The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world’s-fair event, attracted people to Seattle even before the fair’s opening date of June 1, 1909. When news of the Exposition plans became known in 1906, people from all over the USA began coming to Seattle to get in on job opportunities and real estate development schemes, in hopes of capitalizing on the AYP Exposition’s publicity and attendance.
This blog post will tell about some families who came to Seattle in the years leading up to the AYP Exposition and how they became part of the growth of northeast Seattle.
Margaret Jenkins was ten years old when she attended the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle on Children’s Day, October 9, 1909, one of several Children’s Day specials which were held during the run of the fair from June 1 to October 16. On that October 9 Children’s Day, there was a prize drawing and an exclamation of “oh!” from Margaret Jenkins when her name was called!
As the crowd cheered, Margaret ran forward to claim her prize, a Shetland pony. Confidently Margaret climbed into the little cart which was hitched to the pony. She took the reins and rode as the pony trotted around the exhibition ring.
Margaret’s family had moved to Seattle from Omaha, Nebraska in 1906 and they were living in a house at 4231 12th Ave NE, just three blocks west of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition which was held on the University of Washington campus. (The Jenkins’ house has since been replaced by an apartment building.)
Margaret, an only child, had been born in Nebraska as was her mother Alice Wilson Jenkins. Other members of the Jenkins household were Margaret’s father, Edmund L. Jenkins, and Margaret’s grandmother, Margaret Wilson. Occupational listings for Edmund Jenkins (in the Seattle city directory as of 1906) show that in Seattle he went to work for one of the many real estate investment companies which sprang up in those years. Real estate work would give him a good introduction to his new city and the prospects for development.
The Wilson and Jenkins families migrate to Seattle
In the year 1900 in Omaha, Nebraska, Samuel P. Wilson, age 52, was having a mid-life crisis. Samuel had already divorced his wife of thirty years, and Margaret Wilson had gone to live with her daughter Alice, son-in-law Edmund and her namesake new granddaughter Margaret Jenkins. Samuel Wilson soon left town with his two sons, Olin and Harley, ages 29 and 27, and went to San Francisco. In San Francisco Olin became an attorney and spent the rest of his life in that city.
In San Francisco Samuel Wilson acquired a new wife, widow Mary E. Bigelow who had two teenage children. In 1906 they all moved to Seattle. One reason may have been because Mary had lived in Seattle before her marriage to Charles Bigelow, and Mary still had relatives in Seattle. In Seattle, Samuel Wilson, now age 58, began to get involved in real estate work.
In 1906 Edmund L. Jenkins and his family in Omaha, Nebraska, also made the move to Seattle. Jenkins was 42 years old that year and perhaps he wanted a new start at mid-life. Seattle’s upcoming AYP Exposition was being advertised nation-wide through press releases to newspapers and perhaps the Jenkins family were enticed by the possible economic opportunities.
It could have been that the Jenkins family moved first, and then the Wilsons decided to join them in Seattle but we don’t know for sure. City directory listings for the year 1906 show that both Edmund Jenkins and his father-in-law Samuel Wilson worked for the William B. Finlay Company which was in real estate, loans and insurance.
The real estate market of Seattle was booming in 1906, especially in and around the University District where the campus of the University of Washington was getting ready to host the AYP Exposition in 1909. Preparations for the fair caused real estate values to soar, and speculators who hoped to capitalize on the AYPE publicity began to acquire undeveloped land, sell lots and build houses in the University District and areas to the north and northeast of the District. We can see the population increase as shown by enrollment at the elementary school, University Heights, which was built in 1902 at 5031 University Way NE. By 1907 the school had 500 students in grades 1 through 8, showing the great increase in residential housing and numbers of families in the area.
It is likely that Samuel Wilson got to know Jay N. Robb through the Finlay family connection. Robb and his business partner Albert J. Finlay had a successful Seattle business in tin, sheet metal and furnaces. Finlay & Robb had added furnaces to their line of work at just the right time to get in on a very big change in household operations after 1905 when electricity became available in private homes in Seattle. Once it was possible to operate a forced-air furnace with an electric fan, many households switched over to this form of home heating. It was safer and more convenient than the coal or wood stoves people had been using, and people soon began using electric stoves, as well.
The Robb family’s pioneer heritage
Jay N. Robb was born in Ohio in 1871. After a brief stop in Los Angeles in the 1880s, Jay Robb’s father brought the family to Seattle right after the Great Fire of June 1889. Jay was 18 that year and he went to work as a tinner, eventually establishing a new metalworks company with Albert J. Finlay.
Jay Robb’s wife Lute had an even deeper pioneer heritage in Washington. She had been born on Whidbey Island in 1876. Her father had arrived in 1853 and homesteaded there, and in 1867 he married one of the Mercer Girls, Georgia Pearson. The Mercer Girls were so-called because a Seattleite, Asa Mercer, had recruited the women from back East, asking them to come to Washington Territory to become schoolteachers and wives, if they so chose.
After their marriage in 1897 Jay & Lute Robb lived at Fifth & Virginia Streets, just north of today’s Westin Hotel. In 1905 they built their own house at 735 34th Ave in the Madrona neighborhood. As of 1905 the Robbs did not have any children and with a successful business, they were financially comfortable.
The Robbs and the Wilsons get together
In the early 1900s it was common for people to invest in land as a kind of savings account, in hopes that the land would appreciate in value over time. Jay & Lute Robb had already made other land investments and in 1908 they went in together with Samuel & Mary Wilson on a project. The two couples filed a plat on record with King County, meaning a section of land divided into house-size lots, which usually means that the plat owners intend to offer lots for sale.
When a plat is filed, the owners give it a name although they do not have to state the reason for the name. The plat filed by the Robbs and Wilsons in 1908 was named “Wilson’s Exposition Heights.” The plat is located in northeast Seattle on the east side of 35th Ave NE between NE 100th and 105th Streets. Although the word “Exposition” is a clear reference to the AYP Exposition of 1909 and perhaps meant to indicate that the plat was near the fairgrounds at the UW, the plat is actually at a distance of more than four miles to the northeast of the University of Washington campus.
It is common for a plat to be named in honor of someone, and in this case the Robbs may have chosen to honor Samuel Wilson for his help in the real estate transaction, so the plat was named “Wilson’s Exposition Heights.” The name seems inappropriate in some ways, however, because as co-investors, the Robbs had a pioneer history in Seattle and the Wilsons had only just arrived.
It would seem that even the Robbs were caught up in the AYPE enthusiasm and thought that Seattle would quickly grow and expand out with people living to the northeast. It was true that the University District and close-in neighborhoods like Ravenna and Laurelhurst grew and gained population during the years 1906-1909 leading up to the AYP Exposition. A portion of Ravenna was large enough to join the city of Seattle in 1907 and Laurelhurst was annexed in 1910. Seattle was growing in those years, but not as far out to the northeast as what is now the Wedgwood and Meadowbrook neighborhoods.
The Seattle neighborhood farthest to the northeast is Lake City, which also began to be platted in 1906. Like other northeast Seattle neighborhoods, Lake City didn’t develop very much until after completion of the Pacific Highway to Bothell in 1914. Part of this road followed the route of present-day Lake City Way NE. Once the road was put through, people could live in outlying suburbs like Lake City, and drive into Seattle to work.
The school in the plat
The plat map of Wilson’s Exposition Heights has a school property marked in the upper left corner, now the site of houses 3501 through 3517 NE 105th Street. The school notation on the 1908 plat map shows that the local families who wanted to set up a school, had already requested that this parcel of land be set aside for them. Two local farm families, the Fischers and Ohlands, German immigrants, lived on NE 105th Street on either side of 35th Ave NE. They had formed the Maple Leaf School District before 1910, though the exact opening date of the building at NE 105th Street is not known. By 1910 the census showed several other families with school-age children living in the area who sent their children to Maple Leaf School on NE 105th, including the Goodwins who lived on NE 89th Street and the Mocks on 35th Ave NE at NE 96th Street.
Big life changes for the Wilsons and Robbs
In 1908 when the Robbs and Wilsons filed the Wilson’s Exposition Heights plat with a school operating on one corner, it is likely that they never imagined that they themselves would have children to enroll in that school. In 1911 after thirteen years of marriage, Jay Robb, age 40, and Lute Robb, age 35, had a son, Leslie. Then in 1916, Samuel & Mary Wilson, who were then ages 68 and 59 respectively, took Mary’s eight-year-old granddaughter Irene Odell into their home because the girl’s mother had died.
Whether it was because of these life changes or for financial reasons, the Seattle City Directory address listings show that as of 1916 both the Robbs and the Wilsons moved out to the plat, in houses they built on NE 100th Street. It was a drastic change as previously they had lived within the City of Seattle with electricity and access to streetcar lines; out at NE 100th Street, there was no electricity and no public transportation system.
Few roads had been put through in northeast Seattle but a number of families already had cars in that early era and could drive on the one-land dirt road which was 35th Ave NE. We presume that the Wilsons and Robbs did have cars, as there would have been no other way for them to get into town. City directory listings show that Jay Robb continued working at his Finlay & Robb metals and furnace business in downtown Seattle, and Samuel Wilson was working as a state oil inspector, a job which required travel.
The plat growth is flat
The original Tax Assessment Rolls for Wilson’s Exposition Heights have lists of owners of lots and show whether any taxable improvements have been built (houses). Although a few lots had been sold in Wilson’s Exposition Heights, as of 1910 no one lived in the plat. No houses had been built until the Wilsons and Robbs came to live there themselves as of 1916.
The Wilson and Robb homes are shown in the “taxable improvements” column of the Tax Assessment Rolls on two lots east of 35th Ave NE on NE 100th Street. It must have been very quiet there in 1916 with no other houses nearby; the closest were the farm families at NE 105th Street near today’s Meadowbrook Community Center and Thornton Creek.
The Robbs and Wilsons leave Wilson’s Exposition Heights
In July 1919 a notice appeared in the society column of the Sunday newspaper that Jay Robb, his wife Lute and son Leslie had left Seattle by automobile for a trip through Yellowstone Park. It was noted that Mr. Robb had given up active management of his business for a year’s rest and recreation. We can speculate on the reasons why Jay Robb stepped away from the Finlay & Robb metal and furnace business. We might think that the business was failing so Mr. Robb decided to just walk away from it, but listings for the company for many years after 1919 would seem to indicate that the business was doing well. At age 48, perhaps Jay Robb was having a mid-life crisis and needed a change of scene.
Later in that same month, July 1919, Samuel Wilson, age 71, died at his home in Wilson’s Exposition Heights. His widow Mary E. Wilson continued to care for her eleven-year-old granddaughter Irene Odell and also took into her home her thirty-year-old son from her first marriage, Charles L. Bigelow Jr, who had married in the time since he came to Seattle, but was now divorced.
In 1922 Mary Wilson and her household moved back to the University District, probably because Irene, at age fourteen, was ready to enter high school and the new Roosevelt High School was set to open in September 1922. Mary Wilson saw Irene through high school and college, and in 1929 she announced Irene’s marriage to Thomas Bagwill, a fellow University of Washington graduate.
In 1921 Jay Robb moved to San Bernadino, California, leaving Lute Robb and their son Leslie in Seattle. We don’t know why, and we can only speculate on the reasons for this separation. Perhaps Jay Robb wanted to retire to California (though he was only 50 years old) but Lute did not want to leave the Pacific Northwest, where she had been born and had five siblings and dozens of cousins, nieces and nephews. In 1921 Lute moved back into the Robb’s house in the Madrona neighborhood and there in 1924, her thirteen-year-old son Leslie died.
Jay Robb never returned to Seattle and he died in California at age 57, in 1927. Seattle City Directory listings show Lute Robb as one of the managers of the Finlay & Robb Company for many years after her husband had left Seattle, and both she and Mary Wilson continued to own lots in the Wilson’s Exposition Heights plat into the 1930s. We can speculate that since they would not have been able to easily sell these lots, they continued to hold the lots as an investment in hopes that the value would increase and that eventually a good price would be offered.
The Jenkins family prospers in Seattle
While the Wilson and Robb families seemed to come into more and more hardship and heartache into the 1920s, Edmund L. Jenkins and his family were prospering. Jenkins became a successful builder of houses in and around the University District. His mother-in-law Margaret Wilson lived with Edmund & Alice Jenkins until her death in 1921. Edmund Jenkins then moved his family to a house on 16th Ave NE where the Jenkins house was back-to-back with the home of another contractor, Charles H. White. The names of both men are shown filing construction permits for houses in the University District and Laurelhurst.
In 1925 Edmund Jenkins built a new house for his family at 3810 49th Ave NE in Laurelhurst. Little Margaret, the Jenkins’ daughter, grew up, attended the University of Washington and then married Wesley White, a relative of their neighbor Charles White. The couple lived with Margaret’s parents at the house in Laurelhurst until her father’s death at age 86 in 1950.
Networking in business and in the neighborhood
One of the reasons for Edmund Jenkins’ success in construction may have been his networking with others in the real estate business. People who were business associates of his lived nearby in the University District, including another Seattle newcomer of 1906, Clyde C. Chittenden.
Clyde C. Chittenden was the younger brother of Gen. Hiram M. Chittenden who came to Seattle, also in 1906, to supervise the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The two brothers had always been close, and when Gen. Chittenden came to Seattle to begin the canal project, Clyde Chittenden also determined to move to Seattle.
When he came to Seattle in 1906, Clyde C. Chittenden was 45 years old and he had spent twenty years in Michigan, serving as an attorney, judge, and state senator. Like Edmund Jenkins’ household, the Clyde Chittenden household included his mother-in-law, Lucy Guild. Along with the Chittendens, two families of their cousins, the Mungers and the Welds, also moved to Seattle, and many business and land purchase transactions can be seen for the Chittenden-Munger real estate company in connection with Edmund Jenkins’ work.
In 1919 Clyde Chittenden built a house at 14712 35th Ave NE in Lake City and lived there until his death at age 92 in 1953. He became known as a developer and businessman in Lake City. Clyde Chittenden and his family are another amazing example of people who lived many years in other places in the USA, came to Seattle in mid-life, arrived in the year 1906, spent the rest of their lives here and were active in the development of Seattle.
Another reason for the success of Edmund L. Jenkins in the construction business was his focus on building in the University District and nearby areas which were showing strong, steady growth, such as Laurelhurst. In the years after the AYPE it was said that “the Ave” (University Way NE) was the second-most-valuable commercial district in Seattle, second only to downtown. The Ave was lined with stores and restaurants and in an era before shopping malls, the Ave was convenient because of so many stores on one street.
Northeast Seattle grows but slowly
The Robbs and Wilsons had gambled on a plat of land which proved to be too far distant from commercial centers so that it did not attract residential development. Most of northeast Seattle still remained a thinly-populated rural area after the AYPE of 1909. Land prices remained low and the Robbs and Wilsons probably didn’t make much profit on the sparse sales of lots in the Wilson’s Exposition Heights plat.
Although northeast Seattle did grow more in the 1920s, it continued to be a very rural area until 1954 when the city limits were finally extended out to 145th Street. The plat of Wilson’s Exposition Heights, now part of the Meadowbrook neighborhood, was not completely filled in with houses until the end of the 1970s.
Lute Robb has the last word
Lute Robb was 33 years old when she attended the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. She loved Seattle and was proud of the progress made in the city since the enormous population expansion after the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897. Lute knew that her pioneer parents had always believed in the future greatness of Washington Territory and that is why they had stayed and struggled, leaving a legacy for their community and their children.
In 1962 Lute Robb, age 86, was one of the AYPE “alumni” who were specially invited to attend the Century 21 World’s Fair in Seattle. As a daughter of a pioneer family and a life-long Seattle booster, Mrs. Robb was quoted in the newspaper as saying that she was “breathless with excitement” about Century 21 and she was sure it would be even better than the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.
By 1960 Seattle’s population exceeded half a million (557,087) and the city continued to spread out in all directions. In the future there would be more cycles of booms and busts (such as the job lay-offs called the Boeing Bust), but the City of Seattle would bounce back and continue to grow.
A Seattle Times newspaper article told that in 2014 the Seattle area (King County) broke all previous records for the number of newcomers who applied for a Washington State driver’s license. In the year 2014, 64,376 people from out-of-state applied for a new driver’s license in King County. The pace of driver’s-license applications in the year 2015 indicated that the number of newcomers would exceed the 2014 number.
The news article postulates that the current economy and job opportunities in Seattle are causing a population boom. It has been ever thus: Seattle’s history is that of booms caused either by specific events such as the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897, the AYPE of 1909, or by the lure of jobs as currently advertised by Seattle businesses.
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington’s First World’s Fair – A Timeline History, by Alan J. Stein, Paula Becker and the HistoryLink Staff, 2009. Seattle Public Library 979.7041.
Hiram Martin Chittenden: His Public Career, by Gordon B. Dodds, 1973. Seattle Public Library biographies, B C4488D.
Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration by Richard C. Berner, 1991. Seattle Public Library 979.7772.
UniverCity, the City Within a City: The Story of the University District in Seattle by Roy G. Nielsen, 1986. Seattle Public Library 917.9777.
Washington Digital Archives: birth, marriage, death dates.
Original Tax Assessment Rolls: Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA. Accessed March 11, 2015.
Other genealogical info accessed through Ancestry.com, the census, city directories and newspaper articles including obituaries. Heartfelt thanks to Alesia for her help with genealogy searches.
Plat maps and house photos: King County Parcel viewer.
Seattle Municipal Archives annexation map and lists of dates of when neighborhoods came into the City of Seattle.
Seattle Municipal Archives Quick Information (population figures and other most-often-asked info.)
Special suite of articles about the AYPE.
Electricity comes to private homes in Seattle: HistoryLink Essay #729 by Greg Lange, January 17, 1999.
Seattle Neighborhoods: HistoryLink Essay #3449 Lake City – Thumbnail History, by David Wilma, July 18, 2001.