Matthews Beach in Seattle in the 1930s

Matthews Beach Park in northeast Seattle is on the shore of Lake Washington, off of Sand Point Way NE at NE 93rd Street.  At twenty-two acres, it is Seattle’s largest freshwater bathing beach, and the beach is only one aspect of the park.  The park has picnic, meadow and play areas.

Matthew’s Beach is on Lake Washington at NE 93rd Street. In addition to the beach there are picnic and play areas overlooking the water.

The park has a direct connection to the Burke-Gilman Trail which crosses over Sand Point Way at NE 93rd Street.  Matthews Beach is the final outlet of Thornton Creek, where it enters Lake Washington.  The creek is visible along the access road into Matthews Beach.

The Matthews family was so willing to share the use of their property with neighbors that the area first began to be known as Matthews Beach in the 1920s while still under private ownership.  The first appeal to the City of Seattle to buy the property was in 1928.  Ironically the Parks Department vigorously opposed the purchase due to differences of opinion between those who wanted to acquire more parks in Seattle, and those who wanted monies to be allocated to maintenance of already-existing parks.

Since the City of Seattle was not able to go ahead with purchase of the Matthews Beach property in 1928, the Matthews family could easily have redeveloped or sold the site at any time.   It is a tribute to their stewardship and the efforts of north Seattle community clubs and activists that finally in 1951, the City purchased Matthews Beach.

John G. Matthews:  from Kentucky to Seattle

Dr Thomas Walker cabin Barbourville Kentucky

Barbourville, Kentucky has historic old cabins. The town’s history dates from explorations by Daniel Boone in 1775.

Barbourville, in the southeastern corner of Kentucky, is known for its annual Daniel Boone Festival, commemorating that frontiersman’s exploration of the area in 1775.  In the 1800s Barbourville was a rural area of small farms, where John G. Matthews was born in 1864.  Though he started out life as the son of an Irish immigrant farmer, John G. Matthews was able to go to college and he became a civic leader in his hometown.

By the time he was 45 years old in 1910, Matthews had been district attorney, president of a bank in Barbourville, and operator of a coal mining business.  We do not know what drove John Matthews to move away from the place where he was born, but something caused him to make a sudden break and move to Seattle in 1910, where he lived until his death in 1937.


Emblem of the AYP Exposition held in 1909 in Seattle

In 1909 the Alaska-Pacific-Yukon Exposition (AYPE) on the campus of the University of Washington received national newspaper coverage.  In the days before television, radio or ease of travel, world’s fairs were very important in helping people learn about the world beyond their homes.

Every state in the USA was invited to have an exhibit of their history, geography and commerce at the AYP Exposition of 1909 in Seattle.  We may speculate that in Kentucky, John Matthews read newspaper reports about the AYPE and perhaps he knew people from Kentucky who had attended.  Although there is no indication of whether he visited the AYPE himself, it is possible that John Matthews was inspired to move to Seattle by the reports of the growth of the city of Seattle and its opportunities.

Matthews was 45 years old when he moved to Seattle in 1910, leaving behind all of his associations in Kentucky and his status as a businessman in that community.  The lure of Seattle must have been strong enough for the Matthews family, with wife Amy and their three sons, ages 11, 8, and 6, to make such a drastic move away from Kentucky.  The family settled on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, and John Matthews continued the practice of law as well as his investments in industries such as coal and timber.

Matthews prospers in business in Seattle

John G. Matthews (1864-1937) came to Seattle in 1910 and was active in the timber business.

John G. Matthews (1864-1937) came to Seattle in 1910 and was active in the timber business.

By 1916, in addition to his law work in Seattle, John G. Matthews was also president of Matthews Motor Car Co. on Capitol Hill’s Broadway.  The next year he expanded into a Ford car agency and service center in Ballard.

Matthews continued to juggle all of his interests and investments.  On the census of 1920 one would have thought John Matthews would list himself as an attorney, but instead he listed his occupation as “timberman – logging.”

In 1921 Matthews represented an association of loggers in the Port Orchard area, Kitsap County, to get a ruling allowing “auto logging.”  The transporting of logs via truck was new at that time, and the Washington State Highways Committee had issued a temporary order prohibiting the practice while its safety was evaluated.  Matthews argued that the order closing highways to auto logging was a great hardship on the industry and that they were already self-monitoring to prevent overloading of trucks or other abuse of the roads.

Over the course of the years 1910 to 1924 in Seattle, John Matthews’ wife Amy was very active in PTA work, beginning at Lowell School on Capitol Hill where her three sons attended.  In 1918 Amy was head of the Broadway High School PTA, and in 1923 she was elected president of the Seattle Council of the PTA.

In 1923 John Matthews built a house at the property he owned on the shore of Lake Washington at about NE 93rd Street, which would later become Matthews Beach.  He moved there, but his wife Amy did not move to the house with him.  Listings in the Seattle City Directory show that by 1924 Amy was living at another address on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

John Matthews house built in 1923 at what is now Matthews Beach.  Photo from the Puget Sound Regional Archives, repository of the property records of King County.

As of 1924 all three of the Matthews’ sons were in college or law school, on their way to becoming attorneys.  In 1925 Amy Matthews accompanied her youngest son, Paul, to university in Los Angeles, and she spent the rest of her life there.  On the census of 1930 in Los Angeles she listed herself as a widow.  This was not technically true since John G. Matthews lived in Seattle until his death in 1937, but “widow” was sometimes used euphemistically to describe a person who had separated from their spouse.

Matthews becomes part of the northeast Seattle community

The Maple Leaf School at 3212 NE 100th Street was completed in 1926. In addition to the school bus, in the 1930's the neighborhood had a private bus line which travelled along 35th Ave NE..

The Maple Leaf School at 3212 NE 100th Street was completed in 1926. In addition to the school bus, in the 1930’s the neighborhood had a private bus line which traveled along 35th Ave NE.

The year 1926 marked a time of growth in the northeast Seattle areas of Matthews Beach, Sand Point, Wedgwood and Meadowbrook.  Electricity and water utilities had been put in, which made life a lot more convenient and led to more people moving to the area.

As of 1926 the neighborhood had a beautiful new brick school building called Maple Leaf, and a private bus service had been organized.  These factors drew neighbors together in many cooperative activities, and there is evidence that John G. Matthews was a participant.  His name is listed as one of the subscribers to the Northeast Transportation Service bus company, the private bus service that had been organized in 1926 by residents of what is now Wedgwood and Meadowbrook.

People who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1930s told me that Mr. Matthews used the Northeast Transportation bus service as a social outlet as he would sometimes just ride around and chat with the other riders.  Mr. Matthews seemed to be in semi-retirement mode, as he no longer had a downtown office.  On the census of 1930 he listed himself as a real estate broker, and he did make efforts to plat and sell some of his property near Matthews Beach, extending into the present-day Wedgwood area.

The Matthews property is preserved for a public park

Play structure at Matthews Beach Park.

Play structure at Matthews Beach Park.

The Meadowbrook, Sand Point and Matthews Beach areas had almost no commercial development and were sparsely populated until World War Two brought more workers to the Naval Air Station and more people living throughout northeast Seattle.  A fortunate side-effect of the unfortunate 1930s Great Depression and 1940s war years was that most civic projects were put “on hold.”  The Matthews estate was “on hold” as well.

After John G. Matthews’ death in 1937, his descendants held their lakefront property.  If times had been more prosperous, they might have sold it, but because of the economic depression years, the property was saved until it eventually became a city park.

An additional legal complication was that John G. Matthews and his wife Amy had never divorced, although they had lived separately since 1924.  As John Matthews’ widow, Mrs. Matthews had legal ownership rights to her husband’s property, which had never been resolved after his death in 1937.

In 1950 Mrs. Amy Matthews came to Seattle to visit her two older sons, John Jr. and Julian, and Mrs. Matthews unexpectedly died while in Seattle.  Amy Matthews was thirteen years younger than her husband, so when she died in 1950 she was 74, about the same age John Matthews had been when he died in 1937.  In the year following his mother’s death, John G. Matthews Jr. worked out the estate issues.  Finally, in 1951, the City of Seattle was able to go forward with purchase to obtain the beach and park which today is so much enjoyed and appreciated by residents of northeast Seattle.

Matthews Beach playground in 1957


Census and City directory listings for the John G. Matthews family.

Interviews with Wedgwood and Meadowbrook residents who had known Mr. Matthews, and interviews with Dorothy Land Sprinkle whose family came from Oregon and lived near Mr. Matthews.  All Land family photos used by permission.

Sand Point Map 1894

Early land claims are shown on the Bureau of Land Management website and maps.

Newspaper articles describing John Matthews’ activities in Seattle and the struggle to acquire the site for a Seattle park.  The newspaper death notice with a photo of Mr. Matthews is from the Seattle Daily Times, November 16, 1937, page 25.

Property info:  Note the comment below, asking about land claims.  The Seattle Parks Department description of Matthews Beach indicates that Mr. Matthews had a homestead claim, but that cannot be true because no such claim is listed on the Bureau of Land Management site.  A “homestead claim” means the first white settler to file for ownership of a piece of property.

All the land along the shores of Lake Washington was already taken in claims by the 1870s.   John G. Matthews was only five years old at that time, and was living in Kentucky.  There was a Stewart Matthews who had a land claim a little farther to the north on Lake Washington, so perhaps the confusion results from this similar name.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Meadowbrook neighborhood, parks and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Matthews Beach in Seattle in the 1930s

  1. Dick Blumenthal says:

    Valarie, great articles. I’ve read several websites that indicate John Matthews homesteaded along the lake in the 1880s. But you indicate he didn’t arrive in Seattle until 1910. I’m confused!

    Wedgwood in Seattle History says:

    Thank you, Dick. Like you, I have read that John Matthews had a homestead claim on the shore of Lake Washington, but this can’t be true for several reasons. One is, Matthews was born in 1864 in Kentucky and by 1885, when he would have been old enough to file a land claim (age 21) all the land on the shores of Lake Washington was already taken. No land claim is listed on the Washington State land records site under the name of John Matthews. With a name like Matthews, it is possible someone confused him with Stewart Matthews of the Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mills which had done logging at about NE 120th Street on the lake. This is not the site of Matthews Beach.

    Our John Matthews did not come to Seattle until about 1909-1910, when he ws 45 years old. He listed himself as a lumberman and he would have harvested the trees near his property which was at about NE 90th to 93rd Streets on Lake Washington.

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