Searching for the Origins of Seattle Street Names

There is no resource list of the meanings of Seattle’s street names or how the street names were derived.  Even the granddaughters of Seattle city founder Arthur Denny were left to speculate on his choices of the names for twelve downtown streets.  The granddaughters wrote in their books, Four Wagons West and Pigtail Days in Old Seattle, about their memories of Arthur Denny, about early days in Seattle and what their best guess was as to the origin of the street names.  Roberta Frye Watt wrote, “Why Mr. Denny named the streets in alliterative pairs, no one knows.”  (page 107, Four Wagons West.)

David Denny

Some street names are apparent in their derivation when honoring an early settler, such as Denny Way for the original homestead claim property of David Denny (Arthur’s younger brother) and Mercer Street for Thomas Mercer, an early, influential settler of Seattle.  But for some other street names, such as Aloha Street, we may feel bewildered as we wonder, what is “Aloha” for?

In a previous post on this blog, I wrote about the founding of the City of Seattle and Arthur Denny’s naming of downtown streets.  In this blog post we will consider some ways in which we might find out the reasons for other street names in Seattle outside of the downtown area.

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The Preston Brothers: from Maine to Seattle

After the Denny family arrived and became the founders of the (future) City of Seattle in 1851, in 1852 Henry Yesler came to inspect the site of the future city and see if it was suitable for setting up a sawmill.  Yesler was given land at what is now Pioneer Square in Seattle, and Yesler’s sawmill began operating at the Seattle waterfront in March 1853.

An 1895 view of ships loading lumber at Port Gamble’s mills. Photo 4960 of UW Special Collections.

Some of the other earliest-arriving white settlers in the Pacific Northwest were lumbermen from Maine who wanted to find easily accessible supplies of timber.  Later in the year 1853 Yesler’s mill in Seattle was visited by ten men from Maine who were in search of a place to set up a lumbering operation.  Led by Captain William C. Talbot, the men purchased heavy timber pilings from Yesler to start building a mill at their chosen site, Port Gamble in Kitsap County, across Puget Sound from Seattle.

The Port Gamble mill operations of Pope & Talbot were so successful and grew so rapidly that the operators went back to Maine on recruiting trips. The Pope & Talbot mill operators were from East Machias, Maine.  It may be that this is how the Preston brothers of Dennysville, Maine, located only a few miles from East Machias, first heard about the frontier opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.  In the 1860s and 1870s a total of six Preston brothers came from Maine and settled in the Seattle-to-Everett area.

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Fremont’s Queen City Bank

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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The Fukano Family in Fremont

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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Fremont in Seattle: Street Names and Neighborhood Boundaries

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.

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The Fremont Neighborhood in Seattle: Why the Name?

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.

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Blogging in Seattle History

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.

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