Seattle Now & Then: Suburbia near Dearborn

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: This right half of a Carleton Watkins’ Stereopticon card titled “suburban residence, Seattle W.T.” includes several clues for its location.
NOW: While looking south on 10th Avenue South to Dearborn Street and it’s egress to the Seattle Freeway, Jean Sherrard had no 80-foot long pole to make up for the drop in his position from the Beacon Hill position where Watkins stood 130 years ago. One of Seattle’s grander regrades, the Dearborn Cut, had intervened.
The Dearborn Cut when fresh, circa 1913, looking east from Rainier Avenue.

California’s intrepid and prolific pioneer photographer, Carleton Watkins, titled this subject “Suburban Residence, Seattle W.T.”   Watkins visited Seattle late in the summer of 1882 while adding Puget Sound subjects to his eponymous “New Series” of marketable views he recorded from Alaska to Mexico.   He numbered this one 5230.  It was Ron Edge, a frequent help in this feature, who first directed me to Watkins’ suburban home posing with its unidentified family.  We wondered together “But where near Seattle?”

The answer came quickly when intuition led us to another Seattle view from 1882, one that I used for this column on Oct. 3rd 1982.   An exquisite and revealing panorama of Seattle from Beacon Hill, it too was photographed by Watkins during his ’82 visit, although I did not know it a century later when I used it during my first year between Pacific’s covers.

My intuition, I speculated with Ron, put the home “somewhere on Beacon Hill” because of the site’s slope to a waterway crossed by a line of pilings (above the roof far right), and a distant horizon suggestive of West Seattle across Elliott Bay.  Ron soon answered with Watkins’ panorama revealing that our suburban home was in it as well – and the abandoned pilings too.  We figured that it may have taken Watkins three minutes to get from one prospect to the other. *

Finally, nearly, Ron remembered journalist-historian Thomas Prosch’s early caption for the Watkins’ pan, which the pioneer included in one of his helpful albums about Seattle history.  Prosch writes, in part, “Seattle in 1882 from Dearborn Street and 12th Avenue south looking northwest.”   His siting is supported by other recordings of the home and its neighborhood, included in photographs that look back from the waterfront and First Hill to Beacon Hill in the 1880s and 90s.

The relevant page from Prosch's album - Courtesy U.W. Libraries, Special Collections

We have placed the home near what was once the elevated intersection of 10th Avenue South and Dearborn Street, but now – since the Dearborn Cut of 1909-1912 – a paved ditch through Beacon Hill. So far we have not determined who lives in this tidy home, but we have hope.


Anything to add, Paul?

Yup, including more on the labors – joyful ones –  of identifying and locating the Watkins views, a selection of a few other looks into “Gas Cove” and the city from Beacon Hill, and a few looks back at it and up the waterfront from the King Street Wharf, which Watkins also visited during his 1882 tour of Puget Sound.

(Double Click this to enlarge)

If one - you - were to study the shadows of this Watkins with the one taken the same afternoon in Sept. 1882 of the "suburban home" above, one - you - might figure out from the shadows which view was photographed first. Then one might also imagine a conversation with the families appearing in the top photo especially. Did the Californian, for instance, ask them if they would like to be in the picture(s). Don't know, but I think he probably did.

Thanks again to Ron Edge for helping search out the answers for the “suburban” Seattle subject on the top and to Jean for reflecting on our reflections and testing them again our evidences.  We will continue with another Edge discovery, one of the first that he introduced to us, now already years ago.  This panorama, and the detail from it above it, were photographed from the King Street Coal Wharf looking east towards Beacon Hill.  The original print has been dated Oct. 15, 1880 – almost two years before Watkins’ visit.  Note the ragged condition of the forest in the vicinity of the “Suburban” home (marked with the red arrow in the detail). The panorama – below the detail – shows two curving trestles heading east and south from the King Street Wharf.  The one that heads more-or-less directly for the shore is the newer one, built to replace the one that heads out on its curve across the tideflats.  Soon after it was built the wood-boring worms – about which Ivar Haglund sung so eloquently – began to ruin it. (We will include the lyrics at the bottom.)  So the trestle on the left was constructed to replace it and at least some of its difficulties with worms and their appetite for wood by reaching land above the tides sooner.   The curving and abandoned trestle on the right is already beginning to lose sections.  Can you find the gap(s)?  It is that broken trestle that was our first clue for where the “suburban” photo was taken.  The trestle appears in that view on its right side.  (Click to Enlarge)

The suburban home - Oct. 15, 1880 - is indicated with a red arrow.

Dated July 4, 1887, this subject looks east towards Beacon Hill over a log train probably headed for the Stetson Post Mill. The suburban home and its neighbors can be found just below the low butte that once adorned the north "end" of Beacon Hill, which before the Jackson Street Regrade (1907-09) and the Dearborn Cut (1912) was part of a continuous rolling ridge that ran from Portage Bay to Renton. The home is right-of-center. This view can be compared for its deforestation with the 1880 subject above. The position of the "suburban" home is also indicated in a marked detail below. Courtesy, Ron Edge
Looking east, again, from the Moran factory - mostly for building ships - to the ridge line of Beacon Hill and a glimpse, center-left, of the "suburban" home. This view and the one above it can be compared in the marked detail printed next. Courtesy, Hal Will.
The promised detail, which marks - with "1." and "A." - the "suburban" home in both the Moran scene ca. 1898 and the log train subject. The other structures mark have not been "identified" by their owners or renters - yet.
Another glimpse of the "suburban" homes, this time from the south. But can you find them dear reader? The date for this is 1884 on the evidence that construction work is still underway on the Holy Names steeple at 7th and Jackson and here half way between the subject's center and the far right border. (Have you found the homes yet?) The ID for Holy Names, and the homes plus two more towers is included in the detail directly below. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
Holy Names on the east side of 7th Ave. between King and Jackson Streets is marked "1." Central School on the south side of Madison Street between 6th and 7th Avenues is marked "2." The Haller Mansion aka "Castlemount" on James Street with its back to Broadway is marked "3." The suburban homes - a mere glimpse - is indicated with the red arrow, far right.
An early but still pretty close approximation of the streets super'd on a ca.1884 view of "Gas Cove" from Beacon Hill. (Jackson and King Streets with trestles are certainties.) A few of the piles of the old and abandoned (to the worms) trestle noted above can still be detected curving left-of-center. The other rectilinear pilings are most likely put there by speculators, hoping that this precedent will give them rights to these tidelands later when the state takes them from the feds with statehood. It was in many places a good hunch, for ultimately precedent - whether by squatters or jumpers - paid off when the land was preferentially sold or leased - and very favorably - with statehood.

Here follows a few more aids – constructions – used by Ron, Jean and I for identifying the location of Watkin’s “suburbs.”

This construction includes a glimpse of the California State Libraries website offerings for Watkins' views of which they have many, although not all. Ours of "suburbia" came from them. In a photograph taken from First Hill we have circles the homes in red. A section of Holy Names appears far right.
Here, on the right, we have circled what, we believe, is close to the proper street location for the homes, which are also identified by "1." in the photographs accompanying the map. The other numbers - 7 thru 10 - are the names of the avenues. Note the location of South School - if you will.
South School
What every researcher of unidentified fields of subjects hopes for, universal knowledge revealed by some more ancient wit. Looks promising, except that the key to identifying the numbers on the photograph did not come with this page of introduction, we presume. Might "106" and/or "107" be our suburbia? I think that Washington State Archivist Greg Lange first showed this to me. I'll need to find Greg! If we can find the list we may learn the name of our suburbanites. There are others ways, but none so easy as this failed - so far - ready-made. The photo is credited to Asahel Curtis, but he did not take it, only copied it. It dates from the early-mid-1880s, but was not taken by Watkins.

Here we return to Watkins more familiar view – the one from Beacon Hill over “suburbia” to the city, and also from his visit in Sept. 1882. The feature that follows it was first printed in Pacific Magazine now thirty years ago!   It makes not of several landmarks that appear in the pan, and we will insert close-ups of a few of them, although for the most part from later years and so not 1882.  (Please Click TWICE to ENLARGE)


(First appeared in Pacific, Oct 3, 1982)

Early in the 20th Century, Thomas Prosch, a retired newspaper publisher, assembled and captioned three photo albums now preserved in the University of Washington Special Collections.  The Prosch volumes are, of course, helpful for identifying the earliest pictorial records of Seattle.  For instance, Prosch’s caption for the accompanying panorama from Beacon Hill reads, “Seattle in 1882 from Dearborn Street and Twelfth Avenue South looking northwest.  Among the buildings are the Stetson and Post Sawmill, County Courthouse, Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches, Squire’s Opera House, Post Building and Yesler’s Mill Co.”

The city’s “Great Fire” of 1889 destroyed almost all the landmarks included in this panorama.  And since Prosch’s caption means little to all but a few 21st Century viewers – you perhaps included – readers will need to take a careful look to see what is there to see.

Easiest to locate is the Stetson and Post Sawmill – the daring intrusion onto the tideflats at the far left.  The mill was built in 1882 at the present location of First Ave. South, between King and Weller Streets.  During the next year its crew of 117 men would cut some 14 million feet of lumber.   The city’s pioneer Yesler Mill was left in its scattered chips.

Stetson and Post mill with Beacon Hill beyond it seen from the King Street wharf. This may date from the 1880s snow, but more likely the 1884 snow, given the want of forest on Beacon Hill.
The Stetson and Post Mill, again from the King Street wharf, and earlier. The mill is smaller here and Beacon Hill is greener. This is also by Watkins and can be compared to the panorama assembled of several of his shots from the King St. Pier. It is the same and yet also different. The tides have moved the floating log booms shown here just above and below the trestle. In the pan they have drifted south and closer to the logs corralled on the north side of the mill.
A rapidiograph outline for several landmarks included in the Watkins pan, which are noted next in the text.

Next, look for the Catholic Church, Our Lady of Good Help.  It’s the large white Gothic structure on the right.  Like the mill the church was also new in 1882.  Its new pipe organ was the second in town.   The first pipe organ was installed in Trinity Episcopal Church in July of the same year.  A visiting organist from New York christened it with a well-attended grand opening.  Trinity is the white sanctuary with tower just to the right and a little above the Catholics.  Dedicated in 1871, Trinity stood at the northwest corner of Third Ave. and Jefferson Street, and was the only major structure on Third Avenue north of Yesler Way (Mill Street then) destroyed by the 1889 fire.

Our Lady of Good Help's first location at the northeast corner of 3rd ave. and Washington Street. This view looks to the southeast.

To the right of Trinity Church is the County Courthouse Prosch noted.  Also new in 1882, the large white and boxish structure (with a box-tower too), shows seven windows on its south façade at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Third Ave., now the site of City Hall Park. Unlike the nearby church, the Courthouse survived the fire as jurors and witnesses anxiously adjourned from a murder trail to spread wet blankets across the roof.  In 1891 after the county moved to a new home on top of First Hill, the city moved in and through its seventeen-year residency kept enlarging the frame structure in a floundering attempt to keep up with the growing boomtown it tried to govern.  The odd additions soon gave city hall a new name in allusion to a then popular screw-ball comic strip.  It was called Seattle’s Katzenjammer Kastle.

The "Katzenjammer" County Court House (first) and then the Seattle City Hall looking east across Third Avenue. Jefferson Street is on the left. Courtesy, Seattle Public Library.

The slender pointed spire of the Methodist Church is just to the left of the Courthouse.  When it was built in 1855 at Second Ave. and Columbia Street, it was the town’s first church.

Squire's Opera House is on the right, mid-block, and the New England Hotel on the left, at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and Main Street. This too is taken from one of the Prosch albums and he dates it 1881. (Courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.)

Squire’s Opera House is the dominant dark structure near the center of the photograph.  It stood on the east side of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) closer to Main Street than to Washington Street.   In 1882 it was still the largest auditorium in town.

The Brunswick Hotel - aka Squire's Opera House - left-of-center and somewhat later.

In 1880 the view from Beacon Hill was still obscured by old growth forest in places.  But by 1882 it had been clear-cut and at night the city glowed (in places) with 30 gas lamps lining the busiest streets.   The Gas Company building can be seen in the crook of the bay, which may also be called “Gas Cove.”

The Gas Plant at the southwest corner of Jackson (on a trestle still) and Fifth Avenue, ca. 1883.

1882 was a boom years for Seattle.  In the Nov. election 1,274 votes were cast, the most for any community in the territory, and for the first time more than were counted in Walla Walla – sixty more.   New buildings with stone and iron facades were on the drawing boards, many modeled after the Post Building on Mill Street between Pioneer Place and Yesler’s Wharf and mill.

The Post Building on Mill Street (Yesler Way) mid block between First Ave. and the waterfront. T. Prosch stands - with his beard - at the base of the steps.

In the photo directly above Prosch is the bearded figure standing at the base of the steps of the Post Building at Yesler Way and Post Street.  In 1882 he was editor and part owner of the Post-Intelligencer, which had been formed the year before by merging his Daily Intelligencer with the Daily Post. Thomas Prosch died on March 30, 1915, while crossing the Duwamish River in a chauffer-driven motorcar.  He was returning from a meeting of the Tacoma Historical Society.  (For now 97-years – in 2012 – the industrious editor has been resting in peace, and if memory serves within a few headstones from Walt Crowley’s place in Capitol Hill’s Lakeview Cemetery.  Walt, along with his wife Marie McCaffrey, and myself, helped found where more can be read about Thomas Prosch and much else.)

Certainly one of the earliest records of the King Street Coal Wharf taken, perhaps, in 1878 the year it was completed. Here four years or so before Watkins visited Seattle, Beacon Hill, beyond, is still crowded with first growth timber.
Watkin's stereo of the King Street Coal Wharf most likely taken from the Stetson and Post Mill, seen a few shots earlier. (Courtesy, Dan Kerlee)


Although both the “now and then” views look east at the waterfront towards King Street the historical scene was photographed many yards further to the west from the top of the King Street Coal Wharf.  The adjustment allows the “now” to avoid the obstruction of a building and get closer to the site of the “native land” that still shows in the “then” scene.  The site of that historic shoreline with the little bluff is now a few feet east of the Alaska Way Viaduct on the north side of King.  Historical photo courtesy Seattle Public Library.


(First appeared in Pacific, May 29, 2005)

Between 1877 and 1903 the King Street Coal wharf was probably the most popular platform from which to study the city.  Fortunately a few photographers took the opportunity to record panoramas stitched from several shots.  This view is one of several stitched together (below).  It was photographed in Sept. 1882 by the itinerant Californian named Carleton Watkins.

The featured subject two pixs up is taken from this panorama. It's joining is crude because some of its parts came from different sources. And it is still not the full Watkins pan - but nearly. It seems that he had perhaps two cameras out on the King Street Wharf, for the Watkins shot printed next below is obviously taken the same day but from a slightly different position. The difference may be inches. Also for the shot below he has framed his subject differently. The uneven alignment above of the floating logs on the right, which are cut off while joining the far right part of this pan to the next part (including those logs) to the left of it here and so to the north, can be compared to the stereo of the shot of the Stetson Post mill featured a dozen subjects above this one. That view would have splice cleanly with its neighbor to the left (north) in this pan. (Click this TWICE to enlarge)
Again, this Watkins stereo may be compared with the shots above it. Those are also from Watkins walk far out on the King Street pier. Incidentally, the Arlington Hotel - once the largest in Washington Territory - at the southeast corner of Commercial (First Ave. S.) and Main Street is far left. (Courtesy, Dan Kerleee)

The scene (two and three subjects above)  looks east towards the block between Jackson Street on the far left and King Street on the right. King was then still a railroad trestle built above the tides and all the structures that appear on the right side of this view – the railroad shops and a lumber mill – are also set above the tideflats.  The white hotel on the far left with the wrapping porch, shutters, and shade trees is the Felker House, the first Seattle structure built of finished lumber.  (In the stereo above, the Felker House is on the far right.)

An earlier look at the Felker House looking southwest across Jackson Street from Commercial Street (First Ave. S.).

Two of what we may kindly call the hotel’s “urban legends” survive its destruction in the “Great Fire” of 1889.  First, that it was the town’s first whorehouse.  Second, that its overseer Mary Ann Conklin — aka “Mother Damnable” — turned to solid stone sometimes between her death in 1873 and difficult resurrection in 1884 when her body was hauled to a second grave.  Believe it or not, her features we in tact.

The rear of the Felker House appears right-of-center, and the south side of the Arlington House to the right of it. The Squire Opera House appears between them. The view was taken by Peterson & Bros from the King Street wharf and shows that not much else escapes the waterfront between it and Yesler Wharf. This view dates from ca. 1881 and can be compared with the broad multi-part panorama that Watkins made and is printed here above. In Watkins view(s) work is well along in filling the waterfront with new piers for the Oregon Improvement Company between the King St and Yesler docks. (Click TWICE to enlarge)

Two more solid points – both about the “native land” shown here (“Here” and in the photos now a few above.)  First, it is still a quarter-century before the ridge on the horizon would be lowered 90 feet with the Jackson Street regrade.  Second, the tide is out and the small bluff above the beach is the same on which the Duwamish built their longhouse.  There from its comfort they looked out on the bay probably for centuries before Captain Felker substituted whitewashed clapboard for cedar slabs.

A "missing link" to the Watkins pan printed above. This "attaches" to it but is again degraded in its sharpness. Somewhere an original almost surely survives. That's Denny Hill on the far left, a summit to which Watkins also took his camera(s) for panoramic shots during his Sept. 1882 visit here. We will save those for later - coincident with another story about the hill or regrade.

For linking to the pix above we will provide-print again the Watkins pan already offered five images up.  There may well be another Watkins part to this pan – one that looks left to the northwest.  The stereo of Jackson Street, four photos up, identifies it as “No. 7.”  Watkins recorded many more than seven images in Seattle, so does the “7” refer to his sequence from the King Street pier?  Counting all we have here (but not that the stereo is framed differently) we have, it seems, five parts to the pan.

Later, about 1888, another photographer, perhaps Moore, went nearly to the end of the King Street Wharf and took this view of the waterfront.

Follows several looks down upon the city from Beacon Hill from different – slightly – prospects.

From about 1887. Note, again, the pilings sectioning the tideflats. Jackson Street is still on a trestle between Occidental Ave. and Fifth Avenue. A forested Magnolia is top center.
Circa 1891. "Suburbia" is getting crowded. Courtesy Washington State University Library.
Ca. 1900. Gas Cove is a mess of flotsam and fill. The gas plant at 5th and Jackson is far right.
Ca. 1945.
Ca. 1963, Freeway construction, and the Space Needle is on the horizon - literally.
Another look at I-5 construction, here across the viaducts many of which would remain unused until the 1-90 hook-up was made many years later. Only now have I noticed that this shot was taken on the same day as the one above it, although with its "snarling" serpentine ramps this one is the more gratifying. Also this one was used in the book "Building Washington." It appears on page 94 in the chapter on Roads and Highways. The entire book - did you know? - can be consultant on this blog. Just visit the front page bug for history books. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry, the P-I Collection)
Joined slides by Lawton Gowey, 1968. Note that the First National Bank building is under construction, far right.
Also by Lawton Gowey and also in '68.
1996 - taken - if memory serves - while helping illustrate Walt Crowley's National Trust guide book to Seattle.

We will conclude this week’s now-then contribution – nearly – with a visit to a later Beacon Hill home up on the hill that is – or was – no longer part of suburbia.

The Spencer Home on Beacon Hill - a W.P.A. tax inventory photo from the late 1930s. Courtesy Washington State Archive, Bellevue branch.


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 19, 1995)

The Beacon Hill home that Gertrude and George Spencer built soon after their wedding in 1901 is one of those Victorian fancies that divide tastes. Some love these ornate testaments to the woodworking arts; others regard all this craft as functionless clutter. I like it.

George Spencer was a Pennsylvania-trained teacher who arrived in Washington in 1890 and was hired by Lewis County to teach and later serve as superintendent of its public schools. With his marriage, George moved to Gertrude’s hometown and, after a stint as deputy superintendent of King County schools, became principal of lower Queen Anne’s Mercer School. In 1907 Spencer left teaching for real estate but remained active in education as a member of the Seattle School Board.

In the mid-’20s George was chairman of the Seattle Real Estate Association. Gertrude kept up the business after his death, and for the 1946-’47 term was president of the Women’s Council of the Seattle Real Estate Board. For seven years she also chaired the Seattle Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Both Spencers were members of the Beacon Hill and Jefferson Park Improvement Clubs. They had one office downtown and another on Beacon Avenue, just two blocks from their home. The Spencers could look across their backyard fence to the rear door of the Beacon Hill Bakery on Beacon Avenue. Soon after their post-World War II arrival in Seattle from Anchorage, Eugene and Theresa Odermat bought the bakery and then the Spencer home.

Their son · Victor Odermat (later “king” of Seattle’s car washes) has warm memories of the home’s large rooms, high ceilings, ornate staircase, elegant hardwood wainscoting and clawfoot cast-iron tub. But soon after the widowed Theresa moved out in 1966, the Spencer-Odermat home was razed and replaced by the modern apartment house showing here in the “now.”


As advised, we conclude with a printing of one of the waterfront shanties that Ivar Haglund, the aquarist, wrote in order to serenade his customers at the front door to his Pier 3 (later Pier 54 after the WW2 renumbering) Aquarium from 1938 to 1956.  His book of ballads was first published in 1953.  So far as I know Ivar never lived on Beacon Hill nor below it.


*(Judging from the shadows Watkins took the panorama first.)










2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Suburbia near Dearborn”

  1. Carleton Watkins’ photo of a “suburban residence, Seattle W.T.” is a photo of my 2nd great grandparents, Edward and Emma Turner and their daughter Minnie. According to the Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1879 the address is, Terrace and Fourth sts, Seattle, Washington, USA

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