Seattle Now & Then: Buzby's Waterfront Mill

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Through the late 1870s the Starr Mill at the waterfront foot of Seneca Street was the primary provider of flour and feed to locals. The unnamed photographer’s back is to a log seawall (1876) that held Front Street (First Avenue) above the waterfront. The mill was supported on some combination of rubble and pilings. (Photo courtesy of Ron Edge)
NOW: On a field trip, Jean Sherrard poses his Hillside School 5th and 6th graders at the intersection of Seneca Street and Post Ave. aka Alley.

In 1875 Isaac and James Buzby opened the Starr Mills at the waterfront foot of Seneca Street.  The city’s 1876 directory compliments the mill for supplying a “need long felt.”  Here we see – we presume – five employees posing for a typical business portrait.  Four are neatly posed in the mill’s two stories of open doorways and the fifth one is riding the wagon with the team on the left.

The 1879 directory notes the Starr Mills “Extra Family Flour” – a surely comforting brand name – and describes the mill as also offering “constantly for sale, and at liberal rates, feed, cracked wheat, corn meal bran, shorts, middlings and chicken feed.”  In a 1950 feature from his long-lived “Just Cogitating” column, C.T. Conover, the Times pioneer reporter with the “heritage beat,” notes that “after a few years” of trying the Buzbys dropped their Family Flour and kept to milling “only feed for stock as Puget Sound wheat was too soft for successful flour making.”

Page 34, The Seattle Sunday Times, March 11, 1934

This subject was grouped with several other historical Seattle scenes in a March 11, 1934 Times feature titled “WAY BACK – When Seattle Was But Youngster.”   The caption identified C. M. McComb as the man riding the wagon.  He was also the Times reader who loaned the paper the original photograph for inclusion in its popular “Way Back” series. Along with all else on the waterfront south of University Street, the Starr Mill was consumed by the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.

Jean Sherrard used the occasion of his contemporary “repeat” to explore Seattle history with his class of 5th and 6th graders from Hillside School.  Jean recalls, “Pouring over the old photographs, and maps, we walked the footprint of the mill and imagined the waters of Elliott Bay lapping at our feet.  After posing for a “now” photo beneath the viaduct’s looming exit ramp at Seneca we climbed the steps to First Ave., a site where a ravine once harbored a scatter of graves – a native cemetery.  When one of the students was convinced he could sense unhappy spirits, we headed for the Pike Place Market where we divvied up a pound of Turkish delight in Victor Steinbrueck Park.”


Anything to add, Paul?

Jean, when you arise on Sunday morning will you iunsert the first addition by returning and repeating your “now and then” that features another Hillside class, the one visiting Snoqualmie Falls with you two or three years past?   Following that I’ll find a few more features and photos touching on Busby’s Mill and the neighborhood near Seneca at the waterfront, or near it.

Here it is, Paul:

SNOQUALMIE FALLS – Seattle Now & Then, July 13th, 2008

Whidbey Island resident Teresa Pate sent this abundant view of Snoqualmie Falls to Jean Sherrard in response to Jean’s handling of other photos of this 270-foot cataract that appear in Sherrard’s and my book, “Washington Then and Now.” Pate explains, “The picture has probably been in the family 75 to 100 years.” Embossed directly on the photograph is the name “Evans,” perhaps the studio signature of David and Francis Evans who, in the early 20th century, ran Evans Photo and Art Shop in downtown Seattle.

Of the falls’ many thousand recordings this view is wonderfully appealing for putting the cascade “in full force” behind the delicate profiles of a fallen forest snag and two men, we imagine, in the grip of the sublime. To repeat this mildly telescopic effect, Jean used his 80mm lens for the “now.”

Above the roar of the falls Jean got the attention of his subjects by waving his arms. (His subjects, by the way, are also his students at Bellevue’s Hillside Student Community, a private school founded by Sherrard’s parents in 1969.

Readers will note that on the right of both views the same rock shows in the pool below the falls. Sherrard explains: “After triangulating the iron-shaped boulder evident in both photos, I surmised that the original photographer was standing well out into the river, probably on a log, as there’s no structure today that would bring me near that perspective. Usually the rocks below the falls are slick from the misting water, but on this day the wind blew up the canyon toward the falls, leaving the approach safe and dry.”

THEN: Snoqualmie Falls appears in full force, probably during a spring runoff.
THEN: Snoqualmie Falls appears in full force, probably during a spring runoff.
NOW: From the north side of the river it takes about 15 minutes to reach the pool below the falls. With this year's late runoff, Snoqualmie Falls was still in full force in early June.
NOW: From the north side of the river it takes about 15 minutes to reach the pool below the falls. With this year's late runoff, Snoqualmie Falls was still in full force in early June.

Several more remarkable older photos from the archive:

An early view of the falls with "Seattle Rock" at the top between the falls and the fallen tree caught behind the rock.  The rock was blasted away in order to create the pool behind the falls for development of the power plant above and beneath it.   Photo by Davidson from the 1890s.
An early view of the falls with "Seattle Rock" at the top between the falls and the fallen tree caught behind the rock. The rock was blasted away in order to create the pool behind the falls for development of the power plant above and beneath it. Photo by Davidson from the 1890s.
An example of the signature side of F. La Roche's typical commercial print has him promoting his studio as "Rainier Photographic and Art Studios."
An example of the signature side of F. La Roche's typical commercial print has him promoting his studio as "Rainier Photographic and Art Studios."
On the flip side is what was then considered the other principal natural wonder of Puget Sound: Snoqualmie Falls.  One of Seattle's more active photographers in the late 1880s and early 1890s, LaRoche records the Falls with Seattle Rock still in place.  Photo dates from ca. 1889.
On the flip side is what was then considered the other principal natural wonder of Puget Sound: Snoqualmie Falls. One of Seattle's more active photographers in the late 1880s and early 1890s, LaRoche records the Falls with Seattle Rock still in place. Photo dates from ca. 1889.
Hand-colored print of Snoqualmie Falls by Price.
Hand-colored print of Snoqualmie Falls by Price.

And a few more NOW pix to illustrate our trip down to the river:

Students peer down from the platform at the raging falls
Students peer down from the platform at the raging falls
The view from the platform
The view from the platform
After taking the photo, a bit of a clamber up from the beach
After taking the photo, a bit of a clamber up from the beach
Great bunch of kids at the river end of the trail
At the river end of the trail. What a great bunch of kids!

Four years ago – how time flies….


The Times clipping and the credit for the person, C. M. McComb, who "owns" the picture and answered the citizen call for historical pictures to share with their readers.
The Buzby Mill is partially showing left-of-center in this detail from a 1878 Peterson & Bros photo looking north from the outer end of Yesler's Wharf. The west (waterside) end of its distinguished roof is evident. Denny Hill is on the horizon.
About three years later Peterson looks north again this time from near King Street. This detail is helpfully marked (or scrawled). A red X points at Buzby's Mill.
Before vehicles were admitted to the viaduct camera club members were given an afernoon in early 1953 to stroll the distance of both decks. This Horace Sykes (or Bob Bradley) slide looks east on Seneca before the off-ramp to First Avenue was built here.
Looking north from the Marion Street overpass on June 30, 1965. The Seneca Street off-ramp is seen three blocks beyond. (Lawton Gowey)
Looking north thru First Avenue's intersection with Seneca. The off-ramp is on the left. Recorded on Oct. 25, 1974 by Lawton Gowey, the three hotels on the west side of First between Seneca and University streets are still intact, although barely.
Less than two years later - April 19, 1976 - the three hotels are replaced by a pit to the west of First Avenue. The Seneca off-ramp is still on the left, and Lawton Gowey is responsible for this as well.
Another vehicle-free view from the viaduct, this time looking south along the lower deck and near Seneca Street. Photographed by Horace Sykes, or perhaps Bob Bradely. (Their slides are mixed.)


Above: Looking north in the mid-1880s from the Frye Opera House (1885) at First and Marion.  From an upper story the view looks over Madison Street.  (Courtesy Lawton Gowey.) Below; With the help of a long (but not long enough) pole the “now” scene was recorded from an exterior stairway at the northwest corner of the Jackson Federal Building.


(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 30, 2007)

More than a few publishers and local historians have silently thanked Fred Dorsaz and/or Edward Schwerin for carrying their studio’s camera to the top floor of the nearly new Frye Opera House to record this local classic, a birdseye into North Seattle.  The scene looks over Madison Street, up Front Street  (First Avenue), across the distant rooftops of Belltown and far beyond to the still hardly marked Magnolia Peninsula.

There was a touch of opportunism and pride in the partner’s climb and recording.  The original photo card has “Souvenir Art Studio” printed across the bottom, and if one looks hard, their business name is written again on the banner, which stands-out against the dark trees near the center of their photograph.

The Souvenir banner is strung over Front Street between the Pacific Drug Store building, bottom right, and the Kenyon Block, bottom left.  The Souvenir Art Studio rent quarters in “capitalist J. Gardner Kenyon’s” namesake commercial building.  Taking clues from the few signs attached to its sides so was the Globe Printing Company (one of the then only four job printers listed in the 1885-86 City Directory), William P. Stanley’s books, stationary, and wall paper store, and Robert Aberenethy’s “boots and shoes” store.  Like its owner Kenyon, Abernethy, it seems, also conveniently lived in the Kenyon Block.

On page 431 of the first volume of the three volume King County History by Clarence Bagley, the pioneer historian dates this view “about 1887.”    Given the absence in this scene of important 1887 additions and the presence of structures not around in 1885, the likely date is 1886 — although I’ll hedge with my own “about 1886.”   The small flags and bunting strung across Front Street, and the temporary fir trees decorating the sidewalks hint that this may be Independence Day, 1886.

The western end of the Buzby Mill appears here left of the two-story white commercial structure near the subject's center. At Spring Street the building on Front (First) shows it balcony above the sidewalk from where several photos were taken of the advancing 1889 Fire. One of these was printed in last weeks "now-and-then" feature's additions. Directly above the Buzby Mill detail are two Pike Street docks on the waterside of the "Ram's Horn" railroad, which curves towards it. When the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad and its trestle were built here in 1887, the Pike Street docks (used variously for Salmon canning and furniture manufacture) were cut in two allowing the new track to pass thru. This separation is evident in the photo that follows, which looks north along the trestle sometime soon after it was completed in 1887.
Let of center where the tracks turn slightly to the northwest but cut through the old Pike Street docks. Denny Hill is on the right, and so is the "Ram's Horn" Railroad almost touching the SLSER tracks this side of University Street. It was on the trestle there where the northern advance of the 1889 fire was stopped by a bucket brigade.



(First appeared in Pacific, 8-30-1998)

In this comparison the historical photographer’s back is to University Street, a little more than one week after Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. A contemporary repeat would have put my back to the Alaskan Way Viaduct for an blocked view against the northwest corner of the Immunex headquarters.  (By now in 2012 they may have moved away or mutated.)

The larger ruin here is the dark brick skeleton of the Northwestern Cracker factory, center-right, one lot south of the southwest corner of Front (First Avenue) and Seneca streets. To its left and across First Avenue is the pointed facade of Annie and Amos Brown’s Carpenter Gothic home. It was one of the fire’s “heroic structures,” for the bucket brigade that saved it from all but blistered paint and burst windows also saved the neighborhood behind it, including the big-roofed skating rink, top center, and Plymouth Congregational Church, facing Second Avenue above the temporary white tents at far right.

On this west side of First Avenue the fire destroyed some of the 1876 retaining wall that held this bluff. Below the church and the tents, First Avenue is suspended above a ravine that once cut through the bluff at Seneca Street.

The wall below the bluff at far left is another savior. The brickwork on the foundation of the Arlington Hotel (Bay Building), begun before the fire, stopped the fire’s advance north. Behind the historical photographer was another impediment: a section of open water not covered with the timber trestle work we see in the foreground. Only the tracks of the Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad crossed this waterfront gap. There, at about 8:30 in the evening, another bucket line stopped the advance of a fire that had begun three blocks south around 3 p.m. that day.

The question mark in the photo above sows the southwest corner of the Arlington Hotel's foundation, the foundation that helped stop the northerly advance of the 1889 "great fire" along the waterfront. The ruins of the electric plant are marked with a "4." The cracker factory, the second lot south of Seneca, is marked with a "3." A peek of what is left of the trestle on Front Street that was built across the Seneca Street Ravine is marked with "5." Number "2" marks the Amos Brown home.
Much of the same wreckage seen from First Avenue. Lower right is the Arlington Hotel foundation, which was, again, responsible in larger part for stopping the northerly advance of the '89 fire. The wreckage of the electric plant is to the other side of the foundation and the north brick wall of the biscuit bakery stands left-of-center. The Buzby Mill location was very near the center of this scene to this side of the cracker wall and somewhat to the right of it too.
Looking south from an elevated prospect between Pike and Union Streets, the pre-fire Buzby Mill - its peaked roof - it evident here near the scene's center. Both the SLSER and "Ram's Horne" tracks can be found far right at they approach the point where they nearly touch out of frame. The King Street Coal Wharf is far right, and on the horizon is Beacon Hill. The brick mass of the cracker factory is mostly hidden behind the frame structure this side of University Street. The date for this cityscape is certainly close to the moment of most of its destruction in 1889.

Before and after the '89 fire.  The top of these two can be compared to the photograph above it.  The bottom ruins are shown again below with a full panorama.

Some of the structures on the left of the top of the two scenes above can be found also on the right of the scene directly above it.  The subject just above this caption shows, far left, the Arlington Hotel foundation at the southwest corner of First Ave. and University Street.  The full pan of this destruction is next – below.  There Beacon Hill spans much of the horizon and part of the Arthur and Mary Denny home at the southeast corner of Union Street and First Avenue is on the far left.   Note how the lines of both the “Rams Horne” track and the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Track move across the rubble and rebuilding efforts on the off-shore “trestle-town.”   Here, however, it is obvious that they will not longer “nearly” meet – as they do in photos shown above – because a new warehouse (far right) has been built directly over the “Rams Horne” right-of-way or, rather, lack of right-of-way.  That waterfront railroad was exceedingly resented by the locals and once destroyed by the fire had little chance of being fully restored.


Above: The scene looks west on Seneca to its northwest corner with Second Avenue, where, depending upon the date stands either the Suffern residence or Holy Names Academy, the city’s first sectarian school.   (Pix courtesy of Michael Cirelli)  Below: With the economic confidence gained by the Yukon and Alaska gold rushes of the late 1890s, most of Seattle pioneer residences then still surviving in the central business district were replaced with brick commercial blocks.


(First appeared in Pacific, June 17, 2007)

Sometime in the 1870s John Suffern  built a sizeable home at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Seneca Street.  We see it here but not knowing the date of the photograph cannot say if the Sufferens are still living there or if it is in the learned hands of the Roman Catholic Sisterhood of the Holy Names.

Suffern is first known hereabouts for his iron works and second for both building and captaining steamboats on Puget Sound.  After Issaquah pioneer Lyman Andrews stumbled upon some exposed coal on his claim in 1863 he carried a few lumps of it in a sack to Seattle where Sufferen tested it in his kiln and found the Issaquah coal excellent for firing.  In another ten years east side coal became Seattle’s principal export – most of it to California railroads.   By 1879 Suffern had turned to drugs.  That year’s directory adds an “e” to him name and lists him simply, “Sufferen, J. A. druggist, cor. Second and Seneca.”

The following year, 1880, the Sisters of Holy Names bought his property for $6,800 and arranged the home for their first Seattle school.  The Holy Names official history explains, “The building consists of two stories and a basement.  In the latter are the kitchen, cellar and pantry.  The parlor, music room, office and Sister’s refectory are on the first floor, the chapel, community room and a small apartment for the Superioress are on the second floor.”

Also in 1880 the Sisters of Holy Names built a second and larger structure on their property to the north of this white (we assume) house.  The addition included two large classrooms and a second floor dormitory for the city’s first sectarian school.  It opened in January 1881 with 25 pupils, and grew so rapidly with the community that in 1884 the sisters built another and grander plant with a landmark spire at 7th and Jackson Street.   The not so old Suffern home survived the city’s “great fire” of 1889, but was replaced in the late 1890s with the surviving brick structure, now the comely home for a Washington Liquor Store, and a custom tailor.


This Colonial Block at the southwest corner of Seneca and First Ave. should not be confused with "that" Colonial Block built at the northeast corner of 2nd Ave. and Columbia before the "Great Fire of 1889" and featured on this blog in more than one past "now-and-then."


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 21, 1999)

The COLONIAL BLOCK, or building, at the southwest comer of First Avenue and Seneca Street is a local gem whose architectural shine saved it from destruction. “Colonial” is written in stone relief at the center of the building’s balustrade. It’s just below the colonial ornament of facing scrolls that hold between them the platform for a ball that crests the building.

The Colonial was designed in 1901-02 by the New York architect Max Umbrecht soon after he was transplanted to Seattle by the industrialist Lyman C. Smith of Syracuse – the Smith of typewriters, guns and, later, Seattle’s Smith Tower. With the commercial street level given to glass for light and window display, Umbrecht was left to arrange his restrained art through the upper three floors. A few of its  pleasures are the second-floor doors, which open to wrought-iron mini-balconies, and the central arched window, with bas-relief of garlands, torches and horns that fall from the windowsill like a banner.

The Colonial was one of several structures restored in the early 1980s for Waterfront Place, a mixed-use development directed by Mayor Paul Schell [Remembering here that Schell was still His Honor in 1999.] It was Schell’s rebound from losing his first mayoral race against television pundit Charles Royer in 1978. As past dean of the University of Washington’s School of Architecture, Hizzoner knows his architecture.

When pioneer Arthur Denny and friends first extended First Avenue north from Pioneer Square, they were stopped at Seneca Street by a ravine too deep to fill, so they bridged it here at this intersection. Later, Denny’s granddaughter, Sophie Frye Bass, identified the “high bluff on the south side” of this ravine – later the site of the Colonial -as “an Indian burial ground.”

Sept. 24, 1981, looking east from below the viaduct to the rear facades of the buildings facing First Avenue from its west side between Spring (right) and Seneca (left) streets. The rear of the Colonial Building is far left. (photo by Lawton Gowey)
The Cornerstone project as inspected from the SeaFirst tower on December, 10, 1982. The Colonial building is far right at Seneca, where the viaduct off ramp is also evident. Colman dock is upper-left and Pier 56, upper-right. Madison Street, right and Spring Street, right-of-center. (Photo by Lawton Gowey)
Across Seneca Street from the Colonial a block of hotels (the Seneca, Victoria and Arlington) reaching to University Street, all part of the future Harbor Steps project, but here preparing for destruction on Oct. 25, 1974. This is another Kodachrome from Lawton Gowey who worked nearby as the auditor for Seattle City Light.
We repeat this view - from above - to make a point - or several. A sliver of the Colonial Block appears far left in this look north up First thru Seneca to the block of hotels south of University Street. Lawton Gowey dates this Oct. 25,1974.
Still with a Colonial slice on the far left, and also another Gowey recording, this one looks north thru its intersection with Seneca on April 19, 1976. The hole left by the destruction of the three hotels became a increasingly arcane space through its extended life with no use except a patch of willows planted between the exposed foundation - with strange windows and closets - below First Avenue and Post Alley (or Street or Avenue). At the bottom of this insertion the abiding pit is revealed three times from below with images recorded by Frank Shaw on March 11, 1975, when the pit was still fresh.
Two days later on April 21 1976 Lawton Gowey returned to record the swept avenue again.
From mid-block between University and Union streets looking south to the same group of three hotels shown in the Gowey slide above this one, which dates from Oct.25, 1974, which must have been about the time I was invited to haul away some barn-door studio lights from an abandoned warehouse in the basement of what was then called the Bay Building, and which started in 1889 as the Gilmore Building (name for its builder-owner) but soon after the Arlington Hotel. It is - to be sure - the same building whose foundation work helped stopped the northerly advance of the 1889 fire. (But what, I now wonder, became of those barn doors?)
The Arlington Hotel still with its tower circa 1902. The University Street ramp to the waterfront began on the far right. The Colonial Block can be seen far left.
The still fresh pit surmounted by the then eight year old SeaFirst tower. By Frank Shaw, March 11, 1975. The sidewalk on the west side of First Avenue between Seneca Street on the right, and University Street, out of frame on the left, runs at the top of the ruined basement or foundation walls of the, left to right, Arlington (Bay), Victoria and Seneca Hotels. Note the steps and ramp on Seneca, far right. The ramp to the A-Viaduct would, of course, survive, but not those steps.
Same day, March 11, 1975 and same photographer, Frank Shaw, this time looking north from Seneca - or below the ramp. Excavation of the rubble and direct would continue.
Another March 11, 1975 look north from below the Seneca ramp and into the pit. This Frank Shaw recording also reveals more of the University Street trestle, and some of Post Alley on the left.

Frank Shaw continues – Nine months later, and a few days, Shaw returns to the pit and records the work-in-progress of filling it with trees.  The date for the first two photos below is Nov. 21, 1975.

The cut-off University Street ramp looking east from Western Ave., 1982. The greenery at the north margin of the "pit park" is seen on the right two short blocks to the east. Photo by Lawton Gowey.






One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Buzby's Waterfront Mill”

  1. Paul, your site is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Thanks for all that you do. I always look forward to the next post. I am particularly fond of the archival shots of old Seattle, and am always delighted when shots I’ve never seen continue filling in the blanks of my wonderment as to what was here such a relatively short time ago. Was the “Busby” spelling a typo in the old article?

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