Category Archives: Seattle Waterfront History


Table Of Contents

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

This illustrated history of Seattle’s waterfront is a collection of touchstones – a roughly chronological one.  As the table of contents reveals it is bumpy and reading it is more like walking on a beach of river rocks mixed with polished pebbles than down a graded road.

The writing was done over a four month sprint and modestly supported with tax dollars –  your taxes if you pay them.  The client was your Seattle City Council, and its agent, the then city  councilman Peter Steinbrueck.  Peter felt that members of the council should know more about the waterfront’s past in order to act wisely with issues of its future.   In 2004 it was on the verge of the big changes that are now in 2011 beginning to unfold.

City Hall printed and spiral bound perhaps 100 copies for local libraries, city council members and a few others who were interested.   It has, I have learned, been useful to a few public historians, but I imagine that its concilmanic uses have been minimal.  It is, after all, the normal routine of deliberating politicians to be engulfed with reports and this one is two inches thick.  Perhaps Peter’s peers puttered with the pictures.   (Repeat that seven times fast, for that may be all the time you have.)

Now with the help of Ron Edge’s machinations – scanning and sectioning – you too may easily read this “Edge Edition” from cover to cover.  If you do I guarantee at least a feel for the history of our waterfront, but, again, a bumpy one.  Or you are encouraged to enter this field of historical touchstones at any point and leave so too.   Whichever, this may be satisfying.

Paul Dorpat 7-10-2011

 PDF of complete book

Port of Seattle 100th Anniversary!

Jean writes: We at DorpatSherrardLomont occasionally come across miracles, marvels and gold nuggets which, of course, we pass along to the co-conspirators who visit this blog.

Might we suggest, the following jewel of a video by Vaun Raymond, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Port of Seattle.

Paul adds:  It was a pleasure to be framed by Vaun’s camera.  He has the knack.

(click for video)

Seattle Now & Then: The Naramore Fountain

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Art Critic Sheila Farr describes George Tsutakawa’s fountain at 6th and Seneca as showing a “style that lends modernism with philosophical and formal elements of traditional Asian art, a combination that became emblematic of the Northwest school.” (Photo by Frank Shaw)
NOW: The original hope that the Naramore Fountain would soften the environment of the Interstate-5 Freeway was later greatly extended with the construction of its neighbor, Freeway Park. For reference, the Exeter Apartments at 8th and Seneca can be seen upper-right in both the “now and then.” (Photo by Jean Sherrard)

The “Fountain of Wisdom” is the name for the first fountain that Japanese-American sculptor George Tsutakawa built a half-century ago. The name was and still is appropriate for the fountain was sited beside swinging doors into Seattle Public Library’s main downtown branch.  In 1959 it was on the 5th Avenue side of the modern public library that replaced a half-century old stone Carnegie Library on the same block.  Five years ago this “first fountain” was moved one block to the new 4th Avenue entrance of the even “more modern” Koolhouse Library.

As the sculptor’s fortunes developed after 1959 his work at the library door might have also been called “ Tsutakawa’s fountain of fountains” for in the following 40 years he built about 70 more of them including the one shown here at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and Seneca Street.  Named for Floyd Naramore, the architect who commissioned it, this fountain site was picked in part to soften the “edge of the freeway” especially here at Seneca where northbound traffic spilled into the Central Business District.

Photographer Frank Shaw was very good about dating his slides, and this record of late installation on the fountain, was snapped on June 10, 1967.  Tsutakawa is easily identified as the man steadying the ladder on the right.  Not knowing the others, I showed the slide to sculptor and friend Gerard Tsutakawa, George’s son, who identified the man on the ladder as Jack Uchida, the mechanical engineer “who did the hydraulics and structural engineering for every one of my fathers’ fountains.”

Gerard could not name the younger man with the hush puppies standing on one of the fountain’s petal-like pieces made sturdy from silicon bronze.  However, now after this “story” has been “up” for two days, Pat Lind has written to identify the slender helper on the left. Lind writes, “The young man in the ‘then’ photo is Neil Lind, a UW student of Professor George Tsutakawa at the time, who helped install the fountain.  Neil Lind graduated from the  UW and taught art for 32 years at Mercer Island Junior High and Mercer Island Hight School until his retirement.  His favorite professor was George Tsutakawa.”

When shown Jean Sherrard’s contemporary recording of the working fountain Gerard smiled but then looked to the top and frowned.   He discovered that the tallest points of its sculptured crown had been bent down.  A vandal had climbed the fountain.  Gerard noted, “That’s got to be corrected.”


Jean writes: It is nigh impossible to capture the visual effects of a fountain in a photograph. I took the THEN photo used by The Times with a nearly two-second shutter speed to approximate the creamy flow of white water over the black metal of the sculpture.  But there’s another view, shot at 1/300s of a second, that freezes the individual drips and drops.

Shot at 1/300s of a second
More particles than waves

The actual fountain must lie somewhere between the two.

A wider view with onramp and red umbrella
A wider view with on-ramp and red umbrella


We have made a quick search of the Frank Shaw collection – staying for now with the color – and come up with a few transparencies that record local “art in public places” most of it intended, but some of it found.  Most of these are early recordings of subjects that we suspect most readers know.  We will keep almost entirely to Shaw’s own terse captions written on the sides of these slides.  He wrote these for himself and consequently often he did not make note of the obvious.   He also typically wrote on the side of his Hasselblad slides the time of day, and both the F-stop and shutter speed he used in making the transparency.  He was disciplined in recording all this in the first moment after he snapped his shot.  Anything that we add to his notes we will “isolate” with brackets.  The first is Shaw’s own repeat of the Naramore fountain at 6th and Seneca.

6th &Seneca Fountain, June 11, 1967
6th &Seneca Fountain, June 11, 1967
Kids on Archisculpture Whale in Occidental Park, March 29, 1974
Kids on Archisculpture Whale in Occidental Park, March 29, 1974
"Black Sun" - Volunteer Park - Dec. 28, 1969
"Black Sun" - Volunteer Park - Dec. 28, 1969
Sculpture, Full View - Highland Drive, Feb 1, 1970  ["Changing Form" by Doris Chase in Kerry Park on W. Highland Drive.  Ordinarily this peice is photographed with the city's skyline behind it.  Shaw's look to the southwest is not conventional.]
Sculpture, Full View - Highland Drive, Feb 1, 1970 ("Changing Form" by Doris Chase in Kerry Park on W. Highland Drive. Ordinarily this peice is photographed with the city's skyline behind it. Shaw's look to the southwest is not conventional.)
Fountain by Science Pavilion - May 30, 1962
Fountain by Science Pavilion - May 30, 1962
Ferry Terminal Fountain from above, Dec. 31, 1972. [Another by Tsutakawa]
Ferry Terminal Fountain from above, Dec. 31, 1972. (Another by Tsutakawa)
Group by City Hall Fountain, Oct 6, 1962
Group by City Hall Fountain, Oct 6, 1962
Lion in front of Seattle Art Museum, June 19, 1962
Lion in front of Seattle Art Museum, June 19, 1962
Fountain at New Waterfront Park, Nov. 26, 1974
Fountain at New Waterfront Park, Nov. 26, 1974
Fountain in Playhouse Plaza, May 30, 1962
Fountain in Playhouse Plaza, May 30, 1962
Boys on Plaza Fountain, Civic Center, June 1, 1963
Boys on Plaza Fountain, Civic Center, June 1, 1963
Seattle First's sculpture with new Bank of California Building, Feb./21/74
Seattle First's sculpture with new Bank of California Building, Feb./21/74
Frank Shaw's 1980 return to Moore's art at the northwest corner of 4th and Madison beside what was once nicknamed "The Black Box."
Frank Shaw's 1980 return to Moore's art as furniture at the northwest corner of 4th and Madison beside what was once nicknamed "The Black Box."
Frank Shaw returned to Moore's sculpture in March 1983, this time with black & white film in is camera, to record a springtime event he does not name with his caption.
Frank Shaw returned to Moore's sculpture in March 1983, again with black & white film in his camera, to record a springtime event he did not identify.
World War I Memorial "Dough Boy" Statue, July 17, 1966
World War I Memorial "Dough Boy" Statue, July 17, 1966

Rededication of Totem Pole, Aug. 21, 1972.  [In Pioneer Square - Can you name those politicians?]
Rededication of Totem Pole, Aug. 21, 1972. (In Pioneer Square - Can you name those politicians?)
Progress Report - Pioineer Square,  Jan 14, 1973 [Note that the Olympic Block to the far side of the Pergola and on the southeast corner of Yesler and First Ave. S. - has half fallen in.]
Progress Report - Pioneer Square, Jan 14, 1973 (Note that half of the Olympic Block - to the far side of the Pergola and on the southeast corner of Yesler and First Ave. S. - has fallen in.)
View across Pioneer Square from Olympic Buildilng area. FEb. 7, 1974.  [The collapse secton of the  Olympic block provided for a few months Pioneer Square's own repeat of the romantic passion for classic ruins.]
View across Pioneer Square from Olympic Building area. Feb. 7, 1974. (The collapsed section of the Olympic block provided for a few months Pioneer Square's own opportunity for indulging the romantic passion for classic ruins.)

An example of Frank Shaw modern sensibility is this recording of what he describes as "Garbled Billboard on 1st Ave., April 5, 1972.]
An example of Frank Shaw's sometimes modern sensibility is this recording of what he describes as "Garbled Billboard" on 1st Ave., April 5, 1972.
"Concrete Block, Tree on Fill Area North of Alaskan Way, May 23, 1975.  [With his fascination for the dumped concrete blocks Frank Shaw was looking south through the location of SAM's future Sculpture Park.]
Concrete Block, Tree on Fill Area North of Alaskan Way, May 23, 1975. (With his fascination for these dumped concrete blocks Frank Shaw was presciently looking south through the location of SAM's future Sculpture Park.)

Seattle Waterfront History, Chapter 7

[As always, click and click again to enlarge the pictures.]

The Turn at Broad Street

From his prospect above Main Street a few yards west of the pioneer Commercial Street (First Avenue South) the Denny Hill greenbelt at its north end seemed to George Robinson, the Victoria photographer visiting in 1869, to conclude with a profile made from trees leaning slightly towards Elliott Bay. [See illustration #51 in Chapter 6] At Broad Street the shoreline turns just far enough to the east (or to the map-north) that from old town there seems to be a formidable peninsula protruding there.  But the waterfront really makes only a slight turn north of Broad.  The “peninsular effect” is heightened by Magnolia, which in the distant haze is a lighter shade. The combined conditions of a slight turn and atmospheric perspective give this modest point near the future foot of Broad Street more prominence than it actually owns.  If Robinson had recorded the parts of his panorama from the deck of the Hunt, that point near Broad would have been missed or not noticed and, of course, with the slapping of the paddles his photograph would have also been out of focus.   For from the Hunt – where we see that Canadian side wheeler in Robinson’s pan – the shoreline beyond the point would have been revealed and joined in one continuous greenbelt with the green western slope of Denny Hill and with no Magnolia haze to confuse it or encourage a mistaken point.  [Using a straight edge and a map of Seattle one can easily warrant this observation about the deceptive point at Broad Street as seen from Piner’s Point, aka the Pioneer Square Historic District.  Near one end place the straight edge half way between First Ave. S. and Alaskan Way on Main Street – Robinson’s prospect.  Keeping this point fixed or stationary, pivot the same side of the straight edge or ruler so that it touches the intersection of Alaskan Way and Broad Street.  You will note that the waterfront north of Broad Street runs nearly parallel with the straight edge.  Consequently from Robinson’s second floor prospect it is only barely lost to view.]

The first U.S. topographical map of Seattle from the mid 1870s (already noted several times in previous chapters) shows this slight turn in the waterfront to be near Eagle and Bay Streets or just north of the foot of Broad Street. In Robinson’s 1869 photograph where the waterfront reaches Broad Street, the bank or bluff has petered out and the darker vegetation that reaches the beach is – to reiterate – marked by the leaning tree at Broad Street or very near it. [Again, see illustration No.51 in Chapter 6.] By the mid-1870s the lean in the tree at Broad managed to bend so close to the water that it was chosen as a defining landmark by the cartographer.  It is noted on a printing of the map.

1870: Census

Before we follow Robinson to near the northern edge of Yesler’s dogleg wharf to study his other view of the Seattle waterfront, we will first admit that for the moment the Robinson attribution is, perhaps, a sober hunch.  (The splendid informality of the blog means I can change or confirm it all later.)

Next we may also speculate on how many locals made it to the wharf on the 21st of July 1869 to survey emissary Seward during his brief visit to Seattle on his way to “proving” Alaska.  Most likely a telegram-ignited grapevine prepped all locals that he was on his way.  And what sort of population did he have to draw from? In the 1870 federal census Washington territory had 23,955 residents, and of these King County counted 2164 persons, or less than half the population of Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood now.   Of the few hundred only 243 were counted as Indians. (Some of them may have been living on or above the beach on Bell’s then inactive Belltown claim.)  In Seattle there were 1142 inhabitants including blacks, whites, Chinese and Indians.  Walla Walla with 1394 inhabitants was the largest town in the Territory and its namesake county was the most populated as well.  (Walla Walla kept this distinction throughout the 1870s and was again slightly more populated in 1880 than Seattle when figured by the Federal census that year.  However, it was a distinction lost to Seattle – by estimates – the following year.) It is left to the reader to approximate how many of Seattle’s 1100-plus citizens made it down to the dock to listen to Seward.  Without a news report or reminiscence of a nose-counter, my hunch is that at least half of those hundreds pulled themselves away from their home entertainments, responsibilities, or brooding introversion to attend.

1869: Robinson’s View of the Central Waterfront from Yesler’s Wharf

George Robinson’s second view of Seattle (if our attribution is correct) was photographed from near the end of Yesler’s dog-legged Wharf and on its north side. [52] It looks across Yesler’s millpond to Front Street (First Avenue) between Columbia Street on the far right and Madison Street on the far left.  Although Front still generally follows the contours of the native land, it has been graded for wagons, and the scrapings from the street can be clearly seen between it and the waterfront.  What is perhaps most startling about this earliest view of the central waterfront is how the bay nearly reaches Front Street.  At a not very high tide it would have flooded the narrow Post Alley that following the city’s 1889 fire was developed a half block west of Front Street on fill and pilings.


The white classical symmetry of the Territorial University sits left of center on the horizon.  To the left and below it is Rev. Daniel Bagley’s “Brown Church” at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Madison Street.  The paint job on the lower rear wall of the church – the attached one story western section – is darker than it appears in Robinson’s panorama where it seems to be a second and lighter tone than that used for the west façade of the main section of the church.


If these differences hold and are not simply the result of photographic effects, then Robinson would have recorded this scene and the merged panorama on different visits.  A study of the trees on the horizon (like fingerprints their branches don’t lie) shows that the panorama from Commercial and Main was photographed later than the view from Yesler’s Wharf.  One sizeable tree that appears in the view from the wharf is missing in the panorama from Plummer’s Hall.  But is this imagined what with trees overlapping and swaying this way and that?  There is, however, a clincher to dissipate these doubts.  A residence appears in the panorama that is not included in the view from Yesler’s Wharf.

[7-Ronbinson-Comerc-det WEB]

The missing house can be found in Chapter 6 in the printing there of the full Robinson pan.  For searching it is best to use the layered rendering of the pan, the one which includes the left half on top and the right half – the one of interest in this matter – on the bottom of the diptych.   Or the house can be seen here [above] in the detail extracted from yet another photograph Robinson recorded during the visit that included the panorama.  This one looks north up the middle of Commercial Street with Robinson’s back to King Street.  The “new” home appears on the right and the university on the left.  Judging from the home’s position in reference to the Territorial University’s main building at the northeast corner of Seneca and 4th Avenue, that freshly appearing home would be near what is now the intersection of 5th and Spring.


Granted that the Robinson detail is not so detailed itself, we can, I think, still find the home in question near the center of a view [above] taken from the Territorial University in 1887.  It looks southeast towards First Hill.  What appears like an attached shed to the rear, or north, in the Robinson view, has been upgraded with an Italianate bay window along the home’s west façade.  And in 1887 King County Treasurer George D. Hill lives there.  Most likely he had a family, although the 1885 directory that lists him residing at the northwest corner of Fifth and Spring does not make note of it.  Hill is not the old home’s first resident for he arrived in Seattle in 1879, or ten years after Robinson made his panorama that showed this home when it was alone and new.

Another view – or stitched views – from an upper floor of the University was recorded in the early 1870s.  George Moore, the city’s principal resident photographer then, may be responsible.  It looks [below] down 4th Avenue on the left (the Baptist church appears in the distance on 4th near Cherry) and over the tower of the first and here new Central School at the northeast corner of 3rd and Madison, and beyond that to Yesler’s Wharf.  Elliott Bay then was still its aboriginal size with tidelands – on the left washing against Beacon Hill – that had not yet been reclaimed and developed.


Returning to Robinson’s 1869 recordings from the end of Yesler’s Wharf we will make note of something that cannot  – yet – be noted in the photograph itself.   A beachside stone-covered tomb, mentioned by historian David Buerge, which was uncovered beneath a burial mound near Front Street and a little ways north of Marion Street was for Robinson and everyone still covered and undetected in the photograph from Yesler’s Wharf.  From Buerge’s description, in this 1869 view the mound is most likely somewhere near the shed on the left that is built in part over the beach.  [52]

Marion Street ends at Front Street on the rise just left of center.  [52] In 1872 the town’s first “pleasure garden”, a landscaped bower with hanging lanterns and beer, was developed on the hillside a little ways north of Madison Street and east of 2nd, which would put it directly to the far side of Bagley’s Brown Church as seen here.  [I have not as yet come upon a photograph of this attraction and may never. Photographs of Seattle in the 1870s are rare.]  Sited then between and in line with the Methodists and the University, the beer garden would thereby fulfill the trinity of basic human needs – understanding, redemption, and refreshments.

If taxes and fees are reliable signs of a community’s priorities and grudges, in 1869, the first year of its new status as a chartered municipality, Seattle considered the requirements of its streets more fundable than its dogs, but the dogs, at least, were dearer than the town’s deceased.  General taxes collected amounted to $494.23.  However more than three times that amount was got from a designated “road tax”: $1601.  Dog licenses yielded $119.50, an impressive sum when it is considered that only $47 was gained from cemetery lots.  The figure contributed from theatricals, only $20, is a dour sign of the part played by the professional performing arts in the still teenage community.



The scene above is nearly as old as Robinson’s record of Seattle’s waterfront. This view was also made from the end of Henry Yesler’s wharf, and looks across his millpond to the side-wheeler Alida. Above and behind the steamship’s paddle is the dirt intersection we are by now familiar with, that at Marion St. and Front St. (now First Ave). That puts the side-wheeler in the parking lot now bordered by Post and Western avenues and Columbia and Marion streets or just behind the Colman Building. The occasion is either in the summer of 1870 or 1871. The by now familiar steeple-topped Methodist Protestant Church, the “Brown Church,” on the left was built in 1864. In the summer of 1872 its’ builder and pastor, Rev. Daniel Bagley, added a second story with a mansard roof, which can be studied in the Peterson study of the same waterfront also recorded from Yesler’s wharf and included soon below in this chapter.  Bagley was also the main force behind the construction of the University of Washington, which shows off quite well in this view with its dome-shaped cupola at the center horizon. The photograph’s third tower, on the right, tops Seattle’s first public school. Central School, which we just inspected from the campus, was built in 1870 back from the northwest corner of Third and Madison. If the bell in its bell tower were still calling classes, it would be clanging near the main banking lobby of the SeaFirst tower.  [Actually, I no longer know how the “old” 1968 SeaFirst tower is used or if there is still an upscale restaurant on the top floor.  Last I was there may have been in 1982 – before the bank crashed – or was unloaded – because of bad oil-related securities, I believe.  It was in the restaurant that I coincidentally was introduced to the banker who, it was later revealed, was principally responsible for the bank’s failure to stay a locally-owned institution: Seattle’s first bank, started by the honest old pioneer, Dexter Horton and, at first, named after him.  Some readers will remember the bank’s advertisements that purred with Horton heritage.]

The Alida’s 115-foot keel was laid in Olympia in 1869, but its upper structure was completed in Seattle, in June of the following year, at Hammond’s boat yard near the foot of Columbia Street, and so just to the right of this scene. Perhaps, the occasion for this photograph has to do with her inaugural launching. Ellliott Bay first tested the full Alida on June 29, 1870. Captain E. A. Starr invited Seattle’s establishment on the roundtrip trial run to Port Townsend. The July 4 edition of the Weekly Intelligencer reported that “During the passage down, the beautiful weather, the delightful scenery, the rapid and easy progress made, and last though not least, the excellent instrumental and vocal music which was furnished by the ladies, all contributed to the enjoyment of the occasion.” The steam to Port Townsend took four hours and eight minutes, and a little more on the return.  Then or now, who could complain what with the summer scenery and the music?

The Alida’s 20-year career on Puget Sound began with a few months of glory. She was the first steamship to successfully intrude on the monopoly that another side-wheeler, the Eliza Anderson, had established on the Sound.  [The Eliza Anderson is seen – twice – and described in chapter three.]  The satisfactions (customers) that the Alida’s owners, the Starr brothers, had taken from the older vessel were, however, short-lived. The Alida proved herself too slow and too light for the open waters of the straits. In 1871 the Starr brothers introduced a second and stronger side-wheeler, the North Pacific. For ten years it controlled the Victoria run, while the Alida was restricted to steaming between Olympia and Port Townsend and way points, including Seattle.

The Alida came to her somewhat bizarre end in 1890. While anchored just off shore in Gig Harbor, a brush fire swept down to her mooring and burned her to the water. As we shall note (perhaps too often below in this waterfront history,) a year earlier the Seattle waterfront was also swept by fire. When it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1889, all of what is water in this historical scene was planked over and eventually filled in to the sea wall 500 feet out from First Ave.


Another early and therefore rare 1870s view [above] of the central waterfront from Yesler’s wharf includes several new structures, like the three-story “box” built nearly off-shore at the foot of Marion Street.  Many of the structures familiar from Robinson’s recording and the Alida photograph appear here as well, ready for the reader to find.  This view also includes a few of Henry Yesler’s (or whomever was then running his mill) logs floating in the “pond” on the north side of his wharf and mill, here on the right.   And this record also extends north as far as Spring Street and a glimpse at the home built there by another lumberman, Amos Brown.  [We noted Brown in an earlier chapter as the neighbor who was principally responsible for helping rebuild Princess Angeline’s home near the waterfront at the foot of Pike Street in the early 1890s.  We shall visit that site again in a later chapter. ]


1878: Peterson Bros. View from Yesler’s Wharf

In 1878 the north end of Yesler’s Wharf was chosen again as a prospect from which to look back at the central waterfront.  This time it yielded the next grand panorama of Seattle, although it was probably not intended for that role. [53] Rather our rendering of the Peterson Bros panorama was stitched from three roughly overlapping negatives.  In the blow-up included here, [above and below], the seams between them have been partially exposed along the bottom of the photograph by the irregularity of the logs in Denny’s millpond.  Although clearly photographed from the same location – within inches – they may not have been recorded even on the same day.  The middle of the three images fills most of the right half of the photograph, and the tide appears in this section to be about a foot higher than in the image on the left and perhaps two feet higher than in the smallest part on the far right.

Much has changed and some of it implied like the photographer’s perch at the end of Yesler’s Wharf. The dogleg to the north has been lengthened.  From this extended platform the Territorial University is left of the Brown Church, not to the right as in Robinson’s view.  The Methodists have also added a second floor to their sanctuary for a Knights of Pythius meeting hall whose rituals had a southern exposure through the Mansard windows in the new roof.  The photographers for this and many of the best surviving early photographs of Seattle was, as noted, the Peterson Bros, whose studio was at the foot of Cherry Street.  The larger Peterson detail printed here, [54] roughly repeats the section of waterfront between Columbia and Madison streets recorded by Robinson nine or more years earlier.


The 1878 Peterson view can be compared with Robinson’s 1869 record in every part, for instance, the homes that have survived the decade.  Mary and Arthur Denny’s distinguished home at the southeast corner of Front and Union is there, although it may be hard to decipher without an enlargement of its detail.  [55] (It is about 1/5 of the way into the panorama from the left and near the clump of fir trees to the right of the summit of Denny Hill on the horizon.  It is also directly above the larger warehouse on the new wharf that extends into the bay from a shore insertion that is left of the center of Peterson’s panorama.  A 1890s close-up of the Denny home is also attached. [56] Closer by, a study of the intersection of Front Street and Marion Street – near the center of the Robinson view from Yesler’s wharf and to the right of the church in both views – shows structures that are still in place in 1878, although with changes. [57] [58] Some of the homes have been improved and at least the small residence at the southeast corner of Marion and Front has also been lowered to fit the new grade on Front Street.

1876: Front Street Regrade

Peterson photographs are the best evidence of what a marked effect the 1876 regrade of Front Street (between Yesler and Pike) had on the waterfront.  [There will be more on this regrade in the next chapter.]The smoothing of the street behind the timber bulkhead introduced some inhibitions.  One could no longer scramble onto the waterfront from Front Street.  The few exceptions were at street ends.  One of these “holes” was at the foot of Marion. [57 again] As the detail reveals, the cribbing of the timber retaining wall has there been turned out like a gate. Perhaps this exception is meant to allow the dumping of fill for an eventual extension of the street into the bay.  Whether intended or not, in effect, this is what happened.  It is repeated one block north at Madison Street where a similar break is evident to the left of the four story structure on the water side of Front Street and at its southwest corner with Madison. [53, just left of center.] (It was at this corner that the city’s Great Fire of 1889 was ignited.)  It also appears that the bulkhead is open at the foot of Columbia Street, far right, [53] although the roofs of the sheds that have been built on the beach block an inspection of most of the street end.  (It may be remembered from the introduction to this history that it was at the wet foot of Columbia that pioneers described the smell of the waterfront as turning sulfuric to the south.  If the Petersons had continued their panorama with another frame to the right in the direction of the wharf on which they were standing, we might have seen the discoloration that was described of beachside constructions south of Columbia.)

Seneca to Union Streets Revisited

The Peterson pan includes a hint of another of the waterfront’s natural remnants, one noted earlier: the ravine at Seneca street, or more correctly here the bridge over it and the bulkhead hiding it.   The large deciduous tree that breaks the horizon about one fourth of the way from the left border of the pan [53] is its marker – nearly.  Below the tree and a short distance to the right the bulkhead reveals a darkened section. [59] This is Seneca Street – today where the off ramp from the viaduct to the central business district meets First Avenue.  In this view the bulkhead is two years old, time enough apparently for the springs that irrigated the ravine and continue to seep through the fill to nourish whatever growth has attached itself to the bulkhead between the street and the waterfront.  There is a possibility that the wall itself is constructed differently here.  Seen in detail it seems (the effect is perhaps too subtle) to take a corner and turn towards the ravine (to the east) on the left side of the darkened section.  A railing for the bridge is evident a short ways to the right of the darkened area on the bulkhead.  This railing is on the east side of Front and is easily detected because it contrasts with the dark north bank of the ravine that appears behind it.  (A white arrow is also pointing at it.)  A railing on the west or bay side of Front is more difficult to decipher, and yet when seen in detail is at least suggested by other but softer lines.  Or may not be.  The east side of Front was developed for pedestrians, and not the west.  Along the west side all that would be needed was a low “fence” of logs running end-to-end between the openings at the end of the streets noted above.

Both University and Union Streets are also distinguished in the Peterson pan in ways noted earlier.  One short block north of Seneca the bulkhead is broken by what appears to be a negotiable incline of dumped earth. [60] It may also be, in part, the natural contour of the native bluff.  The trees directly to the north of this break are much older than the bulkhead and spring from ground that is not very far below Front Street.  This is also where the shoreline below begins its turn to the northwest.  Consequently, University Street between Front Street and the waterfront has at least since the 1880s been outfitted either with steps (as now) or ramps to the waterfront.  As noted above, and will be shown in a later chapter, soon after the city’s “Great Fire” of 1889 the stairway that had been built there earlier was replaced by a bridge for wagons that passed over both Post Alley and Western Avenue and reached Railroad Avenue directly.  This bridge allowed the movement of freight between this north section of the waterfront and the growing north section of the Central Business District.

One long block further north on Front (between University and Union the blocks get longer), Union Street continues only a little ways west of Front Street before it runs out of the picture.  In a panorama of the waterfront taken from the King Street Coal wharf about nine years later, Union Street seems to continue to the beach. [61] After the fire of 1889, the newspapers made considerable note of the wagon road on Union Street and what a hard but necessary haul it was for moving building materials up from Schwabacher’s Dock at the foot of Union Street (the only wharf of size on the central waterfront to escape the ’89 fire) to the many building sites in the city.  As we shall repeat below this was a temporary hardship.  Following the fire Western Avenue between Union and Belltown was soon improved, and the waterfront itself was speedily rebuilt into a wider Railroad Avenue with several accesses to the business district on Madison, Marion, Columbia and Yesler.

We insert here (above) what might be a “sidebar” in any coffee-table book for visiting guests.  Still the comparison below does include a revelation.  The etching is from a 1870 Harper’s Monthly article on Puget Sound, titled “The Mediterranian of the Pacific.”  Before comparing them to earlier Robinson view from Yesler Wharf, the structures in the oft-reproduced etching puzzled me.   Now when compared to Robinson there places, at least, become obvious.  When time allows we intend on reprinting the entire Harper’s article with commentary and added illustrations as another of our – and Ron Edge’s –  “Edge Clippings.”



On the West Coast the 1870s were generally years of growth most of it fed by the new transcontinental to California.  Seattle grew too, and this was in spite of the community’s dashed hopes for Puget Sound’s transcontinental terminus.  Instead, the Northern Pacific publicly chose Tacoma, or rather its own New Tacoma, in 1873.  By fits and starts the NPRR reached Tacoma in 1883, and with ironic effects for Seattle.  In spite of at first no rail service and then poor service from Tacoma, Seattle grew right beside Tacoma – even a neck again – with such vigor that its extended boom years really begin with the ’83 completion to Tacoma of the Northern Pacific.   But unlike Tacoma, Seattle’s growth would continue to quicken until the First World War.  At a little more than 3000, Seattle’s population in 1880 was deceptively small because the city was also the cultural, transportation, and financial center for what went on all around the Sound and in the woods.  This depth to its culture and economy is what gave Seattle the substance to survive periodic nation-wide hard times like those ten-year panics of 1873, 1883 and 1893.   This last, the Panic of 1893 and years following, was especially hard on Tacoma.


We close this chapter with a panorama of the Seattle skyline taken from Colman Dock – the northwest corner of it where the pedestrians walk directly from the ferries to a level one floor above the exiting vehicles.  This pan was taken for Jean’s and my book Washington Then and Now but not used.  So we revive it.  The date is 2004.  The position is not really a repeat of the outer end of the Yesler’s wharf.  That would be on the other side, the south side, of Colman Dock and a few feet closer to the seawall.

Seattle Waterfront History, Chapter Six

Migrant Fill and Bones -2

Now picking up those bones left hanging at the end of Part 5, historian-educator David Buerge suggests that with the 1865 expulsion and restricted access to their traditional cemetery at Seneca Street, the native people “are likely to have attempted to establish another cemetery further north.  Traditionally, native funeral grounds were situated north or west of house sites.”  Since Elliott Bay is west of Baq’baqwab, Buerge’s burial ground may have been somewhere north of Bell Street.  As noted earlier, in public works like the walling off of the Belltown Ravine for the Elliott Avenue extension in 1912-14 the fill that comes from nearby is obviously favored over dirt got from more remote locations.  Consequently the bones found in the 1912-14 fill may have come from a native gravesite associated with the Baq’baqwab camp but not directly at it.  This explanation would make the earlier placing of the bones with the fill an ironic instance of the “return of the native” – this native – to his or her home.  By about the late 1880s, Buerge notes, “burials would have been carried out in reservation cemeteries or in more isolate, outlying spots.”

[Remember: CLICK – often twice – to Enlarge.]

Trail to Lake Union

The Belltown Ravine was apparently spring fed in season and allowed an easier access to the hill above the waterfront.  Or did it? The bluff was not so high at the south entrance to the Ravine.  In the detail attached above a path can be seen, top-center, ascending the bank at that point in the ca.1902 photograph recorded from the off-shore RR trestle.  The whole scene from which this detail was pulled will be included as scene number 211 in a latter and as yet unnumbered part of this history.  Yes it did. A trail that followed the easier grade up the verdant ravine would have had its own appeal even when not especially needed, except by the old or infirm.  Buerge notes that a feature of the north camp was “a trail that left the beach and connected with the southwestern end of Lake Union.”  Such a trail has been marked on the federal topographical map surveyed in the mid-1870s – the map described above in chapter four.   Perhaps even more than the spring of fresh water the path would seem to center the Baq’baqwab site.  Buerge points out that “informants in this century remembered when parties left their canoes on Lake Union’s shore and walked the trail over to the bay.”  In this line (or path) the pioneer William N. Bell, Belltown namesake, concluded his 1878 interview with a H.H. Bancroft researcher from California with a suggestive recollection about the trail to Lake Union.  “Boren and I, I suppose, were the two first white men that were ever at Lake Union.  Shortly after we had agreed to take our claims here (early in 1852) Boren and I came here and happened to land at the end of the trail that went to the lake, and we just went over.  The Indians told us there was a little lake there, and also a big lake.”  The “big lake,” you may have figured, the locals would name Lake Washington.


1880s Belltown Beach Community

After the Battle of Seattle in 1856 the Bell family fled to California and left their land in the stewardship of those who stayed in spite of the fearful uncertainties and regional loathing that followed.  When William Bell returned for good to his claim in the mid-1870s, he was soon acting the landlord as he promoted his “North Seattle” or “Belltown.”  The proprietor back on his hill may have hastened another native diaspora, this one at the north camp, Baq’baqwab.  Buerge again: “One group appears to have resettled at the south eastern shore of Lake Union until burned out in 1875, while another moved north to the lighthouse at West Point. The houses of Baq’baqwab appear to have been moved off the bluff and down onto the beach.”   For that period of the late 1870s and early 1880s there is little photographic evidence of Baq’baqwab beach, aside from panoramas recorded from the King Street Coal Wharf.


One from the early 1880s shows two beach huts to the north of the entrance to the Belltown Ravine. [42-43] Another detail from the late 1880s includes the “cubist” or architectural shapes of beach shacks (mostly their roofs) above the interrupting Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Trestle that in 1887 was built just off shore along the waterfront. [44] As already observed, the trestle generally obscures the beach.  A few photographs of a beach community there survive from the late 1880s and after.  They show mostly tents and draped lean-tos. [45]


Another scene with beach, bluff and assembled natives is included directly below for some scholarly reader to research the “fingerprint” of the bluff.  Since the names of those posing are most likely lost to us by now, it is only the clinging landscape on the cliff that might identify this as a Seattle waterfront scene, and if so then most likely below Belltown.  This record was included in a small collection of photographs depicting only Seattle scenes.


By the time that seasonal migrations of native workers to the hop fields of the White River (Green River) Valley began in the 1880s, as Buerge notes, the beachside “remnant of Baq’baqwab became the focus of large seasonal encampments when native agricultural workers congregated there and to the south at Ballast Island.”  (As will be described and illustrated below in yet another unnumbered chapter, this was the island made from ships ballast, which during its few years of supplying a campground for the migrant Indians was also a parody of their former winter camp on what, as noted in chapter four, U.S. Navy Lieu. Charles Wilkes named Piners Point.  In the late 1880s, when Ballast Island was formed and first used by the itinerates, their former winter camp of Jijila’lec with its long houses and ceremonies would have still been easily remembered and vividly recalled for those too young or too new to remember it.)  With the failure of hop agriculture in the White and Snoqualmie River valleys in the early 1890s, the native encampments at and near Baq’baqwab also dispersed.  In their place, especially after the economic panic of 1893 extended into a depression, the new community of squatter’s shacks described earlier was built along the beach below Denny Hill. This community was a polyglot of natives and down-and-out immigrants – mostly the latter.



Above are two views of hop harvest time in the Snoqualmie Valley with Mt. Si on the horizon recorded by pioneer Seattle photographer Theodore Peiser. He arrived in Seattle in the early 1880s and stayed for more than twenty years.  Much of his early work was destroyed in the city’s “Great Fire” of 1889.

Baqbaqwab Suburbs & the Seattle Center Swale

We may note that the Baq’baqwab community, the north camp, developed (or was followed by) what may be considered its own northern suburbs.  The 1899 view recorded by Anders Wilse looks at a summer camp in the small bay north of Broad Street. [46]


But the north camp once extended at least as far as Harrison Street, where nets were set up to catch fowl that flying between the Bay and Lake Union, passed low over the swale that once dipped between Queen Anne and Denny Hills.  (This future site of Seattle Center is also described in tribal memory as a potlatch grounds.)  As late as 1961, on the eve of the 1962 Century 21 Worlds Fair, Seattle Times reporter Charlotte Widrig interviewed William Criddle, a relatively late settler, about life on the beach below Seattle Center.  “William was two in 1889 when his father Frederick J. Criddle, a shipwright, brought his wife and six children here from Cornwall, England and settled on the bay at the foot of Mercer Street (below Kinnear Park) One of the early day sights Criddle recalled was a row of Indian tents stretched for a mile along the beach near his home, where Indians from Bellingham and other northerly regions camped while en route to harvest the hop crops in the White River Valley.  ‘My brother and I liked to visit the camp and sometimes did a little trading.  One of the items we acquired was a dugout canoe.  Elliott Bay was alive with salmon in the fall.  When I was about 9 years old, my brother frequently took me fishing in the dugout.’ ”



1869: The Robinson Panorama

The earliest photographic record of the beach and bluff of the Baq’baqwab site is included in the 1869 panorama (often alluded to above and now considered in some detail) of the community and its central waterfront.  The beach below Bell Street is some distance from Robinson’s prospect and so not the sharpest of subjects in the panorama.  We will return to a consideration of this part after first examining the photograph for other revelations – especially those involving the waterfront.


The photographer George Robinson, a 44 year-old “Victorian” from British Columbia, was a multi-talented (photography, dentistry, and the managing of mines) enthusiast who purchased his photographic equipment in an auction five years before his Seattle visit (it turned out that his gear had previously been stolen by the consignor) and opened a photographic gallery in Victoria.  In the spring of 1869 Robinson announced that he was leaving his gallery to concentrate on dentistry (the man knew how to use his hands) but several photographs of his date from 1869 or later, including his four Seattle views that when knit together become the single most revealing photograph of pioneer Seattle extant. [47]

[The two-floor presentation of Robinson’s pan printed just below, is the best doorway to its details.  Remember to CLICK TWICE.]


William H. Seward’s Visit on the Wilson G. Hunt, July 21, 1869

Robinson dated his Seattle panorama 1869.  We may want to narrow it to July 21st or 22nd.  “Big Night on the Waterfront” is how the local Gazette described the visit of U.S. Secretary of the Interior William H. Seward to Seattle on July 21, 1869.  It was the Seward whose grandest “folly”, some of his contemporaries claimed, was to acquire Alaska from the Russians.  While en route to inspect this chilled and sprawling purchase Seward stopped off at Seattle and made a speech for the citizenry that assembled at Yesler’s Wharf to get a good look at Lincoln’s appointee and savor his compliments.  And Seward did boom for and about them, advising the community that Washington Territory’s was a “glorious future.”  Seward came and went on the sturdy steamer Wilson G. Hunt.  It had been freshly delivered to Victoria from the Columbia River in part as an attempt to break the transportation and freight monopoly on Puget Sound of the Eliza Anderson, and its runners were probably pleased to get the Seward assignment because their Hunt was not doing so well against the Anderson.  Almost certainly that is the Hunt pulling away from Yesler Dock.  Although her name cannot be read, that is the shape of her.  Clearly if Robinson arrived in Seattle from Victoria with Seward he did not leave with him.


In – or about – 1858 Charles Plummer built a second story hall above the store he opened in 1853 at the southwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and Main Street.  It was a needed venue for performances, dances, and early meetings for groups like the Masonic Lodge and the Good Templars.  It was also the chosen prospect for both Sammis’ ca 1865 panorama of Seattle and Robinson’s 1869 recording.  Sammis view was taken from the crest of the roof, which could be reached by a ladder permanently attached to the roof on its south side and directly over the sidewalk.  Robinson went only to the second floor hall, where from a window some distance from the street he recorded the four parts for his panorama.  The flume-delivered fresh water wharf that extends into the bay off of Main Street never made much on an impression, largely because of the growing success of its neighbor to the north, Henry Yesler’s wharf, which through the pioneer years was all that the community needed.  Charles Plummer’s time in Seattle was too often tragic.  Ellender, his wife, died in 1859 giving birth to twin sons, and Charles lived on only until 1866.

As just noted in the caption above, Robinson took his photograph from a second floor window of the Snoqualmie Hall (AKA Plummer’s Hall) at the southwest corner of Commercial (First Avenue S.) and Main streets.  We may imagine – or expect? – that he waited until the moment his hometown steamer left Seattle without him.  (If Robinson timed the opening of his shutter with the Hunt’s departure, then of the four negatives the one on the far left – or west – with the ship underway may well have been struck first.)  Two additional Seattle subjects survive from Robinson’s visit.  One, printed directly below, is of Commercial Street from the street and shows the ladder that Sammis climbed four or five years earlier to record his panorama.   The other a view to the central waterfront from the end of Yesler’s dock.  We will consider both again below in a later chapter.

robinson-commer-now-webYesler’s Wharf

Because of Robinson’s timing we know that this – or nearly this – is what Seward saw on his Seattle whistle stop.   Excepting the wharf on which he delivered his pep talk, the structures in the village and the few cleared acres that were still crowded by the virgin forest, most of what he examined — the waterfront especially – had not been tampered with much since the visits of Wilkes in 1841, the settlers in 1852, the Coast Surveyors in 1854, and in 1856 that self-style heroic defender of Seattle, Lieu. Phelps, U.S. Navy.   However, Seattle would change considerably in 1869, after Seward was gone.  The biggest changes were Yesler’s.  He replaced his old steam sawmill of ’53 with a new and improved one, and this time much of it was built on the wharf.  This second of Yesler’s mills burned down in 1879 but was replaced with a mill that lasted until another fire took it in 1887. (We will include views of these mills in other contexts and chapters below.)

Although Yesler’s was the first steam sawmill on Puget Sound in 1853, by 1855 there were twenty of them operating on the “Mediterranean of the Pacific”, and some were many times bigger than Yesler’s.  Also as noted above, especially after he extended its length in 1859 to 200 feet, Yesler’s wharf became the hub of much Puget Sound commerce.  A year later he opened a gristmill to produce flour and by 1867 was getting 24 barrels of it a day.  Yesler’s wharf helped Seattle get its jump on the “old wealth” that would sustain the city during the economic crashes that were arranged down the years with depressing rhythm in 1873, 1883, and 1893 – especially 1893.   Then, as noted earlier, the singular and so more vulnerable wealth of the company town Tacoma was not so resilient.  (That the next big recession came in 1907 – not 1903 – added some syncopation to this blues calendar.)  According to Seattle’s principal pioneer historian Clarence Bagley, for many of the earliest years of settlement “Yesler’s wharf was all that was needed.  Plummer’s at Main fell into disuse and decay.”  As is revealed in the surviving photograph of Plummer’s Snoqualmie Hall (above) the flume, like the one showing in the 1859 photograph of the Yesler Home noted above in chapter three, carried water to supply ships at a wharf that resembles more a dock than a pier. [48]


Sammis Panorama ca. 1865

Besides its extraordinary sharpness – one can count the trees on Denny Hill – as noted Robinson’s is the first photographic record of Yesler’s wharf.  His panorama also includes the first picture of any vessel on Elliott Bay (again, the Hunt), and most of the central waterfront as far north as Broad Street.  The closest features on the waterfront are the Indian dugouts at the foot of Washington, far left, beside the then still future site of Ballast Island.  The businesses, far right, on Commercial Street appear in the other and earlier panorama of pioneer Seattle by E. M. Sammis (note above) that is conventionally dated 1865 but may be from 1864. [12] Sammis also exposed his smaller view from Snoqualmie Hall, although he climbed the ladder on its south roof to the crest of the building. (During Robinsons 1869 visit he also made a street level record of Commercial Street that was photographed looking north with his back to Jackson Street. [49] It shows the ladder that Sammis climbed up the south side of the roof of Plummer’s Hall.) When Commercial Street is compared between the two panoramic views – Sammis most likely from 1865 and Robinson from 1869 — it is clear that little has changed in the generally dull first years following the Civil War.  But, as noted, the last months of 1869 made it Seattle’s first boom year.

1869: First Boom Year for Seattle

A review of the “local joy” of 1869 includes Seattle’s second but first successful incorporation and the considerable rise in real estate values attendant with the Northern Pacific’s survey of Snoqualmie Pass.  At the time this work strongly hinted that at last Washington Territory’s first governor Isaac Stevens’ 1855 recommendation would be heeded — that Seattle be selected for the western terminus of any transcontinental railroad that took the northern route on the basis of its relatively low Snoqualmie Pass to the east and its harbor.  (Of course that railroad would also get much of the territory along the way with huge land grants on the promise to reach the shores of Puget Sound.)  Stevens called Elliott Bay Puget Sound’s “unequalled harbor.”  (However, Tacoma might make a good defense of Commencement Bay as “more unequalled.”)  The most immediately influential change region-wide in 1869 was the completion of the Union & Central Pacific railroads to California.  The rush of immigrants – including many traumatized Civil War vets carrying land privileges with them – inevitably pushed in all directions, including north, along the coast.  Also, we know, the California railroad would became a great consumer of Seattle coal beginning in 1872 as we will describe in another chapter below.

Denny Home at First & Union & Beach Below

Robinson’s view also includes one landmark in the middle distance – Arthur and Mary Denny’s Carpenter Gothic home. It sat at the southeast corner of First and Union and is a handy reference to the waterfront. [50]  Below the Denny home, the 1869 panorama shows a rare structure on the beach at the approximate waterfront foot of Union Street.  As yet, I have not identified its owner or use.


The glass-faced skyscraper shared by the Seattle Art Museum is the fourth structure to hold the southeast corner of First Avenue and Union Steet.  The 1926 Rhodes Department store building was razed for it.  Rhodes had replaced the Arcade Annex, which took over the corner only after the Denny’s landmark residence was destroyed in 1907.   Theodore Peiser probably recorded this view of the Denny home soon after he arrived in Seattle about 1883.  Six years later Peiser lost nearly everything – including, most likely, the negative for this print – to Seattle’s “Great Fire” of 1889.  When it was built in 1866 this then showy home crafted for the “father and mother of Seattle” was a fancy farmhouse quite detached from its neighbors and remote from Seattle’s business district.


Seattle architectural historian Dennis Andersen uncovered the following quote in the Puget Sound Semi-Weekly.  It appears in the July 9 1866 edition, and so three years before Robinson took his panorama.  “Yesterday we were shown through the new residence of Hon. A.A. Denny, our delegate in Congress.  It is an irregular, Gothic cottage, the plan of which was executed by Mr. S. B. Abbott, who has superintended the work throughout.”   Anderson notes that Abbot, the architect, “likely used any one of a number of pattern book resources for his design . . . He may be the same Abbott who was accused of absconding with railroad construction payroll receipts a few years later.  All must have been forgiven or at least forgotten, because he visited the city in 1901 and was interviewed in the PI as a ‘wealthy banker and oil man’.”  The Peiser view is used courtesy of Sue Champness.


Looking further up the waterfront in Robinson’s 1869 panorama, the beach does not seem to be sited with the structures of any settlement or shore.  Still, small tents and lean-tos on that distant beach may be too small to record with definition.  What appears to be driftwood may in some instances be shelters.  Although relatively detailed for its size and age, as noted the panorama is still constructed from small negatives.


North End Mystery

The Robinson pan includes a north end mystery: two light-colored architectural forms on the bank above the beach. [51] If I have figured it correctly they are near Battery Street and so also very near the site of the Bell family’s first cabin.  (The Bell cabin was destroyed by Indians in the 1856 “Battle of Seattle.”) During the fighting it was visible from the Decatur and the sailors regretfully watched its destruction.  When they were ready to shell the house the captain of the ship gave an order to stop all firing.  As Bell later recalled, “The men were awfully displeased about the order, because they would have bursted (sic) some of them if they had put a shell in.”)  While the forms are too simple and distant to identify they look more artificial than natural. Whatever they are, they are unique – the only light and horizontal forms north of the beach structures just noted near the foot of Union Street.  (If the reader has trouble detecting them in the full pan, the forms begin in the foreground with the little steamer that is moored to the south side of Yesler Wharf. From its wheelhouse, lift the eye directly up to the distant beach.  There the forms are set in darker vegetation just above the exposed bank that rises from the beach.  A little ways to the right of the mysterious forms the darkened landscape dips to the beach.  Again, if I have done my figuring correctly, this is the entrance to the Belltown Ravine discussed above – and sometime soon again below.

The mid-1870s topographical map (noted above) also shows what appear to be two structures on the lip of the bluff near the future foot of Battery Street – although about one city block separates the rectangular marks in the map, which is more than the photograph suggests.  Again David Buerge offers an interpretation for the photograph and perhaps for the map as well.  “I would suggest that the double structure in the Robinson panorama may be the two standing long walls of a longhouse, minus its roof planks and side walls, part of whose length may be hidden by vegetation.  The evidence is that the picture was taken during the summer, which was when the people were off at various camps.  It was not uncommon for them to remove planks from their house to use in constructing a deck joining two canoes to help haul gear and for temporary lodging at these camps.”  So by Buerge’s figuring it is then at least a possibility that these gray-white forms that contrast so strikingly with their dark setting, are the reflective sides of aging and silvered cedar slabs and/or posts associated with the construction of long houses.   (Another less distinguished form in this neighborhood at least hints at the angles of construction.  It appears north of the stepping forms and is also a lighter color than the surrounding bank, although not lighter than the beach.)


This hand-tinted lantern slide shows the use of mats as a ready material for draping a residence.

Seattle Waterfront History, Chapter 5

[Click – twice – to enlarge]


Denny Hill (with two summits) from the King St. Coal Wharf, ca. 1881.  Virginia Street was platted and eventually graded in the depression between the hill’s two summits.  The still forested Queen Anne Hill marks the horizon.   Courtesy U.W. Library

Denny Hill & The Waterfront
Of all Seattle hills, it is the missing one, Denny Hill, that most shaped the waterfront because through much of the hill’s length – roughly from Wall to Union Streets – it fell directly to the waterfront.  The lowest of Seattle’s central hills, Denny Hill crested like a ripple cast south from the much higher Queen Anne Hill.  David and Louisa Denny’s claim – Seattle Center – was in the trough between them.  Below Denny Hill the waterfront is the deepest, and there also the width of the made (or reclaimed) land is narrower than that section of the waterfront that is south of Union Street.  (Some of Denny Hill wound up on the waterfront but not nearly as much as some wanted.  Most of the hill was dumped just off of the waterfront creating a reconstituted Denny Hill in Elliott Bay that for the safety of shipping required dredging.)  Although the two summits of Denny Hill were razed between 1906 and 1911, the hill’s skirt, its lowest parts, the bluff and/or bank, is still hinted behind our applications and in a few places even exposed. [31]


Bank & Bluff

We will for the moment neglect the old harbor south and east of King Street, the part that once rinsed the salt marsh behind Gas Cove and splashed against the sometimes steep sides of Beacon Hill, and concentrate on the central waterfront north of King Street as far as Broad Street (where a slight prominence distinguished it in both the 1841 and 1854 maps.)  The native embankment along this line varied in both height – from a couple of feet to about one hundred – and pitch – from precipitous to something one could easily scramble.  As we will see below the little bluff at King Street seems even lower in the photographs than its depiction in Phelps drawing.  Just north of Washington Street, where at high tide the bay could intrude east to the salt marsh, the native ridge was so low that it might have been used as a bench for sitting.  Just north of Yesler’s wharf a knoll rose at the foot of Cherry Street, an obvious close-by prominence upon which to build the blockhouse.  This Cherry hump was later lowered with the 1876 regrade of Front Street (First Avenue) between Mill Street (Yesler May) and Pike.  North of the knoll the waterfront bank stayed low – something the athletic shellfish grubber could easily jump from – until near Madison.  North from there it climbed as part of what was really the southern slope of Denny Hill – or its cross-section as carved by the tides and storms on Elliott Bay.  This growing bluff was broken with a gulch at Seneca Street (the contents of which we will describe below).  Its elevation at University Street was such that steps were built there between Front Street and the waterfront even before the 1889 fire.  Following the fire the steps were quickly replaced but then soon usurped by a timber bridge that let wagons move directly from Railroad Avenue to Front Street without having to first travel south along the frequently congested waterfront to Madison Street.  Although Front Street was still higher above the waterfront at Union Street than at University, it was also further from the waterfront because it is between University and Union that the shoreline turns to the northwest.  A rather steep wagon road was in use here for a few years from the 1880s into the 20th Century.  Now, while standing at the waterfront foot of Union it is hard to imagine it. [32] [33]

North of Union Street

North of Union the bank became briefly a cliff.  (In the panoramic photograph ca. 1881 [31] this section is darkened by its greenbelt.  Although steep it can still support trees.  In a detail from 1887 the cliff north of Union is exposed. [34])  A short distance north at Pike, the hillside was again not so steep, and beginning with the Coal Railroad’s incline in 1871 there have been a number of different hill climbs built at Pike.  North of Pike near Virginia Street the bluff began to again define itself, and north from there it grew and reached a somewhat dangerous height approaching seventy feet at Lenora Street. [35] This was both railroad land and a squatter’s milieu – as we will again note in detail below.  Two or three steep stairways that resembled ladders climbed the bank in this section, making it possible for the agile to pass between the beachcomber’s community on the shore and the shantytown on the ledge above them.  It was a both challenging and engaging place to live – and cheap too.  North from between Lenora and Blanchard the elevation of the bank descended and again petered out before it reached Broad Street.  Just north of Broad there was a small cove (the site of the Olympic Sculpture Garden). It was bordered by a new but modest bluff that continued with a few small dips north to Queen Anne Hill.  There the terrain suddenly ascended to the forest that was dedicated in 1887 as Seattle’s second public park, Kinnear Park.

Seneca Street Ravine

As already hinted two ravines – one small and one big – cut through this central waterfront bank, and both played special parts in Indian life before and after the settlers arrived to both name and claim them.  These ravines are now lost – filled-in and covered.  The smaller one was at Seneca Street.  In This City of Ours, a book of historical Seattle trivia written in the 1930s for the Seattle School District, J. Willis Sayers, the author, advised students that while out on a walking tour of First Avenue they should “stop a moment at Seneca Street.  This crossing, in early days, was a bridge; under it was a ravine through which passed all the travel from this section of the beach to Second Avenue.”   It is curious that the aging Sayers, who was himself nearly a pioneer, did not note that just above the waterfront at Seneca there was also an Indian burial ground.

Indian Cemetery

Years earlier another pioneer, A. Denny-Lindsey, included Seneca in her observations regarding early Seattle waterfront life for the June 22, 1906 issue of the Post-Intelligencer.  “The Indian cemetery that was on a bluff at what is now the foot of Seneca Street was a spot of great interest to us children.  The graves all had more or less of the personal belongings of the deceased on them.  The graves were shallow and we saw many ‘good Indians’ who were mummified.  A number of graves had roofs built over them of cedar slabs with posts driven at the four corners.  These were hung with clothing, tin ware, beads etc.  Some of the bodies had been laid to rest wrapped in rush mats and canoes turned over them.  Others were in the hollow trunks of large cedar trees.  Infants were almost invariably entombed in this manner.  When the banks would cave away during a thaw after a hard freeze it would expose bones and many stone implements and quantities of blue Hudson Bay beads.  Some of these beads were the size of a robin’s egg.  They are very rare at the present day.”  The Denny daughter’s description of the mortified Seneca is something of a rhetorical jumble as she concludes her description of the burial ground with a digression into pungency.  “The Indian camps were not as sweet as clover beds, for the hundreds of drying salmon that were hung on poles over small fires and inside the mat houses, also the strings of clams, were very loud in odor.”

It should be noted that while A. Denny-Lindsey does not mention the ravine, she does put a rather elaborate burial grounds both at the “foot of Seneca” and “on the bluff”, not that there is a contradiction in her description, only some confusion.  It is easiest to think of her graveyard as “on the bluff” and so really above the waterfront foot of Seneca.  And yet the ravine would have considerably increased the footage available for anything including graves.  And she does also make note that “the banks would cave away” from the gravesite. But when this sizeable funerary ground is mixed with Sayer’s pioneer throughway, a bridge, and the spring that another source describes as sometimes irrigating the ravine (and surely through time forming it), it is difficult to know where to put it all.  Certainly a mix of exposed graves, overturned canoes, spring freshets and tramping pedestrians would be messy in the extreme.  When the “hollow trunks of large cedar trees” is figured in it seems likely that the daughter of David and Louisa Denny is making something of an inventory of gravesites scattered along the ridge.  There certainly were other graves on the ridge besides those beside the Seneca ravine.  For instance, during an early grading of First Avenue in 1876 a little ways north of Marion Street, according to David Buerge, an expert on the region’s native culture, “a half-mummified body in a stone cyst tomb beneath a five-foot high grave mound” was uncovered.  Native American bones were also uncovered during the Port of Seattle work on the Bell Street Harbor in the late 1990s although, as we will explain below, it is more likely that they were not buried there but rather carried there during an earlier development.

Front & Seneca

In 1876, when Seattle first got resolute about grading streets, it turned the natural ups and downs of Front Street (First Avenue north of Yesler) into one smooth and wide avenue between Yesler Way and Pike Street.  For this the Seneca Avenue Ravine was partially filled and capped with the timber cribbing that was a feature of most of the new street work on First.  (If there is a record of what became of the graveyard at Seneca during this work I have not stumbled upon it.)  Thirteen years later the city’s “Great Fire” of 1889 burned through both the timber retaining wall and planking at Seneca Street exposing the ravine, or what remained of it, for as just noted most but not all of it had been filled for the 1876 regrade. (This scene will be visited and illustrated below at least twice more.)  Because the Front Street Cable Railway used its namesake avenue it received speedy attention after the June 6 fire. The Times for June 10 reported, “A large force of men are at work on the Front St. cable, near the crossing of Seneca.  It was at this point that the fire crossed over from the electric light building and burned the beer saloon on the northeast corner of Front and Seneca.  The burned space in the road is about 50 feet.”  Also on the 10th the Seattle Daily Press noted, “Repairs on the Front St. cable road commenced yesterday.  The bridge destroyed by the fire at Seneca Street was rebuilt, and in a few days new rails will arrive to replace those destroyed.  It is thought in the course of a week the Front Street Cable cars will be running.”   In 1922, part of the bulkhead at Seneca Street was replaced.  Much later, during work on the foundation for the Harbor Steps development between Seneca and University Street, parts of both the original 1876 bulkhead and its repairs following the ’89 fire were once more exposed, to the considerable surprise and delight of the engineers involved.  The general pioneer sweetness of this part of the waterfront – north of Columbia Street – was so corrupted following the 1889 fire that it became a cause of the Council.  David Kellogg moved his tanning and hide depot onto the ruins and built a new waterfront warehouse between Seneca and University streets.  On June 6, 1891, or two years to the day following the fire, the Post-Intelligencer reported Kellogg’s depot had “caused many hot debates in the city council by its offensive odors.”  (Considering the graveyard at the ravine, followed by Kellogg and his rendering, any future archeological probing near the foot of Seneca may test the popular sense that the smell of a place is often the last thing to abandon it.  That is, be prepared for both the macabre and the noisome.)


Belltown Ravine

The second ravine that once interrupted the bank on the central waterfront was much the larger.  Since it survived into the early 20th Century there are a number of photographs that hint of it, although none so far uncovered look directly into it from its mouth.   The Belltown Ravine (the name I used while studying it for evidences of the source for the human bones uncovered during the construction of the Port of Seattle’s Belltown Harbor in the late 1990s) was between Blanchard and Bell streets, somewhat closer to Bell.  Topographic maps show the ravine extending as far east as First Avenue, a considerable distance from the Bay. [36] A photograph from the mid-1880s looks down from First Avenue over the inland end of the ravine into some fill dirt, which has been dumped perhaps from the 1882-83 regrading of First Avenue north of Pike Street. [37]  An early description that appeared in the Post-Intelligencer for June 26, 1891 gives some indication of the depth of the ravine, or gulch as the reporter calls it, near Western Avenue, a block or more east of its opening.  Under the title “A Boy’s Great Fall”, the report continues, “Yesterday afternoon about 3 o’clock the little 8-year-old son of Andre Mikulicich, fishmonger at 115 Bell Street, fell from the encased sewer pipe which extends across the gulch between Bell and Blanchard and Front and West Streets.  The distance of the fall was nearly twenty-five feet.  The casing is only eight inches wide, and the temptation to small boys to try to cross over the gulch on it is almost irresistible.  It is about seventy-five feet long.  It was thought for a time that the little fellow was killed, but he eventually regained consciousness and gives promise of living to a ripe old age yet.”


Belltown Ravine partially filled at Front Street (First Avenue) in the mid-1880s.  Courtesy MOHAI

Belltown Waterfront Community

Two partial views of the entrance to the Belltown Ravine were recorded from the offshore railroad trestle.  Both show the community of squatters shacks nestled between a jerry-rigged seawall and the opening.  (We will show the earlier view here and attach the later view, no. 212, in the “image stream” below.) [38]  The earliest view dates from the late 1890s and includes part of the bank that runs south from the ravine.  The beginning of the south side of the ravine – the corner where the bank turns east into the ravine – shows on the far left of the photograph by the Norwegian photographer Andres Wilse.  The second intimate view dates from about 1902 or 3 and looks over the same community of shacks, but in the opposite direction.  Other photographs from the water and also from West Seattle are obscured at the ravine’s lowest elevation where it meets the bay behind the railroad trestle.  The ingenious cluster of squatters’ shacks at the entrance was moved in 1903 with the beginning construction on the north portal to the railroad tunnel.  At first, this did not change life deeper within the ravine.  But soon during the various stages of the Denny Regrade the ravine was filled until it was closed off at its entrance with the 1912-14 extension of Elliott Avenue between Bell and Lenora Streets.  The human remains that were found during excavations for the Port of Seattle’s Bell Street project in 1998 were probably carried there in the fill that was used to extend Elliott Avenue across the opening of the ravine.
Native Bones

The bones were discovered near the south entrance to the ravine.  Although there is considerable correspondence between the city and F. McLellan, the contractor who placed the 1912 fill, there is no record of where he got it.  McLellan was required to find his own dirt and carry it to the site.  Obviously, the shorter the move the less the expense.  By 1912 the Denny Regrade had reach 5th Avenue and stopped.  With the cutting, a temporary bluff was left along the east side of Fifth Avenue.  The freshly graded land between First and Fifth Avenues was in many sections still in rough state.  It is possible that McLellan got his fill from the “rough edges” of the momentarily stalled Denny Hill regrade.  The use of fill dirt from the Denny School site at Fifth and Battery for the 1914 construction of the Port of Seattle’s off-shore headquarters at the foot of Bell Street indicated that it was still possible to take fill material from the regrade.  A 1912 correspondence, between city engineer Dimock and a neighborhood property owner named Oldfield, is also suggestive.  It regards the latter’s willingness to sell cheap to the city fill which was conveniently near at hand for the Elliott Ave. project – some six or seven hundred yards of it.  Oldfield writes, “If this should interest the contractor because of its nearness to where the arterial is required he can have the same at a very low figure.”  Dimock’s answer is evidence of how little the city knew or recorded from where the fill in their improvement might come.  “McLellan is required to supply all earth needed for fills on the same and it will be necessary for you to arrange with him. I will, however, transmit your letter to him for such action as he may think necessary.”


Beach community at foot of Belltown Ravine, by Andres Wilse, ca. 1898  Courtesy, MOHAI


Soon after the bones were found and identified as most likely native remains it was speculated that they might be connected with Baq’baqwab (BAHK-bah-kwahb), the other Native American community on the central waterfront that was long in use before the mid-western farmers arrived.  (We will refer to this as the “North Camp” to distinguish it from the larger south camp on Piners point already described.) The Lushootseed place name Baq’baqwab is the plural form of ba’qwab, ‘meadow’ and was associated with the meadows between Queen Anne Hill and the now-vanished Denny Hill that stretched from the bay to the southern end of Lake Union.”  As local historian David Buerge notes, “The site was probably chosen because of its proximity to potable, fresh-water springs, draining from a nearby area know as boloc (bo-LOTS). That part of these meadows nearest Baq’baqwab was distinguished for its salal berries.  This suggests that the beach site camp named for the meadows was not necessarily identified with the meadows broadly conceived (including the present site of Seattle Center) but rather an entree to them with the advantages of being near both the bay and springs.  With this interpretation the beachside borders of Baq’baqwab were flexible, inflating and shrinking with whatever operations or ceremonies were current, like the acts of medicine men and bird-netters.  (The first settlers on Puget Sound – by a few millenniums – had apparently no tradition or use for arbitrary borders – legal and proprietary – that would at once rationalize and alienate the “given” topography and yet were of such great interest and fenced security to the latecomers from Illinois and New York.  In that sense Baq’baqwab had no borders.)

Two daughters of the pioneers recalled the site.  In Pigtail Days in Old Seattle, one of the little classics of pioneer reminiscences written by members of the Denny family, the author, Arthur and Mary Denny’s granddaughter Sophie Frye Bass, recalls, “Bell Street ran from Depot Street, now known as Denny Way, to salt chuck (water) where the beach was fine and sandy, and there were springs of good water.  It was one of the camping grounds of the Indians while they hunted and fished.  They called it Muck-muck-wum but we call it Bell Street Dock.”  By Abbie Denny-Lindsey’s recollections, “In Muck-muckum (Belltown) there was a permanent camp where the medicine man lived.”  Buerge advises that Bass and Lindsey-Denny’s names — Muck-muck-wum and Muck-muckum, respectively – were tongue-tortured variations on Baq-baqwab created by occidentals “struggling with the native language.”

The structures that the Denny descendents remembered were not the long houses that were most likely built above the beach somewhere near the lip of the low bank but later beach structures.  Native accounts put two medium-sized (50 to 100 feet) longhouses at this the northern of two native camps on the central waterfront.  David Buerge continues, “While visitors increased the population at the site periodically, the longhouse inhabitants were permanent residents who, at death, were interred in an extensive local cemetery.”  However, Buerge also admonishes, “we know little about the actual history or size of Baq’baqwab even during the early years of pioneer settlement.  The native census made in 1856 by Indian Agent George Paige identifies Cultus Curley’s band encamped about one mile north of Seattle numbering 30.”  Buerge figures that “thirty inhabitants would have fit comfortably in the two longhouses described.  However, these numbers probably swelled after the citizens of Seattle first incorporated themselves in 1865 and wrote laws that prevented the camping of Indians on any ‘street, highway, lane or alley or any vacant lot in the town of Seattle.’  With this exclusion by statute some of Duwamish Indians still living at Jijilalec, the southern camp, would have moved north to Baq’baqwab.  It is believe that among the exiles was Chief Seattle who apparently had houses erected there to stay with his retinue when he was not at Fort Kitsap.  However, since the Chief died in 1866 in the old man house at Suquamish it would not have been a long stay beside Bell Street.  At some point Angeline, his daughter, moved into a shack near the waterfront foot of Pike Street and remained there until her death in 1896.”


Princes Angeline by F. J. Haynes, 1890. [The 1891 date listed for this Haynes photo in the montage above is wrong and one year later.] Courtesy Tacoma Public Library

Princess Angeline’s Cabin

Some historical references to Angeline’s beach shack put it near Pine Street but most describe it as closer to Pike than Pine.  Most likely it was between them but closer to Pike or some little ways north of the lowest steps in the stairway that now reaches the market.  As noted earlier, this slope was a little ways south of the point where the bluff near Virginia Street began to form extending north as far as Vine Street (with the Belltown Ravine interruption.)  And as also treated above – and will be noted again below – this natural separation also began the division of the beachcombers below from the higher – in elevation and income – residents of Shantytown above.  But without a bluff Shantytown extended to the beach on Pike Street.  In 1890 the Northern Pacific photographer F. J. Haynes visited Angeline and her hut and its proximity to the beach (far left) is revealed in the photograph he recorded of the scene. [39] In 1891, her prosperous neighbor on First Avenue, the lumberman Amos Brown, built her a better hut that was likely very near the spot of the old one. [40]  (Determining the precise location for the Angeline home is as yet an unsolved puzzle.  And, again, was the second home built on the site of the first?  Before his sudden death in 2001Seattle historian Michael Cirelli was on the trail of Angeline’s home.  He was not able to show me a photograph he’d found of her second residence that he claimed included the stump that appears on the right of the Haynes view.  Up close a stump could be as convincing as a fingerprint, but this was a neighborhood of shacks and stumps.  A recent discovery may have located Angeline’s last home but cannot be shared with Cirelli.  Angeline’s “Brown home” may appear in a view recorded from the Schwabacher’s Dock at the foot of Union Street after her death.  The two finished sheds look alike and the place is within feet of the conventional descriptions just noted. [41]  This image was struck during the historic docking of the “gold ship” Portland in 1897.  Although Angeline died the previous year someone else, perhaps her grandson Joe Foster who had lived with her may have still resided there.  That may be Foster on the far right of the 1890 Haynes view.)

[When there is time to “groom” it for this site, Chapter Six, of this pictorial will begin with more speculations about the bones found at the foot of Bell Street, followed by contemporary descriptions of the cosmopolitan community of shacks that developed there following the 1893 economic crash, and the years also of booming growth of the city.  The next chapter will then move south to Yesler’s Wharf for a revealing study of both the Sammis (1865) and Robinson (1869) panoramas of pioneer Seattle and a broad sketch of the community’s first boom year, 1869.]

The Seattle Waterfront: An Illustrated History, Chapter Four

Our history of Seattle’s waterfront continues with Part Four.  Subjects include pioneer settlement, the first “discoverers,” names – native and European – and maps.

Port of Entry

Another event, although scarcely remembered, is an important marker to this “Seattle Comedy”– when we end the happy story in 1911 with the opening of the “Harriman Depot.”  It has more to do with steam than with sail.  That year the Federal Treasury Department transferred the Puget Sound Port of Entry to Seattle, leaving Port Townsend a sub-port.  As recently as 1889 a New York newspaper described Port Townsend as ranking “only second to New York in the number of marine craft reported and cleared, in the whole U.S.”   The same Panic of 1893 that exposed Tacoma’s economy as too narrowly built around railroads deflated Port Townsend.  Its boom time population of 7,000 crashed to 2,000 and its harbor filled with idle ships.  More importantly the maritime winds were changing because wind – except the ferocious kind – was becoming irrelevant.  By 1911 Port Townsend’s positioning as the “Key City” to Puget Sound was no longer of any advantage.  Steamships had practically replaced the brigs and barkentines.  In 1854, when Isaac Ebey first moved the Territory’s federal customs collection from Olympia to Port Townsend, he was deaf to the complains of the territorial capitol’s residents because he knew that sailing ships had a good chance of making it on their own down the Straits of Juan De Fuca as far as Port Townsend.  After that they often needed either patience or the help of a tug.  Steel-hulled ocean-going steamships did not need the breeze and preferred joining their customs work while unloading and/or loading their cargos and that was most likely to happen in Seattle.  And here we have the moral of this comedy.  All along – even during the setbacks of its struggles with Tacoma and the Northern Pacific Railroad – Seattle’s early development as Puget Sound’s primary port and thereby much more than a company town made it ultimately the metropolis.  With this cosmopolitan knack Seattle – and as we will see below, for a time also its City Council – married the Great Northern.

[Click to ENLARGE – slightly]


1841: Lieu. Wilkes & Piners Point

There is no record of what the U.S. Navy Lieu. Charles Wilkes thought of the metropolitan potential of Elliot bay when in the course of exploring Puget Sound and naming many of its features he – or his cartographer – made the first map of the shoreline between Alki Point and West Point. [20]  (West Point is Wilkes’ name but his Pt. Roberts was ten years later revised by locals to Alki.)  For the future central business district the Wilkes’ map features a beach stylized as a series of protruding bluffs.  But the main features of the central waterfront can be deciphered, like the turn at Union Street and the bump at Broad.  Most obviously there is the small peninsula that Wilkes named Piners Point after Thomas Piner a quartermaster on the expedition.  This rendering of Piners Point is the first map-name given to the historic center of Seattle, what is now the Pioneer Square Historic District.

Piners Point extended from a low point somewhere between Yesler and Washington Streets (probably closer to Washington, although descriptions vary) almost as far as King Street.  The native name for it was Djidjila’letch, which translates “little crossing over place.”   This may refer to the isthmus – the “low point” just noted – that connected the relatively flat peninsula to the south from the hill side to the north that later became Seattle’s Central Business District.  On the occasion of high tides or storms this low connector would flood and turn Piners Point into an Island.  One short-lived pioneer name for this neighborhood south of Yesler Way was Denny’s Island but it was really Doc Maynard who is most associated with it.  The point was part of his claim and he sold property there at prices meant to encourage development.  The name Djidjila’leetch may, however, refer to the fact that the village was at the Elliott Bay trailhead for “crossing over” to Lake Washington.  The trail took much the same route graded later as Yesler Way and beginning in 1888 rumbled over by its cable cars. The expedition sketch of Piners point is perhaps too small to include what was very probably native structures that stood above the low bluff on the Point’s west side.  To the east the point sloped into a salt marsh that also shows in the 1841 sketch.   Crowding against the low bluff on the beach and closer to Washington Street than to King temporary sweat lodges were probably built.


1854 Coast Survey

The Coast Survey made the next map of Elliott Bay – its shoreline and hydrography – in 1854. [21]  Seattle was then two years old and for an appropriate name Wilkes quartermaster Piner has been dropped for the Chief.  Mostly likely after Wilkes sailed away no one ever referred to the point again as Piners except perhaps Piner himself.  (Although Piner will still be remembered by Point Piner on Vashon Island, also named for him.)  It is unlikely that the first settlers who came over from Alki Point in 1852 knew they were landing at Piners Point.  They first proposed to call their fledgling community Duwamps (which was something like the pronunciation of the name for the local indigenes).  One who stoon joined them, Doc. Maynard, persuaded the others, the Denny, Boren and Bell families, to trade the name of the tribe for that of its headman.  Since it was never easy for Euro-Americans to wrap their embouchure around Lushootseed pronunciations (similar in difficulty to learning French as an adult) early on Seattle received a variety of spellings and pronunciations, and there is still an earnest but perhaps too sincere minority that thinks the city’s name should be changed to Sealth.

In the 1854 map, a sandbar that extends roughly in line with Main Street convincingly traps the salt marsh behind the peninsula.  The opening was near where the Second Avenue Extension now crosses Main Street – perhaps a few yards south of Main.  As noted above, in 1873 the city’s first gas works were built both on land at Jackson Street between 4th and 5th Avenues (Then 5th and 6th respectively) and over the salt water “Gas Cove” on a short pier that extended south from the shoreline.  By its real estate designation the gas plant cut through the north end of the Maynard Addition’s block 27.  Probably assuming too much about the U.S. Land Office’s interest in the shallow tidelands, much of Maynard’s town plat was drawn across the tideflats south of King Street. [22]  (A dappling of structures is also featured on the Coast Survey map although the cartographers have restrained themselves from marking the streets and it is difficult to know how accurate a representation it is of the structures that made up the young village, although there does seem to be some correlation to the Phelps map made four years later.) For comparison a detail of the ca. 1875 topographical map is included. [23]

A comparison of the soundings in the 1841 and 1854 maps shows similar depths and we may imagine that Bell and Denny would have liked to have had Wilkes’ map in hand when they explored this shore in the winter of 1852, taking their own readings with a weighted clothesline.  They found, we know, relatively deep water close to shore that at high tide would allow boats with even the lesser ocean-going draughts to bump up close to a short dock or a removable off-shore gangplank or float and do their business without having to first transfer every item to a smaller vessel.  The deepest soundings were between the future Union and Lenora Streets – as we might expect below Denny Hill.  As noted above this is part of the waterfront along which the Port of Seattle, following the Second World War, proposed to build long parallel docks to handle the bigger ships because the water was too deep near to shore to construct longer finger piers than the ones then already in place.  The position of Yesler’s wharf was a compromise between the deep and the shallow.  With his mill operation, Yesler was also able to extend and protect his wharf with his own manufactured waste.

1874-75 Federal Survey Introduced

When the federal surveyors returned again in the mid 1870s they were considerably more ambitious.  With their hydrographic soundings they continued on shore to survey elevations and charted topographic lines that reached a few blocks into the city.  They also included in their map the grid of Seattle streets although they chose to hesitantly delineate only with dashes the streets that ran through the tide marsh.  And the map also details the city’s few docks; most notably Yesler’s and the Seattle Coal and Transportation Company coal wharf off of Pike Street.  The full map reveals much more, including the route of the narrow gauged coal railway as it moves east on Pike Street to take a turn towards the south end of Lake Union along what must be either directly on the future line (after 1906) of Westlake Avenue or within a few feet of it.  The nearly new Gas Works (a direct predecessor to the one on Lake Union) is also shown in the map. [24]    [7]


1856 Phelps Map & Sketch

A fourth map of pioneer Seattle – with its accompanying sketch – is the best known of all and the first to locate streets, mark structures and number named landmarks. [25] [26] Its creator Navy Lieutenant T.S. Phelps was part of the crew aboard the war sloop Decatur that defended the raw community during the Battle of Seattle on January 26, 1856.  Fortunately, Phelps could also draw, although in one important point his map is far off.  The location Phelps gives for the blockhouse or fort from which the locals fired upon the natives, who were generally safe hiding behind trees, is about two blocks too far north.  Phelps puts it close to Marion Street when the actual location was on the knoll at the foot of Cherry Street, overlooking Yesler’s mill and wharf.  But the Lieutenant (a commodore by the time he polished his notes) also drew the oldest surviving sketch of Seattle and it is meant to give the third dimension to his map.  Curiously Phelps gets the correct position of the blockhouse in his sketch.  (This presents a puzzle.  Does the discrepancy in the blockhouse location suggest that he drew the sketch first and only later poorly interpreted – or neglected – it while refining his map?)

The sand spit that appears in the 1854 map is still in place two years later, and the salt marsh too, for Yesler’s waste has not yet reclaimed it.  Given Phelps’ greater detail most likely it is he who has refined the shape of Piners Point – if not the location of the blockhouse.  The 1856 map has regularized, beside a few marked streets, the informal dapple of buildings that the Coast Survey of 1854 roughly features as the fledgling village.  In the accompanying printing of the map, the dotted lines of the eventual Seattle grid have been superimposed over it.  The streets as drawn are at least close to being properly set.  Lines have also been introduced that show the limits of the original pioneer claims.  The claims are named (except for Maynard’s on the south) and are also distinguished by shadings of different contrast.  The offshore yellow (added by this author) marks the new section of waterfront that was reclaimed behind seawalls in the 20th Century.

The Felker House

The First Methodist Church at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and Columbia Street appears on the far left of the sketch although it is not lettered in the map.  One ready cross-reference between the map and the sketch is the Felker House, although Phelps has given it the knick name of its proprietress Madame Damnable.  In the map it is lettered “I” and appears at the far southwest corner (lower left) of the peninsula facing Jackson Street midway between Commercial Street (First Avenue S.) and the low bluff that falls to the waterfront.  In the sketch Madame Damnable’s hotel – the first substantial structure in town that was built of finished lumber – is far right with its back to the end of the point at King Street.  The Felker house was destroyed in the 1889 fire, and consequently can be located in many of the views of the city recorded from the King Street Coal Wharf after its construction in the late 1870s.  One of the community’s earliest (and yet undated) extant photographs looks directly across Jackson Street at the hotel. [27]  One may imagine a man remembered only by the name of Wilson watching the Battle of Seattle from the hotel’s verandah long enough to be hit and killed by a bullet fired from the forest.  Wilson was one of the only two mortal casualties inflicted on the settlers during the battle. The other was also an imprudent spectator who looked out from the temporarily opened door of the blockhouse.  Whilte not counted the number of casualties suffered by the natives was certainly much greater.

The peninsular shape of Seattle is depicted in an Indian-eye’s view of the battle that was imagined in the late 19th century. [28]  A detail of the sketch shows the cannons booming from the sloop Decatur and from the blockhouse as well.  Another painting of the blockhouse shows the locals running for it and was painted by Eliza Denny, who as a child fled with her parents David and Eliza to the blockhouse where her younger sister Decatur was born.  In appreciation she was named for both the ship and the fort. [29]
(A map superimposing donation claims with drawn streets is superimposed over Phelps map of the city.) [30])


In the map by Phelps the phrase “Hills and Woods Thronged With Indians” is written a little ways below the name D.C. Boren.  The map also shows an “Indian Camp” at the southern end of Piners Point and directly east of Damnable’s.  This including the Felker House footprint is a traditional native site, although Phelps’ “tee-pees” were not the style of construction used by Indians on the Northwest Coast.  As noted earlier, located both near the trail to Lake Washington and the Duwamish estuary the native “winter camp” on Piners Point was one of the largest villages of the Duwamish.  Tribal informants indicated that at one time Djidjila’letch (or Jijilalec) included eight large longhouses and at about the time that the English Captain George Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound in 1792 may have been home for as many as two hundred members of the tribe.  When Denny, Bell and Boren explored the site early in 1852 its was deserted and they stumbled upon the remains of only one longhouse.  This is puzzling because only two years previous the pioneer Isaac Ebey visited the future Seattle site and was given a rare invitation into a longhouse there by Chief Seattle.  Ebey witnessed the Indians’ celebration welcoming the Salmon’s return to the mouth of the river, where in appreciation the natives waited to snag them with tripod weirs built across the river.


Robert Monroe, ca. 1978.  Posed at the U.W. Northwest Collection.

Native Land

Robert Monroe, for many years the director of the University of Washington Northwest Collection, at least once received a request for photographs of the 1851 Denny Party landing at Alki Point.  It is not so absurd to think that there might have been such, for photographic apparatus could have been packed by any of the setters.  Seattle is younger than photography.  When a few midwestern farmers first picked this place to settle down and farm and/or build a city, photography through the Daguerreotype process had already been with rapidly circulating worldwide for a dozen years.  The earliest surviving photograph of San Francisco dates from 1850 and for Portland from 1853.  Both are Daguerreotypes.  Portland, of course, was base camp for all the first Seattle settlers in their exploration of Puget Sound.  As already noted the earliest revealing photographs of the central waterfront in Seattle date from 1869 — two images that we will explore soon below.  From these and other early photographs and recollections we can build a convincing description of the native land that David Denny, Lee Terry and John Low first looked across to from Duwamish head in September 1851.


Waterfront sketch, ca.1875.  Denny Hill is far left.  [Click to Enlarge.]

The Railroad tunnel beneath the city was completed in 1905.  During excavation a prehistoric Seattle was uncovered that included an ancient streambed with water-worn pebbles, and cobblestones between Cherry and Marion Streets.  Beside this stream, directly below the Rainier Club at 4th and Marion, the remains of a forest were uncovered.  Distributed above this really underground Seattle is the blue clay, gravel and hardpan of the last Ice Age.  These not so scintillating contributions have been exposed time and again with the cuts made during Seattle’s many regrades of the early 20th Century and later with its skyscraper pits.  It is, of course, the forests on top of the ice age droppings more than the forest discovered beneath them that excite – the green cover nurtured through the millennia following the big thaw.


Port of Seattle centerfold shows aerial of city in 1971 and description of Seattle’s waterfront “options.”  Click to Enlarge.

Now when one repeats the settler’s naive approach to the eastern shore of Elliott Bay – most likely aboard a Washington State Ferry – the somewhat generic modern skyline of Seattle effectively screens the land that Bell and Denny saw.   But in their prepossessions the pioneers could see only wild land in the native land.  And yet, for thousands of years before it was first admired by visiting Europeans like Vancouver and then annexed by courageous and cussed pioneers like Denny and Bell, these green mounds left by the ice age were marked.  They had culture – the hills and the streams that ran from their sides were used.  The native land was managed.  Now, in this “city of hills,” the tallest artifact reaches an elevation nearly twice that of the highest hill.  (But really, we are more a city of ridges.  Three hills – Capitol, First and Beacon – were originally part of one long ridge that extended with only a few minor dips and bumps from Portage Bay to Renton.  Between 1907 and 1912 the Jackson and Dearborn Street regrades severed the ridge.)


Seattle skyline from Pike Pier, 2003.

Seattle Waterfront History, Chapter 3

[In the original hard-copy printing of this book (or report) the webpage’s already inserted chapters 1 & 2 constituted an introduction to what now follows – or begins to follow.   In the book it had the grander title “Part One – The Pre-1889 Fire Waterfront.”]

First Photographs

The community’s oldest extant photo – a daguerreotype of the Yesler Home struck ten years earlier in 1859 – does “imply” the waterfront.  In it we can find the flume that carried spring water from First Hill to Yesler’s wharf running down and above the center of James Street. [9] It was also a fateful year for Seattle’s future as a port city. The sidewheeler Eliza Anderson was sent north from the Columbia River to Puget Sound and thereby, to quote an old but now long gone friend Jim Faber from his book Steamers Wake, “in 1859 did the Age of Steam solidify on Puget Sound.” (In a second Pioneer Square photograph taken a year later in 1860 from roughly the same position, the flume is gone and water to the mill and a few homes near it is carried through bored logs buried beneath the street.) [10]

Five years later E. M. Sammis, the town’s first but brief resident photographer, returned from a stint in Olympia to resume making portraits of locals and sometimes when they lacked cash trading his art for vegetables. Thankfully Sammis also photographed Chief Seattle – for this privilege he may have paid the chief – and the young town’s first panorama. [11] [12] The 1865 view from Snoqualmie Hall at the southwest corner of Commercial (First Ave. S.) and Main Street is not very revealing of the waterfront, showing only a small section of it on the far left.  However (as we will show later), four years later, this same prospect would be used by the visiting Victoria-based photographer G. Robinson and, as already noted above, his wider and sharper panorama is very revealing.

[Please CLICK to Enlarge.]


For the rest of Chapter Three, click here

The Seattle Waterfront: An Illustrated History

In 2005, Paul wrote an Illustrated History of the Seattle Waterfront on request from the Seattle City Council.  He comments:

waterfront-stampIt took about 5 months to complete, and I forsook Ivar (except for including him and his in the history – even this introduction!) and much else – except the weekly Times features – in order to get it done.  Still it was a great delight to write – or to assemble it from many years of writing on Waterfront subjects and to also use other resources I had not yet studied.

The posting of chunks of this monumental history (heretofore called chapters) will occur when Paul has the time and inclination. Dorpat also affirms that there will be as many as 174 chapters by the time he’s posted them all. (Jean says, Whew!)

Please click here or on the button marked The Seattle Waterfront: An Illustrated History to begin.

The Seattle Waterfront – An Illustrated History, Chapter 1

This is a test, of sorts.  Below is the first of about 175 photographic montages constructed for an Illustrated History of the Seattle Waterfront that I wrote first in 2005 on request from the Seattle City Council.  It took about 5 months to complete, and I forsook Ivar (except for including him and his in the history – even this introduction!) and much else – except the weekly Times features – in order to get it done.  When figured by the hour, I was paid considerably less than the minimum wage, a progressive anticipation of the recession-depression we are rolling into.  Yes, I was on the cutting edge of cut backs.  Still it was a great delight to write this history – or to assemble it from many years of writing on Waterfront subjects and to also use other resources I had not yet studied.

The question – or test – is this.  Can this graphic be “read” by you?  (The original is a Word document treated to the MacIntosh desktop GRAB gizmo.) And – I add a second test – will Jean Sherrard allow it – I mean the size of it?  Jean’s the blog master here.   Please let me know if you will take the time.   I’ll also attach below the montage the first of the text – the part that goes roughly with it.  (Click the Pic to Enlarge)

[Note of correction:  In the rush to produce this 500 page history in five months I made a few mistakes of fact and bloopers too.  I’ll try to catch them now and as I go forward putting this Waterfront History on our blog.  The first correction is directly below in the caption of photo #1 in the montage.  Pier #2 was renumbered Pier 50 and not, again, Pier #2 during WW2.]



In the spring of 1944 the military changed the name (or letter or number, for all were variously used) of every pier on Elliott Bay.  Although a new system was first studied by a committee of all concerned — the shippers, the Port of Seattle, and the military — it was the warriors who at last took charge and decided that from then on it would be numbers only.

This “act of war” was disappointing to the mix of wharfingers and traditionalists who championed what they considered a sensible extension of the old system that lettered the piers south of Yesler Way and numbered those north of it.  This scheme was also based on a pioneer appreciation for how the Seattle waterfront historically pivoted at the point where Henry Yesler first built his steam sawmill in 1853 and the town’s first wharf a year later.  The old way of naming had been in use since practically the entire waterfront was rebuilt following its destruction during the city’s “Great Fire” of June 6, 1889.  First south of Yesler, the Pacific Coast Company rebuilt its piers and continued to letter them A, B, C, and D.  Next to the north of Yesler during the gold rush years of the late 1890s the irregular scatter of generally short piers were soon either numbered or named or both under the urging of Reginald Thomson, the City Engineer.  With the completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific dock at the foot of Madison Street in 1910 and the Port of Seattle headquarters at the foot of Bell Street in 1915, Seattle would be set – with once sizeable exception, a change of wharves at Lenora Street — with the waterfront it would hold through the first half of the 20th Century.  The Port’s pier would be both named for Bell Street and numbered first 11 and after the army’s revision Pier 66.  When it opened, the Grand Trunk Pier at 640 feet was the largest timber pier in the country.  With its 108-foot tower it loomed – to the north was Fire Station No. 5 and Pier 3 and to the south, Colman Dock and the Alaskan Piers 1 and 2.  The Grand Trunk would be distinguished only by its name until the army insisted in 1944 that it had to have a number too – Pier 53.  (All of these structures will be considered in greater detail below as we begin to make daily excerpts from this history.  This, again, is the introduction.)

Appreciably the principal resistance to the military’s new unified scheme came from the Alaska Steamship Company at Piers 1 and 2 (in the old system). [1] The distinguished shipper explained that it had been advertising its cherished numbers “all over the country for many years,” and that losing them would be a hardship.  While the generals were not impressed and cited many examples of how the old system was both confounding and potentially dangerous, the greatest confusion had been of the army’s own making.  When it first took charge of the Port of Seattle’s tideland docks south of Dearborn Street for its Port of Embarkation the army lettered the piers there A, B, and C.  As just noted, these were the same letters then already used for 40 years at the Pacific Coast Co. piers directly south of Yesler Way.  In one week during the war someone in security counted 24 trucks and 27 individuals calling at a private dock when they intended to visit a military one of the same letter.  They might have known better, for the truth was, as the generals explained, during the war practically all of the activity on the waterfront was military.  There was, it seemed, “no private shipping.”   It may well have been this “A, B, and C” confusion that inspired the military to rationalize the entire “pierage” on Elliott Bay into numbers only.

It was probably the military’s Seattle Port Security Force that turned the truckers from their blunders.  After a three-week course at the University of Washington the volunteers served 12 hours weekly – without pay.  Their duty?  “To patrol the waterfront, board vessels, check for subversive activities, watch for fires and aid in keeping the waterfront safe, clean and presentable.”  At the time this meant “clean of fascists.”  In 1950 it would mean “clean of communists” as the Coast Guard reinstated the requirement for security passes.  Rear Admiral R. T McElligott was resolute.  To the fifteen Pacific Northwest unions who objected to the new security regime he explained that anyone without a card would be kept off the waterfront, and that identification cards issued during the Second World War were no longer valid.  Most importantly, perhaps, this new cold war cardboard was devised as a badge of loyalty.

During both the hot and cold wars there was plenty to be anxious about anywhere including the waterfront.  But immediately following World War Two, there was little concern for security and loyalty but plenty of puzzlement over what to do.  While the Port of Seattle maneuvered to get its piers back from the military it also lobbied for certification of a World Trade Center on the East Waterway.  And it wanted big changes on the central waterfront.  The Port publicly pictured for maritime reporters (when there was still a regular waterfront beat in the local dailies) a waterfront whose protruding finger wharves were traded for a long quay that paralleled Alaskan Way.  The new ships were expected to be much too long for the old piers that could not at any rate be extended far enough off shore to service them because the water was too deep there to sink piles.

Still, much of the traditional break-bulk cargo that came across the public and private wharves on Seattle’s waterfront after the war was delivered in the smaller Liberty Ships built during the war – many of them in Seattle and Tacoma.  While the Liberties were not the shipping behemoths the Port was pondering, they were efficiently built like floating bathtubs.  From Puget Sound they would typically be sent out crammed piece by piece with lumber and ponderously return with steel, cotton and liquor.  This was then moved the old way – piece by piece across the piers, except, of course, for the pieces that were pilfered — especially the liquor.  Ralph Staehli, a retired employee for a shipper at Pier 48 recalled, “We used to bring in an awful lot of liquor  – cases of it.  We hired Pinkerton guards.  But the longshoremen soon learned the trick of cutting the corner of a case on one side and taking a bottle while the guard was on the other side. We hired more guards but soon fired them.  When Pope and Talbot (another post-war tenant at Pier 48) discovered that the company’s attempts to police this activity cost considerably more than the insurance to cover losses due to theft they got rid of the extraordinary security and simply paid the premiums.”

As late as 1949 the military’s Seattle Port of Embarkation, which the Port and the Army partnered to build during the war, was still the largest ship operator on the waterfront.  Otherwise the old waterfront was rusting and splintering, although the tax-supported Port of Seattle watched and waited to purchase large pieces of it at good prices.  It was also in these post-war years that the vanguards of the central waterfront’s future in play and recreation – notably Ivar Haglund – first enlivened it with antics like clam eating contests. [2] In 1950 they also illuminated it.  On the sixteenth of March, 1950 at 6:15 P.M. between Bay Street and Yesler Way the new mercury vapor lights were turned on, giving the waterfront what Ivar described as a properly “romantic green tinge” for St. Partick’s Day.

Here we may briefly stand below the Alaskan Way Viaduct and note that its construction was made easier by the relative torpor and uncertainties (if not the petty theft) on the waterfront during the post-war period. [3] Since the mid-1920s when local motor traffic first started to periodically lock up Seattle streets – or rather its avenues, for the problem then as now was primarily one of moving north and south through the wasp-waist city – the waterfront was coveted as potentially the great detour – the best way to go around the business district.  (As first built, the Alaska Way Viaduct completely avoided downtown.  The access ramps at Seneca and Columbia to and from the business district were not added until the early 1960s.)  A double-decked elevated roadway was imagined from the beginning.  During the Second World War buildings along the way were condemned and purchased and, with the general maritime depression that followed the war, the waterfront had really no one to defend it against this vision of it as a convenient detour.  While the elevated had nothing to do with water and so with the waterfront, it was by then soaring with advocates.

While it was being lifted above the relatively new and loose land that had been packed between the seawall and the “native land” (South of University Street the old waterfront meander line generally runs a few yards west of First Avenue, between it and Post Alley), the monumental Viaduct seemed to many an encouraging sign for the neighborhood of wharves and commission houses.  Something was being done.  Consequently, although Pier owners and patrons were inconvenienced, they generally put their own best construction on the building of the “great gray way” and smelled in the curing concrete a sweet new waterfront bouquet.

Before the viaduct was opened to traffic three days following April Fools Day, 1953, a few pedestrians with connections and cameras were allowed to use it as a prospect for studying the city. [4] They came 101 years after Arthur Denny and William Bell first tested it from off shore as a proper site for building a port community.  Unlike the Port of Seattle planners who were proposing parallel piers in 1946, the founders were encouraged by the deep water and marked their upland claims beside it.  But the viaduct explorers of 1953 would have been burdened with more than their cameras to find any evidence of the native waterfront from the viaduct without getting off of it and digging or drilling for it through the strata of a century of city building.  Like the motorists that soon followed them onto the viaduct, the camera bugs favored facing the city.  The few surviving photographs that turn from the tall buildings to look down on the piers are Kodachrome confessions of the waterfront as worn and worried, its common condition in 1953.  Still, there were prophetic exceptions, most notably at Pier 54 where Ivar’s Acres of Clams was already a popular destination.