Hiram M Chittenden’s Legacy

As we swiftly approach the centennial for the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and the Lake Washington Ship Canal, I realize that the man for whom the locks are named is one of the great gifts to the Northwest. Hiram Martin Chittenden was born in Yorkshire, Cattaraugus County, New York, on October 25th,1858.  He was a graduate of West Point Military Academy in 1884 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. He took courses in applied engineering, and on completing his studies, was assigned to the Western United States.  The main places his work appears are in Yellowstone National Park, where the Roosevelt Arch (northern entrance to the park) and the Chittenden Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Yellowstone River. 

In 1902 his book, “The History of the American Fur Trade” was published. It remains in print today, and is rightly considered the definitive work on the subject. He had already written the work, “The Yellowstone National Park” in 1895. His work on the fur trade was quickly followed by the book, “History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River. Other books followed.

As District Engineer for the Corps of Engineers he moved to Seattle in 1906 with his wife and children.  Here he lived on Capitol Hill and was one of the first three elected Port Commissioners of the Port of Seattle.  He oversaw the creation of the Lake Washington Ship Canal (1913-17) and was the man responsible for the full completion of the “Government Locks” second only to those in Panama in size.

His son, Hiram Martin Chittenden, Jr., followed in his footsteps in acquiring an engineering degree, and taught for many years at the University of Washington in the School of Engineering.  His daughter, Eleanor, a University of Washington graduate, married James B. Cress in 1916 at Plymouth Church.  Hiram, Sr.’s wife, Nellie, outlived him by a number of years.  Hiram Sr. died in October 1917, just a few months after the completion of the locks which bear his name.  James Cress, was also a West Point graduate whose major courses were engineering.  James and Eleanor moved to California in later years, where their two daughters grew up.  Hiram Sr. is buried in Lake View Cemetery. There are many articles, books, etc. written about him.