Gravity, Money and Neighborhood Growth

I intuitively attributed the burst of new houses on Queen Anne in the decade after the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush to the 1902 arrival of the Counterbalance streetcar line on Queen Anne Ave. and its partner lines running up Taylor and 10th W.   After all, most local histories suggest this.

Map of streetcar lines in 1910

Then I had a new thought.  It was the advent of the streetcar and the opening of the huge water tower at the highest point on Queen Anne (Lee and First Ave. N.) both in the same year that caused the development explosion.  Then it dawned on me.  There were two important factors in Queen Anne’s explosive growth:  gravity and the money to use it.  

Proximity to the curb = straight run
Queen Anne Ave. showing streetcar #26, ca. 1937

Before 1902, there were five private companies providing water to Queen Anne.  Most of it came from water collected from streams on the hill or from Lake Union.  George Kinnear built one after arriving to develop real estate on the southwest side of Queen Anne Ave.  His system was high enough and created enough pressure so that water flowed to the top floor of the Kinnear home (site of Bayview today) down the hill.

Kinnear Mansion, site of Bayview today

It also fed water to lots he developed nearby.  Franklin Place at Prospect St. and Second Ave. W. is a vestigial reminder of Kinnear’s water company.   The largest private water company, Union Water System, incorporated in 1882, eventually pumped water up the hill from Lake Union.  These systems were primitive and unreliable.  In the late summer and early fall, the scattered homeowners on the hill frequently had to truck water in.  In the early 1890s, the city bought most of the privately owned companies, but primitive piping prevented the Seattle Municipal Water System from effectively doing the job.

The older tower with gothic crenellations at the observatory level

The water tower completed in 
Observatory Park in 1902 made a huge difference.  Gravity working with Pascal’s principle filled the tower.  According to Blaise Pascal, the 17th c. French mathematician, pressure is uniformly transmitted throughout a liquid.  In more familiar terms, water seeks its own level.  Water flowed from the Cedar River though a system whose intake was higher than the water tower, so filling it required no pumping.  As the city rebuilt the pipes bringing water to houses, it also installed fire hydrants, something the private companies had not regularly done.  Fire protection became a reality.  

Fire Station #8 ca. 1910

The completion of the huge water tower in 1902, supplemented by a second one in 1904 built on the same site on Lee St. at First Ave. N., created the potential for adequate fire protection.  Thanks to the gravity resulting from the high towers, Queen Anne had enough water pressure to fight fires.   After 1910, “noticeably fewer homes were reduced to cinders in minutes as owners stood helplessly watching .” (Queen Anne – Community on the Hill, p. 93).   In 1900, the neighborhood had one fire station.  By the end of the decade, it had ten.  In 1908, the city built Fire Station #8 at 1417 Warren Ave N. in the shadow of the two water towers.  It may have been constructed in anticipation of the September 1909 completion of Queen Anne High School a mere  two blocks east of the station.


Above:  Queen Anne High School, ca. 1909.  The Fire Department replaced the 1908 building with a new one at 110 Lee St. in the 1960s and modernized it after a 2003 levy. 

Fire Station #8: ca. 2003 expansion with new tower

WATER OUT — Sewage
Apparently addressing sewage needs didn’t wait until the boom years following the Klondike Gold Rush.  Before 1885, people tossed their gray water on their lawns, while outhouses over cesspools accommodated most Queen Anne sewage needs.  In 1885 the city mandated the connection of all occupied residences to sewer lines.  Gravity served that purpose very well, except that the city did not plan adequately for the huge volumes of sewage coming down the hill and into Lake Union.  

Eventually, the city got its act cleaned up, ceasing to dump sewage into Lake Union while flushing the waste through pipes to an outfall in the Puget Sound.  That choice hardly strikes us as a good one today, but it did avoid (at least temporarily) our pristine lakes from becoming cesspools.  In this case, gravity served as an accomplice to misguided city managers.  

It is relatively easy to explain the influx of money and people.  With the Klondike Gold Rush, an endless stream of both flowed into Seattle between 1897 and at least 1910.  In that brief span, the city grew from about 80,000 to 237,000.  What, you need housing?   

In the end,  gravity and money were all it took to make the steep inclines of the neighborhood habitable.  Gravity raised the water to the massive towers and, thanks to the cable attached to massive concrete blocks on their own below-grade railway, pulled the streetcars up Queen Anne Avenue’s steep incline. 

Counterbalance Tunnel Where Gravity Worked

Money and people flowed into city following miners coming and going to the Klondike beginning the boom/bust town we live in and are experiencing now. 

The facts in this article are from:  Reinartz, Kay, and Queen Anne Historical Society. Queen Anne: Community on the Hill.  Seattle, WA: Queen Anne Historical Society, 1993.