The Reese brothers, Fred and Albert, grew up in a German-speaking farm community in Minnesota in the 1880’s. It was a hard-working life with limited opportunities, and the boys’ formal education ended at the eighth grade. From then on they worked on the farm and later in other laboring occupations.
Fred Reese married in 1906 at age 28 and he and his new wife, Nellie, lived in the home of Nellie’s parents James and Agnes Russell in Brainerd, Minnesota. The Russells ran a boarding house located near the town train station. Both Nellie and Agnes helped with the cooking, while Fred Reese worked outside the home as a blacksmith. Fred and Nellie named their first child Russell Reese, in honor of his maternal grandparents. In those early years before 1910, we can speculate on whether Fred and Nellie had ever even heard of Seattle, let alone imagine that they would someday live there.
In 1932 Fred Reese built this log-sided house in Wedgwood. The writing on the photo gives the plat name of Pontiac Addition, Block 49 Lot 2. The house was at first numbered 3704 because there was as yet no 38th Ave NE. Later the house number was changed to 3804 NE 87th Street.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Wedgwood Community Club (WCC) was busy dealing with issues of city limits, zoning, street improvements, establishment of a business district and needed services such as schools and postal delivery. The Club was proud of the developing community, and the WCC president of 1955-56, J.J. Jackson, thought of a way to publicize Wedgwood. He noted that “princess” candidates from Seattle neighborhoods competed each year to be chosen Queen of the Seas at the summer festival called Seafair. Jackson proposed, “let’s have a ‘Miss Wedgwood” contest!”
The idea took off quickly. A WCC committee was formed to take applications and set up a selection process, and the contest was advertised in the Wedgwood Echo newsletter of May 1956. “Wedgwood has become such an important community that we feel it should be represented by a queen in the Seafair activities,” said Harold Kester, incoming WCC president of 1956.
In the 1940s and 1950s the neighborhoods of northeast Seattle grew rapidly, with housing developments filling up what had been semi-rural areas which were still outside the city limits. Some people resisted the process of being absorbed into the City of Seattle, but eventually annexation placed the city limits where it is today, at 145th Street from Puget Sound all the way over to Lake Washington.
Houses on NE 84th Street in 1953, photo by Werner Lenggenhager. An amateur photographer, Lenggenhager left much of his collection to the Seattle Public Library. He spoke approvingly of Balch’s Wedgwood development with houses which were modest in scale and harmonious in style, and with the preservation of tall trees.
“Wedgwood” was first used in 1941 by Albert Balch as a plat name for a housing development from NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE. This forty-acre tract of houses in similar scale and harmonious styles (with New England-style Cape Cod detailing) was a huge success. After the end of World War Two in 1945, many war veterans got married and were able to buy a Wedgwood house with a GI loan. Young couples flocked to the Wedgwood development to establish homes and start new lives, hoping to leave behind the hardships and deprivations of the war years. Into the 1950’s Balch acquired more tracts of land near the first Wedgwood plat, and he did more well-planned, attractive streets and groups of houses on both sides of 35th Ave NE. The neighborhood was gradually “becoming Wedgwood” by taking its identity from the orderly and charming Balch housing developments.
Wedgwood banner cartoon by Bob Cram, Wedgwood Community Council Newsletter of March 1996.
In the early 1900’s Wedgwood in northeast Seattle did not have a name or definite identity as a neighborhood. Some areas of Seattle, such as Fremont, had been started with an official name. Men who came out from Fremont, Nebraska, in 1884 had platted Fremont, Seattle as a townsite, but Wedgwood had no developers, planners or namers in early years.
On the census of 1880, homesteaders in Wedgwood such as Capt. DeWitt C. Kenyon were listed in the Lake Washington Precinct. In the year 1900 the census recorded those in northeast Seattle as part of the Yesler Precinct, a reference to the sawmill village which had sprung up; Yesler later became Laurelhurst. For the census of 1910 and 1920, northeast Seattle was called the Union Precinct. In 1930, what is now Wedgwood south of NE 85th Street was in the Ravenna census tract, and north of NE 85th Street was called Morningside.
Birds Watching by Larry Hubbell
Larry Hubbell is a renowned artist, photographer and author of the Union Bay Watch Blog which tracks the birds and animals on the body of water south of Laurelhurst. Larry is especially well-known for documenting the daily life of eagles who like to sit on the light poles above the 520 Floating Bridge to Bellevue, scanning for a meal.