Seattle Now & Then: Madison Trolley Accident

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: This image is used courtesy of Ron Edge. Ron is also the curator of the helpful 1912 Baist map at dorpatsherrardlomont that was featured in a recent Pacific. He purchased the original negative for this scene, not from the Webster and Stevens Studio that made it, nor the Seattle Times that ordered it, but rather from an on-line auction. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
NOW: For this “now” Jean Sherrard has stepped into the scene for a nearly full discloser – excepting his feet – of the tall “repeater” that has been gathering the “now” shots for this feature for some time. This time the co-photographer was the Parisian Berangere Lomont who also joins us both on our blog and in the exhibit on Repeat Photography now up at MOHAI.

Motorman D.E. Stiles, Conductor P.J. Donnelly, and about 20 passengers were outbound on a Madison Street trolley on the Friday afternoon of Jan 9, 1920, when it jumped its slippery tracks while “dropping” about 40 feet through the steep block between 18th and 19th Avenues.   Feeling the car leap forward, Stiles told the police that he applied the breaks but to no effect.  Standing at the back platform conductor Donnelly would up with a sprained back.  He speculated that he had been thrown against the metal railing there, but added that “I simply can’t remember anything about it.”

After the streetcar sailed across Madison it jumped the curb and smashed into the front door of Youngs Grocery at the street’s northeast corner with 19th Avenue. Residents of the several apartments above the grocery were described in the next day’s Seattle Times as “severely shaken by the impact.”  (It is not a “reach” to imagine that some of them have here joined the small crowd in the street to inspect the damage.) As a precaution, passenger Minnie Aldrich, collapsed in shock from the excitement, was taken to the hospital but like Conductor Donnelly she was soon released and taken home, although not by trolley.  After being counter-punched in a few places by Young’s Grocery, the abused streetcar was again put to its tracks and drove home to the car barn under its own power.

In spite of its potential for mayhem, the municipal trolley wreck of Jan. 9, 1920 was a mere incident, unlike the tragic derailment on the Green Lake line five days earlier when seventy passengers were injured and one killed.   Naturally, the wreck on Madison was felt citywide as a foreboding aftershock to the Green Lake accident.   It was also more evidence that the streetcar system that the city had recently purchased from its private builder at an imprudent price was even more dilapidated than thought.


Anything to add, Paul?  Yeseree Jean.  As you know the above subject came to us from the blog’s own Ron Edge.  First we’ll put up some more photographs and related clippings that come from Ron and have to do with this incident on Madison Street and another that was considerably more tragic on the Green Lake Line.   After that we will return to Madison Street and, for the most part, share more trolley related features from the past.  A few will stray afield to other routes.

In the interest of full disclosure here is the entire Webster and Stevens Studio photograph.
Wreckage at the front dorr to Youngs grocery. (Courtesy Ron Edge - again)

The Seattle Times report on the Madison Street crash.  (Click to enlarge, for it is very readable.)

That day Webster and Stevens also covered – or illustrated – a reported safe busting, which like the trolley wreck appears in the afternoon paper.



At 2:15 P.M., Sunday, May 13, 1900, a photographer named Franks photographed this derailed cable car on Madison Street at 12th Avenue. Sundays were the cable line’s busiest days, carrying working men and women and their families to Madison Park on weekend retreats. In midsummer cars would come along about every two minutes. The crowd here is a collection of stalled passengers and curious neighbors.

Given the number of westbound cable cars stacked up behind the derailment, it is likely that many other passengers got tired of waiting and decided to simply hoof it home. Since the trip to the end of the line at Elliott Bay was only a little over a mile, many of these passengers were almost home.    Ww

The first cable car to run the nearly 20,000 feet between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington did it in December 1890. Two cables, like two arms, extended east and west from the powerhouse midway on the line at 22nd and Madison. To make the switch from cable to cable, the cars simply coasted the few feet between them. Their average speed was about 11 miles an hour, so the three-mile-plus trip from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington took less than 20 minutes. Given the pebbles, debris or, here the seasonal mud dirtying the rails, cars jumping their tracks were exceptions but not extraordinary.


The competition for early transit franchises in Seattle was fought between two technologies: cable and electric. Although underground cables did not clutter the cityscape with overhead wires, the cables were harder to bend, so the best cable lines ran in a straight line or nearly so, like the Madison Street Cable Railway.

Nearly 40,000 feet of cable pulled the line’s stock 3&1/2 miles between its western roundtable on the waterfront and its eastern terminus at Madison Park. Aside from the 14-percent turn at the powerhouse this arrangement amounted to two straight and unconnected lines: the town section and the lake section. The former moved at 10 mph, while the latter went through the woods to Lake Washington at 12 mph. When a cable car reached the powerhouse at 22nd Avenue, the grip was released and the car coasted the few feet through the gap to the second line, where the gripman again took hold and the car jerked slightly forward.

The powerhouse was the cable company’s best chance for building a showpiece headquarters. Here Victorian ornaments are playfully ordered across a mounting false front. This symmetrical facade includes fan windows that admit some light onto the dominant artifice hidden within – the giant wheels that turned the cables under the strain of two 250-horsepower steam engines.

In 1911 a new powerhouse outfitted with electric motors was built one block west of Broadway. While the original powerhouse is long gone, the second survives, converted for the classrooms and studios of Seattle University’s Department of Art. The lake section of the line was eventually abandoned in favor of electricity. But both cable and electric railways were ultimately trampled together under rubber. In the spring of 1940 the cable below Madison Street quit pulling its cars up First Hill from the waterfront. Buses followed.


While revealing in its several parts this early 1890s look east up Madison Street from the trolley line’s terminal turntable is also a puzzle.  A friend found this image in the Kingston Museum at Kingston on the Thames, England.  It is attributed to Kingston’s most famous son, Eadweard Muybridge.   The photographer-inventor returned to his hometown in 1895 after more than forty years of mostly taking photographs in the American West and performing some of the earliest experiments in motions pictures.

The puzzle is this.  As far as I have been able to determine none of Muybridge’s biographers have ever put him in Seattle.  The famous photographer was on Puget Sound in 1871 taking photographs for the U.S. Lighthouse service but that is at least 20 years before this lanternslide was recorded.

The best chance for having Muybridge here in time to take this photograph would be in the spring of 1893 when he left the West Coast for the last time.  He was heading to Chicago to show his rudimentary “animal locomotion” pictures in his own “Zoopraxographical Hall” at the 1893 World Columbia Expedition in.  But the Expo opened in May and this presents another problem for this scene includes a street broadside advertising an event for July 18.  Perhaps the Englishman was late in getting to Chicago.

Another curiosity of this image is this; it is the only identified Seattle scene of any sort included with the Muybridge bequest of his life’s work to his hometown museum.  The caption  “Washington, Seattle, Madison Street Terraces” does have a Muybridge fit.  San Francisco was the photographer’s west coast home base, so the Madison street cable line would have interested him, especially this part of it climbing to First Hill.  Locals claimed that this was the second steepest incline in the trolley industry.  Of course, the steepest trolley ride of all was in San Francisco.

The Madison Street Cable Railway began sending cars to Madison Park on the west shore of Lake Washington in 1890 from its turntable directly west of Western Avenue.  Although the Madison railway was always a paying line it was closed down in 1940.  Both views look east on Madison Street and across Western Avenue.   (Muybridge photo courtesy Kingston Museum, Kingston on the Thames. The Haynes photo, directly below, courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library.)

F. Jay Haynes, the Northern Pacific Railroad's official photography, climbed the coal bunkers at the foot of Madison in 1890 and took this look east up Madison to the First Hill horizon.


Judge John J. McGilvra, the pioneer who laid out the line of Madison Street, wanted to get to his homestead on Lake Washington the quickest way possible. So after climbing First Hill and crossing Broadway, Madison Street continues on its own way cutting through the city grid.

As it turned out, McGilvra’s short-cut also negotiated the city’s ups and downs in an oblique and easier manner. Beginning in 1890, these gradual grades helped considerably in the construction of a cable railway the entire length of Madison from salt water to fresh. In the early 1890s passengers enroute to the excitements of McGilvra’s many lakefront attractions, after first passing through still largely forested acres, dropped into the scene recorded here: grounds cleared for the playful enterprises of leisure.

The Madison Park Pavilion, left of center, and the ball park, far left, were the cable company’s two largest enclosed venues. But the beach itself was an equal attraction with floating bandstands and stages for musicals, farces and melodramas in which the villains might end up in the lake. McGilvra’s fiefdom – he would only lease lots, not sell them – and the railway’s end-of-the-line attractions also featured dance floors, bath houses, canoe rentals, restaurants, promenades, a greenhouse filled with exotic plants and a dock from which the “Mosquito Fleet” steamed to all habitable points on Lake Washington.


The city’s announcement in the summer of 1938 that Seattle’s three cable railways (on Yesler, James and Madison Streets) would be abandoned inspired considerable citizen resistance.  Led by attorney Ben A. Maslan the protestors organized the Seattle Downtown Association.  They managed, however, only to postpone the end.  The city’s entire cable service was retired in 1940 and so was the fleet.  After 51 years of clutching the cables beneath Madison Street car number 42 was scrapped.

The above view of the climbing cable car looks west on Madison from mid-block between 4th and 5th Avenues.  The old Carnegie Library (1906-1957) is on the right.  It seems a rail fan named Whinihan (the name is printed on the back of the original print) took the photograph as a tribute to the doomed cable car and line.  The second historical view looks west from Fifth Ave.   (Both come by way of Lawton Gowey.)

Arthur Denny, the city’s founder-surveyor, named Madison Street in 1853 for James Madison, but he did it for poetics (and fraternity) more than politics.  In deciding to name his streets as a sequence of alliterative pairs (Jefferson & James, Cherry & Columbia and so on) Denny needed another M-moniker to partner with the street he named for his brother Marion.  The fourth president was an obvious choice.

Lincoln-appointed federal attorney John McGilvra improved the three plus miles of Madison Street between the central waterfront and Lake Washington in order to reach his home beside the lake.  Madison Street (more than Yesler) then became the principle first leg to the hinterlands both across the lake and to the northern destinations like Bothell and even Laurelhurst.  The lake’s first steamers picked up and delivered their passengers at McGilvra’s dock.

Although faded the allure of Seattle’s old cable lines has not vanished and serious proposals to reintroduce them are periodically put forward. If the cable cars were to return to Madison they would serve a street in which nothing of the old street has survived west of Sixth Avenue since this they last ran there in 1940.


Many years ago a friend of a friend asked if I had a photograph of the Madison Street trestle that once crossed the Madison valley roughly between Empire Way and the Lake Washington Blvd. I neither had the photo nor any inkling of the trestle. Silently – and foolishly – I concluded that his youthful memory of the big bridge was a childish exaggeration. Yet here it is, long and wide, and if we could walk into this scene and look over the railings (that ripple from settling) we would see that it was quite high as well.

The photograph is not dated. The Madison Park Apartments, on the right, were built in 1914, and this scene may have been recorded when they were nearly new. This is one of four photographs that trolley expert Lawton Gowey shared with me not long after I was asked about and mystified by the trestle. All four photos look east in line with the bridge and roughly from the same location, a few yards east of 29th Avenue. In one of the three not printed here the railing is gone, the power poles on the left no longer peek up from below but have been reset much higher in fresh fill along the north side of the bridge.

In his history of Washington Park, Don Sherwood, the now deceased Park Department historian, writes that in 1905 the trestle replaced the rough corduroy road that once crossed the valley and the stream that ran through it. Sherwood also estimated that the “the trestle was replaced with a fill about 1915.” The encyclopedic Ernie Dornfeld, Information Manager for the city, suggests a sensible alternative: the fill was a long project.

When driving on Madison east of 29th we are probably still crossing the trestle – or over most of it. Once the long effort of filling between and to the sides of the bridge timbers reached the roadway the deck could be removed and the fill packed and paved. Since the cable cars on Madison could not be stopped for long this final alteration – and it only – must have been done quickly.

The Madison Park Apartments on the right were built originally at the western end of the Madison Street trestle that crossed the Madison Valley east of 29th Avenue. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey)


One of the helpful traits of many an official photograph is that it may, like this one, have a caption inscribed directly on the negative.  Although not printed here, the description for this scene begins with its number, 394, and continues, “Brick Culls 30 Ave. (N. of Madison St.)  2-28-12.”

My first reading of this caption was immediately accompanied by one of those “eureka” experiences that are the liquor of research — I swooned.  There on the horizon was my first unobstructed full sighting of the Madison Street trestle.  It was built originally to take the cable car across Madison Valley and the stream that once meandered north through it to Union Bay.  However, the ‘brick culls” in the scene (and in its caption) remained such a puzzle that I kept the picture back waiting for another revelation.  Obviously, I have stopped waiting but these bricks remain a puzzle.  I hope some reader will come forward with instructions – or even speculations.

One munificent source on Washington Park history is Don Sherwood.  Don and my research paths often crossed decades ago when he was the Parks Department employee let loose to follow his bliss by preparing handwritten histories of every park in Seattle.  Typed transcriptions of these histories (with facsimile reproductions of Sherwood’s accurately sketched maps) can now be visited on the net at

You are encouraged to visit the site and read Sherwood’s detailed history of Washington Park.  You will learn about the filling and grading of the ravine to this side of Madison Street for the creation of the athletic field evident in the “now” photograph.   You will also learn much else including the location of the 350,000 cobblestones taken from Madison Street and buried in the park.  However, you will discover nothing about bricks.

Soccer balls guided by members of the Bush Blazers – the Bush School’s girls soccer team – are on (or very near) the site where this “mysterious” brick yard held part of the Washington Park grounds in 1912. Another obvious change is in the background where the old Madison Street trestle has long since been filled-in. This "now" was recorded in the fall of 2003. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey and the Municipal Archives.)
The Madison Park Pavilion
For those that bring with them the talent for looking cross-eyed at stereos without special optics this is provided. Courtesy Mike Maslan)


Like Leschi Park Madison Park was developed as an attraction at the end of a cable railway line.  Both featured exotic landscapes, waterside promenades, gazebos, greenhouses, refreshment stands, garden-lined paths, bandstands, and boat rentals, even lodging.  Leschi’s early novelty was its zoo.  Madison Park’s was the baseball diamond.  (The roof of the bleachers can be seen on the far left of the historical scene.)

Both parks featured monumental-sized pavilions with towers on top and great ballrooms within. The theatre-sized room in this landmark could also seat 1400 for melodramas, minstrel shows, musicals, farce, vaudeville and legitimate theatre.   For many years members of the ever-dwindling mass of the Pioneer Association chose the Madison Park Pavilion for their annual meetings and posed for group portraits on the front steps.

Here the grand eastern face of the pavilion looks out at Lake Washington.  The pleasurable variety of its lines with gables, towers, porticos and the symmetrically placed and exposed stairways to its high central tower surely got the attention of those approaching it from the Lake.  (For many years beginning about 1880 Madison Park was the busiest port on Lake Washington.)

However, most visitors came from the city and the real crush was on the weekends for ballgames, dances, band concerts (most often with Dad Wagner’s Band), theatre, and moonlit serenading on the lake — ideally with a mandolin and receptive ingénue looking for pointers on how to navigate a rented canoe.

The Pavilion stood for a quarter century until destroyed by fire on March 25, 1914.

The attentive eye will note how the Seattle Park Departments playground equipment at Madison Park repeats the lines of the grand central tower of the Madison Park Pavilion. (Historical photo courtesy Larry Hoffman)
An early 1937 portrait of the Twin T-P’s restaurant when the Aurora Speedway was new. Although fixable after it suffered smoke damage from a fire in 2000 the roadside attraction was without warning bulldozed early in the morning of July 31, 2001. What remained was the parking lot show here. It was nestled in a landscape of healthy weeds and a surrounding steel fence, until cleared for the construction that now fills the odd-shaped block. (Courtesy MOHAI)

TWIN T-P’s 70th

[The feature that follows were first published in 2007 and made note then of its 70th birthday.  We did not know then that it was also the last cake that this survivor would eat.   While the story strays from the general subject of trolleys it does depend on transportation and like the Madison Park Pavilion, just above, has towers.  But then the Twin T-P’s were nearly all towers – two of them. ]

In the spring of 1937 the shining steel towers of the Twin T-Ps were lifted above Aurora Avenue.  They were strategically set across this speedway section of Highway 99 from the east shore of Green Lake. The Teepee, of course, is a form etched in the imagination of every American child and so this fanciful architectural corn (or maize) could be expected to lure a few matured kids called motorists off the highway.

Once inside the shiny example of Native American housing – the pointed and portable type used by the plains Indians – visitors were suddenly transported to the Northwest coast, for the decorations were done not on plains motifs but rather on designs like those we associate with totem poles, long houses, masks and spirit boxes.

Let’s imagine that almost everyone has eaten some of the regular American food at the T-Ps.  I did once and ran into my old friends Walt Crowley and Marie McGaffrey who live nearby.  If memory serves, they were enjoying prime rib.  Walt would later write twice about the Twin T-P’s for, the web site of state history he directs.  The first essay (#2890) is a good summary of the exceptional story of this symmetrical piece of nutritious kitsch.  Walt’s second essay (#3719) is a lament following the July 31, 2001 early morning bulldozing of the landmark.   (So, if you use the computer do it now – please.)

Opened in the summer of 1939 when the Ballard locks were still a peace time lure for both locals and tourists, the Haida Curio Shop was eventually closed by the doldrums and restrictions of the Second World War. Following the war, the Ballard rarity was opened again by new owners and not for dealing curious but chips and fish. The original structure survives although somewhat shrouded in the bric-a-brac of utility poles, glossy paint and the Totem House’s oversized plastic sign. Now the shop is again in the news, since it’s fish-&-chips provider retired. The landmark was, of course, threatened, but the most recent news – if I am reading it right - is that it will be saved by a new provider with an old meat: hamburger. (The “then” photo is used courtesy of Sara Houston)


Across NW 54th Street from the long parking lot at Ballard’s Chittenden Locks sits one of Seattle’s roadside attractions, the Totem House.  Built in 1939 to sell souvenirs the sturdy cedar structure was called by its owner-builders the Haida House Curio Shop.  Like Ivar’s Salmon House thirty years later, although much smaller, its shape and parts – the vertical poles, planks, and artifacts – were arranged in admiring imitation of North Coast Indian architecture.  Here the flap in the roof opening is up and open, a sensitive tribute to the aboriginal model. (Venting a central fire pit was necessary for a Haida longhouse, but probably not so for the Haida Curio Shop.)

The building permit for 3058 NW 54th Street reveals that the plans were submitted on March 31, 1939 and the final inspection followed only four months later, on the last day of July.  This speedy construction allowed the owners to lure lock’s visitors still in the quick of the ’39 tourist season.

While the building permit describes the building’s owner James L. Houston as also its designer, the artist-entrepreneur’s children are quite certain that Houston’s father-in-law, the jeweler Del Thomas, was behind this enterprise.  And it was also Thomas who took this photograph of the landmark shop soon after it was completed and before the necessary signs were added.

For its quick construction and the carving of its centerpiece, the totem pole at the front door, Huston family history for their curio shop has it that James Houston worked side-by-side with a native carver-builder named Jimmie John.  An art student at both Cornish and the U of W, the blue-eyed Irishman Houston, born in 1908, was a talented watercolorist and jeweler who had a long life in the production of carvings done with the materials and refined styles of North Coast tribes.

In 1909 the Eastlake Trolley up University Way reached the end of its line along the southern rim of Ravenna Park. Here as it turns towards 15th Avenue. N.E. it passes the rustic gate to the nearly new Cowen Park at Ravenna Boulevard. The line of the original 15th Avenue pedestrian bridge across the ravine can be followed – barely - between the trolley car and the tall fir tree at the center of the scene. (Historical photo courtesy of Clarence Brannman)


Most likely this photograph from the Asahel Curtis studio was recorded late in 1909.   The number on the original negative falls near the end of the roughly 4556 studio numbers allotted that year.  For Curtis it was a record year for picture taking, probably because the summer-long Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition was held in 1909 on a picturesque University of Washington campus made photogenic for it.

Every part of the greater University District was retouched for AYP including Cowen Park although obviously the hard surface paving on University Way did not make it as far north as the entrance to the park here at Ravenna Boulevard.   That Cowen Park was named for Charles Cowen, the wealthy English immigrant who gave it to the city in 1906, was part of the deal. Cowen also paid for both the rustic entrance shown here and when it wore out for the two stone columns and wing-wall seats that replaced it in the early 1920s.

The stone gate survives, and on it is written “Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone.”  Looking here beyond the woman standing with the child and through the original rustic gate it is clear that neither shall man leave the land alone. On the north side of the gate the park land drops away into a ravine.   Since the early 1960s it has been a more-or-less level playfield made from one hundred thousand yards of “free fill” scooped away during the creation nearby of the 1-5 Freeway.  At the time, to quote from Don Sherwood’s hand-written history of Seattle parks, “Many residents and the Mountaineers Club were appalled.”

In 1909 the creek from Green Lake still splashed down the enchanting canyon through Cowen and Ravenna parks.  Had the Seattle Park Department followed the Olmsted Plan for Green Lake the creek would have been saved, for the lake would have been lowered only four feet.   Instead it was dropped seven feet and the primary source of the creek was turned off.   Green Lake Park’s gain was thereby Cowen and Ravenna Parks’ loss.  Also taken from the community was a meandering Ravenna Boulevard for before reaching the ravine the primeval creek wandered through what is now the wide and straightened path of the boulevard.

Jumping forward to the freeway fill in 1971, that August the Second Annual Frisbee for Peace Intergalactic Memorial Thermogleep U.F.O. Frisbee Festival was held on the settled playfield.  However, a proposal from the University District Center – the event sponsors — to make it an official Seafair event was rejected.

Two new Seattle Municipal Railway buses are posed for photographer Asahel Curtis along the west curb of Broadway Avenue between Pike (behind the photographer) and Pine Streets in 1919. (Historical view courtesy Lawton Gowey)


The official A.Curtis number (38871) for this image indicates that it was probably photographed late in 1919, or two years before Cornish moved from the Booth Building here at the southeast corner of Broadway Avenue and Pine Street north a few blocks on Capitol Hill to another Spanish-styled structure, the school’s then new home at Roy Street and Harvard Avenue.

When the city took public control of all the streetcars in the spring of 1919 they purchased a dangerously dilapidated system at a price so dear it precluded most improvements.  The few exceptions included these buses that were purchased to reach parts of the city that the old private trolley system did not service. These buses are signed for Magnolia where most of the developing additions were not reached by the street railway line that ran only to the front gate of Fort Lawton.

Thomas White began making sewing machines in Massachusettes in 1859.  He was still around in 1901 when his company made its first steam-powered automobile in Cleveland. Gas powered trucks were added in 1910; buses followed.  Vancouver B.C. also purchased WMC buses to service the Grandview area to the east of that city.  The best-known and longest-lived White buses were the red ones used for narrated tours at Glacier National Park.  They were a park fixture (moving ones) until retired with “metal fatigue” in 1999 after 64 years of continuous service.

Both views look east on 34th. In the ‘then” public workers put the finishing touches to a refurbished “grand union” of trolley tracks at the intersection of N. 34th Street and Fremont Avenue. The 1923 view looks east a few feet from the future neighborhood landmark, the “Waiting for the Interurban.”
In the 2007 “now” Fremont Historical Society members, and Fremont Art and Transportation walking tour leaders, left to right, Heather McAuliffe, Erik Pihl, and Roger Wheeler, wait with the figures in Rich Beyer’s popular sculpture, “Waiting for the Interurban”.


This1923 tableau of municipal workers refurbishing a portion of the “grand union” of trolley tracks at 34th Street and Fremont Avenue allows us to reflect on the histories of both transportation and art in Fremont, the playful neighborhood that signs itself “The Center of the Universe.”

First the transportation.  When a sawmill was built at the outflow of Lake Union in 1888 it was already possible to conveniently get to the new mill town from downtown Seattle aboard the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad, which was laid along the north shore of the lake in 1887.  After a trolley above a Westlake trestle was added in 1890 the bridge at Fremont increasingly became the way to get north to the suburbs and remained so until the Aurora Bridge was opened in 1932.

Next the art.  According to Roger Wheeler, Fremont artist and historian, public art as a Fremont fixation began with the formation in the late 1970s of the Fremont Arts Council.  Appropriately its first installation has a transportation theme with some built-in Fremont fun.  The figures in sculptor Rich Beyer’s popular Waiting for the Interurban, will have to wait into eternity for they are pointed the wrong way – north.  The interurban to Everett never turned east on 34th Street and so would have missed them.

Looking west on 34th through its intersection with Fremont Ave.
Both views look east on North 34th Street through its intersection with Fremont Avenue at the north end of the Fremont Bridge. Both scenes are exceptional. In one the intersection is being replenished with a new brick paving between the trolley tracks and in the other N 34th Street is temporarily give over to the 2006 Fremont Fair.


Barely hidden below the intersection of 34th St. and Fremont Avenue  – at the north end of the Fremont Bridge – rests an iron cross of intersecting rails appropriately called the Grand Union.  We see here the most western part of this steel matrix on June 29, 1923 at 6:30 in the morning.  This is number ten in a series of thirty photographs that record the steps of replacing the plank paving framing the rails with bricks.

The artful work of laying the original Grand Union was guided by plans drawn in 1916 by Seattle Electric Company.  It was timed of necessity with the building of Fremont’s bascule bridge that opened in 1917. Although this Fremont route was the major trolley feed to the north end the elaborate rail crossing at 34th would not have been needed except that it was also the way for trolleys to reach the Fremont Car Barn a few blocks west.  (In 1905 when the barn was completed, 34th St. was still called Ewing Street.)

The last photograph – number thirty – of this repaving dates from the third of March the following year.  Titled “Completed Layout” it looks west on 34th St. from the east side of the intersection and reveals a very spiffy Grand Union indeed.  It was then as much a piece of public art as a public work.   And as noted above this landmark survives below the veneer of blacktop that was first applied during the Second World War after locals complained about the slipper bricks on Fremont Avenue.   One day, perhaps, the Grand Union will be revealed again, but beneath a transparent street surface – one that is not slippery – that we can now but imagine.


This is the hub of the Madrona Neighborhood, the intersection of Division and Carroll looking south on Carroll — if I have counted the blocks correctly in the1893 street name index by my desk.  If I have not bumbled then Division is now Union Street and Carroll is 34th Avenue.  With city ordinances in 1895 and 1901 many of the historical street names were discarded for the efficiency of numbers and so also their benumbing.  The name Carroll Street at least promises a good story.  Thirty-fourth merely follows 33rd and comes before 35th.  What can you do with that except find it?

The original names were probably given by George and Emma Randell who developed this Madrona Ridge in 1890 and built their home one block west at Drexel Avenue, or 35th now – I think.  They did well, especially after the Union Trunk Line trolley to Madrona Park reached this intersection by 1893.  The park first and then the neighborhood soon after got its name from the trees (arbutus) that were also residents.  Thereon the Randall barn became Randall School and stayed so until 1904 when one of the typical frame box schools designed by school architect James Stephen opened at 33rd Avenue (AKA Alvan) and Union and was also named Madrona.

If the tax records can be believed the frame structure that survives on the right of both views was constructed in 1907 and so is about to fulfill its own century.  The historical photo dates from ca. 1940 when the trolleys, like this car No. 376 on the No.11 Cherry Street Line, were traded for busses and, here also, trackless trolleys.  The 1938 Polk Directory (also by my desk) lists the same businesses that show in the photograph – the pharmacy on the corner, followed by a barber, a shoe renewer, a luncheonette and a fish market – all of them named Madrona, except the café.  Vernon and Anna Herrett who run the luncheonette, live upstairs, and Walter Cort, the cobbler, lives behind his store on 33rd..

Perhaps some reader will write and share the Carroll or Drexel or Alvan Stories.  One likely storyteller would be Junius Rochester who wrote “The Last Electric Trolley,” in part a history of Madrona.  But that lucky historian is often away conducting tours on Columbia River cruise ships and may not be reached.

A “special Seeing Seattle Car” poses in Pioneer Square sometimes after its introduction in 1903 but before the completion of the Pioneer Square Pergola in 1909.
In this “now” the Pergola shines during a sun shower in the fall of 2006. Both views look north across Yesler Way, through Pioneer Square and up First Avenue.


After the turn-of-the-century consolidation of Seattle’s previously diverse trolley lines the new and more efficient monopoly, the Seattle Electric Company, purchased four “special” cars from the John Stephenson Company of New Jersey.   At 46-feet-long, bumper-to-bumper, they were then the biggest of Seattle’s electric cars, and the trolley company’s special plans for them were clearly signed on their sides.  The four double-ender trolleys — numbered 362 to 365 — carried both visitors and locals on rail explorations of our then rapidly expanding metropolis.

Since motorcars were still a rarity in 1903, aside from walking, there were few ready ways to sample Seattle that were not by rail.  From Pioneer Square the trolley lines reached to Lake Washington, Ballard, Green Lake, the University District, Rainier Valley, all destinations with attractions.   So for the purchase of a single ticket a customer could explore almost every corner of the city, including, beginning in 1907, West Seattle.  Since there was no competing cacophony of motorcars, to be heard by their passengers the conductor-tour-leaders had only to bark above the creaking of the long cars themselves as they rumbled along the rails.

By 1907 these “Special Seeing Seattle Cars” were not the only tour in town.  There were then enough paved streets and even boulevards in Seattle to allow open busses to go anywhere hard tires and spring seats could comfortably carry their customers.  These sightseers were also regularly photographed as a group and many among them would purchase a print of their adventure either for a memento or message.  The group portraits were ordinarily printed on postcard stock and of the many sold some carry handwritten flip-side expressions of the joys of seeing Seattle.


At 5pm on the Monday afternoon of Aug. 20, 1894 a west bound freight of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern entered the curve at Latona on the north shore of Lake Union.  Engineer Osborn looked up and saw several cattle jousting near the track. In an instant a cow was gored and fell directly in front of the train lifting the engine off the track.  Osborn cut the steam, threw the reverse lever and held on before he was thrown from the cab.  (He survived the ejection well enough to frantically run to Fremont to stop the northbound passenger train.)

Within seconds of the derailment the ten cars filled with tons of coal, logs and shingles telescoped, propelling the coal tender beyond the engine.  In the process it sheered the left side of the engine’s cab.  When two shingle weavers from a nearby Latona mill first reached the wreck they saw through the still swirling steam and dust the horrific sight of brakeman Frank Parrot’s decapitated body propped against the boiler with his head lying between his legs.  The mutilated fireman Thomas Black lay nearby.  Black had been anxious to complete the trip and pick up his pay check, for his wife was waiting at home penniless and alone with their two children.  She was also eight months pregnant.

To the side of the engine the shingle weavers laid the bodies of the two victims and covered them with green brush. Within an hour the coroner arrived aboard a special train that also carried railroad officials and a wrecking crew of 30 men.

The trail of grease left by the dragged cow was used later to determined the distance the engine bumped along the ties before it veered to the right and buried its nose in the small trees and bushes that lined the embankment.  The Press-Times reported on Tuesday that the trail ran “about 200 feet.”  The stack of the engine peeks above the upset boxcar, just left of center.

The assorted littered of shingles, coal, and railroad cars are scattered to the side of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Right of way. The photo dates most likely from the day following the “Great Latona Train Wreck” of August 20, 1894.  On the far left a crane has begun the clean up.  Boys from the neighborhood sit on the roof of the tiled boxcar at the center.   The house on the horizon survives at 3808 Eastern Avenue north.  Built in 1890 it is easily one of the oldest north end homes. The railroad right-of-way also survives, sans tracks, as the Burke Gilman Recreation Trail. (Historical photo courtesy of Roy Nielsen)

Lawton Gowey drove ahead of the Casey Jones Special in order to catch the Northern Pacific steam engine No. 1372 as it rounds the corner just east of the old Lake Union Gas Works.


Life – the leisure part of it – is a relatively simple affair for rail fans.   Perhaps the one conflict that can add distress to this zest – and it cannot be avoided – is whether to be on a train or off it.  On December 1, 1956 super rail fan Lawton Gowey was one of the nearly 1300 rail enthusiasts joyfully crammed into the 13 cars behind Northern Pacific steam engine no. 1372 for the first Casey Jones Special to Snoqualmie.  The route followed the old Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad right-of-way.

Heaving through the University of Washington Campus on the old Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern right-of-way, and now the Burke Gilman Trail. By Lawton Gowey

Seven months later Gowey chose not to ride the train but chase it.   Here on June 29, 1957 he has beat Northern Pacific Engine No.1372 to the north side of Lake Union.  Perhaps steadying his camera in the open window of his car Gowey made a snopshot of the Special that with the smoke and steam escaping it we can almost hear.  In a moment more he was stepping on his own throttle heading for the next photo opportunity to  catch the train crossing the concrete trestle that still parallels N.E. Pacific Street about 100 yards east of the 15th Avenue N.E., the western border of the main U.W. campus.   He made it in time.

For twelve years the regions rail fans were engaged with nearly 50 nostalgic rail excursions in every direction from Seattle that railroad’s lesser lines and spurs could carry them.  The promoter was a pianist named Carol Cornish who was 71 when she started them.   Actually, as her assistant Tom Baker notes in his Memories of  the Casey Jones Excursions “She took the name of Carol Cornish as a stage name.  Here actual name was Edna Baker.”

Casey Jone's Special crossing old Highway 99.

While no relation to Tom, Carol Cornish treated him as such.  Titling him her “Train Host” she encouraged the friendly and handsome Baker to walk from car to car smoozing his good will and broad smile with the passengers.  Baker and his kids also sold box lunches, and printed programs.  When the two Bakers worried if their cars would fill up they could count on Seattle Times columnist Byron Fish to write a story about their next heroic efforts to – quoting By Fish here – “take one last steam trip before all the locomotives and their water towers are junked.”


More often than not they need more cars.   As Tom Baker puts it, “Miss Cornish was a battler.  Many a time ticket sales would run into the hundreds.  The railroad would say that they did not have the cars.  It always ended up with the railroad giving in and getting the cars needed, even if they had to borrow some from the Great Northern.”  The last Casey Jones was to North Bend on June 9, 1968.  It was also the day that Carol Cornish died.


The waterfront did get a belt railway of sorts in 1919 but one that was as poorly timed as the Seattle general strike.  During the war, the workers were so hard to deliver to the shipyards that Mayor Hanson ordered an elevated railroad built to carry them south from Pioneer Square to Spokane Street and from there out to Harbor Island.  It started street level at First South and Washington, and from there climbed the one block west to Railroad Avenue where it took a sharp curve south to be on its elevated way without impedance to another right turn on Spokane Street, this time west to Harbor Island and even West Seattle. 

The elevated trolley was also Mayor Hanson’s political response to the almost universal criticism of the Seattle Electric Company’s trolley service.  Hanson not only did the politic thing of ordering that the elevated be built, he also bought out the SEC, but at such an inflated price that in the 21 remaining years that trolleys were run on Seattle streets the debt could not be paid in full.  While Hanson’s new municipal rail system was an albatross, his new elevated was a white elephant.

The Sunday Times of August 17 prepared the citizens to prepare themselves for a ride to Fauntleroy or Alki – there was of course no need to consider shipyards – that would be from five to ten minutes faster than the current service down First Avenue South because the railroad crossings in the industrial district would be avoided.  Without fanfare, service started on the 4th of September, one week after the mayor resigned.  Hanson claimed it was for reasons of health but more likely, as noted, he left to pursue his dreams of winning the Republican Party’s nomination for President.  Certainly Hanson was also fleeing the growing complaints over the “deal” he’d made to purchase the worn out trolley system. Streetcars were regularly breaking down and sometimes – like the Mayor – running away.

Although brand new, the elevated railway to West Seattle had a ride that swayed like a roller coaster.  It was scrapped in 1929 – in time for the Great Depression.  They had only ten years to remember, but the survivors of the dwindling set of West Seattle old timers still describe it as a white-knuckle thrill.  Two of the better-known members of this species – Emmett Watson and Ivar Haglund – now long gone remembered the ride well.  Typically, as West Seattle adolescents both were fascinated with how to get to Seattle and equally thrilled by the trolley ride across the Duwamish waterway.  In his book Digressions of a Native Son Watson recalls,  “The way you got to First Ave. from West Seattle was by thumb or street car, those rattling old orange things.  They clanked and swayed over an incredible old wooden trestle, high above Spokane Street, weaving and shaking until you had to close your eyes to keep from getting a headache.”  Similarly Ivar recollects,  “Some of my earliest memories are of taking the West Seattle ferry to Seattle, a ride that while thrilling was not so thrilling as that aboard the trolley.  It was our rollercoaster.  That thing would throw us from side to side as it stumbled along a trestle that was high, narrow and, most of the way, without guardrails.  It seemed like there was nothing between you and the ground but the roofs of the buildings below you.  It was marvelously scary.”

THE WRECK EPIDEMIC of 1919-1920.

After the private trolley system was made public in 1919 what Leslie Blanchard in his helpful history “The Street Railway Era in Seattle” calls a “wreck epidemic” followed.  Blanchard described the crash of January 5, 1920 as its “climax . . . one of the most appalling accidents in the history of public transportation in Seattle.”

Heading downtown early in the morning with a full load of workers and shoppers car 721 jumped the track where Woodland Park Avenue still curves through its intersection with 39th Street.  The speeding car fell from its tracks into a sturdy telephone pole (left of center) that opened the car roof like a can of cheap pop.  Of the more than seventy passengers injured seven were seriously so and one of these died the following day.

The wreck was “appalling” because it was an accident made inevitable by the circumstances surrounding the sale of the system. The Seattle Electric Company sold the dilapidated line to a Seattle mayor, Ole Hanson, who purchased it at such an inflated price that no funds remained for repairs.  At the time Mayor Hanson was more interested in whatever bold moves might make him an attractive candidate for the American presidency.

The Seattle Times’ same day front-page story on the wreck leads off with an ironic listing of conflicting voices.  Councilman Oliver Erickson described the brakes and rails of the system as in “rotten condition.” Thomas Murphine, superintendent of public utilities, described them as “in perfect shape” but that the driver was “new and inexperienced.”  For his part Motorman M.R. Fullerton claimed that the brakes would not work and that “I used everything I had to try to stop the car before reaching the curve.”  Fortunately for Fullerton it was the bad brakes excuse that – unlike car 721 – ultimately held sway.



One of the most common recollections of Seattle’s “old timers” – those exploring Seattle already before the Second World War – is the elevated trolley ride along the Spokane Street viaduct and its old bascule bridges to West Seattle. That the experience of riding the rumbling and swaying electric cars along the exposed wooden trestle could be more than thrilling is evidences in this view of the worst streetcar wreck in Seattle history.

At about 7:30 on the Friday morning of Jan. 8, 1937, with its air-brakes frozen open, car 671 inbound on the Fauntleroy line lost control as it descended 30th Avenue Southwest and flipped to its side where the track curved sharply onto Spokane ‘Street. Derailments on this old system were not that uncommon and even flips not unprecedented. The upended car 671 did not skid to a grinding stop, however, but collided suddenly with a concrete pillar.

The afternoon Seattle Times listed the dead – Lee Bow, a 50-year-old city fireman, and William Court, a 39-year-old-mechanic – and the 60 West Seattle commuters who were injured with breaks, bruises and lacerations. Of these one died the next day. The derailment might have been even more deadly. The pillar that injured some might have saved others when it· prevented the car from falling to the railroad tracks below, at the lowest level of this three-tier grade separation at the western end of Spokane Street.

This catastrophe became an anxious symbol for the entire municipally owned trolley system that was in physical, fiscal and political tatters. The coincidence of this tragedy with the campaign to tear up city-wide the system’s rails aroused the -hysterical rumor that this wreck and others were planned by those who favored gas engines and rubber tires over electric motors and trolley tracks.

The concrete construction above replaced the wooden trestles below.

June 16,1929
June 26, 1929
"The Horrors of Travel" from an early Harpers Weekly
A well-known accident although I don't know where except that it is certainly somewhere heading West.
In conclusion - and rondo - here again is Jean, this time at Town Hall introducing the program of seasonal readings (the red sweater) that he produced there last December to a packed house. Drive Safely Jean.












8 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Madison Trolley Accident”

  1. (There’s always so much to read in each of your posts – I feel like my brain could explode!) I’ve recently been posting photos and clipping that got passed along to me from my grandmother-in-law. One is a 1956(?) newspaper clipping of the “Second, Mill & Jackson” street cable car. She wrote at the top of the clipping that she fondly remembers riding the Madison one (so I was delighted to see what she would have seen at the top of your post albeit in a state of chaos). Any idea what year the photo used in my 1956 newspaper clipping might have been taken? . The trailered conveyance only looks suitable for summer excursions. I wonder if they had an enclosed one, too?

  2. There’s a newspaper article on the wall of the Panama Hotel from the early 60’s of a runaway truck down Main crashing in to it and bringing down a corner of it – the replaced bricks are pretty obvious. After I left, I wished I’d read more because I keep thinking about it. And this post had me thinking of it again. Do you have more information on that incident? I’ve had no luck on Historylink or KCSnapshots.

    1. Jana,

      That Panama Hotel accident was on the front page of The Seattle Daily Times August 19, 1964.
      Send me an email and I will send it to you in pdf form along with where it can be found on line.


  3. Jana
    The 1956 clipping must have been about old news, for they shut down the trolleys and cable cars by 1941. Some of the earliest cable cars were quite exposed, fine in the summer but not so otherwise so the companies came up with ways to protect the riders soon enough. There is a street car history (for Seattle) done by Blanchard, which you might consult at the main library in the Seattle room. Sorry but I strike out on the Panama’s run-in with a truck on Main.
    P.S. Hold on to that head.

  4. Thank you Paul, Ron and Andreas! I was pretty excited today to find on the Seattle Public Library website even those of us outside city limits but still in King County can apply for a card!

  5. first article.. trolley cars have BRAKES… but it is the Breaks when they have an accident.

  6. I just heard the story about the bricks from the woman who owned the nursery before City peoples. The woman said when she bought the nursery from the man who owned it for years, the man had told her when Seattle was demolishing buildings downtown, they were allowing people to came and haul away the bricks for use. He hauled many, dumping the ‘inferior ones’ into the gully, and saving the god ones to construct his home. The brink story, finally told…

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