In the 1880s Seattleites were fed up with being snubbed by railroad corporations. The last straw was the Northern Pacific’s selection of Seattle’s rival city, Tacoma, as the western terminus of the NP’s cross-country line. Under the leadership of Judge Thomas Burke, Seattleites banded together to found their own railroad, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern. The line would extend from downtown through north Seattle and along the shore of Lake Washington, stopping at lumber mills and brickyards along the way. The goal was to get to the coal fields at Gilman (Issaquah.)
Construction began in January 1887 and about forty miles of track were completed that year. Rails reached Bothell, just past the north end of Lake Washington, on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. Today the course of the old SLS&E railroad line is the Burke-Gilman Trail for walking and biking. At Bothell Landing (near Blyth Park) the Burke-Gilman continues as the Sammamish River Trail, all the way out to Marymoor Park in Redmond.
The little community of Bothell had been thriving since the 1870s, before the town officially had a name. Bothell had timber, a brickyard, dairy and berry farms, but the big problem was how to get products to market. In earliest years it was possible to take a canoe or small boat down the Squak Slough into Lake Washington. The boat would go to the McGilvra’s Landing/Madison Street dock where a cable car connected for travel into downtown Seattle.
After off-loading products from the boat at the Madison Street dock, Bothell farmers did not want to have to rent a wagon for delivery of their products. The SLS&E Railroad was a partial solution, but for the individual who wanted to transport their own goods the only real solution was a road.
The first road from Seattle to Bothell was created by the surveyors for the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad in 1887. As they plotted out the course of the rail line, the surveyors marked it and cleared the path along which the railroad construction supplies would be brought. Although the route was very rough, it would be possible for a person to walk from Bothell along this line parallel to the tracks to get to Seattle. From the McKee’s Map of 1894 (above) we can see that it would be a very long walking route, following the train tracks along the lake shore, then over toward Fremont and finally into Seattle. There was streetcar service from Seattle only out as far as Fremont, Latona (Wallingford) and Green Lake. For the residents of Bothell, a good road was needed, smooth enough for a horse-drawn wagon and a direct route to Seattle which could be traversed in one day.
An Immigrant on the Road
Gerhard Ericksen arrived in the USA at age 21 in 1881, along with his mother, his aunt and his aunt’s children. Fleeing poverty and lack of opportunity in Norway, the family began wheat farming in North Dakota. Once the family got settled, however, Gerhard felt free to strike out on his own, perhaps for “greener” pastures. Like many other Scandinavian immigrants, Ericksen may have been drawn to the Pacific Northwest by tales of green hillsides, vast stands of timber and land available for homestead claims. One did not need to be a citizen of the USA to file a land claim but only state the intention to become a citizen.
Ericksen found work in Seattle in 1884 and he continued to scout for land opportunities. He staked a claim in Bothell in 1886 and made steady progress toward his goal of becoming an established citizen. In 1888 he sent for his sweetheart, Dorothea, to come from Norway. The newlyweds lived on the homestead land until Gerhard opened a general store in Bothell. The first lot in David Bothell’s 1888 townsite plat was bought by the Ericksens. As was common in that era, as a storekeeper Ericksen also obtained the commission of postmaster for mail brought to Bothell on the railroad, as of May 25, 1888. The Gerhard Ericksen home and store were at the intersection of what is now NE 183rd Street and Bothell Way NE.
Gerhard Ericksen was involved in every enterprise in Bothell’s early years. He co-founded Bothell’s Norwegian Lutheran Church, served on the school board, and took credit for naming the town. It was said that when he received the commission as postmaster, postal officials asked him what the station would be called. Ericksen said it should be called Bothell because there were so many members of that family active in the community.
During the financial depression of 1893 Ericksen had to temporarily give up operation of his store. Like many other storekeepers in that era, he could not make a go of it because of not enough customers. Seeking other sources of income both for himself and the Bothell community, Ericksen built a flume to bring logs from higher in the valley into the mills at Bothell, which provided work. After the economy began to get on its feet again, Ericksen re-opened his store. People had been burned by bank failures in that era so in 1908 nine Bothell businessmen formed a local bank with their own capital funds, and with Ericksen as bank president.
Advocating for Good Roads
The Good Roads movement was begun nationally by bicyclists in the 1880s. There were almost no paved roads outside of cities at that time. Bicycling was gaining in popularity as a leisure pursuit for those who wanted to get out into the countryside, but it was hard to get there when the roads were unpaved, muddy and full of potholes.
Surprisingly, farm communities resisted the development of good roads even though the advantages to them would seem obvious. Farmers needed wagon roads to get their products to market, and if possible they wanted to transport goods themselves rather than pay rail fees. But farmers were suspicious of government or business leaders’ attempts to organize road work, because of the possibility of taxation. In the 1890s there was no organized state road system and no way to create roads except via volunteer labor or by imposition of a county road tax. Each county wanted roads to connect main population centers but they resisted connecting to roads with other counties, fearing competition of markets.
The incredible rise of the automobile made a difference in the Good Roads movement as early car owners joined in with bicyclists to advocate for a paved, connected system of highways. Farmers were won over after the Model T Ford came out and changed the world in 1908. This car was so affordable, reliable, and simple to operate that car ownership skyrocketed and even farmers began using mechanized vehicles to transport goods.
In the year 1906 there were about 700 motor vehicles in all of Washington State; ten years later there were 100 times as many – almost 70,000. (Statistics from HistoryLink Essay # 5219.) The demand for roads led to a turning point in the year 1916, when the federal government created funding for state highways.
Gerhard Ericksen served in the Washington State Legislature in 1905 and it was there that he made his mark which led to the remembrance of his name in today’s Wedgwood and Lake City neighborhoods of northeast Seattle. In the legislature Ericksen helped pass a bill for creation of the office of a Washington State Highway Commissioner and the building of twelve designated roads. One was to be called the Gerhard Erickson Road (misspelled.) This road preceded the creation of Victory Way (Bothell Way/Lake City Way.) In Wedgwood today, the Erickson Road route still exists as part of Ravenna Ave NE north of NE 83rd Street, the part of Ravenna Ave NE which parallels present-day Lake City Way NE.
Plats and property descriptions along Ravenna Ave NE in Wedgwood north of NE 83rd Street show that their addresses were originally on the old Erickson Road. The route continued as it does today as far as NE 110th Street. At the corner where Nathan Hale High School is located (originally Fischer Farm property) the Erickson Road route took an eastward turn over to what is now 35th Ave NE. At NE 135th Street, the 35th Ave NE arterial angles over and merges with Lake City Way NE. The two-block portion from NE 135th to 137th Streets is still called Erickson Place NE, a reminder of Seattle pioneer Gerhard Ericksen and the Good Roads movement.
Celebration of the Road
In January 1914 a “Good Road Blowout” was held to commemorate the completion of the Pacific Highway route to Bothell. In his dedication speech Gerhard Ericksen said,
It is with the greatest of pleasure that I see so many distinguished citizens here to help celebrate the greatest event in the history of our town, that is the opening of the Pacific Highway from Seattle to Bothell.
Thirty years ago I found my way through the dense forest and took up my homestead one mile north of here. At that time there was no town known as Bothell on the map – just the wild woods.
The nearest place to buy provisions was Seattle, and a good many hardships were encountered by us when it came to getting the necessary provisions up for the log cabin on our homestead. The only way to get them home was to pack them on our backs from First & Yesler (downtown Seattle) to McGilvra’s Landing now known as Madison Park, then by canoe or skiff over Lake Washington and up the Sammamish River to Bothell. The next hardest job was to get them up to the homestead over a trail.
Hard work by many of our pioneers with the help of some of your progressive citizens in Seattle finally persuaded the County Commissioners to listen to our petitions for a better road. The results are what you have seen today when you came up in your automobiles from Seattle to Bothell which formerly took the better part of a day. Thirty years we have talked over it, dreamed about it and now we are proud over it. We want you all to see it and enjoy riding over one of the best roadways that was ever built by men.
City of Bothell Historic Landmarks: Wayne Curve Bridge. Pages 9-11 referring to the Good Roads movement; excerpts of Gerhard Ericksen speech of January 1914.
HistoryLink essays: #957 “First automobile arrives in Seattle on July 23, 1900″ by Greg Lange, 1999; #2808 “Madison Park, Thumbnail History” by Junius Rochester, 2000; #4190 “Bothell Thumbnail History” by David Wilma, 2003; #5219 “Washington Good Roads Association” by David Wilma, 2003; #7272 “Office of Highway Commissioner” by Kit Oldham, 2005.
Squak Slough 1870-1920 by Amy Eunice Stickney and Lucile McDonald, Northshore Bicentennial Committee, 1977.
Good Roads Building at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909: The Good Roads movement had a building and sponsored activities to promote better highways. To highlight advances in automobile design, Good Roads sponsored a race.