Seattle Now & Then: Going Postal at Marion & Western

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Arthur Denny named both Marion and James Streets for his invalid brother, James Marion Denny, who was too ill to accompany the “Denny Party” from Oregon to Puget Sound in 1851.  (Courtesy, Gary Gaffner)
THEN: Arthur Denny named both Marion and James Streets for his invalid brother, James Marion Denny, who was too ill to accompany the “Denny Party” from Oregon to Puget Sound in 1851. (Courtesy, Gary Gaffner)
NOW: The Colman Annex was razed for a parking lot in the 1970s, but the Colman Building survives with the four brick stories added to its brownstone base in 1909.  The year the Marion Street pedestrian viaduct to Colman Dock was also added.
NOW: The Colman Annex was razed for a parking lot in the 1970s, but the Colman Building survives with the four brick stories added to its brownstone base in 1909. The year the Marion Street pedestrian viaduct to Colman Dock was also added.

While none of the names for this team and the driver of this U.S. Post wagon are known, the intersection is. The view looks east-southeast  on Marion Street and across Western Avenue, in about 1903, to a three-story stone structure advertising the Seattle Hardware Company(The business was so prosperous that it required an 1100-page hard-bound catalog to cover its inventory.) James Colman built the rustic stone structure across narrow Post Alley from his Colman Building, and named it, perhaps predictably, the Colman Annex.  The Puget Sound News Company, a retailer of stationary, books and periodicals, was the Annex’s first tenant. The hardware store soon followed, the tenant until 1906 when the Imperial Candy Company moved in after Seattle Hardware moved to its own new home at First Ave. S. and King Street.  With its popular Societe Chocolates, Imperial became the Colman Annex’s most well-known and abiding tenant.

A detail selected from the 1884 Birdseye of Seattle to look down at the intersections of Front Street (First Ave.) and Marion (left w. "9" written on it) and Colubmia, right.  In 1884 the northwest corner of Marion and Front was grandly improved with the Frye Opera House, which kitty-korner the future site for the Colman Building was a long line of commercial sheds given a sometimes unifying front facade.  From the bottom of this detail to two block east at Second Avenue, the 1889 fire consumed it all.
A detail selected from the 1884 Birdseye of Seattle to look down at the intersections of Front Street (First Ave.) and Marion (left w. “9” written on it at the original location of Arthur and Mary Denny’s cabin and so the community’s first post office.) and Colubmia, right. In 1884 the northwest corner of Marion and Front was grandly improved with the Frye Opera House, which kitty-korner the future site for the Colman Building was a long line of commercial sheds given a sometimes unifying front facade. From the bottom of this detail to two block east at Second Avenue, the 1889 fire consumed it all.
An unidentified photographer has climbed a ruin on the west side of Front Street (First Ave.) to look north along the waterfront following the Great Fire of 1889.  The already filled street ends on Columbia and Marion are evident just north or beyond the ruins.
An unidentified photographer has climbed a ruin on the west side of Front Street (First Ave.) to look north along the waterfront following the Great Fire of 1889. The already filled street ends on Columbia and Marion are evident just north or beyond the still somewhat standing ruins.  Columbia street cuts thru the photograph left-right just above its its center.   Upper-right stands the tower of the Stetson-Post Block, a subject recently covered here.

After the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, most of the streets between Yesler Way and Madison were extended east into Elliott Bay, as far as the fire’s dumped rubble would support themSoon both Post Alley and Western Avenue were extended off-shore and between the streets on rows of pilings driven into the tideflats.  More than pilings, heavy stone and/or brick structures like the Annex also needed a hard packing of earth for their foundations.  Colman built his Annex from stone delivered around the Horn that was intended for a new central post office at Third and Union, but the stone was rejected as too soft for a government building.  Colman got it cheap.

Central Post-Office at the southeast corner of Union Street and Third Avenue.  This is the accepted Chuckanut stone, while the Colman Annex is made of the first stone ordered for the P.O., but then rejected by the Feds.
Central Post-Office at the southeast corner of Union Street and Third Avenue. This is the accepted Chuckanut sandstone, while the Colman Annex is made of the first stone ordered for the P.O., but then rejected by the Feds.

We’ll note that this “studio” location for a mail wagon’s portrait has a fine coincidence.  Arthur Denny, the city’s first postmaster, built his family’s cabin two short blocks to the east of this intersection, at the northeast corner of First Avenue (originally Front Street) and Marion Street.  It was also the first Post Office. The party of pioneers led by the Dennys, Bells and Borens had moved over from Alki Point early in 1852 to mark their claims.  The first mail to arrive in Seattle came later that year by canoe from Olympia.  Robert Moxlie, the mailman, may have paddled his dugout through this intersection.  The future foot of Marion Street was a low point on the beach where it was easy to step ashore. When Arthur and David Denny’s parents later joined them from Oregon, they built their home at the southeast corner of Union Street and Third AvenueIn 1908 the new Post Office and Federal Building opened on that corner.  It was made of nearby Chuckanut sandstone, apparently harder stuff than that salvaged by James Colman.

In this look east on Marion from Railroad Avenue, work on the Colman Annex (above the team) is still progressing.  The Methodist spire stands at the southeast corner of Third Ave. and Marion Street.
In this look east on Marion from Railroad Avenue, work on the Colman Annex (above the team) is still progressing. The Methodist spire stands at the southeast corner of Third Ave. and Marion Street. [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
A clipping from Pacific: the Methodists at the southeast corner of Third and Marion.  This Gothic head piece (for the corner) was built in the late 1880s and survived the 1889 fire, but not the regrade on Third Avenue, 1907.
A clipping from Pacific: the Methodists at the southeast corner of Third and Marion. This Gothic head piece (for the corner) was built in the late 1880s and survived the 1889 fire, but not the regrade on Third Avenue, 1907.

The Polson Implement Hardware Company, far-right, prospered by facing the Great Northern Railroad’s tracks on Railroad Avenue, here out-of-frame.  Established in 1892, Polson sent its farm machinery throughout the west by rail.  By 1906, the year this rudimentary structure of corrugated iron was replaced with the brick building on the right in our “now,” Polson had moved south to another train-serviced warehouse on the tideflats.

Some of the Post-Office rolling stock that replaced the teams.   (This first appeared in Pacific, Nov. 24, 2002)
Some of the Post-Office rolling stock that replaced the teams. (This first appeared in Pacific, Nov. 24, 2002)
[Courtesy, Carol Gaffner]
[Courtesy, Carol Gaffner]
The mid-1880s Mail line leading into the pioneer P.O. on Mill Street (Yesler Way) between Post and Western.
The mid-1880s Mail line leading into the pioneer P.O. on Mill Street (Yesler Way) between Post and Western.
POST OFFICE ON COLUMBIA
POST OFFICE ON COLUMBIA

POST-OFFICE-on-Columbia-clipping-WEB

[DISREGARD the video order DIRECTLY above.  I’ve changed my box from the University District to Wallingford where it is Box 31636, which I must right down for I have had a hard time memorizing it. ]

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, history hucksters?  Hubba-hubba-hubba Yes Jean, and once again Ron starts it by rolling out some relevant links.  Please Click Them.

THEN:In late 1855 the citizens of Seattle with help from the crew of the Navy sloop-of-war Decatur built a blockhouse on the knoll that was then still at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street. The sloop’s physician John Y. Taylor drew this earliest rendering of the log construction.  (Courtesy, Yale University, Beinecke Library)

THEN: Looking south on First Avenue from its northwest corner with Madison Street, circa 1905.  (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: In this 1887 look up Columbia Street from the waterfront is the bell tower of the fire station, tucked into the hill on the right. It would soon fail to halt the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. The station and everything between it and Elliott Bay were reduced to ashes, smoldering bricks and offshore pilings shortened like cigars. (courtesy, Kurt Jackson)

THEN: Frank Shaw’s late winter composition of waterfront landmarks at the foot of Madison Street in 1963.  (Photo by Frank Shaw)

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To be continued sometimes on Sunday, March 8 . . .

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Going Postal at Marion & Western”

  1. Minor point, but I believe the view of pictures 1 and 2 are to the east rather than the west as indicated in the article. Great photos though.

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