(click to enlarge photos)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: On the Waterfront”
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.