August 21, 2012

My Trip to Seattle and a Great Book

Me at Pioneer Square

My husband and I and our youngest daughter, drove down to Seattle for a few days last week. We've driven past Seattle many times on family vacations but never stopped.  So we decided to spend a few days exploring some of the great things Seattle has to offer.

One of the places we visited was Pioneer Square. Here we took a tour of  'Underground Seattle', where I purchased this wonderful book called, "Images of America: Seattle's Pioneer Square."

Between the tour and this book I learnt a lot about the beginnings and history of this city. Here's a few interesting facts.

Seattle and the Native Americans

Chief Sealth (Seattle)
Before Seattle, there was Jijilaetch, a village of Native Americans led by Chief Sealth (which Seattle was later named for) When settlers arrived including the founding fathers of Seattle, Dr. David 'doc' Maynard and Arthur Denny...

"Chief Sealth befriended the Denny party and encouraged Suquamish/Duwamish people to help the new settlers adapt to their surroundings. Native American people played an important role in this place once called Jijilaetch and today known as Pioneer Square."

Where I'm standing in the photo above, is the middle of Pioneer Square. Before that it was the center of Jijilaetch and it's longhouses, where many Native Americans lived.

One very sad fact I read about was that once Seattle began to grow, the Native Americans were banded from entering the city limits. The land that was once their home, was now forbidden to them.

Seattle as a Saw Mill Town

The city of Seattle began as a saw mill town. As you may know the Pacific Northwest is abundant in trees. This area was no different. The land was very steep and hilly and so it was easy for the loggers to roll the timber down the hill to the saw mill which was near the water. This path became known as skid road. The book says here:

"The dirt road started as a skid road, where the logs cut from the old-growth forests were greased to skid down the sloping road to Yesler's Mill for processing. Skid Road's name changed over time to Mill Street and eventually to Yesler Way."

The mill brought more people and prosperity to Seattle and it grew.

Seattle's Seedy Past

One interesting and seedy fact I learnt about Seattle's past is that there were many brothels in town and these were the businesses that made the most money. The city decided to tax them and therefore much of the city was built on those taxes!

One house of ill-repute in particular was run by a women named Lou Graham who only hired well educated women who could read and write, speak more that one language and play at least one musical instrument. The book says here of how she advertised:

"Lou's principle method of advertising took the form of carriage rides up and down main streets on Sunday afternoon. Dressed in their best finery, the young ladies of her establishment were regularly put on display."

This part of Seattle's history I found unsettling. It doesn't matter how much you finely dress a woman up or educate her, prostitution is still selling a human being and therefore I believe, slavery. But I won't get into that now.

One more thing I found extremely interesting is that the building Lou Graham sold her women at is now the home of the Union Gospel Mission! What a turn around for that building! Here's a picture.

Union Gospel Mission

Seattle Fire 1889

In 1889 a small fire broke out that grew out of control and burned down  125 acres, 30 city blocks, of the city. Here are before and after photos of Yesler Way.

Yesler Way before fire

Yesler Way after the fire
After the fire Seattle rose to the occasion and began to rebuild. The book says here:

"Seattleites resolved to build fireproof buildings and banned wooden structures. New buildings codes were adopted, and with the help of several architects, including Elmer Fisher, John Parkinson, Charles Saunders, and E. W. Houghton, Pioneer Square got an elegant new lease on life. The large number of buildings designed in a short period of time by a handful of architects and designers resulted in a unique harmony of Richardsonian Romanesque style in the Pioneer Square neighborhood. More jobs were created by the fire than lost, and Seattle's rebuilding efforts resulted in another population and economic boom. Seattle's population grew to 42,837 by 1890."

Seattle in the early 1900's
After the fire:

"City council passed ordinances to elevate the city from 10 to 40 feet to help with the plumbing problem, modify the street grid to help alleviate traffic congestion and improve flow, and prescribe building materials for fire safety."

Leveling the streets higher, left the first floor of buildings underground, which became underground Seattle. Here's a diagram that shows the streets elevated and new sidewalks placed above old sidewalks. Stairs were eventually built down to businesses underground.

Diagram from the book
Here is a modern day example of the use of the underground. Magic Mouse Toys has two levels to shop. As you can see there are stairs going down to the underground part. Great store by the way!

Magic Mouse Toys
Seattle and the Gold Rush

Seattle grew even more when the gold rush in Alaska and the Yukon began. Many businesses were opened selling gear for prospecting and Seattle became known as the 'Gateway to Klondike'

Alaskan Outfitting Establishment
The book goes on to talk about the railroad, prohibition, the depression and the renewal, thanks to Wes Uhlman, who was Seattle's mayor in the 1970's and Bill Speidel, founder of the 'Underground Tour' who worked hard in preserving Pioneer Square from being demolished and turning it into what it is today, a beautiful old city to visit.

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