Joseph Vance, Developer

Joseph A. Vance (1872-1948), born in Quebec, Canada, moved to Tacoma in 1890 for work in railway construction.  By 1897, he had built and begun operating a small lumber mill operation in Malone, Washington — close to the site of Vance Creek County Park , which opened in 1988.  He founded the Vance Lumber Company in 1908, a highly successful milling operation which he sold in 1918.

Joseph Vance

Vance moved to Seattle and began to invest in real estate through the Vance Company.  He became involved with developing personal business and commercial properties in downtown Seattle, including the Vance Hotel (1927 at 620 Stewart Street, later known as Hotel Max); the Lloyd Building  (1928, named for one of Joseph’s sons and in 2010 designated a City of Seattle landmark); and the Joseph Vance Building (1929), where the Vance Company operated.  Victor W. Voorhees designed all of these buildings.

For the Vance Lumber Company,  Voorhees designed the 1926 remodel of the Seattle Engineering School, which trained auto workers, into an apartment house known as the Vance Apartments until 1930 and then the Marqueen  Apartments and now the MarQueen Hotel, in the Queen Anne neighborhood.  Voorhees produced the plan book catalog known as the Western Home Builder, a source of designs for homes throughout Seattle,  including on Queen Anne.

By 1931, the Vance Company had acquired hotels in downtown Seattle:  the Camlin and Hotel Continental — later known as Hotel Seattle and then renamed Hotel Earl for one of Joseph’s sons.  As documented HERE by historian Maureen Elenga, Earl died in a skating accident in the icy winter of 1935.

Vance’s son George took over the company in the 1930s and ran it until his death in 1981.  As of 2021, the Vance Corporation continues to develop and manage Seattle properties.
Reference:  “Vance Corporation returns to local ownership” (1998)                                                          Vance Building, 4th Avenue & Union St.

Seattle 1962 World’s Fair Structural Engineers

In 2022, we observe the 60th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair/Century 21 Exposition, which opened April 21 on the grounds originally known as Potlatch Meadows and now home to Seattle Center.

On May 30, 2012, nine prominent Seattle structural engineers directly involved in the design of iconic buildings that remain today at Seattle Center — including the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, the Coliseum (now Climate Pledge Arena), and the Monorail — assembled and offered observations on their work.

The Structural Engineers Foundation of Washington hosted the recording session, featuring Dick Chauner, Jack Christiansen, Gary Curtis, Victor Gray, Norm Jacobson, Tom Kane, Bob Mast, Fred Pneuman, and Einar Svensson.
The film also references some of the architects and contractors who played significant roles in the design and construction of the Fair.
Watch recording HERE
*Century 21 World’s Fair Structural Engineering
*Queen Anne Community on the Hill  Chapter 13:  “In Our Time — 1950-1993”

Trusting History: The Kerry House at 421 W. Highland Drive


Above:  the 1913 photo from Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast
In 1975 with altered roof and before second story addition over the garage. Courtesy Paul Dorpat

April 6, 2022: north elevation with second-story garage addition and reconstructed dormers. Photo: Author

April 6, 2022: south elevation seen from Prospect St. Note the three dormers. Photo: author

In 1938 the third story of the home was destroyed by a fire and a roof was put over the second floor rather than replacing it.  A second story addition was added to the garage at the same time.

Bruce Jones, West Highland Drive, p. 16

 This is a cautionary tale about architectural history and a learning moment that encourages us to be clear thinking critical readers of local history.  These four photographs trace the evolution of the A. S. Kerry Residence at 421 W. Highland Drive from 1902 to today.  The second image shows the house 37 years after a fire burned the attic and the replacement of the original roof.  Exploring that second roof and its replacement took me on a wild ride down the rabbit hole of revisionism where, as both a victim and a happy survivor, I explored fixing the incorrect building history.

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of a neighborhood tour, I consulted Bruce Jones’s 2009 guide to West Highland Drive A Historical Walking Tour of Seattle’s Queen Anne Neighborhood and discovered disquieting errors.  West Highland Drive is the chichi street at the crest of Queen Anne Hill with fantastic views to Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, West Seattle and the Olympic Mountains.  The street is dotted with massive early 20th century homes constructed largely for people made wealthy in hardware, lumber and real estate following the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.

In 2009, at the time of publication, Jones served on the board of the Queen Anne Historical Society which he had joined to assist with the creation of the inaugural version of  Working in sales for IBM, he had an easy time with the early internet and probably mastered HTML, the code language of websites.  That put him in a trusted position.  Initially I relied on the information in the book because another long-serving member of the board is credited with proofreading a draft for accuracy.

As I prepared for my tag-along historian role on the tour of the neighborhood, I flipped through the 28 buildings and sites documented in the guide.  On the very first page of text, I noted that the misspelling of the name of the Willcox Walls along 8th Avenue W.  The guide calls them the Wilcox (with one l) Walls.  On the same page, Jones calls Walter Ross Baume Willcox, the wall’s architect and namesake, Harvey.  He then misspells the name of the Olmsted Brothers, the firm that designed Seattle’s park plan.  These errors happen frequently in informal papers and presentations about Seattle’s history and should be forgiven, but Jones pretends to lay out verifiable facts.  His mistakes set me up to be skeptical.

By the time I landed on the squib about the 1902 A. S. Kerry residence on p. 16, my antennae were up. Jones reports there that, “In 1938 the third story of the home was destroyed by fire and a roof was put over the second story rather than replacing it.”  The implication here is of a full third story that was removed, but the photo taken in 1913 shows a two-story house with three attic dormers but lacking a fully articulated third story.  I also found it odd that the 1905 photograph of the Stimson-Griffiths residence on page 18 of the very same guide shows the Kerry residence in the background with a roofline that almost matches the architectural drawings at the UW and what one sees from the street today.

Drawing of the attic plan (UW Special Collections)

On the website of the UW libraries, I found the original Bebb and Mendel 1902 drawings.  The house as built diverged a bit from the drawing, for neither of the two central dormers appears on them.

Drawing of the north elevation (UW Special Collections)

Confusing me a bit more, neither dormer lit a livable space.  The large dormer provided light to the unfinished attic.  The smaller one to the east lights a hallway.  As one might expect on a site with such phenomenal views to the south, the dominant living spaces of this house actually face away from the street.  The kitchen faces the street while the two south-facing bedrooms on the third floor provided smashing views to Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier through large dormer windows.

With all this evidence to the contrary, I had proof that Jones had no evidence of the fire and that the house obviously never had a third floor!  You can imagine my great surprise when I discovered that I was wrong, at least partially.

Sure, it is easy to quibble with an author’s choice of words when describing a ‘third story’ hidden in the low-slung roof, but as research revealed, on October 23, 1938, the roof and some of the third floor of the Kerry Residence did indeed burn.  The images on page 3 of the October 24, 1938, issue of the Seattle Daily Times show the house after the fire was put out and reveal that most of the roof actually survived the fire.

K. W. Rumsey, who lived across the street at 501 W. Highland Drive in the former Clise family home,[1] had purchased the Kerry Residence in June of 1938 as an investment property.  The fire happened as Rumsey and his son burned some trash in a fireplace while preparing the house for a Halloween party.  In the Seattle Daily Times article, Rumsey said the fire didn’t do enough damage to cancel the party!

Wanting to protect his investment, Rumsey expeditiously rebuilt the roof without dormers, essentially condemning the spaces on the third floor.  Based on the photographs from the Seattle Daily Times, I’m speculating that Rumsey abandoned the third floor.  Without access to the city’s microfilm permit record and without photographic evidence, I couldn’t be sure that Rumsey kept the dormers to the bedrooms on the south elevation since I couldn’t imagine him discarding the great views to Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier.  The photograph of the rear shown above that I took on April 6, 2022, from Prospect Street appears to prove me right.  The dormers are there, but as it turned out they too are reconstructions like the ones on the street side of the house.

My additional research using the online files of the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections turned up a weird coincidence.  Alissa Rupp, FAIA, one of my former employees and now a friend of 30 years, signed the 1995 building permit for New York firm of Paul Segal Associates Architecture.  She put me back in touch with Peter Rees, AIA, who ran the firm’s Seattle office.  Rees oversaw the addition of the second story over the garage where guest suite was created for the family of Gerard Schwarz, the musical director of the Seattle Symphony from 1985 to 2011.  The permit and Paul Dorpat’s photograph from 1975 proved me unexpectedly right to be critical of Jones’s guide.  Rumsey did not add the second story to the garage in 1938.  Gerry and Jody Schwarz did in 1995!

In email exchanges with Peter Rees in April 2022, I learned that “Gerry and Jody (Schwarz)’s 1995 addition replaced space over garage with guest suite (bed, bath, terrace), too costly to replace original roof shape and dormers, new owners, ca. 2013/14 renovation to current condition.”  Suggesting that his memory might not be entirely accurate, he was sure the dormers on the south side were gone and that the attic was pretty much a large open space.  He speculated that the third floor may have been designed as a ballroom.  I am guessing that Rumsey probably just gutted the whole thing when he put the new roof on in 1938.

The Robert Rosenstock family were the new owners Rees mentions.  Rosenstock, a retired Wall Street financier, moved here with his wife Ann and twin daughters who were in their early twenties.  One of the daughters interned with the Queen Anne Historical Society.  I never got to meet her mother, but our intern assured me that the restoration project was her mother’s work.

Permit history[2] indicates that the restoration of the dormers and the attic actually took place in 2012.  The online record does not clarify the extent of the work, but with Rees’s insights and the similarity of the fenestration, we can be pretty sure the Rosenstock family restored the dormers on both sides of the house.  Since they appear to have restored the entire roof structure, they probably recreated the dormer on the east end of the house at the same time.

Dormer on the east end is seen behind the chimney. Photo: author.

In all fairness to Jones, he and his proofreader could have been easily misled by the City of Seattle’s Historic Resources Survey inventory record of 2003 where consultant Mimi Sheridan, hired by the Queen Anne Historical society and assisted by volunteers, noted, “This story was not rebuilt after being destroyed in a fire in 1938; instead, at that time, a second story was added above the flat-roofed garage.”  The photo appended to the  survey record and shown below, doesn’t make it easy to conclude otherwise.

The house in the city’s 2003 Historic Building Survey.  Photo source here.

Revising architectural history isn’t easy, but it can be fun.  It is hard to know when you should distrust a source.  The overriding lesson here is that, however painful, when you are doing historical research, it is best to beware of secondary sources and to rely on primary materials such as newspaper articles, historic photographs or the architects of record if they happen to be alive and still your friends!

[1] Coincidentally, that house suffered serious damage from a fire in its roof in early 2022!

[2] Permit history also reveals that the house served as the home of the Japanese consul in 1975.

Oregon Trail Migrants to Puget Sound Country

Published 1993 by Queen Anne Historical Society, edited by Kay Reinartz PhD

Chapter Three
“Oregon Trail Migrants to Puget Sound Country”
by Kay F. Reinartz PhD

Why did Americans Emigrate to the West?
Some were prompted by mere love of change, many more by a spirit of enterprise and adventure; and a few, I believe, knew not exactly why there were thus upon the road.  With these reasons was more often mixed up a very important element — a desire to occupy the country as a basis of title in the dispute between the government of the United States and that of Great Britain.
Jesse Quinn Thornton
Oregon Trail Emigrant, 1846

As explorers and settlers found their way into Puget Sound they soon concluded that Elliott Bay offered the best harbor on the Sound.  In 1851 two parties established settlements on Elliott Bay.  In June, the Collins party arrived, composed of Luther and Diana Borst Collins and their children Lucinda and Stephen, Jacob and Samuel Maple, and Henry Van Asselt.  This group selected land in the Duwamish River Valley, with the Collins’ homestead located near what later became Boeing Field.
The following November, the second group, the Denny-Boren party, landed at Alki Point.  This group of seven men, five women, and twelve children included the first settlers destined to establish their homestead on Queen Anne Hill, Louisa Boren and David Denny.
Why did these Americans venture to the northwest wilderness of Puget Sound, which was not a part of the United States at this time?  The answer is found in the history of the region and in almost two hundred years of its exploration.
The first known Europeans to cross the 42nd parallel north (the present-day California-Oregon border) was the explorer Ferrero in 1543.  Shortly thereafter Sir Francis Drake viewed the California coast, and other explorers from Spain and England soon followed.  The Spanish were the most active in exploring the northwest coastal waters, and in 1775 Bruno de Heceta landed near the present Point Grenville.  The year before, Juan Jose Perez Hernandez had observed Nootka Harbor on the west coast of Vancouver Island but did not go ashore.  In the final decades of the eighteenth century, the Russians began establishing outposts along the Alaskan coast, which were administered from New Archangel (Sitka).  By 1800 the Russians were looking farther south, which concerned the Spanish.
In 1778 Capt. James Cook reached Nootka Harbor and, going ashore, claimed the area for England.  George Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound in May 1792, naming many prominent natural features and also claiming that area for England.
The same year a momentous event occurred when the American, Robert Gray, discovered a very large river flowing into the Pacific.  Convinced that he had found the long-sought “Great River of the West,” he named the river Columbia for his ship the Columbia Rediviva.  Gray’s exploration of this and a subsequent trip in 1792 became a key factor in the American claim to the vast area that was called Oregon Country.  The American claim was strengthened by President Thomas Jefferson’s Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06.  The first permanent American settlement in the Northwest was Astoria, Oregon, a fur trading center established by John Jacob Astor in 1811.
Around 1818 the first American settlers arrived in the region later known as Washington.  However, north of the Columba River, the American influence was minimal.  Under these circumstances the Hudson’s Bay Company maintained unchallenged control over the Oregon Country wilderness, which extended from the 42nd parallel north to about the 54th parallel (present-day Prince Rupert, B.C.) into the early 1840s.
Increasing tension over occupation rights in the 1830s prompted the Americans to take dynamic action to solidify their interests and control over the area in 1843, the year the Oregon Trail opened.  A provisional government was set up that was actually a republic within a republic, since the status of the region had not been determined at this time.  In 1844 the newly-created territorial legislature met at Oregon City, drafted a code of laws, elected officers to govern, and enacted a law defining boundaries.  In 1846, after several years of negotiating, the 49th parallel north was agreed upon by the United States and England as the compromise boundary between parallels 42° and 54°40′.  Thus, control over the vast region below the 49th parallel passed from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Americans.

Traveling along the banks of the Arkansas River the summer of 1852, the Ward pioneer party encountered an immense herd of buffalo — possibly a half-million animals — in Dillis Ward’s estimation.  Seeing that it was impossible to drive around the herd, the wagons drove into its midst, finding that the huge bison stepped back to allow them to pass through — like the waters of the Red Sea parting — according to one observer.  The wagon train entered the herd at two p.m. and was clear of it after four and a half hours of steady travel.  Original illustration by Vonnie Anderson Burns
In the interest of hastening the settling process, thereby assuring possession of the northwest, the United States government passed a series of very generous land grant acts to attract settlers to this remote region.  Most of the land in the Puget Sound area was acquired by the pioneers under one of three land acts:  the Donation Land Grant Acts of 1850 and 1851, the Preemption Land Act of 1855, and the Homestead Act of 1862.  Land was also obtained under the Timber Culture Act of 1873.
Historic records reveal many instances of settlers on Queen Anne saying they had “donation claims” when in fact their claims were preemption claims or obtained under the Homestead Act.  Donation claim law required only paying for registration fees.  The land itself was free.  In contrast, land acquired under the Preemption Land Act cost $1.25/acre.  Early settlers who qualified for land under the Donation Act could acquire an additional 160 acres under preemption law and an additional 160 acres after 1862 under the Homestead Act.
It is noteworthy that the 1850 act was only the second time in American history that Congress had given away land to encourage settling in a region.  There were 1,018 donation land grants made to individuals under the 1850 and 1955 laws, a total of 300,000 acres of the most accessible land in Washington Territory.  The vast majority of these grants were made to settlers in the region bordering on Puget Sound, with only 13 donation land grants being made in eastern Washington.
The conditions and qualifications required to acquire land under the legislation controlled the settlers’ way of life throughout the first two decades of settlement on Puget Sound.  The law required that the claimant live on his or her land the majority of the year and make substantial improvements, i.e., clearing the natural vegetation and planting crops.  This process, known as “proving up,” lasted seven years, after which time clear title, i.e., patent, was granted.  The typical pattern for married couples was that the woman lived year-round on the claim alone or with the children, while her husband worked out in the logging camps or sawmills to earn needed cash.
Often claim law deadlines were not strictly enforced because of the difficulties in reaching the filing office which was initially in Salem.  Later, filing was done at the King County Seat, Seattle.
The beauty and outstanding abundance of natural resources in the Puget Sound country began to be widely known during the 1849 California Gold Rush, but the difficulties of reaching Puget Sound and the shortage of suitable farm land held people back.
Overland travel was blocked by dense mountain vegetation which made journeys by wagon nearly impossible.  Water travel was considerably easier, but had its own set of dangers and drawbacks.  Regardless of the route a settler took, the journey to Puget Sound was more complicated and dangerous than to other western areas open to homesteading.  Settlers began trickling in during the 1840s, but Puget Sound Country did not attract settlers in significantly large numbers until the 1880s, after more accessible western lands were taken up and the railroad provided a fast, safe means of transportation.
Puget Sound settlers had two sea alternatives to the overland trail — around Cape Horn or through the Isthmus of Panama.  The Horn route often took a year, while the Isthmus route took four to six weeks.  Sea travel cost more and presented real and imagined dangers for non-seafaring people.  In addition, they were limited in the tools and equipment they could bring by ship, which excluded draft animals and heavy wagons.  On the Puget Sound frontier, farming equipment and farm animals were scarce and expensive.
The historic migration of people across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the Northwest began with the first wagon train out in 1842.  Each Spring from this year forward until 1883, when the transcontinental railroad was completed to the Northwest, ever larger numbers of daring men, women, and children set off for the west coast.  In response to the Oregon Territory Donation Land Act of 1851, during 1852 the trickle of migrants swelled to a veritable river.
A good crossing started in the early Spring, when the green prairie grass provided food for the animals.  The goal was to arrive in the Northwest in late August or September, with enough time to get situated before Winter.  Those people who made their way to Elliott Bay typically traveled by wagon to the Columbia River, thence down the river on barges, or followed the Barlow Road alongside the river.  At Portland they caught a steamer for Puget Sound.  By the late 1850s a road, barely passable by heavy wagon and a strong team, had been cut through the forest from the Cowlitz River to Olympia via Chehalis, and settlers drove their teams to Puget Sound Country.
The 2,000 mile overland journey to the Northwest normally took from four to six months, with ten miles the average distance in a 12-hour day.  Most families had a heavy wagon pulled by a team of horses or oxen and many drove milk cows and additional draft animals alongside.  To reduce the weight of the load and break the monotony of riding the jostling wagon, most of the adults and children in a wagon walked much of each day.
Prominent among the dangers implicit in the journey were route hazards, the weather, hostile natives, and disease.  Larger wagon trains were safer from attacks by native tribes, while smaller ones made better time and had less trouble feeding the stock with available vegetation.  More people died from disease, particularly cholera, than from all the other hazards together.  An additional health hazard for women was pregnancy.  Approximately one-third of all the married women began the journey in various stages of pregnancy.  Many gave birth along the trail.
The Oregon Territory Surveyor General’s report for October 23, 1852 notes that in 1852, 777 married couples filed for 640-acre claims and 202 single men filed for 320-acre claims under the 1850 Donation Land Act.  Under Section 4 of Oregon Territorial Law, 80 couples filed for 320-acre claims and 20 single men for 160-acre claims.
The census taken the Summer of 1853, a few months after Washington Territory was established, found that there were 3,965 settlers in the new territory.  The county census shows King County, with 170 people, was one of the most sparsely populated.  Other county populations were Clark, 1,134; Island,195; Jefferson, 189; Lewis, 616; Pacific, 152; Pierce, 513; and Thurston, 996.
Numbered among the vanguard of 1852 who were destined to become the first European-American residents of Queen Anne were:  Louisa Boren and David Denny, later married; Thomas Mercer and daughters Mary Jane, Eliza, Susannah, and Alice; Dr. Henry Smith, Abigail Teaff Smith, his mother, and Ellender Smith, sister; and John Ross and Mary McMillan, who would later marry.
Four other young people who crossed to Oregon Territory in the Summer of 1853 would assume prominent nineteenth century roles in Queen Anne community life.  These were Clarence Bagley; Hester Ward, who became Thomas Mercer’s second wife; and Hester’s brother Dillis B. Ward and Sarah Isable Byles, who would later marry.  Nine-year-old Sarah Byles was a member of the famous Longmire party that made the first crossing through Naches Pass, where the wagons had to be lowered with ropes down the cliffs.
Narratives of the experience of traveling to Puget Sound Country over the Oregon Trail have been left by four of the first-comers to Queen Anne — Clarence Bagley, David and Louisa Boren Denny, and Dillis B. Ward.  The motivations for undertaking the move to the Northwest, as well as the character of the people, their intelligence, spirit, courage, and resourcefulness are reflected in their accounts of the journey west.  These early community residents are a part of that great American nineteenth century spirit — the Westward Movement — and their stories are tales of pure adventure.  They are an important part of the Queen Anne community’s frontier heritage.
Louisa Boren and David Denny were members of the Denny-Boren wagon train, consisting of four wagons, seven men, four women, and four children including two babies, six weeks and four months old.  The wagon party members were all Denny-Boren kissin’ kin, with the families being connected by several marriages.  They lived in Cherry Grove, Illinois.  John Denny was the wagon train captain.  By the standards of the day, a wagon train of only four wagons was considered far too small for safety.  Undoubtedly, the outstanding physical and emotional health, as well as the intelligence and frontier knowledge and skills that characterized the women and men of this pioneer party were a major factor in the safe journey of this group.
The family had been much encouraged to “pull up stakes and head to the Oregon County” by the glowing accounts in letters written by old friends who had gone west and were already homesteading in the Willamette Valley.  They were also influenced by Gen. John C. Fremont’s travel accounts.  Finally, John Denny and son Arthur both wishes for a change from the rigorous Illinois climate which caused them frequent lapses into malarial fever, commonly called ague.
The months of preparations that preceded the journey to Oregon Country are described in the words of Louisa Boren’s great-niece Roberta Frye Watt, as told to her by her mother Catherine Denny:
Hams were cured; blankets were woven, warm comforters made; and the household linen replenished.  The women sewed far into the night making stout garments for themselves and the children.  Even the children’s little fingers were kept busy cording wood and piecing quilts.  The cobbler came and made shoes for the whole family.  New harnesses were bought and the wagons were provided with strong, heavy springs.
The old homes were sold.  The household good were scattered among friends and relatives, for only the things that were absolutely necessary and those that could be packed conveniently into the covered wagons were kept.  Most of the provisions were crammed into sacks to save the weight of boxes….  It was a saying in those days that nothing must be taken that was not worth a dollar a pound.
Years later, Louisa Boren and David Denny, sitting in their home [Denny Log Cabin – Queen Anne Ave & Republican St] near Lake Union, were to tell their children the story of the journey with its many adventures.  One such story was of how David, driving his four-horse team in the teeth of a driving hail storm, almost lost control of the animals as they reared and plunged, attempting to escape from their unseen, icy attackers.
The mountains were a real wonder to the party.  Inez Denny, daughter of David Denny and Louisa Boren Denny, tells us that her parents found that “as they approached the upheaval mountainous country, they had a lively interest, a keen delight in the novelty of their surroundings, and surprise at unexpected features were aroused in the minds of the travelers.”  Getting the wagons over these mountains required endless ingenuity and patience.  Louisa told her children, “What grinding, heaving and bumping over huge boulders!  What shouting and urging of animals, what weary hours of tortured endurance dragged along!”
Crossing great arid stretches required special preparations.  They crossed the Green River desert in one night — 30 miles of “push” traveling by dim starlight.  Finally, they reached the other side.  Smelling water the horses dashed uncontrollably into the river, taking the wagons with them.
As the journey became routine and the party crossed the Great Plains, the early exuberance waned.  Inez Denny recorded for her parents:
Summer came on apace and the landscape became brown and parched….  Long days of travel followed the monotonous expanses of prairie, each with scarcely varying incidents, toils, and dangers.  The stir of starting in the morning, the morning forward movement, the halt for a noonday meal, cooked over a fire of buffalo chips. and the long weary afternoon of heat and dust whose passing brought the welcome night, marked the journey through the treeless region.
The day after the Fourth of July, an old Shoshone visited the camp, hanging around all day.  He was friendly and caused no trouble, leaving by nightfall.  The next morning, as the women were preparing breakfast, a single young brave rode into camp with a strong of ponies, which he explained he wanted to trade for Louisa Boren.  He became very angry when he was rejected, and Louisa, concerned that he might swoop down on her with his horse and carry her off, quickly got into the wagon.  While David stood guard by the wagon the group quickly hitched the horses and got underway “at a good smart pace.”  The brave followed the wagon train for several miles before accepting his failure to secure the beautiful Louisa for his wife.  A short time after this incident, the wagon train was joined by the John Low wagon train which added two wagons and eight more people to the Denny-Boren Party.

original illustration by Darcanne Preble
Death Along the Trail
The Denny-Boren pioneer party members were frequently saddened along the Oregon Trail by the numerous lonely graves of pioneers who, like themselves, began with high hopes but stopped forever along the way.  One day they came upon an isolated grave on the side of a mountain piled high with stones to protect from the ravages of wolves.  The party shared a feeling of deep solemnity and gathered around the grave, where they prayed for the departed and joined in singing an old song:
I came to the place
Where the white pilgrim lay,
And pensively stood by his time,

When in a low whisper I heard something say,
‘How sweetly I sleep here alone.’

On August 11, 1851, the wagon train arrived at The Dalles, 1,765 miles and 80 days after they pulled out of Cherry Grove.  They had lost no animals or people; there were no serious injuries or fatal illnesses; they still had food, money, energy, and enthusiasm.  The group had averaged an amazing 18 miles a day — a record few parties could report.
The party traveled down the Columbia to Portland with the women and two men traveling by boat, while the rest of the men drove the wagons on the rough Barlow Road.  Because of the drunken boatmen one of the boats almost went over the falls.  However, Louisa Boren detected the fact they had overshot the pull-out point and forced the drunkards to pull ashore, thereby saving the entire party.  At Portland the party temporarily settled in, while David Denny, John Low, and Lee Terry, who was traveling with Low, went ahead to Puget Sound to scout for a favorable place for their settlement.
It was estimated that over 50,000 emigrants took the overland trail the Summer of 1852.  Among those was the Bethel party.  Clarence Bagley observed that the party could well have been named the “Seattle Party,” for more than half of the members eventually settled in Seattle, and many played key roles in the development of the city.  Foremost among these were future Queen Anne residents Thomas Mercer and his daughters Mary Jane, Eliza, Susannah, and Alice; Dexter Horton, Eliza Shoudy Horton, and daughter Rebecca; William Shoudy; Rev. Daniel Bagley, Susannah Whipple Bagley, and son Clarence.
In 1850 Rev. Bagley had decided to answer the call of his church for volunteer missionaries for Oregon Territory and began recruiting people for his party from his congregation in Princeton, Illinois.  Thomas Mercer was among the men in Bagley’s congregation struck with “Oregon Fever.”
Susie Mercer reported from family discussions in the Winter of 1851 that her father was persuaded to go to Oregon Territory for three main reasons:  to escape the fever and ague that plagued the Mississippi Valley; better economic opportunities; and the offer of free land in Oregon Territory.  Moreover, Oregon Territory was widely promoted by the government because of the boundary dispute with England.
While the men were enthusiastic about going west, the women, including Nancy Brigham Mercer, Thomas Mercer’s wife, were less eager.  They were more objective than the men about the real hazards of the journey, as well as the hardship of living on the frontier.  They realized it would be considerably more difficulty to feed, clothe, educate, and keep their families healthy in far-flung Oregon, not to mention the strenuous six-month journey.

Thomas Mercer, approximately age 75

From the beginning, Thomas Mercer made a great effort to put together a strong, well-planned, well-equipped, healthy wagon train.  He carefully researched the requirements of the trip and concluded that the common key errors were failure to plan for a healthy balanced diet throughout the trip, lack of medical knowledge and supplies to treat illnesses that occurred, and overloading the wagons.  With this in mind, in addition to the usual supplies, they packed quantities of dried fruit, a variety of legumes, and whole wheat and rye flour.  Many wagon trains survived for months on red or white beans, salt pork, and white flour bread.
On April 20 1852, the final goodbyes were said and the Bethel party wagon train pulled out of Princeton.  The party consisted of 14 prairie schooners, the Bagleys’ spring coach, 44 horses, 22 men, seven women, and eight children.  All of the women were married but one.  Almost all the members of the Bethel party were related to other members of the group.  Additional wagons would join the group along the route, eventually making a total of 38 wagons.
Thomas Mercer, 39, was elected wagon captain, which made him responsible for all decisions made — starting and stopping time, guard duty schedules, and settling disputes, although there were very few among the well-acquainted and religious members of the Bethel party.  Mercer’s logs of the trip were found in his house on Queen Anne Hill by his daughter Susie years later.
Contamination  of the water supply with human and animal waste by earlier wagon trains made cholera the scourge of the Oregon Trail in the 1850s.  The worst year was 1852, and members of the Bethel party report that at times they drove for hundreds of miles between unbroken rows of graves.  Looking for a way to pass the time, Susie Mercer, ten, and Clarence Bagley, nine, decided they would count the graves, with each child keeping count of one side of the road.  The total for the day was 120.
The Bethel party had no deaths from cholera or other causes.  Thomas Mercer and Daniel Bagley both had a good understanding of basic medicine and they had packed into the wagons large quantities of treatment ingredients.  At the first suggestion of cholera, they administered an effective herbal treatment consisting of a compound of hot bitter bark and roots simmered in water, which was then drunk.  If taken soon enough, it was very effective in curing the disease.  Many members of the Bethel party came down with cholera, but prompt and frequent administration of this herbal medicine overcame the deadly disease.
The Bethel party, prompted by their strong belief in treating one’s fellow man with love, administered their medicine to many sick migrants they met along the trail  A few paid them, but they expected to payment.  For years afterwards, Mercer and Bagley were often approached by total strangers who thanked them for saving their lives, or that of a friend or relative, on the Oregon Trail.
The party included many children and school was carried on during the journey, with studies beginning after they crossed the North Platte River.  The older children taught the younger from graded readers and arithmetic books, and the adults helped the young teachers with their own lessons and advised them in teaching the little ones.  Years later Clarence Bagley recalled that he and the other children received a broad education in plant and animal life during the course of the long journey.  In addition, they learned practical skills, as they were called upon to assist with work around the camp.
The wagon train reached Fort Dalles, regarded as the end of the overland trail, on September 3, 1852, less than five months after their departure.  The Bethel party averaged 12 to 15 miles per day, in spite of the fact that they did not travel on Sunday.  No one had been seriously ill or died, and they had lost only a single animal.
Their good luck turned at The Dalles.  The weather had turned cold and wet, and Nancy Brigham Mercer became seriously ill with pneumonia, being drenched by river spray during the ten-hour journey down the Columbia River.  Alarmed at his wife’s condition, Mercer sent the main party ahead while he, their daughters, and Eliza and Dexter Boren remained behind to nurse Nancy.  Nancy had been a strong, healthy woman but the long arduous journey had weakened her constitution and she died on September 21.  She was 34 years old.
Autumn was in the air, however, and there was little time for lingering.  They buried Nancy on the bank of the Columbia River and joined the others in Salem.  Leaving his daughters in Eliza Horton’s care, Thomas Mercer almost immediately took a ship to Elliott Bay to look for a claim.  There he met David Denny, who took him up to the area north of the Seattle settlement where Mercer found land to his liking on a beautiful small lake not far from Puget Sound.  Having made friends with the settlers, with whom he quickly established good rapport, Mercer declared he would return in March to build a cabin and prepare a home for his children, and then sailed back to Portland.
In the Summer of 1853 the Ward party made its way to Oregon from Batesville, Arkansas.  Among the travelers were Hester Ward, 27, and her half-brother Dillis B. Ward, 15, who wrote an account of their journey 50 years later, published in 1911 as Across the Plains in 1853.  In 1959 the pair would come to Seattle and Queen Anne Hill, where they would make their mark in community history.
The extended Ward family’s decision to move to Oregon was strongly influenced by health problems and disagreements with their church.  The Wards were adamantly opposed to slavery and very angry when the Methodist Protestant Church decided to split into two branches, with the southern supporting slave ownership.  The Wards’ feelings were not shared by their neighbors, since the family was living in a pro-slavery region.  In addition, after the Wards had moved to Arkansas, scarcely a month passed when some member of the family was not sick with malarial fever.
About this time the Wards read a glowing description published in their church newspaper of the many attractions the Willamette Valley held for homesteading.  Dillis relates that in the Summer of 1852 they held “a brief family council, in which father, mother, and the older children were all eard.”  The mutual agreement was to move to Oregon Territory, and in the following months of preparation “little was thought of or talked about except Oregon and how we were going to get there.  In the innocence of our childhood, we [children] looked upon the whole affair as a great picnic excursion.”
Like so many of the emigrant groups that took the Oregon Trail in those early years, the Ward party was composed of several extended families connected by friendship and family ties.  The party consisted of 25 persons, seven of whom were the children of Jesse Ward’s three marriages and his third wife’s children by her previous marriage.  Half of the party was young children — 13 in all — plus four women, eight men, and eight wagons.  Early in the journey the party was joined by other immigrants, making up a final wagon train of 18 wagons, 22 men, and 35 women and children.
The Wards left Arkansas March 9 1853, and reached Salem, Oregon Territory, September 30th.  The seven months on the trail were marked by numerous adventures, including hair-raising close calls with hostile Native Americans.  Through a combination of luck, quick thinking, and courageous action by many party members, there was no violence and no lives lost.  At the time of Hester Ward’s death, on November 13, 1897, the Post-Intelligencer printed an extensive account of this remarkable woman’s life.  Included was her story of confrontations with local tribes while traveling on the Oregon Trail.  The newspaper account is verified by Inez Denny’s memories of Hester Ward Mercer.
Hester’s younger half-brother Dillis wrote his version of the same stories in Across the Plains in 1853.  It is interesting to note that Dillis’s version omits the role that Hester and other unnamed women played in saving two young women from abduction by native men.  His account credits only the men for the rescue.
Hester’s version of the incident is given here.  About eight miles east of the North Platte River the Ward wagon train encountered a hostile Arapaho war party returning to their camp.  After harassing the wagon train, they were frightened by the train’s bugler blasting on his horn.  the emigrant train’s trouble with the Native American had only begun.
Down in the valley through which the pioneers were compelled to travel they saw many little tents.  Other Indians were camped there.  The old chief and his party accompanied the emigrants.  Every Indian showed an ugly disposition.  The emigrants were compelled to stop in the midst of the tends in the valley.  The old chief explained through an interpreter that his people had just come back from a great battle.  They were hungry, he said, and wanted food and the emigrants would have to give it to them, for were not these whites, he said, passing through the sacred land of the Indian?
The Ward party was a small one, it could muster but 22 men.  Each man was well armed, but the Indians were mixing up with them and it would have been impossible to get together for united action.  It was necessary to submit to the wishes of the Indians.  Bacon, sugar, flour, and crackers were given up and the old chief divided them among his people.
While this division was being made, young braves were busying themselves by annoying the members of the party.  Among the white people was a young woman who had charge of two horses attached to a light covered wagon.  Several of the braves took a fancy to her.  They gave the whites to understand that any woman who could drive horses was all right and must not go any farther.  Mr. Ward and his mean had a hard time keeping the Indians from stealing the girl.  Once they crowded around her and for a time it was though she would be taken by force.  Several of the women went to her rescue.  [Hester] was in the rescue party.  She [along with the other women] shoved the Indians right and left and in the end the girl was rescued and smuggled into a closed wagon, where she remained concealed for some hours.
Another young woman in the party had beautiful auburn hair.  An Indian warrior took a fancy to here, and thought she was the finest woman he had ever seen, and said that his people would compromise if she was given to him for a wife.  Again there was trouble and the girl had to be hidden in a closed wagon.
The Indians kept up their annoyance of the party for some time, but finally their hunger got the better of them and they sat down to et the food which the Ward party had under compulsion given them.
The Indian chief consented that the white people should take their departure.  They were quick to do so and were soon some distance from the Indian camp.
In addition to trouble with native men, the Ward party experienced other disasters, such as one evening when all of their animals stampeded without observable provocation.  Left without any means of moving their wagons, the stranded party waited for almost a week while some of the men traveling miles on foot, managed to round up enough of their horses and oxen to move on.  Several wagons had to be abandoned because their were no animals to pull them.
The Ward party arrived at their destination, Salem, on September 30, 1853.  Hester and Dillis settled down on the Jesse Ward homestead with their extended family for the next six years.  The two would come to Seattle in the Summer of 1859 to blend their history with that of other Queen Anne Hill settlers.