“Community Life in the Early Twentieth Century”
by Kay F. Reinartz PhD
Queen Anne is more than a neighborhood — it is an atmosphere…. Everywhere on Queen Anne you are on a hill, you feel it when you can’t see it … the local paper speaks of “the hill” and “hill people” and a “hill boy” or “hill girl” — everything but hill-billy.
– Almira Baily
October 31, 1927
Living on Queen Anne Hill in the early decades of the twentieth century was a time of close relationships with family and neighbors. Life for most people was centered around the home and local institutions, including the school and church, and community organizations. A very large portion of the families were young and there were many children. The majority of married women with young children devoted themselves to full-time work as homemakers, while their husbands typically traveled by streetcar to jobs in other neighborhoods or in downtown Seattle. Most unmarried women held jobs.
GETTING AROUND: TROLLEYS, STREETCARS AND THE COUNTERBALANCE
From 1900 through the 1920s almost everyone walked or took the streetcar everywhere — to church, to work, to shopping, to school, to parties and funerals. Many traveled to their own weddings on the streetcar. Traveling by streetcar helped neighbors get acquainted and was the beginning of more than one friendship and courtship. The fare was a nickel in the 1920s and increased to three single-trip tokens for a quarter by the 1930s.
In the 1920s there were four streetcar lines on the hill. Both the north Queen Anne and east Queen Anne routes came up the hill via Taylor Avenue N. to Boston Street and Queen Anne Avenue, where they separated. The east Queen Anne route ran to Blaine Street where it turned left and terminated near the High School. The north Queen Anne car went across to McGraw Street and Seventh W., where there was a T-style turn-around.
The west Queen Anne line, popularly known as the Counterbalance route, came straight up Queen Anne Avenue. In 1905 this line replaced the old Front Street cable line that ran up the hill as far west as W. Highland Drive. The Counterbalance was a simple, efficient system for getting the trolley up the steep hill. At the foot of the hill the motorman or conductor got out and attached the car to a “shoe” which in turn was attached to a huge underground counterweight equal to the weight of the trolley car. When the car was at the bottom of the hill, the counterweight was at the top, and vice versa. When the car reached the top of the hill the counterweight was disconnected near Lee Street, a block and a half above W. Highland Drive. The west Queen Anne streetcar then proceeded on to Sixth Avenue W. where the route terminated at Sixth Avenue W. and McGraw Street.
The fourth streetcar line was the Kinnear line. It started up Queen Anne Avenue and turned west at Roy Street and ran past Kinnear Park to Tenth Avenue W. where it terminated at 10th W. and McGraw Street. People also walked down the hill to catch street cars. The car out to Ballard was caught on Fifteenth Avenue W. in Interbay.
Tales of the Counterbalance
On several occasions the eight-ton counterbalance weight broke loose, creating a slight earthquake when it reached the bottom of the hill under the street.
Roy Kinnear, who grew up next to the Counterbalance, recalled that when the car was coming down the hill, the conductor would yell, “Look out for the curve!” Occasionally the force of the car going over the abrupt dip that characterized the topography of the slope would throw someone right out of the car. One woman was killed this way in the 1910s.
The roar of the metal-on-metal wheels was deafening as the car careened across Aloha Street, but those living nearby became accustomed to the racket. Kinnear declared that if the Counterbalance stopped earlier than the usual midnight hour, his family would wake up because it was too quiet.
Fred Betts reports that as a lad he once sneaked into the Counterbalance tunnel and rode the counterweight to the bottom of the hill and back again to the top — petrified with fear every inch of the way. In 1939 the counterbalance system was replaced by a trackless trolley system. Courtesy Queen Anne Historical Society
Above: The automobile became available to many families by the 1920s, and just going for a drive was found to be a wonderful way to spend a day. Here the Sandvigen family enjoy a summer outing in the family’s flivver. From left to right: Emilia Black, unknown, Delma, hired girl, hired girl, Carrie Melby with veil (cousin) , father holding Alex and mother holding Emma, Gilbert in front of car with Buster. The collie dog was named Rover. Courtesy Queen Anne Historical Society
MAKING A HOME ON QUEEN ANNE HILL
Between 1900 and 1930 most married women devoted their time and talent to homemaking and caring for their families. However, there was a beginning trend for more married women, particularly college-educated, to be working outside of the home. Homemakers had a big job. They were expected to make a major contribution to their family economy by producing and processing raw materials rather than buying end products. Through their efforts they reduced the household costs of cooking, sewing, and home management, and often greatly improved the standard of living afforded by their husbands’ earned income, which was often very modest.
Most purchases were made at neighborhood shops. Miriam Marston Owen recalls the little business centers around the hill from 1910 on had food shops and dry goods stores which offered fabrics by the yard and sewing notions, as well as inexpensive children’s clothing, e.g. socks, underwear, and play clothes.
Between 1910 and 1930 doorstep delivery was common. In addition to the regular rounds of the milk and ice wagon — the latter followed by youngsters begging for “a little piece of ice” — there were bakeries, dry goods stores, pharmacies, laundry, and fuel enterprises delivering to the door. Normally, the homemaker had a standing weekly order, or called in a special order. No charge for delivery.
Jobs were often hard to find in the Seattle area between 1900 and 1920 because of the huge population influx. However, many people, particularly immigrants, pursued activities common at the time in Europe — vending from door-to-door. Such “permanent” vendors included fish mongers and farmers from outlying areas as far away as Poulsbo, who served both new and established customers with standing weekly orders for their fresh produce, eggs and butter. Other vendors did not raise their products, but bought them at wholesale prices from a railroad “fresh produce car,” which stood on a sidetrack alongside the ship canal between Ross Station and the Ballard Bridge.
Kirk Jenner remembers that a highlight of the week for the kids in his neighborhood was the regular visit by the garbage truck, pulled by four huge Percherons. About once a month another interesting entrepreneur, the junkman, made the rounds with his small wagon drawn by a single horse. The children marveled at how the junkman tethered his horse by placing a lead weight on the street which he attached to the end of the reins.
Coal and wood for heating and cooking were needed by every home in this era. Bob Bishop recalls working one summer for the Consolidated Fuel Co., whose office was beside the Uptown Theatre. Bob says he and his brother “backpacked garbage cans of coal, cradled high between our shoulder blades, to flats and apartments.”
Above: The red Wet Wash laundry wagons were a familiar sight on Queen Anne Hill in the early years of the twentieth century. With their plant at 222 First Avenue N., the company used “New system 44 wet wash” which provided the cleanest, brightest laundry with only three days between pickup and delivery. Courtesy Queen Anne Historical Society
The House that Davidson Built
The influx of people to Queen Anne Hill between 1900 and 1920 created a steady demand for houses that was recognized as a business opportunity by Fredrick J. Davidson, a skilled carpenter, who immigrated from Canada around 1903. Davidson soon established himself as a contractor and built over 150 houses between 1910 and the late 1920s.
Built mostly of brick, Davidson’s houses were noted for their high-quality construction and modern features including built-in central heat (hot water radiators). good plumbing, and adequate electrical wiring — qualities that were missing in many houses constructed in that era. Davidson kept in his employ Sam Ernst, plumber, and John Beattie, electrician, both Queen Anne residents.
Davidson built custom houses as well as blocks of homes which he sold prior to construction. His final and major work was developing the entire block bounded by Bigelow Avenue N., Fifth Avenue N., and Boston Street and Lynn Street. The several dozen homes were all pre-sold. The average price of a Davidson house in the 1920s was $12,500, house and lot.
Son Howard Davidson recalls that while he was growing up the family frequently moved from one house to another in his father’s developments. For a time they lived at 2312 Bigelow N., as well as 2302 Fourth Avenue N. Davidson operated his business out of his home, with records kept in a large roll-top desk in the dining room. Jane Skinner Davidson, a former school teacher, assisted her husband with telephone and paper work.
Many of Fredrick Davidson’s quality houses continue to be home to community residents. Houses by this skilled builder may be seen at the corner of Second Avenue N. and W. Highland Drive, 370 Lynn Street, 1701 Nob Hill Avenue N., and 310 and 314 W. Prospect Street.
In the 1920s clubs and community organizations flourished on Queen Anne Hill as people got together over mutual interests, hobbies or community concerns.
Many of the clubs formed during this period lasted only a few years, and little more than their names is known 80 years later. These include the Townsend Club, for retired community members, the Queen Anne Knickers Club, the Queen Anne Men’s Club and the Women’s Single Tax Club. The Town Meeting Club provided a forum for debating issues of the era, such as the League of Nations as a peacekeeping organization or the merits of the unicameral legislature.
Clubs focusing on history, world cultures, literature, music and the arts were popular and included the Queen Anne Study Club, Optic Club, Fortnightly Club, and the Apasia Club. The Fortnightly Club, formed in 1894, is still active in the Queen Anne community a century later.
The Queen Anne Nomadic Circle was a popular intellectual club whose members wrote stories. Open to women and men alike, the club provided both an outlet and guidance to those interesting in being writers. The club published, in the Seattle Mail and Herald on January 3, 1903, an installment of “Dr. Allen’s Temptation,” a novel the members had collectively written.
This story is a combined product of the 15 to 20 ladies and gentlemen who constitute the literary circle known by the name “The Queen Anne Nomadic Circle.” For several years a part of the evening’s program of this circle has been the reading of a chapter of an original story. During the year, from October 1 to June 1, each member contributes a chapter, and the story is then complete. For the Mail and general reading public, the resulting novel will be published in serial form, a chapter from each member of the circle each week.
QUEEN ANNE COMMUNITY CLUB
Undoubtedly, the Queen Anne Community Club, organized in 1922, was the most significant community organization of the decade. The club evolved from local improvement clubs and served as the community’s voice at Seattle City Hall.
The club’s initial project was the paving of the lower section of Taylor Avenue. Accomplishing this goal, the club brought about other community improvements such as street paving, lighting, drinking fountains and playfields. The club grew from 40 to 2,000 members in its first seven years.
The heavy debt caused by the building of a clubhouse in 1927 forced the club to spend most of its efforts in the early 1930s raising money to pay for the building located at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Garfield Street. This activity drove members away and the club never regained its popularity of the 1920s.
The main forms of recreation for most people continued to be that enjoyed in the nineteenth century, namely family gatherings, visiting with neighbors, and church and school centered activities. For many the work week was six 10-hour days, and Sunday was set aside for church, leisure and socializing. Fred Criddle recalls that in the late 1910s almost every Sunday after church his family walked from their home on Fourth Avenue W. and Smith Street to their grandparents’ home on Bigelow Avenue N. and W. Garfield Street. Other Sundays the grandparents walked to their house. In the summer, they might all walk to Kinnear Park after dinner to hear the band concert and for the little children to play on the swings. Then there was the walk home, about ten miles total walking for the “day of rest.”
CHILDREN’S LIFE IN THE 1920S
Most children were given little money because the average parent did not feel they needed any since their needs were looked after by their parents. However, enterprising children often found ways to earn a little of their own.
Many boys delivered newspapers in the 1920s. Ted Delius earned money with his magazine routes. He sold The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, and Ladies’ Home Journal. His business involved finding customers, delivering the magazines, collecting the money, and paying the magazine company. Ted sold monthlies for ten cents and weeklies for five cents. When business was good Ted would buy a Coke and Sunfreeze slice at the grocery store on Saturday.
Ag age 13, Kirk Jenner managed to land a good job with The Seattle Times as a combination copy and office boy. He worked Friday evenings five to nine, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning. He traveled by streetcar at first, but by the time he was 15 he was walking to and from work. Kirk recalls “I rather enjoyed the walk which was about five miles, but in reality there was no easy way to get there by streetcar.”
With the $6 he made each weekend Kirk bought his mother her first washing machine. Still proud of his gift 50 years later, Jenner remembers, “It was a used Savage rotary type with a copper tub and cost $65. I paid for it on the ‘easy payment plan’ which took about a year. Mother really appreciated the washer and never again had to use the scrubbing board in the bathtub.”
George Knutsen remembers that in the 1910s, after they had finished the supper-time chores he and other children in the neighborhood would walk over to the movie house and sit in the alley behind the building listening to the organ playing as it accompanied the silent picture show.”
Kids living on the north side of the hill would save up a few pennies and then head down Third Avenue W. to the big store, the Ross Marche, across the street from Seattle Pacific College on Third Avenue W. Bill Hunter relates, “To us children, the exciting thing about the Ross Marche was its supply of penny candy, visible on shelves behind a big glass case. A penny was big money in those days, and it was an event to be relished to choose from a dozen possibilities your kind and flavor of candy.”
PLAYING ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE HILL
In the 1910s most children had few toys, but playing outside year around offered plenty of fun. Donna Everett Williams moved with her family into their new home at the corner of Fourth Avenue N. and McGraw Street around 1904 when there were only three houses in the immediate vicinity. The Everett children’s favorite place to play was a “canyon” formed by the streams which was the outflow of Nils Peterson’s big spring up the hill. It was a dark, mysterious place filled with huge ferns, skunk cabbage, cattails and tall grasses. It was cool in the summer and a grand place to hide. As a part of street construction in the 1910s the stream was diverted into a storm sewer and the children’s canyon became Third Avenue W.
Bill Hunter recounts playing on the north side of the hill, near Evergreen Park (Rodgers Park) around 1918:
Above the bank was a wooded area, in which we climbed trees, built tree houses, and played “Pioneers and Indians.” There was a thick patch of blackberry buses up there, which bore berries prolifically. One day I got so absorbed in picking and eating berries, I found myself helplessly trapped by the sharp barbs of surrounding bushes. The more I struggled, the worse I was trapped. One of my playmates had to go home and bring my Dad up to rescue me. He brought up a butcher knife and ball bat, wore gloves, and by hacking and beating the bushes, he finally set me free.
The play area enjoyed by the Everett and Hunter children was destined to become the first park on the north slope. In 1883 B. F. and Frances R. Day, north slope real estate developers, had given the city a five-acre parcel on the north side of the hill. After lying untouched for 30 years, in 1909 an adjoining 50-acre tract was purchased, and the park was named Evergreen Park for its beautiful grove of fir trees.
The park was improved in 1914 when the North Queen Anne Elementary School was built at the northern end of the park, which was at Second Avenue W. and Florentia Street. Much to the consternation of the neighbors, the improved park attracted the north slope youth. In May 1915, R. H. Lyon complained to the city:
In the two past months several evenings each week a gang of hoodlums have made this park a resort, some evenings for an hour or two only, and other evenings for a greater portion of the night, and have kept up a constant pounding, whistling and yelling, with the use of loud, vulgar, profane and obscene language…. This condition has become intolerable and a park that should add greatly to the desirability of the location for residence has been rapidly turned into a public nuisance and [is] being used for illegal and immoral purposes.
In 1919 Evergreen Park was renamed Rodgers Park for David Rodgers, who is credited with having “done more than anyone else in placing the name of Seattle in the foremost rank of the shipbuilding industry.”
THE NORTH SLOPE PARENT’S NIGHTMARE
In the 1920s a problem developed in the north slope neighborhood that was to remain “the issue” for years. The trouble centered on a gravel pit originally dug by Nils Peterson in the 1870s, when he excavated sand for construction projects. Located at Third Avenue W. and Florentia Street just south of the North Queen Anne grade school, the gravel pit was a favorite place of the children. Bill Hunter remembers that
It was a marvelous sandpit! It was roughly 300 by 400 feet. The sand was an excellent quality beach, and it was great for tackle football [but] only fair for sand lot softball. Its greatest virtue was that on two sides, there were sheer banks, about 25 or 30 feet high. We kids dared to dig steps in the face of a bank, and then climb precariously to the top. If you fell, you lit in soft sand below. That was the ‘Mount Everest’ of our neighborhood.
In the 1920s the Queen Anne Sand Co. began working the high grade deposit and soon created a very large, deep pit. The pit naturally filled with water running off the nearby slopes. The children loved to play around this ‘little lake.’ Occasionally a child went home dripping wet after slipping into the pit. and parents constantly warned their children “Stay away from the pit!” The problem of the gravel pit was to reach a crisis in the 1930s, when a neighborhood boy drowned.
DIVERSIONS ON THE WEST AND EAST SLOPES
By 1910 the streets on the east side of the hill were constantly filled with playing children. Recognizing the need for a regular playground, the East Queen Anne Improvement Club laid their desire before the Seattle Parks Department, which quickly purchased a 1.4 acre parcel bounded by Howe and Newton Streets, Second Avenue N. and Warren Avenue. Eventually the park became known as the East Queen Anne Playground.
In 1914 a tennis court was built in the park. The next season a group of boys began showing up as early as 4:30a.m. to enjoy tennis at dawn. For two hours or more they would play game after game of fast, hard-hitting tennis. Those sleeping in the nearby houses were awakened by the smart walloping of the ball. Neighbors complained to the Parks Dept. Superintendent, such as Jeannette MacDonald, who declared that “it is absolutely impossible to get any sleep after they start in.”
THE BEST HILL IN TOWN FOR SLEDDING
Early in the century there were many hard winters with sufficient snow to make for splendid sledding. The two favorite hills were Third Avenue W. and Queen Anne Avenue. The latter was like a roller-coaster ride with the sledder’s stomach making “flip-flops” with each dip up and down — and then the final wild stretch, flashing across Mercer Street and finally slowing to a stop. It was a ride well remembered by the children when they were 80 years old.
Will Hunter lived on Fourth Avenue W., a street less busy than Third Avenue W. and, best of all, without significant intersections. Will and his sister and brother Helen and Phil would trudge six blocks up the hill and then jump on their sleds for the thrilling ride down. The hill got steeper the farther down they went and the only way to control the speed was dragging their feet in the snow. Often kind adults scattered an abundance of ashes on the road at the bottom of the hill near the college, which helped prevent crashing.
In the summer the kids would swim in the canal between Ross Station and the Ballard Bridge. Some also went swimming in Lake Union, although their parents frowned upon it because it was very polluted. Undoubtedly, the place where children growing up on the hill spent the longest hours year round was the Queen Anne Library.
THE QUEEN ANNE LIBRARY
From the 1890s, when the women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) opened a reading room in North Seattle, many had longed for a library on the hill. In 1912 the community was selected by the Seattle Library Board as the site for a branch library. Funded by the City of Seattle, a Carnegie Corporation grant, and a $500 donation from Col. Alden Blethen, Queen Anne resident and owner of The Seattle Times, a building was selected at Fourth Avenue W. and W. Garfield Street after much controversy and community bickering.
January 1, 1914 was a community Red Letter Day — the beautiful new library was opening. All day long Queen Anne residents crowded into the new library to inspect the handsome golden oak paneled rooms well appointed with reading tables and comfortable chairs. All eyes hungrily studied the titles on the long shelves — a total of 5,000 books. The anticipation of long happy hours “with a book” filled many with joy that day.
The new library was open daily under Head Librarian Frances L. Holmes. Helen Watson, the first Children’s Librarian, pledged: “The work of the branch with the children of the Queen Anne community will always be of paramount importance.” And the Queen Anne children soon found their way to the little library in droves. In 1914 a distraught parent wrote to Miss Watson:
Dear Madam: Will you please stop John and Mary from getting any more books as we can’t get anything out of them at all — they won’t go to bed at night and won’t get up in the morning and won’t do anything but read when they get up.
The new library had a special children’s story room which was crowded every Saturday morning from 1914 through the 1940s with children coming to hear stories and book talks. In the 1960s, the room was converted into the library office.
The library has served the community’s children in a variety of ways over the decades, including library lessons given in the elementary, middle schools and junior high schools by librarians, library visits by school children, cooperative creation of young people’s reading lists, preschool children’s programs, puppet shows and films.
THE LIBRARY HELPS THE COMMUNITY IN TIMES OF NEED
During World War I the Queen Anne Library auditorium became a community focal point. It was there that many activities geared toward helping “win the war” took place including meetings of the Home Guards, Council for Defense, Red Cross auxiliaries, Minute Men, and the Council for Patriotic Services, which sold war savings stamps. The women gathered here several nights a week to knit warm socks, mittens and vests, and prepare dressings to be shipped overseas.
The war over, the library staff wrote a weekly “Book Notes” column for the Queen Anne News, designed to increase the community’s awareness of its library resources. During the Depression years the community turned to the library as never before and circulation increased to a record 197,222 books for the year 1932. The city’s tightened budget had reduced the size of the staff which worked even harder to to serve the many readers. To ensure the upkeep of the book collection, librarians made home visits after work to retrieve overdue library materials. At the end of the 1930s the auditorium was used for two years by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) statewide Library Services Project, which left the library much improved with new lighting, bookcases and paint. From the beginning, the Queen Anne Library has been a major community resource.
In 1970 Florence Ekstrand, retired editor of the Queen Anne News, reflecting back on the 1920s, observed:
The 1920s were a pleasant interlude [during] which Queen Anne families saw no reason why they and their offspring would not go on forever picnicking and swimming along Lake Union’s shores, or exchanging pleasantries with others who rode the East Queen Anne trolley home in the February dusk.
Helen Tillman Zednick — Queen Anne Community Leader, 1914-1930
The future history of America will be shaped in large measure by the character of its homes. If we continue to be a home-loving people, we shall have the strength of character that comes only from a wholesome family life and our development will be sound and in the right direction.
– Helen Tillman Zednick, 1926
Helen Tillman Zednick grew up in Seattle in the 1880s and graduated from the University of Washington in 1911 in journalism. She was a member of the first University of Washington women’s rowing crew, which distinguished itself by become national champions.
Helen Tillman married Victor Zednick in 1914 and the couple settled on Queen Anne Hill. In the next two decades the Zednicks were prominent in both Queen Anne and the region for their leadership in public affairs. Victor’s ambitions are well known, for they took him into politics first as a member of the State Legislature and eventually as Lt. Governor. Helen’s work was more focused on Queen Anne and Seattle activities and community service.
Soon after setting on the hill she founded the Aspasia Club, West Queen Anne Parent-Teachers Association, as well as the Century Club, a city-wide organization in which she served as leader, undertook many valuable community service projects in the 1910s and 1920s.
Helen Zednick’s management abilities were soon recognized by Seattle’s Mayor Bertha Knight Landes, who appointed her to various municipal committees.
Helen Tillman Zednick’s work supported her belief that good homes are the backbone of a good America. In 1924 Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, appointed her Director of the Better Homes in America Committee for the Northwest. The Better Homes movement was a nation-wide federal program established to improve the standard of living in the American home. In her role guiding the federal project in Seattle, Zednick stressed the importance of aesthetics and beauty in the home environment to nurturing spiritual values and a peacefulness in family life.
Courtesy Helen Zednick Mercier
by Ted Delius
When the circus came to town from the early 1900s until 1927 its tents were raised on the vacant land south of Mercer Street from approximately Fourth Avenue N. to about the Nob Hill area.
Courtesy University of Washington Hamilton collection
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey paraded the circus animals up Warren Ave., much to the pleasure of pupils at Warren Avenue Elementary. Many boys from Warren Avenue School and Mercer School earned tickets of admission by doing such chores as carrying water for the elephants and spreading straw and sawdust on the grounds. There was a large performing tent and a sideshow tent where the kids were not allowed.
A favorite for some children was a sort of wild west show with Indians in full regalia, complete with feathered headdresses, riding ponies, shouting and shooting blanks. When the circus folded its tents and left town the grounds were searched for coins that, hopefully, had been dropped. One little girl was sure that one day she would find a diamond ring somewhere in the trampled straw.