Wedgwood Rock: from Homestead to Houses

Wedgwood Rock is at 7200 – 28th Ave NE, Seattle.

The Wedgwood Rock section of homes is from 25th to 30th Avenues NE, NE 70th to 75th Streets.  This forty-acre tract was first platted (a plan for lots and streets laid out) in November 1945 by Albert Balch, a builder.  Balch had named a prior development “Wedgwood,” and he continued using that name as he acquired more land and built more sections of houses.   When Big Rock, as locals had called it, was absorbed into Balch’s building program, he renamed it Wedgwood Rock.

Prior to Balch’s purchase of the forty-acre tract containing the Rock, the land had had only two previous owners:  the Weedin and Miller families.  William Weedin was the first white settler listed as an owner of the property at Big Rock when he filed a homestead claim in the 1870s.   After the Weedins moved to Whidbey Island in 1888 the forty acres which included Big Rock was acquired by Mary Miller.

Mary’s future husband, William Miller, arrived in Olympia in 1851 at age 29.   He had been appointed Surveyor of Customs, the first federal official to take up a position in Northern Oregon, as it was called, until Washington Territory was created in 1853.   Mary Miller’s father, Obediah B. McFadden, brought his family to Washington Territory in 1853 when he was appointed a justice of the Territorial Supreme Court.   Mary was 13 years old, and from that time the family lived in Olympia.   William Miller served in the Indian Wars of 1856-1857 and was a friend and political ally of Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens.   William and Mary married in November 1869 but were together less than seven years until William died, leaving his wife with two small sons.

Prior to her husband’s death in January 1876 Mary Miller had played the role of a traditional wife who knew nothing of her husband’s business affairs.   Upon William’s death Mary made the nontraditional decision to assume responsibility for the family estate.  Part of what motivated her was her desire for independence, and she was also very intent on having money for the best possible education and upbringing of her two sons.

Mary had to educate herself about all of her husband’s landholdings and investments, so Mary moved to Seattle as more central for managing her business affairs.   She sought advice from Arthur Denny, one of the founders of Seattle, and from her husband’s other trusted business advisers.   The widowed Mary Miller supported herself through careful investment and management of property holdings.   By 1889 she had acquired some of William Weedin’s former homestead, and on property maps of the 1890s the Big Rock site is marked as Mary M. Miller & Sons, the name of the corporation she formed for her business affairs.

Winlock Miller laying cornerstone of Suzzallo Library while architect Carl F. Gould looks on, University of Washington, September 22, 1924. Photo courtesy of UW Digital Collections Number UWC0483.

In 1917 Mary turned over all of her business affairs to her eldest son, Winlock Miller.   At that time the Big Rock land was still kept without development; it had a stand of large trees and no one lived on the site.  We do not know why Miller waited so long before selling the Big Rock land, but part of the answer may be in his involvement with nature-preservation groups.   In 1906 the Mountaineers Club was founded in Seattle to promote enjoyment and preservation of the outdoors and to teach outdoor skills such as hiking and climbing.   Many well-known preservationists such as Winlock Miller were influenced by their participation in this club.

UW professor Edmond S. Meany was president of the Mountaineers Club for 27 years, beginning in 1908, along with his work at the university, until his death in 1935.   Prof. Meany had been one of the key people behind the move of the university from downtown Seattle (4th & University Street) to its present site in 1895.   Beginning in 1896 Prof. Meany taught history, forestry and geology at the UW and he would bring his students to Big Rock to teach about glacial movement and land forms.   Winlock Miller gave his willing consent for students to visit Big Rock.   Miller was on the Board of Regents of the UW and was a promoter of Mt. Rainier National Park and other preservation efforts.   Perhaps it was partly the influence of the highly-respected Prof. Edmond Meany which caused Winlock Miller to hold his Big Rock land for so many years without developing or selling it.

Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood

Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood

By the 1940s Winlock Miller’s Big Rock section of forested land was surrounded by housing tracts.   Miller sold his land to the developer of Wedgwood, Albert Balch, including a promise not to remove or destroy Big Rock.

In January 1946 nearby residents noticed that roads were being put in around the Rock.   In February 1946 concerned citizens appealed to the City to designate the Rock as a park, but it was too late because Balch had already purchased the property and platted it for residential construction.   Balch kept his promise:  Big Rock, now known as Wedgwood Rock, still stands.   However, Balch did not follow through on his stated plans to create a park area surrounding the Rock, obtain historical designation and set up a marker.

In 1970 neighbors of Wedgwood Rock complained to the Seattle City Council about hippies and drug-users hanging around the Rock.   City Council passed an ordinance (12A.54.010 of the Seattle Municipal Code) prohibiting climbing the Rock, punishable by a fine of $100.

Sources:

Confederacy of Ambition book cover“Big Rock to remain City landmark,” Seattle Daily Times, February 15, 1946, page 34.

Confederacy of Ambition: William Winlock Miller and the Making of Washington Territory.   William L. Lang, University of Washington Press, 1996.

Miller Family Papers: biographical note.  Manuscript Collection No. 3912, UW/Suzzallo Library Special Collections.

City Ordinance 999363 (1970), Seattle Municipal Code 12A.54.010 “climbing prohibited.”:  Seattle Municipal Code.

“Seattle Neighborhoods: Wedgwood – Thumbnail History.” HistoryLink Essay # 3462, David Wilma, July 24, 2001.

Township Plats of King County, Washington Territory, 1889.  Seattle Room maps, Seattle Public Library.   R912.797 K589A

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer history writer for northeast neighborhoods in Seattle, Washington.
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