I am writing this on June 6, 2015, the 126th anniversary of Seattle’s Great Fire. Most likely you are reading it about one month later. That places you closer to the 126th anniversary of this subject, which in 1889 was still Seattle’s primary business district, reduced to charred rubble. The scene was photographed, I surmise, late in the month of June or perhaps even in early July.
With the help of the many surviving photographs of the ruins, it is easy to determine from what prospect this scene was recorded. The unnamed photographer stood on Main Street looking north by northeast over Main Street’s northwest corner with Second Avenue (later renamed Occidental.) It is a typical post-fire cityscape that reveals a layering of ruins, temporary tents, and some of the surviving city blocks that were not among the 35 or so destroyed by the conflagration in its seven hours of wind-driven destruction.
Of the ten or so landmarks with towers that break the First Hill horizon we’ll note but three. First, far left, stands the Gothic spire of First Methodist Church at the southeast corner of Third Avenue and Marion Street. Next, at the scene’s center and farther up the hill, are the two towers of Central School on the south side of Madison Street, where now passes the Seattle Freeway (I-5) ditch. Much closer to the photographer, to the left of the scorched power pole, the Yesler mansion faces Third Avenue, on the north side of Jefferson Street. It was saved with a combination of soaked blankets spread on the roof and volunteers who extinguished the flying embers. Nearby, just right of the same power pole, another battle on the shingles saved the King County Courthouse. After the murder trail then underway was adjourned by Judge Hanford, buckets of water were lifted with a rope borrowed from the flagpole to drench the roof.
By the 10th of June, four days following the fire, over one hundred permits had been issued to erect temporary tents. Like those shown here, most of the tents were stretched on sturdy frames and anchored to heavy planks. Months later some of these canvas quarters were still standing and being used as store fronts.
Most of the pre-fire neighborhood south of Yesler Way was built of wood. Brick structures were rare. So the orderly piles of bricks here [in the featured photo at the top] encroaching on the street, right-of-center, is – or was – an inviting mystery. Except that almost certainly these bricks were salvaged from the wreckage of the large but short-lived Squire Building, here at the northwest corner of
Main Street and Second Ave. (Occidental). In the 1888 Sanborn real estate map this corner lot is captioned “Excavation for Brick Block to be three stories.” For his research on Pioneer Square neighborhood structures, Greg Lange found in the 1889 Polk Directory more than thirty tenants renting quarters in Watson Squire’s namesake block. Once the fire, heading south, reached Yesler Way around six pm, Watson’s renters must have already started gathering what they could before scrambling up First Hill.
MORE POST-FIRE RUINS, TENTS & RECONSTRUCTION
Anything to add, fellas? Yes Jean, but first Ron and I – and now the readers too – wish you and yours a happy farewell as you fly away to Europe with twenty-five (about) Hillside students and your protective cadre of instructors to visit first London and then Paris, and surely some of the same sites that you and I explored together in 2005. I will send you – as you have instructed – some shots I took when first visiting the same cities as a teenager in 1955, for your intentions to repeat them now sixty years later – gadz. Perhaps we can sneak them into Pacific – one or two of them. It will depend, I think, on how sentimental the editors are feeling at the time of submission, and the pun is intended. Bon Voyage Jean and carry our love to Berangere, who, I know, will be helping you in Paris. Often I’d just like to move there and follow BB around those ancient blocks with a bag of bon bons and one light weight digital camera.
Beginning in 1897 and continuing into the twentieth century, Seattle was in the golden grip of “Klondike Fever,” a hysteria promoted by the Chamber of Commerce and its agent Erastus Brainard, perhaps the highest of hucksters in our history. Through every publication he could charm, Brainerd linked the gold fields of the North, waiting to be gathered by shovel and/or pan, with Seattle. “To speak of one is to speak of the other.”
Here two teams and their drivers pose on the northbound tracks and cable slot of the Front Street Cable Railway. The equine posers are backed by an array of businesses with signs that are both freshly painted and ambitious. For instance, add a Thedinga Hardware to a
Columbia Grocery and you get an Alaska Outfitters. Business district streets were lined with similar opportunists. The likely date is 1898, a year after the instantly famous steamer Portland arrived on the waterfront with its “ton of gold.”
This plenitude of miners’ supplies filled many of the sidewalks on Front (First Avenue) and Commercial Streets (First Avenue S.): mostly bags stuffed, for example, with evaporated foods, boots, pots, picks, slabs of bacon, lentils, and several variations on corn (corn meal, pop corn and corn cob pipes at 35 cents a dozen). Some of this piling of sacks can be seen on the far left and also behind the wagons. Two blocks south at Columbia Street, the sidewalk in front of the Toklas Singerman Department Store was piled ten-feet high, eleven-feet wide, and eighty-feet long. Throughout the district many sidewalk trees were sacrificed for sacks.
Next door to the south (right) of the Alaska Outfitters, the Yukon Supply Company claims to “sell only the best goods manufactured.” H.H. Peterson, the manager, explained to a Seattle Times reporter, “The city is full of strangers intending on purchasing an outfit for the North, and supplying for a long journey and longer stay is something new to them.” Ready to enable, Peterson would know that by far most of those he outfitted would return from the Yukon, or the Klondike, not enriched but exhausted.
Far left in the featured photo at the top, a “Frederick, Nelson & Munro” sign tops the rear wall of that still fondly remembered department store, then at the northwest corner of Madison Street and Second Avenue. Silas Munro was the third partner, but not for long. Imagining that the gold fever would soon cool, Munro sold out to his partners and purchased this southeast corner of First Avenue and Madison Street. Both Thedinga Hardware and Columbia Grocery were evicted when their leases ran out at the end of June 1901, and Munro built in place of these single-story storefronts the five-story Palace Hotel.
Anything to add, lads? Ron Edge has two packed links to contributed directly below. Both are of the same east side of First Ave. between Madison and Marion. We encourage our readers to explore them and their own links – some which may be repeated – and so on (and on). We will also slip in some clips from past features having to do with outfitting for the “traveling men” or the neighborhood on Front Street (First Ave.) around Marion Street or near it.
Here (at the top) is print number 12,920, preserved in the library of the Museum of History and Industry’s collection of historical photographs. Like many of the archive’s early prints, this factory scene is mounted with a generous border to protect it from ‘dog ears’ and other indignities. On the border of the stiff board, with the identifying number, is printed the caption: “Exterior view of Seattle Steel Company shortly after it began operation in 1905.”
The rising smoke and steam of the featured photo on top confirm that the superheated work of transforming the industrial scraps, piled here on the south side of the factory, into useable steel is underway. Much of it was rolled and stretched into bars used to strengthen concrete, like that used in Seattle’s first skyscraper, the then but one-year-old Alaska Building, which stands, both elegant and sturdy, at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and James Street.
William Pigott, the factory’s founder, was variously described as a “devout Catholic” and “patriarchal capitalist.” As soon as Pigott announced his factory plans in 1903, the small neighborhood on the west side of Pigeon Point began to boom with mill workers moving into new but modest homes. Pigott first named it Humphrey after a town where he had earlier lived and worked with steel, but he soon changed the name to Youngstown, after another patriarchal company town with rolling mills in Ohio. Youngstown resisted
incorporation into its much larger neighbor to the west, West Seattle. When Seattle did annex it in 1907, the unincorporated company town came along, most likely for the better sewerage and water. By then Youngstown supported four saloons and a public school, the latter built by the mill. The community also kept its eye on the frequently flooding Longfellow Creek that flowed and too often overflowed through it into Young’s Cove.
Drawn “from plans only,” a captioned footprint of the factory was printed in the1904 Kroll Seattle real estate map. The map names, left to right, the Stock House, the Heating House (with the smokestacks), the Rolling Mill, and running east-to-west, several attached wings named collectively the Run-out Building and Warehouse. Beyond these the Kroll map notes, “Tide flats, being filled in.” These Young’s Cove tidelands between Pigeon Point, on the east, and West Seattle, on the west, would be reclaimed and covered by the expanding factory. Longfellow Creek is now carried to Elliott Bay via a culvert beneath the fill.
Many years ago I first featured Seattle Steel in the Pacific Northwest Magazine. Here’s a clip of it from the Sunday Times.
Pacific Northwest readers may recall the Pacific Magazine’s recent May 25th cover story on this factory. See it online at http://bit.ly/1y2SKBF. Or click on the next image below.
Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean, and some of it is inserted above your request – or will be – illustrating this week’s text itself. As for LINKS there is but one this week, and it reaches back merely a few weeks to the feature SPOKANE STREET from WEST SEATTLE. Ron Edge will put it up next. If explored, this single link will lead the dedicated reader to many more features – more than twenty of them – that relate to the neighborhood widely considered.
I found the prints below while doing research for a legal case years ago. It had to do with responsibilities following damage from the flooding of the Longfellow Creek across Andover Street and into the industrial park, lighted like the inferno and spreading harrowing noises, now run by Nucor Steel Seattle. The prints were all part of an exhibit, which, I figure, was shown at MOHAI, for it is, after all, a museum for both history and industry.