Seattle Now & Then: Ballard Beginnings

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking south – we propose – from near the corner of Ballard’s NW 58th Street and 22nd Avenue NW, circa 1889. (Courtesy Vera Pells Christianson)
NOW:“Public Plaza” is sometimes added to the name Ballard Commons Park. It is one of Ballard’s few parks, and like the community it too is meager on trees. However, for warmer days it features a “Spraypark,” which is a well-wrought fountain for kids to run through.

This week’s feature may be the earliest surviving look into Ballard.  Beyond that we know little about the photo’s intimate parts. We wonder who lived in any of the about thirty minimal structures that can be barely distinguished through the soft focus and smoke.  The white vapors are most likely from stump fires. The photo’s focus may be the responsibility of the age of the print, the camera, or the person who held it.  We don’t know the photographer’s name, nor are we certain of what the community was called at the time of the recording. However, “Farmdale” is scribbled on the flip side of the worn print I first studied.

This captioned photo recorded near the passage where Shilshole Bay narrows into Salmon Bay (later the site of the Chittenden Locks) is dated 1887 and so snapped at about the time that the future Ballard was being first developed as Farmdale with lots for sale and so more than as a homestead. It was also the year when the Seattle Lakeshore and Eastern Railroad first reached Salmon Bay from the Seattle Waterfront. This photo was used in the now-then feature for August 10, 2014 and is included below as the fifth Edge Link. (Courtesy Michael Maslan) 

Farmdale was Ballard’s first and short-lived name.  In 1889 Ballard got its second name, Gilman Park, and the once forested acres that gently sloped south to the north shore of Salmon Bay were divided into hundreds of residential lots and a few larger ones for the factories that were soon strung along the Salmon Bay shoreline.  Daniel Hunt Gilman was one of a quartet of robust capitalists who organized the ambitiously named West Coast Improvement Company to develop the site.  The place was extraordinary fit for building a community for sawyers not farmers. Judge Thomas Burke,


Three Swedish knittters in Ballard (Courtesy, Ballard Historical Society)

another of the ruling quartet, was happy to give up his bucolic visions of gardens in Farmdale for factories.  In four or five chop-chop years the mill town became “The Shingle Capitol of the World,” and more often than not it smelled like Cedar. With its 1890 incorporation, came the third try at naming, and the citizens chose Ballard.  It was given in thanks for William Rankin Ballard the steamboat captain who before the railroad made it to Salmon Bay regularly delivered settlers and their needed supplies to its shores.  Capt. Ballard was another of the company’s quartet.

Early Ballard waterfront as seen from northwest end of Queen Anne.

Of the two waterways shining in the featured panorama at the (very) top, Salmon Bay is, of course, the nearer one.  The other is Elliott Bay.  The wide headland on the horizon is West Seattle.  Right-of-center, its highest elevation is “High Point,” the top of Seattle. (The high point tanks were included last week in a Bradley snapshot taken from South Alki Beach.  They appear on the horizon.)  High Point is about 9 miles south of the Ballard waterfront and about 510 feet above it. Magnolia is on the right, and Queen Anne Hill on the left, with the lowland, Interbay, between them. Left-of-center, at the southwest corner of Queen Anne Hill, the old growth trees of Kinnear Park stand out – and up. For a formality of one dollar, its namesake sold Kinnear Park to Seattle in the fall of 1887, about the time of the featured photo.

An early color-processed slide (and hand-painted) of Kinnear Park, but not as seen from colorful Ballard.

Our featured photo is also printed on page 24 of the illustrated history “Passport To Ballard, The Centennial Story.”  The caption there reads, “The Gilman Park community on Salmon Bay, on the eve of incorporation.  This is one of the earliest known photographs of the community.  Old notes identify the street as 22nd Avenue NW.”  Jean and I think this likely.  We choose NW 57th Street as the repeat for the graded path and planked boardwalk that runs – ca. 1889 – behind the surviving fir tree on the left.

Ballard ambassadors aboard the friendly Tillicum
Salmon in the window for counting and tourists entering the Lock’s fish ladder and heading east to fresh water.
The Terily Tug leaving the locks and heading west into Puget Sound accompanied by two paddle boards. Magnolia is on the left, across the Shilshole Bay. (Jean took this one evening when we lectured to a traveling group of Yale University graduates at a restaurant near the locks on a warm summer evening.)


Anything to add, lads?  TaTa Jean the same routine.  We start with a few recent relevant links that Ron has pulled from the blog itself, and then add a few more that we have scanned for some reason or other from our old clippings.  Some day soon we hope to find a phalanx of well-armed volunteers who will scan them all.


THEN: Looking east from the roof of the still standing testing lab, the Lock’s Administration Building (from which this photograph was borrowed) appears on the left, and the district engineer’s home, the Cavanaugh House (still standing) on the center horizon. (Photo courtesy Army Corps of Engineers at Chittenden Locks)

THEN: James Lee, for many years an official photographer for Seattle’s public works department, looks south over Ballard’s Salmon Bay a century ago. Queen Anne Hill marks the horizon, with a glimpse of Magnolia on the far right. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: Ballard photographer Fred Peterson looks south-southeast on Ballard Avenue on February 3rd or 4th, 1916. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: Captioned Salmon Bay, 1887, this is most likely very near the eastern end of the bay where it was fed by Ross Creek, the Lake Union outlet. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan Vintage Posters and Photographs)

THEN: A circa 1908 look northeast through the terminus of the Loyal Electric Street Railway line at the corner of now Northwest 85th Street, 32nd Ave. Northwest, and Loyal Way Northwest. (Courtesy, the Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: This look west from the West Woodland neighborhood toward Ballard comes by way of the Museum of History and Industry, with some help from both Ron Edge and West Woodland historian Susan Pierce.

THEN: With his or her back to the original Ballard business district, an unnamed photographer looks southeast on Leary Way, most likely in 1936.

THEN: Built in 1910, Ballard’s big brick church on the northwest corner of 20th Avenue NW and NW 63rd Street lost the top of its soaring tower following the earthquake of Nov. 12, 1939.

THEN: The Ballard Public Library in 1903-4, and here the Swedish Baptist Church at 9th and Pine, 1904-5, were architect Henderson Ryan’s first large contracts after the 20 year old southerner first reached Seattle in 1898. Later he would also design both the Liberty and Neptune Theatres, the latter still projecting films in the University District. (Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: This panorama could have used a tower (or drone) to better survey the size of the June 1, 191l, crowd gathered in Fremont/Ross to celebrate the beginning of construction on the Lake Washington Ship Canal. (Courtesy, Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: Ballard’s short-lived fire station at the southwest corner of Broadway (NW Market Street) and Burke Avenue (Russell Ave. NW) circa 1903. Looking northwest the view includes, above the horses, a glimpse of Sypher’s Hall, a rentable venue for playful and/or political events. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)



First appeared in Pacific, May 6, 2001




First printed in Pacific, June 14, 2001




Fist appeared in Pacific, December 11, 1988


Seattle Cedar looking north across Salmon Bay from the Fishermen’s Terminal, or near it.


First appeared in Pacific June 24, 1984


First appeared in Pacific, July 15, 1984


First appeared in Pacific, August 1, 1999



Top: Digging the large lock. Middle: Filling the large lock during the Big Snow of 1916 as an emergency measure to moved water taxis and other vessels off the lakes and around Magnolia to Elliott Bay. The trollies between downtown and then north end were all snowed-in. Bottom: The Big Lock with the Army Corps’ stern-wheeler Preston heading for the lakes.  (CLICK TWICE TO ENLARGE)
Nearly “dewatered” large lock separated from the passing temporary channel for chipping by a coffer wall. The view look east.


First appeared in Pacific November 18, 2007
Appeared in Pacific first on October 31, 2004
Ballard from 14th Ave. nw at the northwest corner of Queen Anne Hill. Note the old Ballard trolley and wagon bridge on the far right, and the Great Norther Railroad’s curving trestle to the waterfront.  CLICK CLICK TO ENLARGE

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Ballard Beginnings”

  1. Dear Sir, Ma’am. Can you tell me the date this photo was taken? The caption is as follows from the photo: The Terily Tug leaving the locks and heading west into Puget Sound accompanied by two paddle boards. Magnolia is on the left, across the Shilshole Bay. (Jean took this one evening when we lectured to a traveling group of Yale University graduates at a restaurant near the locks on a warm summer evening.) Thank you and great job on this blog!

    1. Hi Darrell,
      Jean Sherrard here. The photo was taken in the late summer of 2012 – and Paul had it slightly skewed; it was an elderly group of Princeton grads we lectured.

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