Where is our Military Road?

Dexter Ave on May 17, 1932

Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant on Queen Anne

Last year Karen Meador, a good friend of the Queen Anne Historical Society, published a delightful pamphlet called Military Road: A Lasting Legacy.  In her pamphlet Meador runs the road west of Queen Anne Hill along the beach and mud flats that later welcomed one of Queen Anne’s longest surviving working class operations, Wilson’s Machine Shop.

Indeed, Meador features the machine shop as if it actually occupies a site on the Military Road which settlers, road builders and surveyors called the Fort Steilacoom to Fort Bellingham Road.  The evidence points, however, to a more eastern route for the Military Road closer to Lake Union.

Most Seattle citizens recognize the name Military Road as Exit 151 on I-5 at Southcenter or the stretch of road just east of I-5 and Boeing Field.  In fact, Indian paths often became wagon roads which eventually became the good roads for automobiles we know today.

In 1857, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis –- yes, that Jefferson Davis — appropriated $35,000 to construct a land route between Fort Steilacoom and Fort Bellingham.  In addition to Davis, other Civil War leaders who worked on road construction included, George B. McClellan, Joseph Hooker and Ulysses S. Grant.  Military roads were designed to facilitate the movement of troops and even more importantly, travel in remote territories.  In the case of Queen Anne’s Civil War era Military Road, it linked important military outposts.

Water crossing between Salmon Bay & Lake Union in 1891
Water crossing between Salmon Bay & Lake Union in 1891

Captain W. W. DeLacy began surveying the route with a crew of nine including six Native Americans.  Construction of the road began in 1858 under the supervision of Lieutenant George H. Mendell and reached Seattle in October 1860.  In 1864, the first telegraph line was strung along the Military Road route.  We know this from Meador’s pamphlet and Building Washington:  A History of Washington State Public Works by Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, published in 1998.

Meador’s pamphlet includes a map of the route and marks contemporary buildings that lie on the Military Road.  Discovering Wilson Machine Works, one of the neighborhood’s oldest surviving factories, on the map was great news.  Who knew we had a pre-Civil War route crossing Queen Anne?

Both Meador and Dorpat-McCoy strand the route through Queen Anne high and dry between two sentences.  The pair of asterisks inserted Meador’s text marks the spot:

Near the present site of Georgetown in south Seattle, the Road crossed the Duwamish River Valley – known today as Boeing Field – to Beacon Hill and from there along the tide flats of a rough little mill town called Seattle.  ** Crossing Salmon Bay and continuing through present-day Ballard, the Road traversed east along the north shore of Lake Washington…

Neither source reveals exactly how the Military Road got from downtown Seattle to Ballard.  Meador thinks it followed the route of what we now call Elliott Avenue and 15th Avenue West.  That is why she put Wilson’s Machine Shop on her map and why she suggests the road crossed Salmon Bay, but she didn’t get it right.  The clues are everywhere and convincing.

Kay Reinartz provided one clue in Chapter 5, page 32 of Queen Anne:  Community on the Hill, the 1993 book on local history published by the Queen Anne Historical Society. There she reports that our section of the Military Road: “…went north from Yesler’s Mill on Front Street (1st Ave.) circling Denny Hill (Denny Regrade) on the east side, and passing by the burial ground that became Denny Park.  The road then continued along the east side of Queen Anne Hill.”  Later on page 38, Reinartz recounts when Lake Union froze over in 1861 and settlers walked out to the lake along the Military Road to go skating.  Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to verify Reinartz’s sources.

Another clue is Meador’s statement that the road crossed Salmon Bay.  We learn, however, from Augustus Koch’s 1891 Birds-eye-view of Seattle and environs King County, Wash. that no roads crossed Salmon Bay until the 1889 construction of a plank road on trestles.  Also the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation’s history of Kinnear Park states that the plank road along the east edge of Smith’s Cove cut up from the beach towards Uptown along Mercer Place, heading east towards Lake Union.  We may also wonder why Army engineers would have a wagon road cross a pretty big stretch of water when only a narrow little creek (now replaced by the Lake Washington Ship Canal) separated the two sides less than a mile away.

Beginning of November 3, 1860 Survey Notes of David T. Denny’s Claim
Denny Survey Notes, November 3, 1860

The clincher is the November 3, 1860 survey of David T. Denny’s claim by a Mr. Richardson. Generally speaking, David Denny’s claim is marked on the north today by Mercer Street and on the south by Denny Way.  The surveyor describes crossing the Military Road for the first time 80 chains or about a mile (a chain = 66 feet) from the shore of “Elliott’s Bay” and a mere 17 chains (.2 miles) from the post he planted at the shore of Lake Union.  On his way back to his starting point on Elliott Bay about 28 chains (.35 miles) from the southeastern corner of Denny’s claim, Mr. Richardson crosses the Military Road again.  What with regrades that leveled Denny Hill and fill that obliterated the natural banks of Lake Union locating the Military Road exactly will take a huge effort and a trip to the other Washington to see maps filed at the National Archives.

It seems Reinartz had it right after all when she wrote:  “The road then continued along the east side of Queen Anne Hill (p. 33 Community on the Hill).”  Much as he was thrilled to learn that his shop was on the historic Civil War Military Road from Fort Steilacoom to Fort Bellingham, Dave Wilson will be equally sad to hear it isn’t true.

Stimson-Rogers House – 128 Aloha St

Stimson-Rogers House, 1900
Stimson-Rogers House, 1900

In 1888, Charles D. (C.D.) and Harriet Stimson built the mansion at 128 Aloha St. It occupied the entire block with a verandah all around – views of Lake Union, Puget Sound and the city.

It was rented to Capt. W.W. Robinson, Jr., U.S.A., from 1897 – 1902 when he was assigned to Seattle to build Fort Lawton in Magnolia.

In 1903, the Stimson family moved to their custom-built mansion on First Hill, later known as the Stimson-Green Mansion. At that time, they sold the house to Solomon and Eva Rogers.

Rogers-Family, 1908
Rogers-Family, 1908

The Rogers family lived in the Queen Anne house until the death of Eva Rogers in January 1961.

Before its demolition several months later, old embossed wallpaper and other original materials were salvaged from the house. It was replaced with condominiums.