Seattle Now & Then: Judkins panorama, 1880s

(click to enlarge photos)

Careful readers may spot clothes hanging on two backyard lines at lower center of this 1885 or 1886 cityscape. This could narrow the time of year Judkins made his recording, but I remember my mother hanging clothes in the backyard during the winter in Spokane. (Paul Dorpat collection)
This prospect looks south from above the entrance to the alley on the south side of Stewart Street between Second and Third Avenues. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in Seattle Times online on June 13, 2019,
and in print on June 16, 2019)

Stacking up evidence of Seattle’s growth in the 1880s
By Paul Dorpat

This week’s “then” photo looks south toward early downtown Seattle from halfway up the southern slope of then-Denny Hill. With his extension pole, Jean Sherrard lifted his “now” camera to approximate the prospect used by pioneer photographer David Judkins for his panorama – close but, Jean and I agree, still a few feet below Judkins’ roost.

After studying the crowd of clues showing in Judkins’ prospect, Ron Edge, our feature’s frequent sleuth, agrees that Judkins’ photo was recorded in 1885 or 1886. That was three or four years before the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, destroyed about 30 city blocks, including almost everything shrouded here behind the industrial smoke ascending from the right (west).

In early photographic cityscapes, stacks were frequently embraced as the most obvious signs of a community’s industrial success. They stood as booming pillars of pride, and a study of Seattle’s demographics from that time – city directories, tax records and such – confirms it.

In his typewritten “Chronological History of Seattle from 1850 to 1897,” Thomas Prosch, the owner/editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the city’s busiest booster, included a panegyric to the growth of his city, which since the 1880 national census was the largest town in Washington Territory, surpassing Walla Walla by a few hundred citizens.

“The boom that began in 1886 and grew in volume and force in 1887 continued with unabated activity and vigor in 1888,” Prosch wrote. “It was manifested in a thousand ways, but particularly with real estate speculation, in the platting of additions to the city, hundreds of new buildings, scores of graded streets, the new railways, banks, hotels, stores, factories, shops and people.

“The inhabitants of Seattle, who numbered 3,533 in 1880 and 9,786 in 1885, increased in number to 12,167 in 1887 and to 19,116 in 1888. Much as this great increase signified, it was dwarfed by that of the next two years, for the census of 1889 showed Seattle to have 26,740 inhabitants and that of 1890, 42,837.”

(Such rapid growth some 130 years ago should excite a “Wow!” from some of our readers. Want more? Our blog features a complete copy of Prosch’s thick chronology from the mid-1890s.)

The most striking aspect of this “then” photo may be the two hand-drawn Mount Rainiers, the result of merging the panorama’s two halves, each of which sported a peak. Did Judkins believe anyone would fall for his manufactured substitutes? In 1885, it was still difficult to photographically record bright, snow-covered icons such as “The Mountain That Was God” (title of a 1910 guidebook self-published by John H. Williams).

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “now” prospect and compare it with the “then,” and to hear this column read aloud by Paul Dorpat, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Anything to add, fellas?

This morning Jean it will be alas and good night, aka nighty-bears (copy write: Bill Burden).  That is we will soon  again climb the stairs to our small bed resting beside a full-wall reflection – a ballet practice mirror.  (The sometimes frightening effect some early mornings is to awaken with sunrise and face myself.  At eighty it is not a flattering confrontation.)  Now Jean reminds me that this week we promised something more about the Thomas Prosch’s sustained contribution to recording Seattle history.  That will need to wait for later this week.  Now, I’ll be climbing the stairs, again to nighty-bears.  At eighty I use two canes.  Below, as a consoling custom we will again attach some relevant clips.

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