December in Wedgwood: Hunter Tree Farm

William O. Hunter and his wife Carol met at Shelton High School in rural Mason County, Washington, where William’s father had a dairy farm.  William and Carol married in 1948 and they began taking the farmland into the next-generation of business development by growing and selling evergreen Christmas trees.

A customer tries on a tree at Hunter Tree Farm's seasonal sale.

A customer tries on a tree at Hunter Tree Farm’s seasonal sale.

At first the Hunters only grew Douglas fir trees, and only functioned as wholesalers.  They shipped trees to California and gradually began to develop other retail outlets.  There was a plant nursery business called Van’s Northgate Nursery, 2335 N. 110th Street in Seattle, which sold the Hunter’s trees (Maurice Van Hollebeke, proprietor).  One year in the early 1950’s, Van’s asked if William and Carol would come and handle the tree sales themselves, and the Hunters agreed to try it.  They sold the trees at fifty cents per foot, so a six-foot tree cost $3.  The Hunters made $2700 that year and they thought that they had broken into the big-time!

But Van’s Northgate Nursery was doomed, because it was in the path of the Interstate-5 freeway for which planning began in the 1950’s.  With Van’s getting ready to close down, the Hunters thought they would like to try another Seattle sales outlet but, not knowing the city very well, they didn’t know where to look.

At that time Carol Hunter’s brother and brother-in-law were both working as real estate salesmen for Albert Balch, the developer of the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle.  In the 1940’s Balch had chosen the name “Wedgwood” for a plat of land where he built a unified group of houses.   As Balch continued to build more and more houses in the area, businesses began calling themselves Wedgwood and it caught on as the name of the neighborhood.

Bill Hunter Jr. with his father, William O. Hunter Sr., work together at the annual Christmas tree sales in Wedgwood.

Bill Hunter Jr. with his father, William O. Hunter Sr., work together at the annual Christmas tree sales in Wedgwood.

Today the intersection of NE 85th Street along 35th Ave NE is Wedgwood’s main commercial center, with a grocery store, drugstore, banks, restaurants, coffee shops and offices.  But in the early 1950’s the present site of the QFC grocery store, the Wedgwood Broiler restaurant and other businesses, was vacant land.  Balch had purchased this corner and knew that it was an appropriate site for commercial development, but he was not a commercial developer.  In the 1950’s Balch used the corner of NE 85th Street just as a place to store his lumber and construction equipment.

Carol’s brother and brother-in-law introduced the Hunters and asked Mr. Balch if they might use the corner of NE 85th Street for their Christmas tree sales in the month of December.  Balch readily agreed, as he knew this would be an interesting and enjoyable neighborhood activity with no “down side” as the tree sales were only for one month and did not compete with anything else in the business district.  In appreciation, the Hunters gave Balch a free Christmas tree for his own home.

William O. Hunter Sr. and his wife Carol have been married for 66 years.

William O. Hunter Sr. and his wife Carol have been married for 66 years.

The NE 85th Street sales site was successful and the Hunters returned each year during the 1950’s.  Gradually, Wedgwood’s business district was building up, and the first on that southeast corner of NE 85th Street was the Tradewell Grocery Store which opened in 1959.  The Hunters had to move southward on that block because of the space taken by Tradewell.  Then the Sir Wedgwood (Wedgwood Broiler) was built, and the available space for Hunter’s tree sales became even more constricted.

In 1963 a lease arrangement became available on the south side of NE 80th Street where Wedgwood Presbyterian Church had bought two lots, with the third lot going for the new Wedgwood Post Office.  The NE 80th Street site offered great advantages for the Hunter’s Christmas tree sales.  The site had good visibility, there was an existing building which had belonged to a nursery business (Fosters, later called Wedgewood Gardens) and there was adjacent parking on the corner nearest to NE 80th, the lot owned by the church.

After leasing for about nine years, in September 1973 the Hunters purchased their present site from Wedgwood Presbyterian.  More than fifty years later and still going strong in Wedgwood, Hunter Tree Farm’s annual Christmas tree sales is a beloved neighborhood tradition at the holiday season.

Hunter Farms 2014


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Meadowbrook Update: December 2014

Along the arterial 35th Ave NE there is a low point in the road between NE 105th and 115th Streets.  In past times before the building of roads and houses, the area was a natural flood plain for The Confluence of Thornton Creek.  The two branches, North and South converge at this point.  In 1996-98 the Meadowbrook Pond was created by Seattle Public Utilities as a flood control measure for holding stormwaters and filtering the water so that sediments would not “plug up the creek” downstream.

Since the time of its creation Meadowbrook Pond has functioned successfully at filtering sediments out of the water, but periodic flooding has still occurred on nearby streets and up into houses.  The year 2014 is the third in the cycle of improvements and enlargements to Meadowbrook Pond and to the creek outlets into the pond, to increase the capacity for water.

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From Morningside to Wedgwood Presbyterian Church

Before Wedgwood acquired its name, a sense of identity and defined boundaries in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the name Morningside was often used for the neighborhood.  Beginning in 1913 the Morningside Heights plat on the west side of 35th Ave NE from NE 90th to 95th Streets was the first advertised development in what would later become part of Wedgwood.  The residents of Morningside Heights wanted the benefits of community life, and one of the first actions taken was to start a church with Sunday school for the children of the neighborhood.

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Meadowbrook Update: November 2014

Since June 2014 the arterial 35th Ave NE has been closed at the point of NE 107th Street while the South Branch of Thornton Creek has been rechanneled and a flood plain created for greater capacity to hold water.  The work of the Confluence Project necessitated digging up the roadbed.  The work is coming along, but the target date for re-opening 35th Ave NE has been set back due to delays caused by rainy and cold weather.  The roadway is being rebuilt with a bridge-like structure, sidewalks and rails, and time is needed for the concrete to “cure.”

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Autumn Leaves

The Wedgwood neighborhood of northeast Seattle, renowned for its beautiful trees, is a wonderland of color during the autumn season.  The flame ash street trees have turned crimson in October-November.  The street trees extend along 35th Ave NE beginning at NE 84th Street, north to where the arterial meets Lake City Way NE at NE 137th Street.  Not only along the arterials, but also on side streets and in the yards of residences in Wedgwood, the show of colorful leaves is a feast to the eyes.

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Meadowbrook Update: October 2014

In October 2014 the flame ash street trees along 35th Ave NE are showing their autumn colors.  Since June 2014 street signs have been posted to warn drivers along the arterial that 35th Ave NE is closed to through-traffic at NE 107th Street where construction is underway at The Confluence. The Confluence is the place at NE 107th Street where the North and South Branches of Thornton Creek converge.  At that lowest point in the roadway, stormwaters have often flooded surrounding streets and houses.  This year of 2014 is the third phase of construction at The Confluence to add capacity for water and improve the environment for fish.

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Autumn’s Untidy Beauty

Author Christy Peterson has provided us with a good excuse NOT to rake up all the leaves in the yard!  Skip the tidying, Christy advises.  Left where they fall, leaves and dying vegetation provide habitat for birds.  In rethinking fall clean-up, Christy writes,

Autumn seed heads provide food for birds.  Photo courtesy of Tweets & Tree Frogs blog, October 2014.

Autumn seed heads provide food for birds. Photo courtesy of Tweets & Tree Frogs blog, October 2014.

My little corner of the earth is slipping towards its winter nap. Leaves are falling, flowers fading, and everything is looking just a bit unkempt. (More so than normal anyway – my garden has never quite achieved the opposite of unkempt!) Despite the ragged edges, I won’t be rushing out with clippers and rakes. That’s because the fallen leaves and ragged stems that look untidy to us are gold for backyard wildlife.

Read more at Christy Peterson’s Tweets & Tree Frogs blog.

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