History of the Fremont Neighborhood in Seattle

Fremont is easily reached from downtown Seattle by traveling along the west shore of Lake Union.

Fremont is easily reached from downtown Seattle by traveling along the west shore of Lake Union.

Fremont in Seattle was one of the city’s early neighborhoods with its own identity.  It was founded as a land development, like a suburb, with the name of Fremont given because its investors came from Fremont, Nebraska.  In 1888 Edward and Carrie Blewett  of Fremont, Nebraska, formed a business partnership with Seattle investors to develop the site.

The new Fremont was in a very advantageous location for water transportation and industrial use such as water-dependent lumber mills.  Despite the lack of roads between downtown Seattle to Fremont in 1888, people were already traveling across Lake Union by boat.  The co-investors of Fremont intended to make it even more accessible from downtown Seattle via a streetcar line along the west side of Lake Union (Westlake Avenue).

Information about buildings in Seattle’s historic neighborhoods can be found on the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historic Preservation page.  There is a database of properties by address, or you can put in the neighborhood name such as Fremont, and see all of the buildings which have been “surveyed” (reviewed for architectural and historic info).

The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods has “context statements” for the neighborhoods which have done surveys of their historic houses and commercial buildings.  Here is one paragraph from the context statement for Fremont:

Fremont Bridge.enter the neighborhood on November 11 2017

The Fremont Bridge marks entry to the neighborhood known as the Center of the Universe.

The historic settlement and development of the community of Fremont can be largely attributed to its advantageous geographic location. This setting almost directly north of the original Seattle townsite along the heavily wooded northwest shore of Lake Union was also connected to Salmon Bay and Puget Sound to the west by way of a slough or narrow stream – known as “the Outlet” – making it a convenient and accessible site for early Euro-American settlement and industries dependent on water-borne transportation.

Centered between other settlements in Ballard to the west and Edgewater, Latona, and Brooklyn (now the University District) to the east, Fremont became the natural path for commerce, movement of logs and later, train and streetcar travel.   (Quoted from Page 8 of the context statement for Fremont, “Settlement, Land Use Patterns and Platting History.”)

Edward C. Kilbourne was vitally involved in early development in Seattle, including streetcar lines. Photo from Bagley's History of Seattle, 1916.

Edward C. Kilbourne was vitally involved in early development in Seattle, including streetcar lines.

One of the local investors who assisted in the development of Fremont was Edward C. Kilbourne, who was also a major developer of electric street car lines.  He favored Fremont in the extension of the streetcar route so that he could advertise house lots for sale in Fremont with the advantage of transportation to the site.

In the 1880s some people would paddle a canoe across Lake Union to get to Fremont and other communities on the north shore of the lake.  Kilbourne had that route covered, as well, as he was the owner of a twelve-passenger steamer, the Maude Foster, which carried people back and forth across Lake Union.

Beginning in 1889 Kilbourne’s streetcar line ran from downtown Seattle up Westlake Avenue to Fremont.  At Fremont there was a transfer point, now marked by the Waiting for the Interurban statue, to continue travelling northward to Green Lake or to Guy Phinney’s zoo (Woodland Park Zoo).

Doomsday at Interurban 12-21-2012

The Waiting for the Interurban statue is at the corner of Fremont Avenue and North 34th Street just north of the Fremont Bridge.  The statue commemorates the transfer point of streetcar and rail lines.

In addition to the streetcar lines established in the 1880s-1890s, in 1910 the Interurban Railroad went northward through this same transfer point in Fremont, on its way to Everett.  This was how the Fremont neighborhood became known as the Center of the Universe: you had to go there first before you could go anywhere else.

Additionally the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad (today’s Burke-Gilman Trail) had a stop in Fremont beginning in 1887, technically before Fremont was officially founded.  Traveling eastward, stops from there included Edgewater, Latona, and Brooklyn (University District).   Eastward, at Ravenna, the railroad stop was at about 2401 NE Blakeley Street.

Proceeding eastward from Ravenna, the railroad followed the line of Blakeley curving around the site of today’s University Village shopping center.  The rail line then gradually turned northward to run parallel to the shore of Lake Washington.  The purpose of the SLS&E Railroad was to carry heavy products such as lumber and coal from outlying areas such as Gilman (Issaquah.)

Fremont, Center of Lumber, as advertised in the January 1904 edition of the Fremont Colleague newspaper, page 22. On microfilm, UW Library, Seattle.

For more on the Fremont neighborhood, see the Fremont category on this blog.  I have written articles about some early white settlers, such as John Ross, whose land adjoined the future Fremont on the west side.  Ross had land claims on both sides of what is now the ship canal, including the present site of Seattle Pacific University.  For a time, there was a Ross post office and some businesses named Ross, which has been absorbed into the Fremont identity.

Another very early homestead land claim was by William A. Strickler in 1854.  His claim comprised all of what is now the Fremont business district.   Strickler disappeared in 1861 and the long timeline of the legal issues of Strickler’s estate prevented Fremont from being settled until 1888.

Under the Fremont category you can find articles about how Fremont was named and its street names, and stories of early businesses such as doctors offices, Fremont Drug Company and the Queen City Bank.  Fremont was the site of early churches and the neighborhood has a long-operating school still in its original building, named for B.F. Day.

Today some of Fremont’s features are its bridge, its Lenin statue, other outdoor artworks and the Burke-Gilman Trail along the ship canal.  The creation of the ship canal was promoted by Fremont businessmen and their stories can be found on the essays of People of the Ship Canal.


About Wedgwood in Seattle History

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

5 Responses to History of the Fremont Neighborhood in Seattle

  1. I learn a lot from you! I had no idea Woodland Park zoo had a previous name, and I love the idea of having to canoe to get somewhere.

  2. The earliest Seattleites took their cue from the Indians, who also canoed everywhere, because there were few roads and bicycles had not yet been invented! People living in communities on the north shore of Lake Union found that canoeing across was the best way to go.

  3. it makes perfect sense to me! Only bad time would be the heavy wind and wave days! I’ve flipped my share of canoes in my time!

  4. There are hundreds of boats which sank in Lake Union, still on the bottom: http://www.lakeunionhistory.org/Shipwrecks_Map.html

  5. Orion T says:

    I love the Fremont area, and was curious about its history. This is good stuff. Thanks for the info 🙂

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