all of the above.

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