The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle started out in 1888 with some major industries including a lumber mill, tannery and iron foundry. By the 1920s there were only two large business sites and there were other subtle signs of decline in the business climate in Fremont. Fremont had become a mostly-residential neighborhood with a business district along North 34th Street, containing small stores, restaurants and services such as laundries and automotive repair shops.
Yak’s Deli building at left, on the corner of 35th and Fremont Avenue was the first site of the Queen City Bank in 1922. Photo by Valarie.
The two largest companies in Fremont in the 1920s were Bryant Lumber Mill and the McMullen Company which provided building materials and fuel. Executive officers of these two companies joined together to form a banking business, filing an Article of Incorporation with the State of Washington on October 10, 1922. The bank was named Queen City Bank and opened in the present Yak’s Teriyaki building on Fremont Avenue at the southeast corner of North 35th Street.
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In the early 1900s in Seattle, Japanese immigrants were largely confined to Nihonmachi (today’s International District) where they operated stores and restaurants. Photo courtesy of Densho.
In Washington State in the year 1910, the census showed that one out of every four residents was foreign-born. Of the other three out of four, many were first-generation, born in the USA of immigrant parents, and having come to Washington from the eastern USA. For that reason, in Seattle in 1910 “diversity” could be measured by whether you were of Swedish, Norwegian or German origin – the most numerous of immigrant backgrounds.
Immigrants from Scandinavia and northern Europe, especially those who worked in logging, fishing or carpentry, populated working-class neighborhoods like Ballard and Fremont in Seattle. They were quickly assimilated, unlike Japanese immigrants who were marked by their obvious racial difference. Japanese immigrants to Seattle in the early 1900s were largely confined to the Nihonmachi district.
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The view from the Fremont Bridge
Fremont in Seattle began as a planned community after investors purchased the land and filed a plat map in May 1888. A “plat” is any defined area of land for which a plan of lots and streets is laid out.
The investors, who were from Fremont, Nebraska, thought that Fremont would be a good name for this suburb, outside the city limits of Seattle at that time.
Before Fremont received its name in 1888, in the 1850s it had been the homestead claim land of William A. Strickler. Strickler was a single man, age 30, who was from Virginia and who had been in Oregon before arriving in Seattle in 1854.
Each neighborhood of Seattle proudly waves the banner of its unique name, and yet many were named in a similar way: by real estate investors. Fremont in Seattle was also named by real estate investors. What made the Seattle neighborhood called Fremont stand out from others, was its good location, its jumpstart after Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889, and its vigorous developers who utilized the growing streetcar system to advantage.
Wedgwood School is on NE 85th Street at 30th Ave NE.
In September 1991 when my daughter entered kindergarten at Wedgwood School, it was a déjà vu moment for me because she was walking into the same classroom where I had attended in my own kindergarten year at Wedgwood School.
As I participated in the PTA during my daughter’s first school year, I drew upon my background of having grown up in the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle. The PTA projects of that year led to the local history writings which I have continued to do up to the present day.
Arthur Denny 1822-1899
The vision of a city in the place where Seattle now stands was born in the heart of Arthur Denny, a 29-year-old surveyor in Knox County, Illinois in 1851. As a surveyor Denny knew that in unexplored regions, early-arriving settlers would have the best chance at getting the best land. He believed that the as-yet-undeveloped Pacific Northwest had great potential as a seaport and as a hub of railroad routes. Two years after his decision to head Out West, Arthur Denny helped found the City of Seattle and name its first streets.
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.
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Wedgwood banner cartoon by Bob Cram, Wedgwood Newsletter of March 1996. All rights reserved; do not copy.
In the early 1900s Wedgwood in northeast Seattle did not have a name or definite identity as a neighborhood. Some areas in or near Seattle, such as the Fremont neighborhood, had been started with an official name. In May 1888 an investors group including Edward and Carrie Blewett from Fremont, Nebraska, platted Fremont, Seattle as a townsite. This was the official “start date” of Fremont. As soon as lots began to be sold in 1888, there was a kind of land rush to populate Fremont. In contrast, Wedgwood had no developers, planners or namers in early years.
Northeast Seattle areas including Wedgwood grew very slowly over many decades. The biggest growth in Wedgwood came after World War Two ended in 1945, when young couples looked for housing to start their new lives. Wedgwood did not fully come into the Seattle City Limits until the 1950s.
Wedgwood did not acquire its neighborhood name until the 1940s. 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 the years 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.
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Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood
The Wedgwood neighborhood in Seattle took its name from a real estate development which was started in 1941 by Albert Balch. The naming happened gradually after Balch’s Wedgwood group of houses became well-known.
In an April 1956 interview for the Wedgwood Echo, the community club newspaper, Balch told the story of how the name “Wedgwood” came to be. Balch and his business partner had previously named and built houses in View Ridge, a neighborhood centered around NE 70th Street on the slope east of 35th Ave NE, looking toward Lake Washington. Balch’s wife Edith hadn’t liked the name View Ridge, so Balch told her she could choose the name of the next project.
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Evans Thriftway was in a 1946 grocery building which was remodelled and expanded in 1956-1957 and renamed for owner Russ Evans. The Jasper Apartments are now on this site. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives. The writing on the photo is the legal description with block number and address.
The commercial district of the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle is arranged along the arterial 35th Avenue NE with clusters of stores at the NE 75th and 85th Street intersections. The majority of the storefronts and office buildings were built during an intense period of development after World War Two ended in 1945.
Soldiers returning from the war married and started families, and in the 1940s and 1950s the vast areas of vacant land in northeast Seattle filled up with single-family housing. During those years with a growing customer base in the new Wedgwood neighborhood, the Wedgwood business district took form with various kinds of stores and services.
Today we are beginning to see the tear-down and replacement of commercial buildings in Wedgwood along 35th Avenue NE. Due to the lack of action from Seattle City Council on zoning issues, townhouses with blank walls are being built in the commercial district instead of the storefronts which are wanted by the Wedgwood community.
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.