Finding House Histories in Wedgwood

Do you know the history of your house?   Information about your house, including its age and its setting in the Wedgwood neighborhood of northeast Seattle, can tell you about the house itself and about the people who have lived on your street.  In learning about your house and neighborhood, you can share the info with neighbors to help build camaraderie on your block.

Many house-history resources are now on-line, while other materials are best accessed by an in-person trip to the Seattle Public Library or to City and County archives.

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Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal

Where do you take your visitors from out of town, when they come to Seattle?

For both locals and out-of-town visitors, one of the favorite destinations in Seattle is the Ballard Locks.  Located in north Seattle just west of the Ballard neighborhood’s commercial center, the locks are a site of never-ending interest, seeing boats of all sizes, both recreational and commercial, pass through.

The ship canal extends eight miles from the saltwater Puget Sound, through the Ballard Locks to freshwater Lakes Union and Washington.  The ship canal is both a channel for recreational boating and a working waterway of fishing vessels heading out to sea.

Incredibly, it took more than sixty years from the time Seattle settlers first envisioned a ship canal in 1854, until its construction and completion in 1911-1917.  In commemoration of the centennial of the locks and the ship canal, authors David B. Williams and Jennifer Ott have co-written a new book:  Waterway:  The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal.

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Ship Canal Centennial Boat Parade

Boat parade on July 9, 2017 in the Lake Washington Ship Canal

July 4, 1917 was the official opening day of the Ballard Locks in Seattle.  On that day one hundred years ago, the SS Roosevelt led a marine parade of commercial and pleasure craft through the ship canal into Lake Union.

On Sunday, July 9, 2017, we will commemorate this historic event by re-creating Opening Day.  The historic schooner Adventuress will lead a marine parade of historic vessels from Salmon Bay, through the locks eastward into Lake Union.

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Balch and Beyond: New Architecture in Wedgwood

The Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle acquired its name and identity in the 1940s with the work of developer Albert Balch.  Balch filed a plat plan on July 31, 1941 for a forty-acre tract of land (five square blocks) on the west side of 35th Ave NE from NE 80th to 85th Streets, which Balch named Wedgwood.

Balch offices in 1962, with the Crawford & Conover real estate sign at 8044 35th Ave NE. Photo 76719 Seattle Municipal Archives.

Balch did not deliberately set out to name the whole neighborhood, but his new housing development gave such a “sense of place” that the Wedgwood name was soon adopted by local businesses, the community club and a new elementary school.  Wedgwood became the epicenter of the Balch construction and real estate businesses when he built his own offices at 8050 and 8044 35th Ave NE, which he used for the rest of his life.

The first group of Wedgwood houses had a unified appearance with all of the houses in consistent scale (size) and setback (distance from the curb).  Balch asked his architects, Clyde Grainger and Harlan Thomas, to design houses with New England/Early American motifs including Colonial and Cape Cod styles.  The house styles were all similar, and Wedgwood was a completely finished development with curbs and sidewalks.

Gateposts as entrance markers to the original Wedgwood plat

As an allusion to English estate properties, Balch put in gateposts as entrance markers on 35th Ave NE at NE 81st Street.  The gateposts, reminiscent of an estate entrance, are ornamental-only but they do give a sense of arrival.

Now more than seventy-five years later, we are seeing tear-downs of small, 1940s Balch houses all around the Wedgwood neighborhood, with new kinds of designs, materials and house forms coming in.  It can be visually jarring to see the contrast between old, traditional architecture and the new styles.

What are houses in Wedgwood “supposed” to look like?  Do new kinds of house forms and materials “fit in” with Wedgwoodian house culture?

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Early Architecture in Wedgwood

7714 37th Ave NE, built in 1911 by Dutch immigrant Ryk Spoor.

The history of the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle goes back only a little more than one hundred years.  Wedgwood was slow to be settled because northeast Seattle was inland, not located on a water resource such as a river or lake, and not close to downtown Seattle for the convenience of commuting to places of employment.  The first families in the area built small houses for ease of heating.  They used wood or coal stoves until electricity came to Wedgwood in about 1923.

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Wedgwood’s Nathan Eckstein Middle School

Wedgwood courtesy of HistoryLink

Wedgwood was outside of the Seattle City limits until the 1950s. Map courtesy of HistoryLink.

In 1919 the Seattle School Board established a new program of “intermediate education” for grades 7, 8 and 9.  Up until that time, elementary schools went through the eighth grade and high school was four years.  One of the main reasons for creation of intermediate schools was to relieve crowding in the elementary schools.

In the 1920s there was strong population growth in the north Seattle neighborhoods of Green Lake and Wallingford, and these were the first in north Seattle to get separate intermediate schools.  After the 1920s there were no more intermediate or high schools built in north Seattle until the 1950s, including Nathan Eckstein School at 3003 NE 75th Street in the Wedgwood neighborhood.

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Fremont and Seattle’s Ship Canal

Fremont was a successful early community because of its advantageous location at one corner of Lake Union.

Seattle’s earliest white settlers saw immediately that it would be possible to connect its freshwater lakes to the saltwater Puget Sound by means of a canal.  At a Fourth of July picnic in 1854, Thomas Mercer proposed the name of Lake Union because that body of water was in the middle between Lake Washington to the east and Puget Sound to the west.  Thomas Mercer and David Denny took land claims at the south end of Lake Union near today’s Seattle Center.  Two single men, John Ross and William Strickler, searched out the land and in 1853-1854 they took claims at the northwest corner of Lake Union, which today is the Fremont neighborhood.

From those earliest times Seattle settlers thought to build a ship canal but little did they know that it would take more than sixty years to come to fruition.  Finally in 1910-1917 all of the needed legislation, financing and public support came together to create the Lake Washington Ship Canal. 

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