Seattle Now & Then: Where Rails Meet Sails – An 1884 view from Beacon Hill

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Seattle pioneer photographer Theo E. Peiser’s mid-1880s panorama of pioneer Seattle when it was still awash in the tidelands south of King Street. One prominent landmark that our “then” and “now” share is the Magnolia Peninsula. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: I last visited this picnic prospect in Dr. Jose Rizal Park at the north end of Beacon Hill nearly a quarter-century ago. It was not this flora that impressed me then but the impressive tangle of the concrete trestles where Seattle’s freeways meet and mingle. Now much of the concrete is hidden behind the park’s orchard of apple and crabapple (genus Malus) trees. We are told by the Parks Department that the latter are the reddish ones.

Given its generous prospect, we might have expected that Seattle’s earliest photographers would have made many climbs up Beacon Hill for recording panoramas of the city.  If I have counted correctly, there were a mere half-dozen pans taken from the hill before the city’s Great Fire of 1889.  Carlton Watkins, the itinerant California photographer best known for his early records of the Yosemite Valley, shot the earliest one in 1882.  We featured it in this column a century later on October 3, 1982.

Watkin’s 1882 pan from a location some yards north of the prospect chosen later by Peiser. Note the changes.  You can find the Watkins pan and its featured essay in Seattle Now and Then Volume One, which is featured on this blog.   CLICK TO ENLARGE
Moore’s 1872 panorama of Seattle (combined from three prints) looking south from Denny Hill. Second Avenue cuts thru the center of the photograph, and Pike Street crosses it left to right until its path is interrupted by the roof of the shed in the foreground. The Beacon Hill horizon is at the pan’s center. Yesler Wharf juts into Elliott BAy on the right. The UW campus is upper-left on Denny’s Knoll. CLICK TO ENLARGE

By comparison, local recorder George Moore made his first pan of the city aiming south from Denny Hill in 1872.  That was thirteen years after E.A. Clark, almost certainly the city’s first resident with a camera, recorded the city’s first extant photograph, a daguerreotype of Sarah and Henry Yesler’s home at the northeast corner of James Street and Front Street (First Avenue).

E.A. Clark’s portrait, probably from his own camera, the first one (again probably) resident in Seattle.
E.A. Clark’s recording of the Yesler home, with Sarah Yesler on the porch, is conventionally dated 1859, and so the earliest extant photo of any part of Seattle. And not surprisingly this is Pioneer Place or Square with the rough grade of James Street climbing First Hill with the water flume standing on its south side and extending from a tank of fresh water collected near what is now City Hall Park. The tree line is near Fifth Avenue. CLICK TO ENLARGE

To repeat this week we return to Beacon Hill’s desirable prospect with Theo E. Peiser’s 1884-85 pan of the city and its tideflats. Peiser’s pan shows four rail-supporting trestles heading across Plummer’s Bay to the Beacon Hill shoreline.  The parallel quays on the left were new in 1884, and the space between them was soon filled with oversized warehouses. This was Puget Sound’s most prosperous trans-shipment harbor, “where rails meets sails.”   (And soon steamers, as well.)  This is Seattle, the “Seaport of Success,” and the booming beginning of its now 137 years as Washington State’s principal metropolis.

First published in 2005 in a limited edition for Seattle Libraries and its City Council.  A copy is also included on this blog. 

Seattle historian Kurt E. Armbruster is the most helpful unraveler of the sometimes snarl of Seattle’s railroading history.  The Washington State University Press recently reprinted his book “Orphan Road”.  We highly recommend it to PacificNW readers who especially want to research the “rails meet sails” part of our pioneer history.  Our readers might also wish to consult my “Illustrated History of the Seattle Waterfront,” available for free use on our blog dorpatsherrardlomont, in which I often quote from Armbruster’s book.


Anything to add, compadres?  We have rummaged our files for you Jean.  May your and your student’s play go well – the one you are producing soon at Hillside School which rests in its own forest wonderland near the top of Bellevue’s Cougar Mountain. (Which means if there is a heavy snow, the students generally stay home.)  Interested, dear reader, in Hillside’s offerings for your children or the children of others? 

You will find near the top of this blog a bug or icon to click, which will take you to the school’s web page.  A good advertisement for a Hillside education is Jean himself.   Now 60 years old (oh my!) Jean was its first student, and now teaches drama and writing there, and produces the plays his students perform.   [Sincerely Signed, Paul Dorpat]

THEN: A speeding coupe convertible heads north on Beacon Hill’s 15th Ave. S. in 1937.

THEN: The new sub H-3 takes her inaugural baptism at the Seattle Construction and Dry Dock Company’s ways on Independence Day, 1913. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: 1934 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. This look north on Third Avenue South through Main Street and the Second Avenue South Extension was recorded on Thursday, April 19th of that year. Business was generally dire, but especially here in this neighborhood south of Yesler Way where there were many storefront vacancies. (Courtesy Ron Edge)



THEN: In the older scene daring steel workers pose atop construction towers during the 1910 building of the Union Depot that faces Jackson Street.

THEN: At Warshal's Workingman's Store a railroad conductor, for instance, could buy his uniform, get a loan, and/or hock his watch. Neighbors in 1946 included the Apollo Cafe, the Double Header Beer Parlor, and the Circle Theatre, all on Second Avenue.

THEN: The Terry-Denny Building, better known in its earlier years as Hotel Northern, was part of the grand new Pioneer Place (or Square) neighborhood built up in the early 1890s after the old one was reduced to ashes by Seattle's Great Fire of 1889.

Then: The Pacific House, behind the line-up of white-gloved soldiers, might have survived well into the 20th Century were it not destroyed during Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889. Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry

THEN: The Lebanon aka Jesse George building at Occidental and Main opened with the Occidental Hotel in 1891. Subsequently the hotel’s name was changed first to the Touraine and then to the Tourist. The tower could be seen easily from the railroad stations. It kept the name Tourist until replaced in 1960 with a parking lot. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

Looking southwest from Walker Street to the burning ruins.

THEN: The work of filling the tidelands south of King Street began in 1853 with the chips from Yesler’s sawmill. Here in the neighborhood of 9th Ave. S. (Airport Way) and Holgate Street, the tideland reclaiming and street regrading continue 70 years later in 1923. (Courtesy, Municipal Archive)

THEN: Part of the pond that here in 1946 filled much of the long block between Massachusetts and Holgate Streets and 8th Avenue S. and Airport Way. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: Sometime before her first move from this brewery courtyard in 1912, Lady Rainier was moved by a freeze to these sensational effects. She did not turn her fountain off. (Courtesy of Frank & Margaret Fickeisen)

THEN: Harborview Hospital takes the horizon in this 1940 recording. That year, a hospital report noted that "the backwash of the depression" had overwhelmed the hospital's outpatient service for "the country's indigents who must return periodically for treatment." Built in 1931 to treat 100 cases a day, in 1939 the hospital "tries bravely to accommodate 700 to 800 visits a day."

THEN: The Sprague Hotel at 706 Yesler Way was one of many large structures –hotels, apartments and duplexes, built on First Hill to accommodate the housing needs of the city’s manic years of grown between its Great Fire in 1889 and the First World War. Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey

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: F. Jay Haynes recorded this ca. 1891 look up the Seattle waterfront and it’s railroad trestles most likely for a report to his employer, the Northern Pacific Railroad. (Courtesy, Murray Morgan)

THEN: This view looking east from First Avenue South on Jackson Street in 1904, is still four years short of the Jackson Street Regrade during which the distant horizon line near 9th Avenue was lowered by more than 70 feet. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: The Phoenix Hotel on Second Avenue, for the most part to the left of the darker power pole, and the Chin Gee Hee Building, behind it and facing Washington Street to the right, were both built quickly after Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy: Museum of History and Industry.)

THEN: The original for this scene of a temporary upheaval on Mill Street (Yesler Way) was one of many historical prints given to the Museum of History and Industry many years ago by the Charles Thorndike estate. Thorndike was one of Seattle’s history buffs extraordinaire. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)














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