Seattle Now & Then: Ballard railroad, late 1910s/early 1920s

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: In the cover image of a new book, “Preserving Ballard,” three young women straddle a railroad track along Ballard’s west flank in the late 1910s or early 1920s. Two are Swedish sisters from the Peterson family: Rhoda, left, and Ethel, center. The third is believed to have been their friend. A younger sibling, Ted Peterson, became a state senator and during his retirement led a successful campaign to restore the Ballard Bell to its original position on Ballard Avenue. (Peterson Collection, Ballard Historical Society)
NOW: Ballard Historical Society leaders replicate the pose near the old Ballard train depot on 37th Place Northwest: (from left) Cass O’Callaghan, treasurer; Laura K. Cooper, trustee and “Preserving Ballard” producer; and Mary Shile, president. The book will launch at 5 p.m. April 19 at Secret Garden Books, 2214 N.W. Market St.; 7 p.m. April 22 at Sunset Hill Community Association, 3003 N.W. 66th St.; and at 4 p.m. April 24 at the National Nordic Museum, 2655 N.W. Market St. More info: (Jean Sherrard)

Published in the Seattle Times online on April 14, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on April 17, 2022

A trio from a century ago bids a
warm welcome to ‘Preserving Ballard’
By Clay Eals

From about 100 years ago, three young women cheerfully invite us into Seattle’s northwesterly neighborhood of Ballard.

Their sanguine salutation seems germane, given the area’s geographic separation; the formidable length of its namesake 1917 bridge; and its storied, early concentration of work-seeking northern European immigrants who arrived by train.

As the late longtime Ballard resident Maxine Shallow Tuck genially noted in an oral-history interview, “Bus drivers used to say, ‘You got your passports ready? We’re going into Ballard.’ … Because it was a foreign country. It was Scandinavian.”

In fact, when the Ballard News-Tribune produced a 304-page, large-format history book in 1988, the title reinforced that theme: “Passport to Ballard.”

The latest “passport” will be published this month by the all-volunteer Ballard Historical Society. “Preserving Ballard” is trimmer and slimmer at 128 pages, and, as an Arcadia book, it favors visuals over text.

But its narrative and nearly 200 images cover a wide swath, including the life of the Shilshole branch of the Duwamish people and Ballard’s 27-year stretch as an incorporated city before its 1907 annexation to Seattle, along with ample views of industries, businesses, residences and churches.

The book’s cover features our “Then” photo. Clad in bloomers (less restrictive than heavy dresses and promoted by women’s rights activists), the jolly trio looks south while cavorting on Ballard’s west-flank railroad tracks, symbolizing the area’s rapid initial growth.

“For non-Native settlers, this part of the world was about resource extraction from the get-go,” says Laura K. Cooper, who led production of the book. “This was a great place for timber. That’s what really built Ballard, and the fishing industry came along after that. So from the beginning there was the need to move things around.”

The rail line, opening in 1891 and featuring a Ballard depot from 1914 to 1948, runs roughly perpendicular to the Ship Canal locks, built from 1912 to 1917, and borders the bridge-hugging Fisherman’s Terminal, established in 1914. This formative infrastructure helps define Ballard to this day.

The book complements an online innovation of the historical society, funded by 4Culture, that lets visitors click a map to see photos and data linked to 60 Ballard residences and listen to complete, decades-old audio interviews of those who lived therein, some from Polish and other underrepresented nationalities. This parallels another project that tracked more than 2,200 Ballard buildings over 100 years old as of 2016.

The overall aim, Cooper says, is as straightforward as a welcoming wave: “There are a lot of cool things that have happened here over time, and we want people to know about them.”


Special thanks to Laura Cooper, Peggy Sturdivant and Mike Bergman for their help with this installment.

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

Below are a video of Laura Cooper plus a historical clipping from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

VIDEO: Click this photo to see a 3-minute video of Laura Cooper talking about the Ballard railroad and the new book, “Preserving Ballard”! (Clay Eals)
Oct. 7, 1905, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 5.


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