Seattle Now & Then: Piner's Point and Plummer's Bay

(click TWICE to enlarge photos)

THEN: An unnamed photographer here looks down from Beacon Hill to the flooded mudflats south of Seattle’s Pioneer Place neighborhood either very late in December 1883 or, more likely, early in 1884. The pilings in the bay that are not useful trestles are land speculators freelance markings meant to set precedents of ownership to the tideflats. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry
NOW: We have added some sky and city to Jean Sherrard’s repeat to help orient the reader.

Seattle’s first commercial center was built on a small peninsula south of Yesler Way, which the exploring Navy Lieutenant Wilkes called Piner’s Point in 1841, a decade before the first settlers arrived. The commercial buildings, upper-right, are on Piner’s Point. To the south the peninsula ended with a small bluff at King Street.  Beyond that were the mudflats seen here, and to the east a salty marsh that was flooded at high tide.  This little inlet east of Piner’s Point was called Plummer’s Bay for a pioneer that lived beside it.

This view was – I think – recorded from a knoll that once topped Beacon Hill like a hood ornament.  If Charles Street had climbed the hill it would have reached the knoll.  Charles is one block south of Dearborn, and if I have calculated it correctly that wide pathway extending from the bottom of the photograph to the bay is Dearborn – or very near it.  This is a quarter-century before there was any Dearborn Cut through the ridge that previous to the cutting merely slumped between First and Beacon Hills.

Jackson Street is on a timber quay far right, and King Street is the narrow-gauge railroad trestle curving quickly to dry land to be free of the wood boring Teredo worms. Here pioneer Joe Surber built the trestle with piles 65-feet long because of the mud. It took only two poundings of his pile driver’s hammer to push the piles through 35 feet of mud to hardpan. The King Street rails can be followed west to the King Street wharf, where the coal brought from mines near Renton was delivered to ships.  This wharf, here with a coal collier tied to its north side, was the biggest thing in town and coal Seattle’s biggest “cash crop.”

In “Orphan Road,” Kurt Armbruster’s helpful sorting of the often snarled history of railroading hereabouts, the author names the wide trestle extending out of frame to the left the “broad gauged strip” because regular gauge track was laid on it. Armbruster has it completed in Sept. 1883, which most likely means it was then “connected” with the Point. The laying of tracks followed.  The date for this scene may be as late as early 1884.  If you can see it, the little cupola or fog bell tower built atop the south end of the Ocean Dock, right of center, was completed in mid-December of 1883.


I’m including, just below, a very wide pan taken from Beacon Hill (a portion of that pan was used as this week’s ‘Now’). It will be featured in our Repeat Photography exhibit at MOHAI, opening on April 8th. Click and click again to see its full size.

Pan from Beacon Hill (about 500kb)

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean, one story and a few photos most from Beacon Hill thru the years.  But first let me thank you for your steady disposition in facing this baffling blog botch that seems to be upon us – upon us for being good contributors with more stuff for more and more readers.   Ultimately, dear readers, we are confident that we will find a solution that allows us to build the site and not retreat.  Forward   – now to Beacon Hill and from it.   First the first story I wrote for Pacific – or through it for the readers – on a subject related to Beacon Hill.  Titled “THE 1882 VIEW FROM BEACON HILL” it was published on Oct. 3, 1982.  (I was a few days shy of my 44th birthday.)   The story was given two full pages in the magazine, a frequent treatment thru that first year.

1882 VIEW FROM BEACON HILL (Oct 3, 1982)

Early in the 20th Century, Thomas Prosch, a retired newspaper publisher, assembled and captioned three photo albums now preserved in the University of Washington Special Collections.  The Prosch volumes are, of course, helpful for identifying the earliest pictorial records of Seattle.  For instance, Prosch’s caption for the accompanying panorama from Beacon Hill reads, “Seattle in 1882 from Dearborn Street and Twelfth Avenue South looking northwest.  Among the buildings are the Stetson and Post Sawmill, County Courthouse, Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches, Squire’s Opera House, Post Building and Yesler’s Mill Co.”

The city’s “Great Fire” of 1889 destroyed almost all the landmarks included in this panorama.  And since Prosch’s caption means little to all but a few 21st Century viewers – you perhaps included – readers will need to take a careful look to see what is there to see.

Easiest to locate is the Stetson and Post Sawmill – the daring intrusion onto the tideflats at the far left.  The mill was built in 1882 at the present location of First Ave. South, between King and Weller Streets.  During the next year its crew of 117 men would cut some 14 million feet of lumber.   The city’s pioneer Yesler Mill was left in its scattered chips.

Next, look for the Catholic Church, Our Lady of Good Help.  It’s the large white Gothic structure on the right.  Like the mill the church was also new in 1882.  Its new pipe organ was the second in town.   The first pipe organ was installed in Trinity Episcopal Church in July of the same year.  A visiting organist from New York christened it with a well-attended grand opening.  Trinity is the while building just to the right and a little above the Catholics.  Dedicated in 1871, Trinity stood at the northwest corner of Third Ave. and Jefferson Street, and was the only major structure on Third Avenue north of Yesler Way (Mill Street then) destroyed by the fire.

To the right of Trinity Church is the County Courthouse Prosch noted.  Also new in 1882, the large white and boxish structure (with a box-tower too), shows seven windows on its south façade at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Third Ave., now the site of City Hall Park. Unlike the nearby church, the Courthouse survived the fire as jurors and witnesses reluctantly adjourned from a murder trail to spread wet blankets across the roof.  In 1891 after the county moved to a new home on top of First Hill, the city moved in and through its seventeen-year residency kept enlarging the frame structure in a floundering attempt to keep up with the growing boomtown it tried to govern.  The odd additions soon gave city hall a new name in allusion to a then popular skew-ball comic strip.  It was called Seattle’s Katzenjammer Kastle.

The slender pointed spire of the Methodist Church is just to the left of the Courthouse.  When it was built in 1855 at Second Ave. and Columbia Street, it was the town’s first church.

Squire’s Opera House is the dominant dark structure near the center of the photograph.  It stood on the east side of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) closer to Main Street than to Washington Street.   In 1882 it was still the largest auditorium in town.

In 1880 the view from Beacon Hill was still obscured by old growth forest in places.  But by 1882 it had been clear-cut and at night the city glowed (in places) with 30 gas lamps lining the busiest streets.   The Gas Company building can be seen in the crook of the bay, which may also be called “Gas Cove.”

1882 was a boom years for Seattle.  In the Nov. election 1,274 votes were cast, the most for any community in the territory, and for the first time more than were counted in Walla Walla – sixty more.   New buildings with stone and iron facades were on the drawing boards, many modeled after the Post Building on Mill Street between Pioneer Place and Yesler’s Wharf and mill.

The Post Building on Mill Street (Yesler Way) just west of the Post Alley (or street or avenue - all of them used in time.)

In the second accompanying photo (above) Prosch is the bearded figure standing at the base of the steps of the Post Building at Yesler Way and Post Street.  In 1882 he was editor and part owner of the Post-Intelligencer, which had been formed the year before by merging his Daily Intelligencer with the Daily Post.  Thomas Prosch died on March 30, 1915, while crossing the Duwamish River in a chauffeur-driven motorcar.  He was returning from a meeting of the Tacoma Historical Society.  For eighty-six years the industrious editor has been resting in peace.

The elbow of Gas Cove about one year later, ca. 1883. Here the new ceramic and tile show structures have appeared on Pioneer Square (center), but as yet there is no dome for the Frye Opera House on First (Front) at Marion. The gas company's quarters, lower-right, are still modest but will soon begin to sprawl. Jackson Street is still on a trestle, but the block between it and Main Street is beginning to be reclaimed with landfill.

This view is most likely from 1884, the year that Holy Names Academy built its spire-topped new school at 7th between Jackson and Weller Streets.  It can be found here right-of-center.  The Opera House dome appears here.  Click Twice and see if you can find it left-of-center.  It is small but it is white.

The Yesler-Terry Building and the Occidental Hotel, both elegant creations of 1883 facing Pioneer Place, hold the center of this scene.

The curving trestle to King Street has been enlarged, and the tideflats have been “infested” with useless pilings punch in the mud to create hoped-for precedents of tidelands ownership.  The gas works are growing.

A wider view from circa 1891. (Click TWICE to enlarge.) The curving King Street trestle is hard to find. First Avenue to extending south from King Street onto (or over) the tideflats.

By 1902 it is difficult to find the tides directly south of King Street.

She is pointing down to Hooverville while explaining to the P-I reporter her concern over having neighbors like those in its shacks so near her Beacon Hill home. In the newspaper account the woman is named. The picture is a collage of two photographs. In one she stands by her window and points. In the other a detail of the old tidelands below where it is dappled with depression era shacks has been inserted, and all in the interest of sensational reporting of fear and loathing for its already anxious readers.
Taken sometime soon after World War Two, this prospect is lower on the hill.

Seattle Freeway construction circa 1963. The Space Needle is in there. I-5's thru Seattle was dedicated in 1967, although parts of it were used earlier. (Courtesy Post-Intelligencer)
The 1968 construction of the SeaFirst Tower is nearing the top of its momentary singularity. Photo by Lawton Gowey.
Lawton turns west to record the tidelands with two slides we have merged. Photo by Lawton Gowey in 1968.
A merge of two slides I took, I write, "circa 1996." For a visit so recent you'd think I'd be secure with the year. Some will remember the Kingdome. Some will only remember its implosion.
Don Scott's art (and others) in Taejen Park (recently renamed Daejeon Park) on the I-90 Trail.

We take this ordinarily non-daily Daily Sykes day - Sunday - to introduced a Sykes slide of his friend Myra Wiggens' painting of the Marine Hospital - it was once called - on the forehead of Beacon Hill.

FINALLY – BEACON HILL should not be confused with . . . .

Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, Washington side, a few miles up stream from Portland and near Stevenson. Here follows Jean’s repeat of it on a very hot cloudless day in the summer of 2005 when we were out exploring for our book Washington Then and Now.

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