(click to enlarge photos)
We’ll begin with the complete and descriptive title of Lorraine McConaghy’s newest book: “New Land, North of the Columbia, Historic Documents That Tell the Story of Washington State from Territory to Today.” In the book’s introduction she calls it our “paper trail from the territory’s very founding with President Franklin Pierce’s appointment of his political cronies to the patronage jobs of the new territory.”
The historian’s own paper trail began first with letters and notes made from phone calls and then with bus and train tickets and rides with friends. McConaghy doesn’t drive, so she spent an adventurous year crisscrossing the state by other means, visiting archives, museums and libraries with her digital scanner and making copies to share from the state’s “magnificent common treasury of file folders . . .” The book’s many pages are elegantly arranged with Washington ephemera like “housing treaties and patent drawings, political cartoons and FBI files, personal correspondence and business records.”
With her abiding métier as the Museum of History and Industry’s resident historian, Dr. McConaghy had been impressively productive as a teacher, curator and author. This time, she explains, “My intent is to turn peoples attention to the archive.” She wants us to not only “be proud of our shared archival heritage” but also to be “grateful to the archivists.” When she made her earliest contacts with the same, she asked, “Show me cool things that you have that tell great stories.” They and she have succeeded. Surely, “New Land, North of the Columbia” is a merry journey of discovery.
Early in the book (page 15) McConaghy features a full page from one of pioneer historian-chronicler Thomas Prosch’s two photo albums filled with early recordings of Seattle street scenes and other settings. Like McConaghy, Prosch was prolific. With his own caption he dates and locates the subject at First Ave. S. and Washington Street (looking northeast) in 1873, and then in his 1901 two-volume manuscript, “A Chronological History of Seattle,” Prosch shares eight well-packed pages on touchstone Seattle events in 1873. Prosch’s albums and chronology are both kept in the archives of the University of Washington library. Should you choose to visit the library for a closer look, you may want to also thank the archivist.
Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean, more old news from the neighborhood.
But first some links provided by Ron Edge that will take our readers into PDF displays of both Prosch Seattle albums, a Washington State Album, which includes lots of Seattle subjects as well, and then (wonder of wonders!) Prosch’s type-written chronological history of Seattle – EVERY PAGE! Then for desert Ron adds a couple of examples of newspapers that Prosch edited in 1872 and 1875. (This, of course, is all in the spirit of Lorraine’s new book – as well.)
Thomas W. Prosch History References:
Thomas W. Prosch Newspaper Editor:
Back on Commercial Street, our opportunities run over and on and one for of all the subjects covered over the past thirty years (shy about 8 weeks) of weekly features in Pacific no part of Seattle has got more attention from this rocker than the pioneer three blocks extending south from Yesler Way on what was first called, I know you know, Commercial Street. We will show a mere ten of them – unless I bring it to a dozen or so – and we’ll start with Yesler’s Cookhouse, which is one of the oldest surviving photos of any part of Seattle.
Next to Henry Yesler’s sawmill his cookhouse was the most legendary of pioneer Seattle structures. Built during the inordinately cold winter of 1852-53 it was razed in mid-July1866. Photo courtesy of MSCUA, UW Libraries.
Before first operating his steam sawmill early in 1853 – the first on Puget Sound – Henry Yesler quickly constructed his cookhouse. While for years the mill supplied Seattle with it principal payroll, the rough-hewed cookhouse gave it much more than hot meals served beside a broad fireplace. This was a 25-foot square stage for sermons, trails, political caucuses, parties, hotel accommodations, military headquarters (during the 1856 Indian War), elections, the county auditor’s office and civic meetings of all sorts. And until his wife Sara joined him in 1859 it was also Henry’s bunkhouse.
But where was it? Seattle historian Greg Lange has recently converted me from my mistaken belief that it rested at what is now the northwest corner of Yesler Way and First Avenue. Although others and I have liked it there Lange has confirmed Cornelius Hanford’s 1924 directory of 1854 structures. Hanford puts the cookhouse on the west side of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) on the second lot south of Mill Street (Yesler Way.)
Lange’s evidence supporting the pioneer historian’s claim is impressive. First Lang uncovered a notice in the Dec. 17, 1866 issue of the Puget Sound Weekly stating that “a new building . . . on Commercial Street . . . has arisen on the spot where the famous old log cookhouse stood.” Next Lange found the site confirmed again in 1889 affidavits connected with a court case between Yesler and “city father” Arthur Denny. Although this is enough for any contrite conversion Lange also discovered that the cookhouse was first located on Commercial street (before the street was there) and later moved to where we see it retouched but still smoke-stained. Here it faces the street beside the home of Seattle’s first photographer E.A. Clark, and it is a good guess that Clark took the picture sometime before the 32-year-old photographer died on April 27, 1860.
This, the only photograph of the cookhouse, appears in “More Voice, New Stories” where it is used as an illustration for Coll-Peter Thrush’s* essay “Creation Stories, Rethinking the Founding of Seattle.” The attentive eye will notice that most of the group posing here are Native Americans. Perhaps all worked for Yesler in the mill. The new sesquicentennial book’s twelve essays on “King Count, Washington’s First 150 Years” were written by members of the Pacific Northwest Historians Guild and published by the King County Landmarks & Heritage Commission. You may purchase a copy directly from the guild. Call Guild President Chuck S. Richards at (206) 783-9245for details.
SAMMIS PAN From SNOQUALMIE HALL
First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 7, 1982
The Gazette, Seattle’s first newspaper, reported in 1865 that E.M Sammis, the town’s first resident professional photographer (however briefly), had just returned from a stay in Olympia and would “be ready in a few days to take pictures of everybody at his splendid new gallery over Kellogg’s Drug Store.” Although not “everybody” responded, the number of citizens who did was probably more than the seven or eight whose portraits have survived.
The University of Washington’s Historical Photography Collection preserved traces of Sammis’ work also include cartes de viste (small view cards) of the young town’s two architectural showpieces, the Territorial University and the Occidental Hotel, and a card of Sammis’ “splendid new gallery,” which was where the Merchant’s Cafe is now on Yesler Way. Surely the most extraordinary image in these few remains is one lovingly described by Dennis Anderson, formerly in charge of the collection, as “a bent, torn, soiled, little rag of a photograph but the earliest surviving original panoramic view of the city.” The original measures 2.5 x 4 inches.
Sammis took his panorama from Snoqualmie Hall, above the southwest comer of Commercial (now First Avenue S.) and Main Street. The view is to the north extending from the still-forested eastern slopes of Denny Hill on the left to the residence and barn of settler Charles Terry, on the right, on the block that until recently held the Public Safety Building. On the horizon at center left, the Territorial University looks down from Denny’s Knoll at the northeast comer of Fourth Avenue and Seneca Street. (Denny’s Knoll is not Denny Hill. Again, the southeastern forest slope of the latter can be seen on the far left.) The little “White Church” in the center of the photograph was Seattle’s first, and directly below it is the Masonic Hall near the southeast comer of Front (now First Avenue) and Cherry. A bit less than a block farther south and across James Street is the white Occidental Hotel. (A flagpole reaches another thirty feet or so up from its roof.)
The normally busy Commercial Street seems void of human activity not because Sammis requested everyone to stay inside. Rather, the fIlm in his camera required such a long exposure that busy persons on the streets would not hold still long enough to be recorded. Therefore, loggers heading for McDonald’s Saloon, in the lower right comer of the photograph, riders moving up the street to Wyckoff’s Livery Stable, the only two-story structure on the east side of Commercial, and even the idlers that commonly hung out around the flagpole where Commercial ran into Yesler’s mill, they are all invisible.
Because of cash-poor times, paying customers were usually invisible to Sammis. A year earlier, in 1864, Sammis was in Olympia advertising his photographs at “six dollars a dozen or fifty cents each.”
With his return to Seattle in the spring of 1865 he carried with him into his new studio a hope that business would improve. However, the editor’s announcement in the August 12 issue of the Gazette reveals that by mid-summer Sammis was relaxing his cash-only policy: “E.M. Sammis, photographer, wishes to say to the farmers and country people in the vicinity of Seattle that he will take all kinds of country produce in exchange for pictures. He says, “There is no excuse now. Come one come all.”
Within a year Sammis would be gone, but he left his panorama and those few other dog-eared traces of his photographic art that survive.
Sammis’ “drug store” portraits do not include his recordings of both Doc Maynard and Chief Seattle. Some may consider the latter especially, as his most important contribution to our memory. He did those portraits at another and earlier studio, one at the southeast corner of Main Street and First Ave. South, which was still the home of the Elliott Bay Book Store when this feature was first published in 1982.
A photographer from Victoria B.C. named G. Robinson visited Seattle in 1869 and recorded this look north up Commercial Street with his back near Jackson. On the left is Plummer’s Snoqualmie Hall, revealing the roof’s ladder, directly over the sidewalk, that Sammis climbed to record his panorama. Robinson also went into the hall to make a pan of the city in 1869, although he did not climb to the crest of the roof. Instead, he used a second story window and one further back – or west – in the hall. (We include it directly below.) The Illustrated History of the Seattle Waterfront, which we feature as a pdf file found on this blog’s front page, discusses both the Sammis and Robinson pans, and in considerable context.
Another Prosch album artifact, with some of his text included for “proof’ only.
COMMERCIAL STREET North From MAIN STREET
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 1, 1984)
Resembling, perhaps, a set for a Hollywood Western, the empty street and the waiting “extras” scattered down the sidewalks seem suspended just before the director’s command releases a gang of hooligans or a stampeding herd of longhorns from behind either the camera or the distant corner onto the two busiest blocks in the gas-lighted commercial heart of Washington Territory’s largest town. This was Seattle’s Commercial Street (now First Avenue S.).
In these two blocks between Main and Mill (now Yesler Way) streets, most businesses opened at six in the morning and stayed that way until nine or ten at night. Laboring here were two jewelers, four hardware merchants, a tailor, a sign painter, a fish merchant, five tobacconists, a bill collector and a ship chandler; there was also a combination gun and toy shop (See how it starts?), a hotel, four bars, an opera house, two barber shops, two banks, two restaurants, and four clothing stores, And, as the newspaper ads then often exclaimed, there was “much more than there is room here to tell.”
The year is probably 1881. That’s the dating ascribed by Thomas Prosch in his pioneer photo album of Seattle. And Prosch would likely know, for in 1881 he was just around the corner on Mill Street editing either the Intelligencer or the Post-Intelligencer. On October 1, 1881 the Daily Post consolidated with Prosch’s Intelligencer, and he came along as editor and part owner.
Unlike the first, our second and somewhat earlier view of Commercial Street is not deceptively still. Rather, the “Big Snow” of 1880 has silenced it. The storm began on January 6 and within a week was piled in six foot drifts. On January 8 John Singerman, unwilling to wait for a total meltdown, dug a channel across Commercial and, as the Intelligencer reported, “began removing the extensive stock of the San Francisco store into its new rooms in the Opera House building.”
The two across-the-street locations of the capacious and elegant quarters in the Opera House were the largest in the city. With this move the San Francisco Store became the city’s first department store, keeping its boots, shoes, and clothes in one room, with dry goods, fancy goods, and general merchandise in another.
Squire’s Opera House (on the right) was put up in 1879 by the future governor and senator Watson C. Squire. Its biggest night came in 1880 when Rutherford B. Hayes, the first president to visit the West Coast, shook 2,000 hands in a reception there. The highlight of 1881 was the five night stand of Gounod’s Faust by the Inez Fabbri Opera Company. To save voices this touring company carried a “double cast of star performers” who sang on alternate nights.
Across the street (on the left) the New England House, as an 1881 Seattle Chronicle ad claimed, was “eligibly located and its accommodations for families unsurpassed.” Actually, the city directory of 1882 reveals that it was mostly single men like George Elwes, music teacher; J.H. Morris, stonemason; J. Jasques, shoemaker; William Downing, speculator, and J.D. Leake, compositor at the Chronicle who lived there and boarded on the European plan.
The Miners Supplies down the street was most likely one of the few businesses on this commercial pay streak whose 1881 profits were petering. The Skagit River gold rush of the previous year was by now a disappointing bust, and there was not much call for outfits, although there was for beer next door.
Throughout the 1880’s Commercial Street was the stage for many parades and one riot. The”Anti-Chinese Riot” of 1886 flared at this Main Street intersection in the scene’s foreground. Three years later the great fire of 1889 scattered Commercial Street with the remains of its flattened commerce. Within three years it was rebuilt wider, higher, sturdier, and into the neighborhood of brick we now have the wise urge to preserve and enjoy.
COMMERCIAL ST. Ca, JULY 4, 1887 LOOKING No. From MAIN STREET
(First appeared in PACIFIC, May 11, 1986)
What are they waiting on? One user of this scene has described it as part of the 1881 reception for President Rutherford B. Hayes. Another agrees about the “greeting” but not about for whom. The second caption has the crowd waiting on the 1883 visit of Henry Villard and his entourage, celebrating the completion that year of the transcontinental Northern Pacific. Both appear to be wrong
There no telephone or power poles lining Commercial Street for Hayes’ visit and in 1883 the three-story brick building on the scene’s far upper right was not yet constructed. Most likely the crowd is saluting Uncle Sam on an Independence Day in the late 1880s. July 4, 1887 is my almost confident guess.
Electric lights were first in limited use on Seattle streets in 1886. Here at the intersection of Commercial (now First Avenue South) and Main streets, there is a bulb hanging left of the pole that stands before the packed balcony of the New England House hotel. Also, records show the weather was cloudy on the Fourth of July in 1886, but the sun shone on the 1887 festivities. Further, there were evergreen branches lining the parade route. Both appear to be the case in the disputed photo.
Seattle’s Fourth-of-July celebrations tended to keep to form. They began with a late morning parade of dignitaries and military units through the city streets and ended at an open-air meeting on the University of Washington campus (still, downtown then). Several speakers gave somewhat long-winded and loud (there was as yet no amplification) testimony to their patriotism. A reading of the Declaration of Independence was always included and, of course, there was plenty of patriotic music.
(Follows another parade on Commercial, that one as seen looking south from the rear of Yesler-Leary building.)
Above and below: Seattle was first developed along the four blocks of Commercial Street decorated here with small fir trees for a parade in 1888. Following the city’s “great” 1889 fire, Pioneer Seattle’s two principal commercial streets, Commercial and Front (First Avenue) were joined directly here at Yesler Way and run through the site of the old Yesler-Leary building. Consequently, Jean Sherrard needed his ten-foot extension pole to approach – but not reach – the prospect of the unnamed historical photographer.
COMMERCIAL STREET, 1888, South Over MILL STREET (Yesler Way)
(This first appeared in Pacific recently enough that it probably has also appeared previously in this blog. But, as my own mother advised me, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”)
For looking south through the full four blocks of Seattle’s pioneer Commercial Street (First Ave. south from Yesler to King) an unnamed photographer carried his camera to the top floor of the Yesler-Leary Building. The occasion was a parade heading north towards the photographer and considering the array of small American Flags strung across Commercial this rare view was most likely recorded on the morning of July 4, 1888.
There was then both a physical and cultural jog here at ‘Yesler’s Corner” (later Pioneer Square). It required all traffic, (including marching bands), to go around the Yesler-Leary building in order to continue north on Front Street (First Avenue). Yesler Way was also the border or line between the grander, newer, and often brick-clad Seattle facing Front Street (behind the photographer) and the old pioneer Seattle seen here “below the line.” Generally Yesler was a gender divider too, for only women with business there ventured “below the line.”
An 1888 Commercial Street sampler includes seven of the city’s dozen hotels, three of its four pawnbrokers, and three of its four employment agencies, nine of its forty-one restaurants, four of seven wholesale liquor merchants. The tightest quarters were in the block on the left where fourteen storefronts crowded the east side of Commercial between Yesler and Washington Streets. Among those quartered were a cigar store, a barber, a hardware store (note the “Stoves and Tinware” sign), a “pork packer”, two “chop houses”, two saloons and the Druggist M.A. Kelly whose large and flamboyant sign shows bottom-left.
By contrast Front Street featured more of the finer values and “fancy goods”, like books & stationary, dry goods, confections, jewelers, photographers, physicians, tailors and an opera house. Of the thirty-seven grocers listed in the 1888 city directory, eighteen have Front Street addresses, while on Commercial there was apparently nowhere to buy an apple or a bucket of lard.
In another eleven months and two days everything on Commercial Street and most of Front Street would be destroyed by the city’s “Great Fire” of June 6, 1889.
The Front Street Trolley tracks had been sprung and curled by the heat of the June 6, 1889 “Great Fire” here on Commercial Street (First Ave. South) looking south from Mill Street (Yesler Way.) Although scorched the thick street planks survived the fire. The “now” below was scanned from a processed print because, again, I cannot readily find this “repeat.”
FIRST AVE. South From YESLER WAY June, 1889
(First appeared in Pacific, Dec. 2, 1984)
Although today’s photos both look south from Yesler Way, they were taken from different elevations, for first Avenue was raised above its old level after the Great Fire of 1889. (How much it was raised continues to be a clouded figure.) Before the fire, this portion of First Avenue was Seattle’s retail shopping district and, appropriately, was called Commercial Street. It was a four-block-long strip where shoppers strolled, horse races (before they were outlawed) were staged and at least one riot broke out. It then ran only as far south as King Street where it fell over a low bluff to either slip or submerge into the tideflats, depending on the tide.
The historical photo was taken only a few days after the fire. It shows only part of the more than 35 city blocks that were consumed that day and night of June 6 and 7, 1889. Most of the shops and hotels that lined the street, many of them clapboard structures, burned to ashes. One exception was Seattle’s (and Dexter Horton’s) first bank. It is the surviving stone shell on the scene’s far right.