There were very few people living in Wedgwood one hundred years ago, and even fewer houses of that era in Wedgwood have survived in original condition. The one-hundred-year-old Wedgwood house at 7500 43rd Ave NE, built in 1910, is still standing and is in near-original form. The first owner of the house, German immigrant Gustav Morris, lived the second half of his life in Seattle after younger years spent at sea.
Gustav Morris was an ethnic German who had been born in Latvia, and it is likely that he could speak more than one language. He was brought up in a seagoing community and he became a sea captain on windjammers, a type of iron-hulled sailing vessel used for remote difficult journeys, especially for threading through islands. In 1893 at the age of 25, Morris immigrated to the United States and worked out of the harbor community of Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1896 Gustav Morris married a Norwegian immigrant, Helga. Their first three children were born in Massachusetts, and it would seem that they were settled there. But suddenly, the family moved all the way from one coast to another, and started new lives in the city of Seattle, where their fourth child was born in 1905. At first the Morris family lived in the 5200 block of Roosevelt Way NE in the University District. City directory listings show that Gustav Morris worked as a painter, lumber and shingle mill worker in Seattle, and later as a bridge carpenter.
We can speculate on what caused the Morris family to make such a radical move, including a change of work for Gustav. Perhaps Helga feared that her husband would be lost at sea on one of his long journeys and she wanted her husband, then 35 years of age, to change occupations. Gustav continued to work around the edge of the water in Seattle, but not on it: he worked at the Bryant Lumber Mill in Fremont and he worked as a carpenter on the new bridges when the Lake Washington Ship Canal was put through in 1912-1918. Perhaps the Morris family had heard of the greater availability of land “out West” and the job opportunities in Seattle, so they made the move from Boston in about 1904.
Gustav and Helga chose a “landlocked” location for their new home, perhaps so that Gustav would not look longingly out to sea. The Wedgwood neighborhood is landlocked because it does not have direct access to bodies of water such as Lake Washington or the Ship Canal. The Wedgwood neighborhood would seem to have been an unlikely home for a man who’d previously had a career on the water, but Capt. Gustav Morris did settle down on dry land. Property records show that by 1905 he had bought the southern half of the block at NE 75th Street bounded by 43rd to 44th Avenues NE. As of 1910 property tax records show that the house at 7500 43rd Ave NE was finished and the Morris family was living in it.
There are several reasons why the Morris family might have bought land in Wedgwood by or before 1905 and built their house in 1910, where they lived for the next 30+ years. The Wedgwood area was still outside the Seattle city limits in 1910, and had no water or electric utilities. That made the land price cheaper than close-to-downtown, more-developed neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. Another reason for the move to Wedgwood could have been because the area already had a number of Dutch, German and Scandinavian residents, where the Morris family would feel at home.
Shown below is the census page for 1910. At that date there were no house numbers in Wedgwood, so the census-taker simply counted the households and the Morris family is #240 of the Union Precinct. The boundaries of this census precinct went all the way east to Lake Washington and as far north as NE 105th Street in what is now Meadowbrook. (Some others listed on the page: #236 Charles E. Thorpe, who lived on 35th Ave NE at about NE 81st Street and was a ginseng grower; #242 August Fischer, German immigrant farmer at 3017 NE 105th Street.)
Captain Morris in later years: still lively
In a news article of November 1948, written just four months before the death of Capt. Morris at age 81, it was noted that “he still takes an interest in ships, shipping and activities on the waterfront.” The article told of a Danish ship which docked in Seattle. The public was invited to come aboard for tours, and Capt. Gustav Morris was one of the first visitors.
“When I stepped aboard the Danmark and looked up at the masts, I fancied I was one of the cadets,” Captain Morris said. “With that feeling in my heart, I told the chief mate I used to sail such ships over the seven seas and that I would like to show my skill aloft.”
“However, the mate said: ‘No visitors allowed on the masts.’ This was very discouraging to me, but I soon had my way. A smiling cadet greeted me at the foot of the main mast and when he learned I wanted to go up despite my 81 years, he said: ‘No one is looking; start climbing.’ Soon I was sitting on the upper topsail yard arm. Just when I was ready to climb to the top of the masthead, a cadet came after me and ordered me down.”
“The mate was mad as a hornet, but when the crowd cheered, he softened a bit. ‘Well, sailor,’ he said, ‘you have wonderful nerve at your age. I hope the crew and myself will be half as good if we are lucky enough to live as long as you.’ Then he smiled and extended his hand.” (Seattle Daily Times, November 30, 1948, page 31.)
In later years of his life Capt. Morris sold some of the land he owned for income to support himself. In 1937 he built a house for his married daughter at 7525 44th Ave NE, on part of the property he owned. After his wife Helga died in 1942, Capt. Morris lived the last six years of his life with his daughter. Both houses, 7500 43rd Ave NE and 7525 44th Ave NE, show the craftsmanship and enthusiasm for life of Gustav Morris, a sea captain in Wedgwood.