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.

Building Homesteads and Families – The 1860s

Chapter Five:  Building Homesteads and Families — The 1860s
by Kay F. Reinartz, PhD; copied from Queen Anne:  Community on the Hill

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

[We] were obliged to do whatever {we} could to obtain a livelihood; [we] were neither ashamed nor afraid of honest work and enjoyed the reward of a good conscience and vigorous health.  Life held many pleasures and much freedom from modern frets besides. … We were happy then, in our log cabin homes.
                                                                         Louisa Boren Denny
                                                                          circa 1876

On November 9, 1860, Territorial Governor Henry M. McGill proclaimed November 29th “as the day of Thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God.”  In the district north of Seattle, neighbors congregated at Dr. Smith’s, whose house was the largest, and as the rain fell outside they sat down to their first Thanksgiving Day celebration.  There was much to be thankful for.  Most of the pioneers had been on the hill or around the cove for at least five years and some nearly ten.  No one had died in the conflict with the Native Americans.  Houses, barns, and fences had been rebuilt.  The crops, gardens, herds, and orchards were growing, there had been marriages, and children had been born.  Everyone was healthy and they were prospering.  In spite of the hardships, they still believed in the future of the Northwest and most particularly Seattle.

“A Visit from Our Tillicum,” by Inez Denny, depicts the Denny family’s house in the swale, later the site of the Seattle Opera House.  Inez shows the sisters visiting with Indian friends through the open half-door locally called a “Seattle door.”  Courtesy Museum of History and Industry

After the native uprising the rapid growth that had characterized Seattle from 1853 ended, and for several years no one started new business enterprises.  Dillis Ward reported that when he arrived in Seattle in August 1859 there were no real streets, just a rough road that followed the shoreline with trails leading away from the water’s edge up to the homesteads and businesses.  There were no more than six houses in the settlement proper north of Mill Street (Yesler Way), with David and Louisa Denny’s little cottage being the northernmost house.
Along Commercial Street, between Mill and Jackson streets, stood four dry goods and general merchandise stores.  The post office operated out of Plummer’s Mercantile.  In addition, there were two restaurants, three saloons, two small lodging houses, a tin shop, and a stove shop.   Nearby was a blacksmith shop and tannery, as well as the Methodist Episcopal Church and the school house.
Although three wharves had been built, only Yesler’s was maintained, and it received nearly all of the business from ships picking up logs and pilings and dropping off supplies and merchandise.  Yesler’s sawmill, the only industry, provided five full-time jobs.  A good deal of the money in circulation in Seattle was brought in by the loggers and lumbermen from the thriving milling centers of Port Orchard, Port Madison, and other places along the west side of Puget Sound.
Elliott Bay was no longer regularly visited by coastal sailing ships looking for lumber cargoes, and the flow of settlers slowed to a trickle.  Gold reversed this trend.  From 1855 to 1865 the discovery of gold in various locations throughout the Northwest created a series of little “gold rushes.”  Men weary of the monotonous round of cutting, clearing and burning slash dropped everything to join the excitement at Colville, Rock Creek, Stehekin, Lillooet, Wenatchee, Florence, Boise, and the Fraser and Thompson rivers, where streams yielded enough placer gold to bring in thousands of prospectors overnight.
It was the big Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858 that brought energy and activity back to Seattle.  The population grew, but it was lopsided with young single men.  The 1860 census reports a population of 275 for King County and 160 for Seattle.  Clarence Bagley records that in 1861 the community had 100 men, 25 women, and 25 children.  There was a total of 23 families including several headed by a single man or woman.  There were only two marriageable-age women in the community — Kate Denny, Arthur and Mary Denny’s daughter; and Susie Mercer.

Isolation was the greatest tension source for everyone living around Puget Sound.  The telegraph line from Portland had been completed in 1855 but was destroyed by the natives that winter.  The telegraph connection to Portland, thence San Francisco and the rest of the country, was not re-established until 1866.
The handful of settlers remaining in 1856 attempted several plans to end their isolation, including cutting a road through Snoqualmie Pass and trying to organize a railroad company.  Their plans were getting support from the federal government until the national disruption of the Civil War diverted all federal funds, without which such ambitious projects could not be accomplished.  David Denny, John Ross, Thomas Mercer, and Dr. Henry Smith were at the center of all these schemes.

All roads around Seattle led to Yesler’s Mill.  After the native uprising, the local roads leading back through the hills and to the lakes were neglected and quickly became nigh impassable.  Thomas Mercer and David Denny diligently maintained the road out to their homesteads, as well as the lane that connected Mercer’s with John Nagle’s place (Eastlake area).  A trail led out from Mercer’s homestead to his daughter Eliza and Walter Graham’s place on Lake Washington.  Inez Denny describes the Eden Hill road as “being the most notable for ups and downs, stumps in the middle and numerous muddy places, but useful nevertheless.”

Thomas Mercer’s two older daughters had married in 1857.  Mary Jane, at age 18, married Henry G. Parsons and moved to Olympia.  Eliza Ann, at age 15, married Walter Graham and they homesteaded on Lake Washington.
While on a trip to Salem to purchase livestock in the summer of 1859, Thomas Mercer met Hester L. Ward, 28, and after a whirlwind courtship the couple married and returned to Seattle, bringing Hetty’s younger half-brother Dillis B. Ward with them.  After living a year in Seattle, Hetty and Tom moved permanently back onto Mercer’s homestead on the hill.

The Mercer Family
Hester Loretta Ward was a very unusual woman, who was known for her ability to learn and adapt quickly, good judgment, and an all-prevailing courage and calmness in a crisis.  Possessing enormous reserves of energy and stamina, she always did more work than most and yet had energy left for fun.
Born in 1826 on the Kentucky frontier, she became a highly skilled frontier woman at a young age.  She lost her mother when she was an infant and at age 13, upon the death of her stepmother, she assumed the role of “woman of the family” by caring for four younger children born of her father Jesse Ward’s various marriages.  This role included caring for newborn infant Dillis Ward, Hester’s half-brother.
In spite of the exceptionally heavy adult responsibilities placed on her as a young girl, she completed grammar school.  Hester Ward was also a textile artist.  She learned to weave while still a girl and often processed raw cotton or wool into fine threads and yarns, which she then wove into fabric.  Over the years she originated many complex patterns which were expressed in useful textiles, particularly coverlets, tablecloths, and clothing.
Inez Denny, who as a child often visited her and became her friend in adulthood, observes regarding Hester’s character:  “A more generous, frank and warmhearted nature was hard to find, the demands made upon it were many and such as to exhaust a shallow one.”  Hester Ward died in 1903 and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery by the side of Thomas Mercer.
On May 23, 1861, Susannah, age 18, married David Graham, the younger brother of her sister Eliza Anne’s husband, Walter Graham.  The wedding was held at the Mercer homestead with Rev. Daniel Bagley officiating.  Susie was dressed in a simple dress of white lawn made by a local seamstress, while David wore his old black suit, long in the bottom of his emigrant trunk.
That evening Susie and David were shivareed by a group of men who went out to the Mercers’, where the newlyweds were staying.  The gang stood around the outside of the house and pounded on tin cans, washtubs and anything else they found lying around to make a racket.  They also sang nonsense songs to the newlyweds and then called for whiskey.  Graham, like Thomas Mercer, was a temperance man but he finally went out and told the crowd to go down to the saloon to get what they wanted to drink.  When he went down to the village the next morning, he found the men were still celebrating at the saloon.  He ended their party by paying the bill.
After the marriage David Graham returned to surveying work, which took him out of the village most of the time.  Susie lived with Rev. and Mrs. Bagley and attended the nearby Territorial University.
David Graham’s pioneer dream included farming in the Duwamish Valley, and he and Susie moved to a homestead in what became the Duwamish-Allentown district of Tukwila.  Homesteading so far from Seattle was not totally to the sociable Susie Mercer’s liking.  She often went into Seattle to visit her family and friends via a native “canoe taxi” which she would catch by going down to the riverbank and calling, “Mi-Ka Ticky Klat-a-wa Kopa Seattle” (I need a ride to Seattle).  Any native who wanted a job would answer her call and come by with his canoe and a clean cattail mat for her to sit on.  For 50 cents, he would paddle her to the cove where she would walk around the hill to the homestead.  It took almost an entire day to get to Eden Hill from the Duwamish homestead.
In 1862, Eliza Ann died, leaving William, four, and George, two, to be raised by Walter Graham.  Grief-stricken, Thomas Mercer’s heart went out to his son-in-law, who like himself had to face the task of raising his children alone.
In 1862, Tom’s brother Asa Shinn Mercer came to live with the family.  Twenty-two-year-old Asa would gain much notice in a handful of years in Seattle for his promotion schemes, including easing the shortage of marriageable women by arranging for two small parties of New England school-teachers to come to Seattle to seek their fortunes.  Asa Mercer married one of the teachers himself and they left the region a few years later.

Natural wonders of the Northwest amazed and frightened the settlers in the 1860s.  On April 2, 1859, they experienced their first serious earthquake.  Inez Denny describes her family’s experience:
Not a breath of wind was stirring, the stars were shining and reflected in the depths of the water, no storm was there, but the people saw the tree tops waving, like plumes of warriors swiftly riding and heard a sound like a cannonading, as thousands of trees feel crashing to the earth.  The house … rocked like a boat, [and they] held on to the door frames and looked out — soon it passed by — and it really was quite an earthquake!
It is recorded that the earthquake lasted 90 seconds and seemed to move from the north to the south.  While no damage was done, it had a sobering effect on the pioneers, few of whom had come from areas that had seismic activity on the scale of the Northwest.
Also troublesome to many of the settlers who had come from New England or Midwest states was the Puget Sound weather.  The mildness everyone seemed to agree was most desirable, but the periods of continuous rain were wearying to say the least, particularly in the dark winter months.
The weather was normally gentle, lacking extremes.  However, there were dramatic departures from this pleasant norm.  The winter of 1861 was one to remember.  What began in early December as a mild winter changed radically just before the Christmas holidays when snow began falling and continued falling for a week.  When it stopped snowing the mercury dropped to four below zero, where it stayed for days.  Tom Mercer and Louisa and David Denny lost fruit trees, but Dr. Smith’s sheltered orchard in the cove was undamaged.  Many homesteaders around King County lost livestock.  There was snow on the ground until April, and the pioneers always called this season the Big Winter.

The winter of 1861 Lake Union was frozen solid one-half foot for four months.  The little lake tucked away in the deep woods suddenly became a community social meeting place as settlers originating from New England and other cold parts of the country turned out in full force to ice-skate.  Some people miraculously produced ice skates from the bottom of trunks.  Others ingeniously invented ice skates from things they had around their place.
The Seattle village dwellers made the two-mile trek to the lake walking up Front Street, around the east side of Denny Hill and along Military Road, scrambling over deep frozen ruts, logs, and skids until they veered off Military Road onto a path leading to the lakeshore.  One person estimated that over half the population of the Seattle area joined in on the skating fun that winter.

In the mid-1860s the area was hit by a cyclone.  Inez Denny describes the storm as the Dennys experienced it in their house on the swale:
It began in the evening with a sky of living hues, puffs of wind increasing every hour until one hurtling stream tore at the forest as with giant hands, uprooting great trees, twisting others off as though wisps of straw, lifting sheets of spray from the frothing waves; . . .  Large stones were taken up from the high bank on the bay and piled on the roofs along with limbs broken from tough fir trees.  Thousands of giant trees fell crashing and groaning on the ground, like a continuous cannonade; the noise was terrific and we feared for our lives.
[Down along the beach] the Indian camps caught fire and long streams of flame flowed horizontally into the thick darkness beyond.
The [family] prepared to leave [the house] and go to the big barn, substantially built of heavy timbers and standing on a more protected place.
[They] put out all the fires in the house and [Louisa] wrapped the children well and all sat in one room  — with the lanterns lit, waiting for a lull.  [About midnight they] knelt and commended [themselves] to Him who rules the storm.
Fortunately, [about one o’clock] the wind died down more quickly than it came and much relieved the people retired to rest.  When morning broke some trees near the home were missed, the roads were blocked for many miles ….
The Spring of 1866 was a particularly wet one.  Early in June the rains abruptly stopped and the pioneers sweltered under temperatures reaching 114 degrees F in the shade.  In December 1867 the worst flood on record covered the region and many settlers in low-lying areas, including those living by the cove, were forced out of their homes.  Homesteads up on the hill suffered no losses.  The next year the weather reversed and little rain fell.

In 1868 the Puget Sound area experienced its most severe drought since the beginning of the settlement.  From June 1 to October 29 no rain fell.  A hot dry wind shriveled the crops in the fields and in July, forest fires began breaking out.  By September fires were roaring throughout the Northwest from 600 miles north of the United States-British Columbia border, through Washington and Oregon territories, and into California.  The drifting smoke was reported 1,000 miles west on the Pacific Ocean.  The air was so filled with the acrid smoke of resinous woods as to be almost intolerable.  There was no way to stop the fires and vast areas of forest were burned totally clear.  The onset of the autumn rains finally brought the destruction to a halt.
During this season of forest fires, the south slope of Eden Hill burned.  Inez Denny recounts how she and her sisters ran down the road to their farm with “the tall firs and cedars flaming far above their heads.”

In the autumn of 1861 Rev. Daniel Bagley moved his family from Salem, Oregon, to Seattle so that his son Clarence might attend the new Washington Territorial University, which had opened in 1860.  They traveled over the newly-completed section of Military Road running from Seattle to Portland.  Their arrival in late October brought everyone out into the dusty streets to see the first carriage to come into Seattle from “the outside” on its own wheels.  Rev. Bagley agreed to teach the Fall term at the university, with Clarence assisting him.  When his father was away Clarence took over and taught all of the classes, which were grades 1-12.  Eighteen-year-old Clarence Bagley was the envy of every young man in the area for he had a horse and buggy at his disposal for courting the young women.  The drives were short since there were only two roads — the north route to Tom Mercer’s place, and the south route over the ridge of Beacon Hill down to Lake Washington.
Rev. Bagley was disappointed with the university as a place for Clarence to complete his higher education.  The Bagley family went back East in 1862 and Clarence entered Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, Dr. Smith’s alma mater.  Before he left Puget Sound, Clarence Bagley had renewed his friendship with the Mercers and over the next four years, which included several trips back to Seattle, he courted Alice Mercer.

The pioneer historian Cornelius Hanford comments on the Seattle settlement in the 1860s:
Life in the village was serious and strenuous.  The friendship of neighbors was the principal source of good cheer, dispelling gloom.  Neighbors visited each other, and those occasions were holidays for the visitors and the visited.  Evening prayer meetings, spelling schools, and singing schools were means of assembling the community, and occasionally, questions of public concern were debated at meetings of the library association, which existed without a library.
As the community grew there were regular church socials.  Chicken dinners, oyster suppers, and strawberry festivals were the most popular entertainments.  George Frye organized a dozen young men to buy and master the instruments.  The Seattle Brass Band turned out for every community event and infused the occasion with musical delights.

Without a doubt the Fourth of July celebration was the grandest event of the year for the pioneers.  Beginning in 1852, the day was observed with speeches, picnicking, and dancing on a wooden platform built just for the occasion.  The Native Americans, who attended the settlers’ party, called the event Hyas Sunday, as they did all of the settlers’ social gatherings.
The Fourth of July that the Denny girls remembered the best was held in the Methodist Protestant Church around 1864.  The Denny family was a little late in arriving and the orator had already launched into his speech.  Their commotion at the door of the church turned every head, and they beheld Inez, Madge, and Abbie marching down the aisle, each respectively dressed in red, white, and blue and proudly holding high a banner with mottos written with large letters cut out of the newspaper:  “Freedom for All,” “Slavery for None,” and “United we stand, divided we fall.”  Each motto was encircled with a bountiful wreath of fresh red, white, and blue flowers.  The girls were wildly applauded by the audience, composed mostly of young bachelors, who were by far the majority of the population.

Beginning in the 1860s there was a regular Christmas party held in Yesler’s Hall, attended by everyone in the community.  At one end of the hall was a curtain that was dramatically drawn aside at the critical moment to reveal a tall Douglas fir glowing from the light of hundreds of homemade tallow candles.  The graceful branches were festooned with strings of popcorn and local cranberries.  Henry Yesler wore a Santa suit that his wife Sarah had made for him, and handed out wonderful trinkets, many of which were not to be found in the Seattle mercantiles, but had been ordered from Victoria.
Louisa Boren Denny was asked on the fiftieth anniversary of the Denny Boren party’s arrival at Alki Point how the pioneers kept Christmas in the early years.  Louisa, 76, responded with her characteristic energetic good humor:
If you get up as good a Christmas dinner now as we could fifty years ago, I should like to help eat it.  Here is one the Indians would call hyas closh muck-a-muck:
Olympia Oysters, panned
Clam Soup
Fried Smelts
Grouse Pie
Roast Wild Goose — Giblet Sauce
Roast Haunch of Venison — Native Cranberry Sauce
Browned Potatoes — Creamed Carrots — Baked Squash
Huckleberry Pie — Cranberry Tarts — Clotted Cream
Coffee — Milk — Tea

In the 1860s two important lodges were formed, St. John’s Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and the Order of Good Templars.  The former did not involve north district settlers to any extent, but the latter was their organization.  In the Fall of 1865 Rev. A. C. McDougall came up to the frontier settlement from California and delivered a series of lectures on temperance at Headquarters Hall, the old Snoqualmie Hall on the second floor of Plummer’s Mercantile.
McDougall’s visit inspired many to increase their commitment to temperance, David and Louisa Denny among them.  Around the Dennys’ kitchen table the Independent Order of Good Templars, Seattle Lodge No. 6, was formed.  The settlers in the district north of Seattle were at the hub of the organization, with 20 percent of the charter members being from that area.  Officers were elected, including David Denny, Lodge Chaplain; William Hammond, Secretary; John Shoudy, Financial Secretary; Louisa Boren Denny, Treasurer; John H. Nagle, Marshall; Gertrude Boren, Inside Guard; and Inez Denny, Outside Guard.  The group met regularly to discuss temperance goals and ways it could advance them in Seattle.  Thirty years later this nucleus of temperance movement advocates would be at the center of a highly visible Prohibition political party championing the Queen Anne community’s needs at City Hall.

By the late 1860s there was still only a handful of settlers in the north district and game still roamed the area, although in ever smaller numbers.  In 1854 David Denny had killed a nine-foot cougar; however, few wild cats of this size were seen by the pioneers.  However, cougars were still common through the 1860s.  Around 1867 David killed one on the north side of the hill near John Ross’s homestead.  The half-grown cat had been dining on one of Dr. Smith’s sheep.  David reported that it was the color of a deer.  In September 1869 David Denny killed a 650-pound elk in the woods northwest of Green Lake.
John Wetmore, who was homesteading along Lake Washington, was having trouble with cougar attacking his herd of sheep.  He heard that Denny’s little dog Watch was a good hunter and came over to borrow the small fierce dog.  Watch successfully treed the cougar and remained below the tree all night.  However, the cat finally escaped only to be later captured with a trap.

In 1867 Dr. Henry Smith wrote a series of articles called “Reminiscences” for the Seattle Star.  In the November installment he commented on his hermit neighbors Ira Utter, David Stanley, and Osmine Frost.  He observed that all three of these mean suffered from mental disorders, resulting from too much social isolation in Smith’s opinion.  Throughout the 1860s Ira Utter, who lived north of Smith Cove on Salmon Bay, diligently improved his land and bought additional nearby parcels.  By 1869 he had become the largest landowner in the district north of Seattle, owning more land than even David and Louisa Denny.  His holdings included 850 acres located on Queen Anne Hill, Denny Hill, the cove, and Salmon Bay.
Utter never married and as the years went by he rarely went to Seattle and his neighbors saw less and less of him.  Of the neighbors, John Ross knew him best, but no one seemed to really know him.  Dr. Henry Smith says of his neighbor across Salmon Bay:
Ira W. Utter, the Salmon Bay hermit … was an educated man and more than ordinarily intelligent, but for twenty years he was the only white man on the north side of Salmon Bay and solitude finally soured his mind so that he became suspicious and censorious and finally deserted the throne, and he ended his days, I believe, in an eastern asylum.
On November 28, 1870, the Weekly Intelligencer announced the somber news that Ira Utter, age 46, “had been taken into custody on account of insanity, and his neighbor John Ross was appointed by the court as his guardian.”  On the same date it is noted that Utter had walked away from the county jail, where he was being cared for until his family arrived from the east coast.  On January 9, 1871, his brothers George and Francis Utter arrived from Bridgeport, New York, and after assisting Ira in putting his affairs in order took him back home with them.  He died in 1876 at age 51 in an asylum for the mentally ill.
The fate of Osmine Frost was not unlike that of Ira Utter.  Frost lived alone proving up his claim for 32 years.  His mental health deteriorated and he was sent by his neighbors to a mental institution in Portland.  After eight years he was released and, returning to Elliott Bay, hired a boatman to paddle him around the Magnolia shoreline as he searched for his land papers.  Before leaving for Portland he had buried under a large tree an iron box containing all his documents, including his donation claim patent.  Leaping suddenly from the boat into the water which was icy cold and chest-deep on the old man, Frost scrambled ashore and ran into the woods.  Although the tree was gone, he proclaimed he had found the spot, and after ten minutes of digging, the box of papers was in his lap.  Frost was jubilant.  He lived on the cove for a few more years, but the hard life and solitude seemed to have a deteriorating effect on his mental health.  Dr. Smith observed the following about his hermit neighbor:
Solitude soured him also [comparing him to Ira Utter], and to such an extent that in order to seclude himself as much as possible from all mankind and to shield himself from assassination at the hand of the Rev. Daniel Bagley, H. L. Yesler, A. A. Denny, and D. T. Denny, and other old timers equally harmless, he dug a cave on the hillside where he passed most of his time, until his brother-in-law came last Spring [1887] from the east, at the earnest solicitation of Mr. Bowman, and induced the old man to return with him.  Verily it is not good for man to live alone.
David Stanley does not appear to have been insane so much as highly eccentric.  He often appeared at his neighbors’ doorsteps, sometimes because his cabin had been stripped bare by the natives.  Each time this happened over the years his neighbors, the Dennys, Mercers, Rosses, and Petersons, furnished the old man with food, bedding, and sympathy.  Thus did he live year after year in his shanty on the beach at the mouth of Salmon Bay until his old age compelled him to accept the hospitality of friends.  It appears that he died while living in the home of an unnamed neighbor in the north district.
Thus, young and old, the little band of stalwarts in the wilderness lived out the days of the years far from the comforts and cares of “civilization,” their attention focused close to home on the needs of the season and their neighbors around the hill.

[61] Henry A Smith Home, 2827 15th Ave W.
By the Dreaming Shores
Lake Union in 1864
by Emily Inez Denny
On a pleasant day of early Spring in 1864, a pioneer was driving his team of grays with a stout farmer’s wagon on a road through the great forest of Western Washington Territory.  …  The little party was on its way to an inland body of water some distance from their small village of tidewater …  they walked along a narrow trail through dense woods to the shore.  Here they looked out over the placid water to see a primeval forest on every hand, and absolute wilderness.  From afar came the cry of a loon and an otter slipped into the water nearby and swam noiselessly away.
Here, indeed, were the Dreaming Shores.  The past eons had woven a marvelous dress like a rich mantle it hung from the shoulders of the hills and trailed its fringes in the waters.  There was not a mark of fire or axe, no human habitations, no improvements whatsoever. …  They saw on this fair day that all the trees and shrubs by a forward spring were in full array of fresh foliage and maple, dogwood, syringa, service berry, vine of honeysuckle crowded thickly among the green mass of dark green evergreen forest of fire, spruce, hemlock and cedar.
Thick forest they saw on all the Dreaming Shores and the surrounding hills.  No taint of smoke or dust was in the air.  No clamorous sound broke harshly on the ear.  Only the gay voice of the little children, the thrushes singing in their shadowy retreats, low-lapping of little waves, soft sighing of a breeze in the tree tops.

The Primeval Forest Burns
by Dr. Henry A. Smith (1830-1915)
As soon as the fire worked its way to the massive windrows of dry brush, piled in making roads in every direction, a circular wall of solid flame rose half way to the tops of the tall trees.  Soon the rising of the heated air caused strong currents of cooler air to set in from every side.  The air currents soon increased to cyclones.  Then began a race of the towering, billowy, surging walls of fire for the center.
Driven furiously on by those ever-increasing, eddying, and fiercely contending tornadoes the flames lolled and rolled and swayed and leaped, rising higher and higher, until one vast, circular tidal wave of liquid fire rolled in and met at the center with the whirl and roar of pandemoniac thunder and shot up in a spiral and rapidly revolving red-hot cone, a thousand feet in mid-air, out whose flaring and crater-like apex poured dense volumes of tarry smoke, spreading out on every side, like unfolding curtains of night, till the sun was darkened and the moon turned to blood and the stars seemed literally raining from heaven, as glowing firebrands that had been carried up by the fierce tornado of swirling flame and carried to immense distances by upper air currents, feel back in showers to the ground.
The vast tract, but a few moments before as quiet as a sleeping infant in its cradle. was now one vast arena of seething, roaring, raging flame.  The long, lithe limbs of the tall cedars were tossing wildly about, while the strong limbs of the sturdier firs and hemlocks were freely gyrating like the sinewy arms of might giant athletes engaged in mortal combat.  Ever and anon their lower, pitch-dripping branches would ignite from the fervent heat below, when the flames would rush to the very tops with the roar of contending thunders and shoot upward in bright silvery volumes from five to seven hundred feet, or double the height of the trees themselves.
Hundreds of these fire-volumes flaring and flaming in quick succession and sometimes many of them simultaneously, in conjunction with the weird eclipse-like darkness that veiled the heavens, rendered the scene one of awful grandeur never to be forgotten.

The Community of Pioneers North of Seattle –1853-1860

Chapter Four of Queen Anne:  Community on the Hill, published 1993
by Kay F. Reinartz, PhD

    The noble army of courageous, enduring, persistent, progressive pioneers who threaded their way across the western wilderness prove that an age of marvelous heroism is but recently past.

   The knowledge, foresight, faith and force exhibited by many of these daring men and women proclaimed them endowed with the genius of conquerors.

                        Inez Denny
                        Queen Anne Pioneer
                        Blazing the Way, 1909


On January 1, 1852, the European American population in the vicinity of Elliott Bay was 31:  11 men, six women, and 14 children.  The next year, 170 residents were counted in the newly-created King County, Oregon Territory.  By 1854 there were four claims on the west side of Lake Duwamish (Lake Washington), four more along the south shore of Elliott Bay, and one in Rainier Valley.  Settlements were also quickly forming in the Duwamish and White river valleys.

The area north of the Seattle settlement is officially designated in the government survey as Township No. 25, North Range, No. 3, East, Willamette Meridian, Territory of Washington and includes districts that later became known as Denny Hill (Denny Regrade), Queen Anne Hill, Lake Union, Smith Cove (Interbay), Magnolia, Ross, Fremont and Salmon Bay (Ballard).  Between 1853 and 1859 approximately 15 land claims were filed, mostly by single men, for land in this area north of Seattle.  Some of the claims were only partially within the Queen Anne community and in a couple of cases the settler’s homestead is located just outside the boundaries.  In spite of their isolation, the north district settlers became well-acquainted and functioned as a single informal community working together, visiting, and looking after each other when illness or other trouble befell a household.  All of these settlers are included in the following discussion of the early years.

These adventurous pioneers shared cultural, political, and religious values.  They were mostly American-born, not immigrants, and came to the Northwest from the middle states, e.g. Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.  They were very experienced with the conditions of living in a primitive outpost, far from the securities and comforts of civilization.  With few exceptions, they grew up in frontier conditions.

Those whose political allegiance is known were Whigs, abolitionists, and pro-Union in the Civil War.  They were remarkable in that many were intellectuals, deeply religious in the Protestant faith, and teetotalers.  Their strong support of temperance was not in total harmony with frontier life, where hard drinking was commonplace and used by men to relieve the stress of an unbalanced social life.  Although most of these pioneers were bachelors, the male leaders among the north district settlers had families with them, which critically influenced their shaping the course of local history.

While not far apart in terms of miles, the density of virgin forest made travel slow and difficult, which in turn isolated each homestead.  The native people’s trails crisscrossed the area, connecting Lake Union with the bay and cove.  The trails also connected their semi-permanent camps on Lake Union at Smith Cove, and in the vicinity of Battery Street.  Trails also linked the permanent Shilshole people’s village on Shilshole Bay to the camps and waterways.  These native trails around the perimeter of the hill, as well as game trails, were used by the early settlers for many years and in some ways later became the routes of paved roads.

In December 1852 David and Arthur Denny and William Bell, all members of the Denny Brothers party, decided to explore the area north of Seattle in their search for pasture land.  The area was only vaguely known to the Seattle pioneers through accounts by the natives.  Skirting around the west side of the two hills directly north of Seattle (Denny and Queen Anne) the trio fought their way through incredibly dense vegetation.  Bell, discouraged by the steady rain and slow progress, turned back around 2p.m., but the brothers continued on until they reached tidewater, called Shilshole by the native people (now known as Salmon Bay).

The early darkness of December overtook them, making returning to the settlement impossible.  They had not come prepared for camping and had neither food nor bedrolls, and their clothing and matches were soaked.  However, as seasoned frontiersmen they found dry wood inside logs and under downed timber and soon had a warm fire, ignited with the flash of David’s musket.  Sheltered from the cold winter rain by the wide spreading branches of a giant cedar, they passed a safe night.  In the morning, they trekked back to Seattle, meeting up with Bell in the cove which would become known as Smith Cove.  Bell had come looking for them with his pockets full of hardtack.

That winter the Denny brothers showed the cove to several newcomers to Elliott Bay, including Dr. Henry Smith and Henry Pierce, and later Ira Utter and Osborn Hall.  All found the cove a favorable location, as the land was relatively flat and open, making only light clearing necessary, and had direct access to Puget Sound.  The main disadvantage of the site from the perspective of the newcomers was its proximity to the Shilshole village located on Salmon Bay, in the vicinity of the present-day Ballard Locks.

About  six weeks after he spent a damp night under the great cedar on the north side of the hill, David Denny and Louisa Boren Denny were married on January 23, 1853.  In the early morning, the couple had gone to the beach to collect clams and oysters for their wedding dinner.  Next they gathered evergreens from the forest and fashioned garlands with which they decorated the fireplace mantel, doorways, window sills and dining table of Arthur and Mary Boren Denny’s cabin.  The bride helped her sister Mary prepare the wedding dinner of clams, oysters, salmon, wild duck, potatoes, baked beans, stewed wild berries, biscuits and cake.

Shortly past midday, Louisa climbed the ladder to the cabin loft and put on a soft white mull dress she had made in Cherry Grove and pinned in her hair a bit of cedar greens and bright berries she had also gathered that morning.  David donned his only jacket, pinned some cedar and berries to the lapel and joined Louisa in front of the fireplace.  With 15 settlers, including seven children, and a handful of native people looking on, David “Doc” Maynard, Justice of the Peace, performed the civil ceremony.  Henry Yesler, King County Clerk, recorded the marriage, the second one in Seattle, on a slip of paper which was given to the couple.

After the ceremony and wedding dinner, the bride and groom walked down the bluff to their canoe, laden with their few wedding gifts, including a pair of chickens from Doc Maynard — a valuable gift, for it meant a supply of fresh eggs.  Before dark they paddled about a mile and a half north and climbed up the steep, muddy hillside to the cabin on their 120-acre donation claim, which they dated January 24th, 1853.  The claim ran from Lake Union to Elliott Bay, with its boundaries on the north and south being marked by today’s Mercer Street and Denny Way.
Below:  David and Louisa Boren Denny with daughters Emily Inez and Madge Decatur, c. 1858

In the summer of 1853 the Smith family from Wooster, Pennsylvania, established their homestead in the cove that lay on the northwest side of the hill, and the cove became known as Smith Cove.  The family was Dr. Henry Smith, 22, Abigail Teaff Smith, 61, his mother and a widow, and sister Ellender Smith, 16.  The Smith family had traveled with a wagon train the summer of 1852 that was organized under the epic name “Far West Emigration Expedition,’ with Henry serving as assistant to the expedition’s physician, a former teacher in medical school.

Leaving his mother and sister in Portland, a settlement of about 150 people, Dr. Smith decided to walk north to Puget Sound country, which had been highly recommended to the California-bound trio.  In the second week of his walk, in an unremitting downpour he met and befriended Henry K. Pierce.  They completed the journey together, traveling by water from Olympia to Seattle.  Meeting the Denny brothers, they were shown the cove area where Smith selected land because he was convinced it was the natural route for the future railroad to enter Seattle.  In addition, he saw the potential for large commercial docks where the cove opened into Elliott Bay.  Pierce chose land on the north side of Salmon Bay.

After spending the winter in Portland with his mother and sister, Smith returned to the cove early in the spring of 1853 and built a log cabin.  Abigail and Ellender came by ship in early summer and planted potatoes and onions.  Soon after arriving at the cove Abigail Teaff Smith selected land and filed her own claim immediately north of her son’s.

Full of curiosity about the area, the two young Henrys, Smith and Pierce, spent what free time they could manage exploring.  In the autumn of 1853 they headed over to the White River.  As they paddled downriver one day, another canoe overtook them and pulled alongside.  This canoe held a white man of short stature who wore overalls tucked into his boots, a blue flannel shirt and a slouch hat covering a head of long black hair.  His companions were Native American paddlers.  Smith relates:
 We fell into easy conversation on that ever new topic, the weather, the wildness of the country, richness of river bottom soils, etc. etc. and I eventually asked if he was looking for a claim.
“No,” he said, “I am not much of a farmer — I have my hands pretty full already and expect to have more irons in the fire soon; the country needs workers.

So the two canoes passed the hours, traveling side by side with the men conversing until they reached Seattle.  Smith invited the stranger to visit him at the ranch in the cove and they parted ways.

A few days later Smith and his family, Henry Pierce, and every other man, woman and child around the Sound crowded into Yesler’s Mill to meet the newly-appointed territorial governor, Isaac Stephens.  When the governor stood up, Smith and Pierce were astonished to see that it was none other than their fellow traveler of a few days earlier — still dressed the same as on that day.  Smith immediately dubbed him “Puss ‘n Boots,” a moniker applied to Napoleon, who also was short and wore his pants tucked into high boots.  Many in the territory called Stephens “Hat and Boots,” since that was often all one would see of him as he explored the region by native canoe.  As he was paddled up and down the rivers of Washington, he would typically lie in the canoe studying a map spread across his chest and only his hat and boots visible.  Governor Stephens was glad to see the two Henrys and made the promised visit to the cove a few days later.

The summer of 1854 was a busy one in Smith Cove.  Lumber was hauled from Yesler’s Mill to the cove by scow and ox team for a comfortable two-story frame house, which was built on Abigail’s claim.  (The exact location of this house is unknown.)  Smith hired natives from the large camp located nearby to turn over the sod for an orchard.  Then he, Abigail, and Ellender, along with native helpers, spent long days planting a large grafted apple orchard, the first of its type in King County.  They began harvesting apples in the third year.

During the summer of 1854, Smith left his house one day determined to cut a trail to Seattle.  At that time the only route to the settlement was via canoe.  It was a bright sunny day, but within the hour clouds rolled in and he had to rely on his compass to determine the route.  Smith noted at noon that the compass had reversed its poles and was elated, since he interpreted this to mean there were iron deposits nearby.  He continued walking all afternoon — but without intersecting Seattle.  Finally, at nightfall he spied a clearing and shake-built cabin.  He immediately concluded that it was John Nagle’s place east of Lake Union (Eastlake), and sat down on the rail fence to consider if he should spend the night with John or walk into the settlement.  We have Smith’s own words on what happened next:
While sitting there, I could not help contrasting his improvements with my own.  The size of the clearing was the same, the only seeming difference was that the front of his faced the west, whereas the front of mine faced the east.  While puzzling over this strange coincidence, my own mother came out of the house to feed the poultry that had commenced going to roost, in a rookery for all the world like my own, only facing the wrong way.  “In the name of all that’s wonderful,” I thought, “What is she doing here? and how did she get here ahead of me?”  Just then the world took a spin around, my ranch wheeled into line, and  lo! I was sitting on my own fence, and had been looking at my own improvements without knowing them.

Ellender Smith, 18 in 1854, is described by contemporary Cornelius Hanford as “a beautiful girl and lovely character.”  Needless to say, Ellender did not remain single for long.  The energetic, enterprising businessman Charles Plummer was the lucky bachelor who married the rosy-cheeked Ellender Smith on New Year’s Day, 1855.  They were married in Plummer’s newly-built mercantile, which was festively decorated with garlands of evergreen and holly.  The sociable Plummer invited everyone in the community to enjoy a dinner and dance right there in the store.  In the spring Plummer put his carpenters to work on a large home for his bride, which was the showplace of Seattle for years.  Sadly, Ellender would die giving birth to twin boys in 1858.

In January 1853 two newcomers to Elliott Bay, John Ross and Edmund Carr, met and agreed to search for suitable land for their claims.  A few days after New Year’s Day they paddled a native canoe from the small freshwater lake (Lake Union) to Salmon Bay via a shallow, swampy channel which they portaged.  The place where the waters of the lake flowed out to the sea they named the Outlet (vicinity of Fremont).  Continuing west, Ross and Carr came to a shallow bay which they named Salmon Bay because the day they explored it the waters were teeming with salmon.  The native people living on this bay called it Shilshole and themselves the Shilshole-ahmish (people of Shilshole).  Ignoring the natives’ names, the settlers gave the name Shilshole Bay to the little bay north of Magnolia, by which name it is still known.

Attracted by the idea of convenient water transportation to Puget Sound, John Ross selected a 148-acre tract of land on the north side of Queen Anne Hill and built his cabin at the Outlet.  Edmund Carr selected land about a mile further west, on the south side of Salmon Bay, next to Dr. Henry Smith’s.  In the twentieth century Ross’s homestead is the site of the Seattle Pacific University campus and Carr’s land is occupied by the Fisherman’s Terminal.

Back in Illinois in the winter of 1851, when Thomas Mercer was dreaming of Oregon Country, he envisioned his wilderness home being on a lovely lake.  The fulfillment of his dream was Lake Union, which he described as “hidden away in the tremendous forest,” and “a mirror-like lake surrounded by deep, dark evergreens of the primitive forest.”  Deer trails led from the forest to the water’s edge and flocks of duck and geese made the lake their home.  A Native American trail skirted the shore of the lake to the Outlet that led to Salmon Bay.  Mercer called Queen Anne Hill “Eden,” for he felt he had reached the Promised Land.

Thomas Mercer’s claim lay directly north of David and Louisa Denny’s claim, with today’s Mercer Street marking the shared boundary.  The eastern boundary of Mercer’s claim was the meandering shoreline of Lake Union, the western boundary was about Queen Anne Avenue, and the northern boundary became Highland Drive.

Mercer furnished his rustic home  [[featured in “Early History of Queen Anne“]] with simple hand-made furniture, three large double beds, a table and chairs.  Some shelves and clothing pegs along the walls completed the rooms.  A treasured piece of furniture in the Mercer home was a little blue rocker in which Nancy Brigham Mercer had rocked her babies back in Illinois.

After completing the two-story log cabin in the summer of 1853, he returned to Salem where his daughters were waiting, and brought them back together with his team and wagon.   They traveled overland to Olympia, where everything was loaded onto the steamer for Seattle.

As the boat pulled up at Yesler’s Wharf that sunny September day, all eyes were on Thomas Mercer’s team of big horses, Tib and Charley, the first horses in the Seattle settlement.  In the following days a steady stream of Duwamish people passed by Mercer’s place to examine the team.  With their first glimpse of the wagon they pronounced it to be a “Boston Kayim” (foreigner’s canoe).  When they heard the creaking of the wagon as it was being pulled, they called in a “chik, chik,” a musically alliterative expression which the girls took an immediate liking to, declaring it matched the creaking sound the wagon made as it bumped over logs, stumps and rocks.

Tib was coal black, and Charley snow white.  Mercer liked to joke that he had the “most perfectly matched team in town.”  This was indeed true, because it was the only team for several years.  Tib was an exceptionally fine horse.  On the overland journey, Native Americans they encountered had recognized this and had attempted to buy her several times.  Charley died within a few years, but Tib lived many more long years and was well-known and loved by the Seattle pioneers.  When his old friend and helper died, Mercer buried her in the orchard on the homestead and today her remains lie below the modern streets of brick and concrete in the vicinity of Taylor Avenue and Roy Street.

While Mercer’s team attracted the interest of the natives, the pioneer women’s hearts went out to Mercer’s motherless daughters, and the girls were offered homes in other cabins.  However, Thomas and his eldest daughter Mary Jane, 14, were determined to keep the family together.  Between the two of them they divided the most difficult homemaking tasks and the younger girls helped with the simpler chores.  Susie Mercer recalled later, “we helped our father with just about everything.”  Mercer often told his daughters, “Now girls, whatever’s worth doing is worth doing well.”  Susie liked to tell that “if we didn’t do a job properly, such as sweeping, he’d sweep and show us how.”

Fifty years later, Susie Mercer remembered her father’s care of herself and her three sisters in the 1850s, particularly “his patience, his sweetness, his kindness, [and] his constant thoughtfulness in raising the four motherless little girls.”  Susie relates how in the first cold winters, after they moved onto the homestead when they lacked adequate bed covers, to keep his two littlest children warm at night he slept crosswise in the bed with his arm around each child curled up in the corners.  Susie Mercer commented on these days:  “Looking back, I can’t see where we had many hardships.  Life was simple, but we had plenty to eat — lots of wild berries and salmon and trout.”

The Mercer family soon had neighbors.  David and Louisa Denny’s second home on Queen Anne Hill, their “house in the swale” [vicinity of the Seattle Opera House], was about four city blocks away.  However, the vegetation was so dense that it took David and Tom two months of hard labor with an axe, mattock, and crosscut saw to just make a narrow trail between their two places the winter of 1854-55.  It took several decades of logging and clearing before they could clearly see each other’s homes, although they could see the light from the cabin windows at night, which was a comforting sight.  Inez Denny reports that “for many years we looked across the alley to see the smoke from the fire on the Mercer hearthstone winding skyward, for they were our only neighbors.  … We were not so lonely as we might have been with no human habitation in our view.  Then we knew we could always claim the cheerful greetings and friendly visits.”

Many who arrived in 1854-55 shared Dr. Henry Smith’s vision that the valley between the two hills (Queen Anne and Magnolia) would become a center of the area.  Indeed, many newcomers were convinced that “the city” for the region would grow in the Smith Cove area rather than the Seattle settlement.  The cove was deemed a more favorable town site for commercial enterprises since the ground was level.  Around the fireplace settlers talked of how the sloping hillsides to the east and west of the cove would be the perfect location for the city’s residential district.

Among those filing claims for land around the cove between 1833-35 were Erasmus Smithers, Edmund Carr, Francis McNatt, Osmine Frost, and David Stanley, all single men.  On the south end of Lake Union another bachelor, John Nagle, 24, a German immigrant, filed claim on a homestead.  William Strickler, from Page County, Virginia, age 26, settled across the Outlet from John Ross.  A man of good education and means, he quickly bought four lots of Carson Boren’s land for $1000 in 1854.  Just across the shallow tidewater of Salmon Bay Ira Utter, 24, and Osborn Hall, 22, two college men from upstate New York, had claims close to Henry Pierce.

Soon after Mercer arrived with his team, the bachelors homesteading on the north and west sides of the hill turned out to help widen and smooth the trail through the woods leading north from Seattle to the Mercer homestead at the foot of Eden Hill.  Rough as it was, it was the first road built in the Seattle area.  It ran from Yesler Way to the corner of Roy Street and Taylor Avenue.

Osmine Frost, already 45 years old when he arrived in King County in the summer of 1854, was old by frontier standards.  Frost was born in 1809 and had grown up on the Kentucky frontier.  He, like so many others, was directed to Doc Maynard when he arrived in Seattle, and Maynard suggested that Frost look at the district north of Seattle for a land claim.  Frost soon selected a 160-acre section directly west of Henry and Abigail Smith’s and Erasmus Smithers’s claims in the cove.  Little is known of Frost’s background.  Frost’s closest neighbor to the west, David Stanley, came in the late fall of 1854.

At age 64, David Stanley was by far the oldest settler in the area north of Seattle, when the age of the average settler was about 24.  Stanley was born in 1790 in Missouri and had considerable experience living in wilderness conditions.  He befriended Henry, Abigail, and Ellender Smith the day he appeared in the district.  Dr. Smith tells the story:

David Stanley, an old man in his seventies [Smith’s guess] came to the cove one evening in the fall of 1854, looking for a claim.  He came from Missouri, was low in stature and thin to flesh and his voice too was thin from age.  His beard was long and gray, and he wore a blanket overcoat that trailed to the ground.  His wife, he said, who was much younger than himself, had deserted him for a younger handsome many, and, feeling lonesome, he had concluded to spend the remainder of his life by the sea shore, where he could listen during the long nights to the waves beating against the rocks and the monotonous music, he thought, would lull his mind and keep him from thinking.

The next morning was a rainy one, but the old man was anxious to get a claim before they were all taken, and he started off immediately after breakfast.  It rained steadily and hard all day, and much of the time it fairly poured.  All through this drenching storm he waded among beds of drooping ferns and brakes, and just at dusk returned, tired out and wet as a musk rat.

“Rather a bad time for looking up claims, uncle,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “it has been mighty damp all day.”

But the poor old soul had found a claim that suited him on the mouth of Salmon Bay….  There on the beach he built a little log hut and lived for nearly twenty years listening through the long nights to the music of the waves and the shrill cries of the sea-mews.  What a weird story his thoughts would have made!

Smith reports that over the years Stanley was robbed by the natives a number of times — they would enter his cabin when he was gone and take what they wanted.

Needing cash for proving up their claims, in the summer of 1854 neighbors John Ross, William Strickler, Edmund Carr, and Frances McNatt set up a logging camp near Olympia.  At the end of the season they lashed their logs together with ropes and light boom chains, and floated them north toward Yesler’s Mill.  Alas, they hit rough seas and the raft broke up, leaving the logs floating off in every direction.  As the logs disappeared over the choppy waves, the partners helplessly watched the entire summer’s income vanish.

In spite of this loss, the following spring the four men launched another enterprise.  Anticipating the logging of the dense virgin forest that covered the hills around Lake Union, they built a sawmill near Ross’s claim at the Outlet and added a dam to hold back the logs and a footbridge.

Eager to bring work to their mill, the group asked the King County Commissioners, the official governing body for the region (Seattle was not incorporated until 1869) to improve the roads in the north district.  They wanted the road to Mercer’s homestead widened and leveled and a new road opened to their sawmill.  The County Commissioners agreed to this and Carson Boren, Edmund Carr and John Nagle were appointed to view the route.  The road was barely begun when the Indian War erupted and the brave little mill went up in smoke on January 26, 1856.

The pioneers reaching the territory early received gratis land grants.  However, the bargain did not come free of labor.  In the first decade or more, most of the settlers proving up their land claims did little more than clear land and see that they had enough to eat.  There was little cash to buy anything, hence literally everything was made at home.

With almost every square rod of land densely covered with  luxuriant native vegetation, the process of converting the wilderness to farm was Herculean in scope and went on for decades.  It was not uncommon for a settler to work steadily for more than 20 years to convert a 16-acre claim into a farm with at least 20 percent left unchanged, because the land was too marshy, hill, or was left as a wood lot.

Clearing the claim naturally went faster with more workers.  Family members were the main labor supply for most settlers.  When a hired man was available for clearing land it was expensive; the going rate throughout the 1850s range from $40 to $60 a month or $2.50 to $3 a day.  Many men hired labor out to earn needed cash.

Native American men were often hired to help with the logging and clearing at a rate of $1 a day.  While some settlers complained about the work, the Dennys found the natives to be good workers.  Inez Denny reports that “far from lazy, many of them were hard workers and would dig and delve day after day to remove immense stumps of cedar and fir left after cutting the great trees.”

The settlers in the north district often worked together, rotating from claim to claim.  Inez Denny tells that the main help for men with families were their wives and children.  The most common task assigned to children was piling brush and keeping the fires going.  They often made a game out of the chore.   Inez writes “many a merry party turned out at night to ‘chunk up’ the blazing heaps; after nightfall their fire-lit figures flitting hither and yon against the purple darkness suggested well-intentioned witches.”

In addition to hiring out clearing land, there were several other sources of cash.  Yesler’s sawmill, opened in 1853, paid mill hands $30 to $50 a month and more, dependent upon skill level and technical difficulty of the job performed.  Farm hands were paid $30 to $40 a month, with room and board provided.  Artisans and tradesmen, such as carpenters, mechanics, painters, coopers and tailors, made $3 to $4 a day.

The timber from one’s claim could be a source of cash, depending upon the lumber market.  During the San Francisco building boom, before the Indian War in 1856, sawed fir lumber sold for $25/1000 lineal feet (l.f.); cedar lumber $30/1000 l.f.; cedar shingles at $5/1000; pilings, 3 cents/ft.; and squared lumber 16 cents/ft.  By 1857 the California market was flat.  Pilings for building docks and wharves, mostly around the Puget Sound, were the ash wood product in highest demand, and the settlers set aside all trees appropriate for this use as they cleared and burned the trees growing on their land.  It was not until the late 1880s that the lumber industry boomed on Puget Sound.

King County was created in 1853 when it was still a part of Oregon Territory.  It was up to the settlers scattered around King County to fill the civic offices required by their new status.  Seattle was quickly designated the county seat, which placed pressure on those living in and near it to assume responsibility for those offices.  A token payment accompanied a few of the offices, but most were strictly volunteer.

The group of settlers north of Seattle, as a whole, were well-educated and moved by a strong sense of community service.  Thus, they accepted the duties of various civic offices more frequently than most.  Dr. Henry Smith was appointed School Superintendent and Constable in 1853, and in 1854 Thomas Mercer was elected King County Commissioner, the highest office.  William Strickler served as Probate Judge and was elected to the Territorial Council, the legislature in Olympia.  King County records for the 1850s and 1860s show the north district settlers sitting in almost every petit and grand jury, as well as serving as county treasurer, auditor, tax collector, coroner, school superintendent, road viewer, and election judge.  In a given year one individual often served in several capacities.

Thomas Mercer, approximately age 75

After several years of growing tension, open conflict developed between the Elliott Bay settlers and the Native Americans during the winter of 1855-56.  All of the settlers living in the outlying areas moved into Fort Decatur, a crude blockhouse built in the vicinity of First Avenue and Cherry Street of logs David Denny had cut that previous summer on Queen Anne Hill.  With over 70 people living in Fort Decatur that winter, conditions were very crowded.  The Dennys’ second daughter, Madge Decatur, was born in the fort in March 1856.

By August 1856, all hostilities had ended, and the native uprising was officially over.  However, the next decade would prove a hard one for the settlers.  Looking back 82 years later, Susie Mercer observed, “I am convinced that it was the faith and courage of the founders that made Seattle a great city.  They [the pioneers] loved the city all the more because of the work and hardships they underwent.”

Some of the settlers filed reports of their losses at the hands of the natives to the government in hope that they would be compensated — which they never were.  The claims, however, provided some insight into the property and chattel of these community pioneers:  David Denny, claim $97, canoe and stock; Dr. Henry Smith, claim $1306, log cabin and stock; Ira Utter, claim $637.25, log cabin, canoe, furniture, and crop; Erasmus Smithers, claim $1306, dwelling and stock; Edmund Carr, claim $480, log cabin; David Stanley, claim $173.50, loss of crops.

Genuinely interested in homesteading, the pioneers of the district north of Seattle were less discouraged than who had hoped to “get rich quick” through business ventures or the rapid increase in the value of land they obtained through land grants.  These men left, along with many others who feared future uprisings by the native people.

Those who stayed harbored unspoken anxiety over the prospect of other Native American attacks for years.  Louise Boren Denny told her children “for years afterwards it was easy to imagine Indians everywhere.”  Throughout the 1850s Thomas Mercer never went into the woods to cut trees or clear land alone, his daughters reported; one of the girls always accompanied him.  While Mercer worked, her duty was to stand guard with her rifle at the ready in case hostile natives appeared.

In the Battle of Seattle on January 26, 1856, the natives set fire to almost all of the outlying homestead cabins.  When Tom Mercer, David and Louisa Denny, and Dr. Henry and Abigail T. Smith returned to their homesteads in the spring, they were astonished to fine their dwellings intact, although many of their belongings had been taken.

Mercer’s frame house of 1854 was not burned.  After the war the local natives were asked why they had not burned Mercer’s place.  One replied, “Oh, [we thought] Old Mercer would want it again.”  The natives explained that Mercer was ‘klosh tum tum,’ kind, friendly, literally a good heart, and ‘be wawa-ed sahle tyee,’ prayed to the Heavenly Chief or Great Spirit.  They had come to know and respect Thomas Mercer, whose wife had died and who was caring for his children alone.  Mercer had always dealt with them honestly and fairly, and had learned to speak their language.  His gentleness, integrity and kindness had made a deep impression on them.

While his house was intact, the milk cow that Mercer had just bought was gone.  The Mercer girls mourned the loss of their cow, which was a pet, as one of the major tragedies of the Battle of Seattle.

Louise and David Denny’s house in the swale was also spared the torch.  Dr. Henry Smith and Abigail Smith’s frame house was burned to the ground, but the original log cabin and log cabin infirmary were left unharmed.  Like Mercer, the Dennys and Smiths had learned the local native language and way of life, for which they demonstrated great respect on many occasions.  The natives noted this and in return respected Denny and Smith and their klootchman (women) as tillicums (friends).

The winter the settlers spent living in the crowded quarters of Fort Decatur had its bright side for it provided an opportunity for courting.  In spring of 1856 Edmund Carr and Olivia Holgate, who had become acquainted teaching Sunday school at the Methodist Episcopal Church, announced their intention to marry.  The Seattle settlement had shrunk from 250 to about 70 people, and those who remained were serious and resolute.  However, they were also young and optimistic, and the very idea of a wedding and the belief in the future that it represents appealed enormously to everyone.

The community went all out in putting on a grand wedding celebration for the young couple, complete with a feast and a wedding cake.  Cornelius Hanford, Olivia’s brother, comments on the wedding preparations:
The market was nearly destitute of delicacies usually supplied for such an affair, but it is wonderful how pioneer women, with scant provisions, can delight the appetites of the hungry when they try; they did try and made the feast a great success.

In November 1857  Erasmus Smithers, 27, of Smith Cove married the land-wealthy 28-year-old widow Diana Gilmore Tobin.  After living a short time on Smither’s claim in the cove they founded the city of Renton, which lies on her donation claim of 1853.  Smithers held on to his 160 acres in Smith Cove to the end of the nineteenth century when his heirs sold the land.

Unable to work on his claim because he was harassed by the local natives, John Ross decided in the fall of 1858 to go to Portland and then on to Salem.  At Salem he met and married Mary Jane McMillan, age 15, the daughter of Rev. David McMillan, a well-known clergyman from Illinois.  Mary McMillan was born in 1843 in Springfield, Illinois.  In 1853, at age ten, Mary’s family had come to Oregon Territory.  John Ross was 32 at the time of their marriage.

The couple returned to Seattle bringing with them from the Willamette Valley a quantity of fruit tree cuttings.  The settled into a house in Seattle in January 1859, and John hiked out to his claim, packing the cuttings and a spade on his back.  However, he reports in his land grant records that once again the natives drove him off, as they had in 1857 and 1858.  John regularly “commuted” from Seattle to his claim on foot and by canoe for years to fulfill the proving up requirements.

Eventually, Ross planted over 50 fruit trees and invested  $3,000 in improvements.  During these years Ross expanded his land holdings, filing for additional land on the north side of Salmon Bay under preemption law.  In addition, he received a parcel of state school land on Denny Hill in 1860, as payment for carpentry on the Territory University building.

The historic records for the settlers making their living north of Seattle in the late 1850s and 1860s are sketchy.   However, it is known that after the native uprising they were reluctant to live isolated on their claims and many moved into the Seattle settlement, going out to their claims for day work.  David and Louisa Denny moved into a three-room cottage in Seattle, which remained their principal residence until 1860.  Between 1860-1870, the Dennys lived part of the year in the Seattle cottage and the other part in their house in the swale of Queen Anne Hill.  The Thomas family moved permanently back onto their claim around 1860.

*A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy of Representative Citizens of The City of Seattle and County of King, Washington.  New York: The Lewis Publishing, 1903
*Baist Real Estate Atlas.  “Surveys of Seattle.”  Philadelphia:  G. Wm. Baist, 1905
*Bass, Sophie Frye, Pig-tail Days in Old Seattle.  Portland, OR:  Metropolitan, 1937
*Bass, Mrs. Sophie Frye, When Seattle was a Village.  Seattle:  Lowman & Hanford 1947.
*Arthur Denny.  Pioneering on Puget Sound.  Fairfield, WA; Galleon Press, 1965.
*Dickey William and Dillis B. Ward.  Family documents.  “Highlights of the Dillis B. Ward Collection,” prepared by Shorey Book Store, Seattle; Typewritten.
*Hanford, C. H. ,Seattle and Environs, 3 vols.  Chicago & Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1924l
*Meeker, Ezra, “Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound.”  Seattle, 1905; rpt. 1980.
*Seattle Leaders.  Edited by Edward Desmond.  Pioneer Printing Co., 1923.
*Thompson, Nile R., “The Original Residents of Shilshole Bay,” Passport to Ballard by Kay F. Reinartz, ed.  Seattle: Ballard News-Tribune, 1988.


Queen Anne Historical Society 1971-

NOTE:  this article copied from Queen Anne Community on the Hill, by Kay Frances Reinartz, PhD, published by the Queen Anne Historical Society in 1993.
In 2021, the Society celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding, with a 7/29 event and onward.

The Queen Anne Historical Society was founded in 1971 by the History Committee of the Queen Anne Community Council under the leadership of Louise Locke. The organization incorporated as non-profit and adopted the Kinnear Mansion as the society’s logo.  For over two decades [as of 1993] the society has worked in many areas to advance its mission of preservation of the community’s historic heritage. The society maintains a community history archive and holds bimonthly meetings which feature programs emphasizing community and Washington history.

Highlights of the Queen Anne Historical Society
Achievements with the Names of Leaders

1992-93    Sponsored Queen Anne Community History Book Project — Bob Frazier
1990         *C. H. Black House & Gardens, 615 W. Lee St.
1989         Published reprint of Homes & Gardens of the Pacific Coast, Seattle, 1913 — Michael, Ethel                             & James Kemp-Slaughter
1987        Sponsored first annual Christmas lighting contest focused on historic Queen Anne Blvd.
1986        Dedication of Captain Vancouver plaque at Betty Bowen Viewpoint and celebration —                                    Michael Kemp-Slaughter
1986        *Bethany Presbyterian Church, 1818 Queen Anne Ave. N.
1985        *Queen Anne High School, 215 Galer St.
1984        *Stuart/Balcom House, 619 W. Comstock St.
1984        *Bowen/Huston Bungalow 715 W. Prospect St.
1983        Society Newsletter founded:  “Great Queen Anners” list of historic community leaders                                      compiled for the state “Great Washingtonians” project — Kathryn Seymour
1983        *Handschy/Kistler House, 2433 9th Ave. W.
1981        Queen Anne Oral History Project — Ron Palmer
1981        *North Queen Anne Bridge, over Wolf Creek Ravine
1980        *Brace/Moriarty House, 618 W. Highland Dr.
1980        Cleaned pioneer graves and mapped Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1980 — Ray Bronson
1980        *Parsons/Gerrard House, 618 W. Highland Dr.
1980        Parsons Memorial Garden, immediately west of 618 W. Highland Dr.
1980        *McFee/Klockzien House, 524 W. Highland Dr.
1979        *Ballard/Howe House, 22 W. Highland Dr.
1979        *Fourteenth Ave. W. Group, 2000-2016 Fourteenth Ave. W.
1978        *Chelsea Apartment Building, 620 W. Olympic Pl.
1978        *Cotterill House, 2501 Westview Dr. W.
1978        *De La Mar Apartment Building, 115 W. Olympic Pl.
1977-81    Queen Anne heritage calendar produced:  1977, Jan Clow; 1979, Pauline Hanover; 1980,                                 1981, Ray Bronson
1977        *West Queen Anne Elementary School, 515 W. Galer St.
1976        *Willcox Wall, west side 8th Ave. W. to 8th Pl. W.
1976        Assisted with historical research in production of historical U.S. Bicentennial edition of                                    the Queen Anne News, 1976 — Jon Bartlett, Susan Christenson, Alice Ellis
1976        Historic walking tour and tour brochure produced — Howard Lovering, Alice Ellis
 *Designated official City of Seattle Landmark