Seattle Now & Then: On the Waterfront

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The driver, lower left, leads his team towards First Avenue up a planked incline on Madison Street.  (Courtesy MOHAI)
THEN: The driver, lower left, leads his team towards First Avenue up a planked incline on Madison Street. (Courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: Looking west towards the waterfront on Madison Street through its intersection with Western Avenue.
NOW: Looking west towards the waterfront on Madison Street through its intersection with Western Avenue.

I’ll venture that this look across Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) and Elliott Bay as far as West Seattle’s dim Duwamish Head, far-left, was photographed some few weeks after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, burned everything on the waterfront south of University Street.  The fire was ignited by a volatile mix of upset boiling glue and carpenter’s shavings scattered on the floor of Margaret Pontius’s frame building at the southwest corner of Front (First Avenue) and Madison Streets, about a block behind the position the unnamed photographer took to record this rare scene of the waterfront’s revival.

This post-1889 fire claims to show its ruins at the foot of Madison Street.  (Courtesy Michael Maslan)
This post-1889 fire claims to show its ruins at the foot of Madison Street. (Courtesy Michael Maslan)

Before the “providential fire” this part of the waterfront was covered with the Commercial Mill and its yard. Built in the mid-1880s on its own wide pier off the foot of Madison Street, this specialist in sash, doors, and blinds was nearly surrounded by stacks of lumber, great contributors to the conflagration.  On the night of the ’89 fire, when seen from the safety of First Hill, burning boards from the lumberyard carried high above the business district put on a rare fireworks show.

Photographed by Morford from Yesler's Wharf in late 1887 or 1888.  Madison Street lumber-bound wharf is on the far right, Denny Hill behind the tall ship.
Photographed by Morford from Yesler’s Wharf in late 1887 or 1888. Madison Street lumber-bound wharf is on the far right, Denny Hill behind the tall ship.

The small warehouse in the featured photo at the top, right-of-center, was built by and/or for F.A. Buck for his business, California Wines, which he advertised with banners both at the roof crest of the shed and facing the city.  It seems that the shed was also being lengthened on its bay side.  Railroad Avenue is also being extended further into the bay.  This work-in-progress can be seen between the vintner’s shed and the Columbia and Puget Sound Railroad’s boxcar No. 572.  Far left, a pile driver reaches nearly as high as the two-mast vessel anchored, probably at low tide, behind the vintner’s warehouse.  This ‘parallel parking’ was not what the city council envisioned following the fire.  The city expected and eventually got finger piers that extended into the bay, where visiting vessels were tied in the slips between them.

Railroad Ave. ca. 1903 showing the then new long finger piers north of Madison Street.  The shorter piers to the south (left) of Madison were built after the Great Fire of 1889.  They would be either moved further into the bay on new pilings are replace with longer piers like the Grand Trunk Dock and Colman Dock.
Railroad Ave. ca. 1903 showing the then new long finger piers north of Madison Street. The shorter piers to the south (left) of Madison were built after the Great Fire of 1889. They would sooner ( or later) be either moved further into the bay on new pilings are replaced with longer piers like the Grand Trunk Dock and Colman Dock.

In the featured photo, the bales of hay stacked both beyond the horses, left-of-center, and at the scene’s lower-right corner, have come to the waterfront either over water, often aboard steamers from Skagit valley farms or over the rails of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway, which had, only recently in 1888, reached both the agriculture hinterlands of King County and the Seattle Coal and Iron Company’s Issaquah coal mine.

The D.H. Gilman engine on the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad line - perhaps in Gilman, later named Issaquah.
The D.H. Gilman engine on the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad line – perhaps in Gilman, later named Issaquah.

The smaller shed in the right foreground of the features photo at the top is outfitted as the waterfront office for the coal company, which in May of 1888 sent from Yesler Wharf, probably to California, its first load of coal aboard the ship Margaret.  Within two years the Seattle Coal and Iron Company’s growth, disrupted the wine-sellers quarters.  The long shed was removed to allow construction of an elevator and overpass for moving Issaquah coal from the SLSER coal cars above and over Railroad Avenue to the company’s new bunkers that extended into Elliott Bay.  The coal bunkers stood over what is now the dining area of Ivar’s Acres of Clams on Pier 54.

This detail, pulled from the 1893 Sanborn real estate map, shows the coal bunkers on the left and the trestle (for the coal) over Railroad Avenue and to the coal facilities between Railroad Avenue and Western Ave.  The next photo below looks up Madison from that trestle in 1890 or 1891.
This detail, pulled from the 1893 Sanborn real estate map, shows the coal bunkers on the left and the trestle (for the coal) over Railroad Avenue and to the coal facilities between Railroad Avenue and Western Ave. The next photo below looks up Madison from that trestle in 1890 or 1891.  (I’ve forgotten for this “fog of blog”  moment.)
The Northern Pacific photographer F.J.Haynes look east up Madison Street from the coal trestle that passed over Railroad Avenue to the coal pier at the foot of Madison.   (Courtesy, Tacoma Public Library)
The Northern Pacific photographer F.J.Haynes look east up Madison Street from the coal trestle that passed over Railroad Avenue to the coal pier at the foot of Madison. (Courtesy, Tacoma Public Library)
Looking north on the waterfront with the dark timbers of the Madison Street coal bunkers showing right-of-center, ca. 1898.
Looking north on the waterfront with the dark timbers of the Madison Street coal bunkers showing right-of-center, ca. 1898.
F. J. Haynes look at the waterfront from a vessel on Elliott Bay.  Madison Street is just left of the bright navy vessel at the center.  On the horizon above it is Central School at the southeast corner of 6th and Madison.  Is it brand new.  And so it the King County Court House on the horizon, far right.  (Courtesy Tacoma Pubic Library)
F. J. Haynes ca. 1891 look at the waterfront from a vessel on Elliott Bay. Madison Street is just left of the bright navy vessel at the center. On the horizon above it is Central School at the southeast corner of 6th and Madison. Is it brand new, and so it the King County Court House on the horizon, far right. (Courtesy Tacoma Pubic Library)
Another 1890s look down on Railroad Avenue north from the Madison Street coal trestle.  The several afternoon shadows of the short pier sheds along the waterfront then appear on the right.
Another 1890s look down on Railroad Avenue south from the Madison Street coal trestle. The several afternoon shadows of the short pier sheds along the waterfront then appear on the right.
Another early post-fire Haynes view of the waterfront, this one most likely from the Madison Street coal wharf.  The competing King Street coal wharf and bunkers reaches into the bay at the scene's center.   Yesler's post-fire wharf is marked left-of-center.  (Courtesy, Tacoma Public Library)
Another early post-fire Haynes view of the waterfront, this one most likely from the Madison Street coal wharf. The competing King Street coal wharf and bunkers reaches into the bay at the scene’s center. Yesler’s post-fire wharf is marked left-of-center. (Courtesy, Tacoma Public Library)

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Paul?  For sure Jean.  Of the five waterfront links that Ron Edge has attached, the first one especially is filled with Madison Street relevance – and more.   That is there are many other features embedded for the reader to release merely by clicking on it (and the others).  And may they also remember to click on the images to enlarge them for studying details.  That’s why we scan them big for the blog.

THEN: The S. S. Suveric makes a rare visit to Seattle in 1911.  (Historical photo courtesy of Jim Westall)

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Muybridge-on-Madison-then-WEB

MUYBRIDGE-in-Seattle-text-grab-WEB

One of Muybridge's early motion studies, and not a Seattle subject necessarily.
One of Muybridge’s early motion studies, and not a Seattle subject necessarily.  Like all else, CLICK to ENLARGE

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: On the Waterfront”

  1. The shipyard of my great great grandfather was in this area, near Colman’s dock. After the fire, Mr. Colman extended him a $500 no-collateral loan to help him get restarted.

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