Seattle’s Pioneers of Fremont: B.F. Day – Part One

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.  Early residents of Fremont would often paddle a canoe across Lake Union as water travel was easiest.

The Fremont neighborhood was one of Seattle’s most successful early suburbs, with people moving to the site beginning in 1888.   When I speak of “Fremont” in this blog post, I mean the area as it is now defined, which is broader than the original property of the first homestead claimant, William A. Strickler, in 1854.

Technically Fremont did come into existence until developers bought the property which had once been the homestead claim, and named it Fremont in 1888.  The original boundaries of Fremont went north as far as N. 39th Street only, and from east-west it was from 3rd NW to Albion (not quite as far east as Stone Way.)  Up until 1888 no one lived within the bounds of that property because it had been tied up in legal issues.

Another early resident of what is now considered Fremont, was John Ross.  His homestead claim of 1853 was to the west of Fremont, on both sides of what is now the ship canal, and included land at what is now the site of Seattle Pacific University.

Much of the story of Fremont parallels the growth of Seattle itself, and studying the history of Fremont has given me a better understanding and framework for the history of our city.  In 2009 I participated as a volunteer in a survey of Fremont’s residential housing, and today I am still benefiting from that free education in history, architecture and research resources.

Even before Fremont had an official name, its strategic location at the northwest corner of Lake Union was known to Seattle pioneers who recognized that a waterway there would make it easier to transport heavy products such as timber and coal.  In the year 2016- 2017 we had a study project and commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the ship canal.

B.F. Day arrives in Seattle

east toward Fremont Ave N.

Fremont in Seattle has a vibrant, walkable commercial district with many small, locally owned shops.

B.F. Day and his wife Frances arrived in Seattle in 1880.   Circa 1884-1886 the Days established a home to the northeast of 39th Street and Fremont Avenue, outside of the first plat of Fremont in an area which is now considered part of the neighborhood.

In their years in Seattle the Days lived through a series of major events: the Chinese Expulsion of 1886, Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889, the economic crash called the Panic of 1893, and the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897.

In this two-part blog post I will tell about the social, political and economic impacts of Seattle’s tumultuous years of the 1880s and 1890s.  Some themes we will see are the early Seattleites’ eagerness to acquire land and develop it, the desire to reshape the landscape by digging a canal for transportation of products via a waterway, and the pioneers’ struggle to overcome catastrophic events such as political upheaval, fire, and economic depression.

Copyright notice:  the text and photos in this article are protected under a Creative Commons Copyright.  Do not copy without permission.

B.F. Day of Fremont in Seattle – Part One

B.F. Day School entryway

B.F. Day School entryway

The name of B.F. Day in Seattle is primarily associated with the elementary school named for him, located at 3921 Linden Avenue North, on the east side of the main thoroughfare of Fremont Avenue.  The school is on land once owned by B.F. Day which he donated with the stipulation that it be a permanent, well-built school, not a temporary or make-do structure.

B.F. Day School opened in 1892 and today is the longest continuously-operating Seattle school in the same location.

B.F. Day goes out West

Benjamin Franklin Day was born January 16, 1835 near Oberlin, Ohio.  His parents were early settlers of Ohio and had a large farm and orchard.  One of fifteen children, Day left home at age 21 and spent the next twenty years farming in Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa.  In 1875 at age 40, Day went in together with two of his brothers to purchase sections of land in Missouri.  They raised grain, hogs, and cattle for market and enough corn for feed on their ranch.

Day lost money due to stock speculations and he got fed up with the hard work on the farm, which he felt had almost broken his health.  He quit the farm and with his wife Frances, went out to Washington Territory and spent the winter of 1879-80 in Walla Walla. This part of B.F. Day’s story was recorded in a biographical article in An Illustrated History of the State of Washington, written in 1893 by Harvey Kimball Hines.  I am always curious about how and why people from across the USA choose to come to the Pacific Northwest, but in Hine’s article, Day’s reasons for going to Walla Walla were not explained.  We can speculate that B.F. Day must have heard that there might be better opportunities “out West.”

In 1927 the Odd Fellows fraternal organization built their own building at 3501 Fremont Avenue.

In 1927 the Odd Fellows fraternal organization built their own building at 3501 Fremont Avenue.

In 1880 Walla Walla was a growing city with slightly more population than Seattle’s 3,533 people, and in that year it appeared that Walla Walla might become a more important city than Seattle.  It had an International Order of Odd Fellows organization (I.O.O.F.) and we note that since Day was a member of this fraternal group, he may have had contacts in Walla Walla and stayed there while examining the prospects of Washington Territory.  For whatever reason, B.F. Day and his wife Frances continued on to Seattle in the spring of 1880, and we presume that Day accessed Odd Fellows contacts in Seattle, as well.

B.F. Day was 45 years old when he arrived in Seattle in the spring of 1880.  Although he had resolved not to do any more back-breaking labor, Day briefly worked in one of the Seattle lumber mills for income.  As Day began to have success in selling real estate, he soon turned his attention to that business full-time.  Day was first listed in Seattle’s city directory of 1882-83 and on the territorial census of 1883, occupation “real estate.”  He must have been successful enough to have extra money for making personal real estate investments, because his land purchases in what would later become part of Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood were made in March 1882.

A good new citizen of Seattle

In the early 1880s B.F. Day quickly became involved in civic affairs in his newly adopted city of Seattle.  He was one of the original members of the Lake Washington Improvement Company, incorporated on March 3, 1883, whose purpose was to cut canals between Lakes Washington and Union and between Lake Union and Salmon Bay/Ballard area.  It is significant that land purchases made by B.F. Day were all in the area of the future planned canal to be dug starting from the northwest corner of Lake Union, going westward to Ballard.  The Improvement Company was organized March 3, 1883 but Day had made his land purchases in 1882, showing that he had become aware of the potential for adjacent land to increase in value if a canal went through.

In the Improvement Company, Day worked with early residents of Seattle, such as David Denny, one of the original Denny Party who had arrived to found the city of Seattle in 1851, and who had long been aware of the possibility of creating a canal.  Some of the other well-known Seattleites who were originators of the Improvement Company were Corliss P. Stone (had been mayor of Seattle in 1872 and his nephew, Edward Corliss Kilbourne, became one of the developers of Fremont), William D. Wood (developer of Green Lake, and became mayor of Seattle in 1896), Guy Phinney (his estate became the present Woodland Park Zoo), and Thomas Burke (Seattle attorney and businessman, namesake of the Burke-Gilman Trail which follows a former railroad line.)

The Wa Chong Company, Chinese labor contractors, built this office building in 1890 at 400 Second Ave Ext. The company continued to operate into the twentieth century. Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel.

The Wa Chong Company, Chinese labor contractors, built this office building in 1890 at 400 Second Ave Ext. The company continued to operate into the twentieth century. Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel.

Things didn’t go smoothly for the Improvement Company, as the first contractors they hired (a group of white men) started the canal project in June 1883 and then abandoned it.  In October 1883 the Improvement Company entered into an agreement with the Wa Chong Chinese labor contracting office in Seattle.  The canal from the northwest corner of Lake Union westward to Salmon Bay/Ballard, a distance of three-quarters of a mile, was worked on by 25 Chinese laborers who dug with picks and shovels and completed the project in about a year’s time.  The canal was about sixteen feet wide, suitable for floating logs, and could also be used by people in rowboats since it was easier to travel over water than by land.

By 1888 the the hand-dug canal was in use to send logs from Lake Union floating westward.  Lumber mills were being built in the new neighborhoods of Fremont and Ballard.  Finished lumber could then be shipped out from Salmon Bay to Puget Sound, loaded on ships and sent to markets such as San Francisco.   But it would be another thirty years until the modern Lake Washington Ship Canal was put all the way through from Lake Washington to Puget Sound, with its deep draft suitable for ships and with its locks system to prevent the mixing of salt water and fresh water.

I mention the canal work done by Chinese laborers because anti-Chinese riots took place in Seattle in February 1886, and it is not clear what B.F. Day’s attitude was toward the question of Chinese labor.  As a member of the Improvement Company he presumably approved the plan to contract with the Chinese workers:  according to Day’s biographical article by H.K. Hines, B.F. Day was vice-president and manager of the Improvement Company and he “took an active part in opening the first canal.”   This would imply that he was happy with the progress of the work and that he continued his involvement with the Improvement Company as they continued plans for more sections of canal in the 1880s.

There is very little material which mentions Day in any Seattle civic involvements other than as a member of the Lake Washington Improvement Company beginning in 1883 and his service on Seattle City Council in 1883-84.  In 1883 B.F. Day gave land on Queen Anne hill to be used as a park.  It is in some ways a measure of Day’s civic-mindedness that he would be willing to give this valuable Queen Anne land to be used for a public park.  The park at 2800 1st Ave West had several name changes until 1920 when it was renamed David Rodgers Park to honor a retiring manager of Seattle’s Skinner & Eddy shipbuilding company.

More specific to the Fremont neighborhood, B.F. Day was one of the 1889 incorporaters of the Woodland Park Electric Company headed by Guy Phinney.  This streetcar line ran north along Fremont Avenue and ended at Guy Phinney’s estate which later became Woodland Park Zoo.  It may be that B.F. Day lost money on this business venture which failed later in the 1890s, just as many other businesses did during the economic downturn.

B.F. Day on Seattle City Council 1883-84

Benjamin Franklin Day 1835-1904

Benjamin Franklin Day

B.F. Day seemed to start out well in Seattle with success in real estate and contact with the movers and shakers of the city, but he didn’t do as well when he got on the Seattle City Council in 1883-84.  His biographer, H.K. Hines, described Day’s struggles to try and get Seattle cleaned up and on a moral course.  Day had run on the Prohibition Party ticket and he complained that coalitions on the Council blocked all useful action.  As described to his biographer, Day claimed that he “took a firm and uncompromising stand against the low dives and bawdy-houses of the city and labored devotedly and unceasingly for their abolishment.”

H.K. Hines described Day as having “played a prominent part” in the “upbuilding and development of Seattle;” however, Day is not mentioned by one of the most authoritative sources, C.B. Bagley’s History of Seattle, in connection with enterprises other than the Lake Washington Improvement Company.  Day is not listed as an early member of the Chamber of Commerce, club organizations, or business ventures.  His service on Seattle City Council was just over a year long.  Day’s last appearance at City Council was on August 21, 1884.  One of the petitions received that day was,

“From H. Miller et al., for the removal of Chinese habitations from Clay Street, between Water and West.  Referred to a special committee consisting of E.S. Sox and B.F. Day.”

Just two weeks later, at the council meeting of September 5, 1884, B.F. Day was not present and the council meeting minutes noted that:

“Communications were received from Franklin Matthias, Councilman for the First Ward, and B.F. Day, Councilman for the Third Ward, tendering their resignations as officers of the city.  The resignations were accepted.”

At the time of his resignation in September 1884, B.F. Day was age 49 and he had lived in Seattle less than five years.  Franklin Matthias, age 59, the other councilman who resigned along with B.F. Day, was an experienced person who had lived in Seattle since 1853 and who had served on the very first Seattle City Council in 1869.  No reasons were given for the resignation of the two men, and no letters of resignation were found in my search of city records at the Seattle Municipal Archives.  City Council must have received these letters of resignation ahead of time, as they were prepared to replace the two men at the September 5, 1884 meeting.  At the end of the September 5th meeting two candidates’ names were put forward for each vacancy.  A vote was taken and one new council member was elected for each position.

Why did B.F. Day resign from City Council?

We may speculate on the reasons for Day’s resignation from Seattle City Council only about six weeks after he had been re-elected for a second one-year term beginning July 14, 1884.  I speculate that it may have had something to do with his August 21st assignment to look into “the removal of Chinese habitations.”  Perhaps he found this assignment offensive and he wanted nothing to do with it, or he disagreed with the other council members on what should be “done” about the Chinese.

It is possible that Day resigned from City Council because he wanted to give priority to overseeing the canal-digging work with the Improvement Company.  However, as mentioned above, the canal work seemed to be well underway and was finished by about the end of 1885.  This was only the first project undertaken by the Improvement Company as more sections of canal were planned.  However, there are no records to indicate whether Day had managerial work to do with the canal projects or any other involvement which would give reason to leave City Council.

When re-elected to City Council on July 14, 1884, Day had been appointed to three committees:  Public Buildings, Property and Grounds; Harbor and Wharves; Sewers and Drainage.  We don’t know how much work was involved for these assignments but it does seem like a lot for one person, especially for someone who also had to work at a job to support himself – City Council members were not paid a salary in the early 1880s.  Day might have felt overburdened by the time-consuming City business and felt that he must go back to his real estate work.

In his biographical sketch by Hines, it was written that B.F. Day “battled single-handed in his efforts to improve the morals of the city.”  He finished by getting a new Seattle City Charter from the state legislature in Olympia, which modified the city government so that Mr. Day “won the respect and esteem of all lovers of good government and clean city morals.”  Day might have resigned because he felt he had accomplished as much as he could, or he was just worn out from battling the forces of evil.  Viewing Seattle as rampant with lawlessness, he might have wanted to retreat to his bucolic new residence outside of the city in what would become Fremont.  Moving there would require his resignation as he would no longer be a resident of the Third Ward within the city limits of Seattle as of that year of 1884.

Seattle city limits in the 1880s

Over time, Seattle's city limits moved out north of what is now the Ship Canal.

Over time, Seattle’s city limits moved out north of what is now the Ship Canal.

In the 1880s the Seattle City limits were expressed in terms of Township and Section lines, which had been determined in the cadastral survey of the Seattle area in 1855.  This rectangular survey system is still today the basis of land records and plats.  Essay #2215 on HistoryLink by Seattle historian Greg Lange explains how the survey was done and how the survey opened the way for land claims by white settlers of Seattle.

In 1884 when B.F. Day was on city council, the northern boundaries of the City of Seattle roughly followed the “line” created by today’s ship canal, where the terrain naturally had a valley between hills of Queen Anne on one side and the future Fremont on the other.  The Third Ward, represented by B.F. Day on City Council, comprised all of the northern section of the city, north of Pike Street up to approximately Lake Union. (Source:  C.B. Bagley’s Compiled Charters of the City of Seattle.)

As of 1882 Day lived on Pine Street between Tenth & Eleventh Avenues.  As of the Seattle City Directory of the year 1884, B.F. Day was not listed as a member of City Council and there is no residential listing for him.  We don’t know exactly what year it was that he moved to his property at 39th & Woodland Park Avenue, but it may have been circa 1884.  It is possible that Day resigned from City Council toward the end of 1884 because he wanted to move out of the Third Ward boundaries to what is now Fremont.  We know that he had owned land there since 1882.  Perhaps he was so disgusted with city politics that he just wanted to move completely out of city jurisdiction.

Lawless in Seattle

On April 3, 1884, while B.F. Day still served on Seattle City Council, a petition signed by 45 citizens of the Third Ward was received.  The petition read,

“To the honorable Mayor and common council of the City of Seattle:

“We the undersigned citizens of the Third Ward would respectfully present that lawlessness and disorder are rapidly on the increase in the Lake Union part of said ward and would therefore petition your honorable body to give our special policeman Chas L. Nolop a like salary with other policemen of the city and do humbly pray for the same.”  (Source:  Seattle Municipal Archives, File 991986 of 1884.)

These Third Ward citizens did not include their addresses on the petition but a check of the city directory shows that some lived in the area of 9th & Pike Streets, and some out on Lake Avenue (now Westlake, on Lake Union.)  One of the signers was David Denny, who lived on his homestead claim at Republican & Mercer Streets (present site of Seattle Center.)  B.F. Day was not one of the signers, but as he was a representative of the Third Ward to City Council, the petition is mentioned here to show some of the concerns of citizens where Day served in 1884.  The petitioners did not define what was meant by “lawlessness and disorder.”  In the euphemisms of the time, they may have been referring to illegal or excessive trade in alcohol and the rowdiness that came with it.

Judge Orange Jacobs 1827-1914

Judge Orange Jacobs

Judge Orange Jacobs, who had been mayor of Seattle in 1880, wrote in his memoirs that in the early 1880s “no man was safe on the streets (of Seattle) after nightfall…  ….the town was full of thugs and criminals.” (The Memoirs of Orange Jacobs, page 129.Much of the trouble seemed to be alcohol-fueled, as there were large numbers of single men who worked in the lumber mills and an equally large number of saloons in Seattle.

In 1883 a Grand Jury was called in Seattle to investigate lax enforcement of liquor laws and it became obvious that some city officials were on the take from the saloon trade.  In January 1884 David Denny was among those who formed the Law and Order League which functioned partly as a political party to put up “sober candidates” for the election of July 1884.   This slate of candidates was called the Apple Orchardists for the treed lot at Fourth & Marion Streets where the group had assembled.

B.F. Day, running for re-election as a Prohibitionist, must have been one of the Apple Orchard candidates.  Enough of them were elected in July 1884 that they were able to bring about stricter enforcement of liquor laws, especially the restriction of sale on Sundays.  In his biography by Hines, B.F. Day stated that he was the only one of the 1883 City Council members to be re-elected in 1884 and that he “lived up to the promises made during the campaign.”  Perhaps this was Day’s way of explaining his short term of service, that he had accomplished what was wanted by the Apple Orchardists and he then felt justified in resigning from City Council.

The Chinese expulsion of February 7, 1886

The Pacific Northwest has always had boom and bust cycles to its economy.  In the early 1880s when there was economic depression and jobs were scarce, some people began to blame Chinese immigrants as unfair competitors for jobs because they (supposedly) would work for lower wages than white men.  Laws began to be enacted to prevent any more immigration of the Chinese to the USA.

In the 1880s, labor unions traveled from city to city, agitating a public movement to demand that the Chinese be expelled.  On September 28, 1885 an anti-Chinese congress was held in Seattle, attended by labor unions and representatives from eight other cities.  On November 3, 1885, a mob drove the Chinese residents out of the city of Tacoma.  Then in early February 1886 the mob action came to Seattle, led by agitators who had been moving from city to city.

Census figures show that there had been more than 600 Chinese men living in Seattle in the early 1880s.  Their occupations included grocery, restaurant and laundry workers, and they lived in a concentrated area south of Yesler Street near Occidental Avenue and today’s sports stadiums.  (The area farther east which is now the International District had not yet been created, as it was in a tidal flat.)

By the time of the February 1886 unrest in Seattle, some Chinese had already left town in fear of coming violence as there had been in Tacoma and other places.  About 350 were in Seattle on Sunday morning, February 7, 1886, the day of the forced expulsion by a mob which went systematically through the district.  Men routed the Chinese from their homes and forced them down to the waterfront to get onto a ship and leave town.

Despite the expulsion action of February 1886, the Wa Chong China Tea Store advertisement continued to run in the Daily Intelligencer newspaper all month.

Despite the expulsion action of February 1886, the Wa Chong China Tea Store advertisement continued to run in the Daily Intelligencer newspaper all month.

As told to his biographer, B.F. Day claimed to have “taken a prominent part” during the anti-Chinese riots of February 7 & 8, 1886 in Seattle, “exerting himself in behalf of law, order, and justice.”  However, Day was not on the Seattle City Council or in other public office at the time of the riots and I have not found other sources which mention him in connection with that event.

The only written mention of B.F. Day that I found in connection with the Chinese expulsion was in a Seattle Daily Post-Intelligencer news article of February 10, 1886, detailing the court proceedings against seven men charged with the crime of riot.  Day “became surety for” two of the men, with a bond of $500 for each of them.  It is difficult to interpret whether this meant that Day endorsed the men’s actions in rounding up the Chinese and forcing them to leave town, or if Day thought that these two particular men were falsely charged.  It could also be that he simply loaned money for the men’s bail.  One of the men was Junius Rochester, a 31-year-old attorney who had only just arrived in Seattle in 1884.  Rochester survived being charged in the riot case and came through unscathed in a censure movement by the King County Bar Association.  Rochester continued to practice law in Seattle.

Early writers of Seattle history, such as Clarence Bagley, Arthur Denny, and Thomas Prosch used the phrase “law, order and justice” referring to suppression of the liquor trade and other vices.  In History of Seattle Bagley also used the phrase to describe those who, like himself, disapproved of the mob-force expulsion of the Chinese from Seattle.  In a chapter on Educational Activities & Schools in Volume 1 of History of Seattle, page 170, Bagley wrote:

Professor E.S. Ingraham 1852-1926 Professor Ingraham was the first superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and he was also a noted mountaineer who advocated for the preservation of Mt. Rainier as a national park.

Professor E.S. Ingraham
Professor Ingraham was the first superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.  He was also a noted mountaineer who advocated for the preservation of Mt. Rainier as a national park.

“In July 1888 Prof. E.S. Ingraham, who had been at the head of the Seattle public schools, retired, but was made principal of the Central School.  He had been active in his support of law and order at the time of the anti-Chinese riots here in 1886, and thereby had incurred the enmity of a certain class in the city, of large voting strength.  There is no doubt that he and several other male teachers in city employ were made to feel the ill will of this class.”

Although Bagley wrote that “there is no doubt” that some male teachers felt the ill-will of those who had been on the other side of the Chinese question, we don’t know how this ill-will was expressed.  However, Bagley’s remark does clearly indicate that in 1888, more than two years after the Chinese expulsion, there was lingering bad feeling over issues of race, labor, and employment, and that grudges were held.

Perhaps in his business dealings B.F. Day was also subjected to some of the hostility from those on one side of the issue or another.  Acting as manager of the Improvement Company, B.F. Day had contracted with Chinese laborers to dig a canal in 1884-85, and perhaps that caused some members of the community to see Day as one who lacked sympathy for the plight of unemployed white laborers.

As told to his biographer H.K. Hines, Day said that he had “taken a prominent part” during the Chinese troubles of February 1886, had “exerted himself in behalf of law, order and justice,” and that “his course was fraught with imminent personal danger, his life being at times in jeopardy.”  Unfortunately, no details were provided of what Mr. Day did during the anti-Chinese riots or how his life was endangered.  It is possible that he was among those who tried to stop the mob of men who were going house-to-house, rounding up the Chinese and marching them onto a ship at the Seattle waterfront.   Since the expulsion of the Chinese took place starting at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning, this could mean that B.F. Day was still living within the city limits at the time, and that he had seen what the mob members were doing.  If Day had already moved to Fremont by or before 1886, it is unlikely that he would have been in Seattle on that early Sunday morning.

George Kinnear 1836-1912

George Kinnear

Another possibility is that Day had already moved to Fremont but that he came in to Seattle to work at his real estate office on Monday morning, February 8, 1886, and was inadvertently caught up in the continuing disorder of those hours, during which martial law was declared.  However, B.F. Day’s name is not on the list of Home Guard citizens who were deputized by Captain George Kinnear to help keep order.

For the rest of the year 1886, Seattle was divided into two camps, those who had been among the mob on the day of the Chinese expulsion and those who were on the Home Guard or who did not approve of driving the Chinese out of town.  Perhaps B.F. Day was thus marked by his point of view.  A few months later, in the summer of 1886, the anti-Chinese group formed a political party, and they won all the available offices in Seattle City elections that year.  Perhaps Day felt outnumbered at that point, and perhaps that is when Day decided that it would be a good idea to move out of Seattle.

All of the above scenarios are only speculation on my part, because we know nothing about what specifically Day did during the anti-Chinese riots.

The Fire, the economy and the plats

Two weeks after Seattle's Great Fire, B.F. Day began to sell lots in land that he owned. The El Dorado plat was along what is now Westlake Avenue just south of the present Fremont Bridge.

Two weeks after Seattle’s Great Fire, B.F. Day began to sell lots in land that he owned. The El Dorado plat was along what is now Westlake Avenue just south of the present Fremont Bridge.

After the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, Seattleites saw their city not as destroyed, but reborn.  In his memoir, Judge Orange Jacobs, who was there  on the day of the Fire, wrote that “Business soon revived with an enthusiastic rebound.  The town was scorched, not killed.  It had passed through an ordeal of fire and was found to be not wanting…” (Memoir of Orange Jacobs, page 190.)

Plans immediately took shape to repair utilities, reorganize Seattle’s downtown on an improved street grid and rebuild the commercial district.  Hearing of the Fire, people in far-away states seemed to know that this was the moment of opportunity to get in on a new era of growth, and newcomers flocked to Seattle.  The population soared and Seattle real estate increased in value as businesses and residential areas expanded.

After the Fire, it seemed that everyone was “in real estate.”  At least 150 new plats were filed in the year following the Fire, showing that land owners expected to be able to sell building lots.  (To “plat property” means to file a plan for streets and house lots or commercial lots, indicating that they will be offered for sale.  The King County Recorders office is the office for plat filing.)

Within a month after the Fire in June 1889, B.F. Day platted two pieces of property which he had owned since 1882.  B.F. Day’s El Dorado plat was on Westlake Avenue along Lake Union, and the Frances R. Day’s LaGrande plat was in Fremont, including the present site of B.F. Day school at 39th Street.  The boundaries of the LaGrande plat, using present-day street names, are North 39th to 42nd Streets, Fremont Avenue to Woodland Park Avenue.

Fremont, a new suburb of Seattle in 1888

In 1888 Edward Blewett, a wealthy businessman from Fremont, Nebraska, visited Seattle because his contacts here in Seattle told him of investment opportunities.  Edward and Carrie Blewett and their co-investors decided to invest in land at the northwest corner of Lake Union.  They named the new district Fremont, comprising all of what is the commercial district of Fremont today, between North 34th to 39th Streets centered around Fremont Avenue.  The original plat of Fremont also included land which is now on the south side of the canal, to Florentia Street (would be 29th if it had a number.)

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

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

One of the streets in the new Fremont plat was named for Aurora, Illinois, the hometown of Seattle resident Edward Corliss Kilbourne.  Kilbourne was involved in facilitating the purchase of the Fremont land by the Blewetts, and he was in multiple other enterprises such as development of transportation lines.  He owned a steamer, the Latona, which carried people across Lake Union, and he was one of a group of investors in an electric trolley line which would stimulate residential development in Fremont and on out to Green Lake.

Fortuitously, all of these enterprises, including the formation of Fremont as a planned community, got underway in 1888, one year before Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.  By the time of the Fire, Fremont was already in development and its promoters were able to offer residential lots with transportation to the neighborhood, well away from the smoking ruins of downtown Seattle.

B.F. Day’s land plats north and south of the new Fremont plat

The plat of Frances R. Day's La Grande is on the east side of Fremont Avenue from 39th to 43rd Streets.

The plat of Frances R. Day’s La Grande is on the east side of Fremont Avenue from 39th to 42nd Streets.

B.F. Day filed the El Dorado plat (along Westlake Avenue just south of today’s Fremont Bridge) on June 22, 1889, just two weeks after the Seattle Fire.  Perhaps B.F. Day saw, after platting El Dorado, that real estate sales were brisk and that he would be able to sell land even farther out from the city center, in the newly named suburb of Fremont, so he then filed another plat.  Named in honor of his wife, Frances R. Day’s LaGrande plat was filed on July 15, 1889, and was located on the east side of Fremont Avenue from 39th to 42nd Streets.  I speculate that Day did not plat the land he owned east of Woodland Park Avenue at that time because he hoped to keep it as part of his estate or “farm.”

Even without exact city directory address listings, we can be reasonably certain where the Days lived in 1889, a large house on the east side of Woodland Park Avenue, north of 39th Street.  On the King County Tax Assessment Roll of 1892, Day’s property was shown with “improvement value” of $3,500., an amount which would indicate a large house.  Day also owned thirty acres of unimproved land to the east of Woodland Park Avenue, valued at $21,600.  This land to the east of Woodland Park Avenue remained unplatted until 1901, when, with Seattle businessman John B. Agen as co-owner, it was platted as the LaGrande Extension.

The B.F. Day School

B.F. Day School as it looked in 1901.

B.F. Day School as it looked in 1901.

Ironically, B.F. Day, who never had any children, is primarily remembered in Seattle history for the school in Fremont which was named for him.  According to the Seattle Public Schools’ history information, from 1889 to 1892 classes for Fremont schoolchildren were held in a series of temporary locations.  In 1889 B.F. Day paid three months’ rent for classes to meet in a building at 36th & Aurora.

In 1891 Day gave some of his property, Blocks 10 & 11 of Frances R. Day’s LaGrande Addition, for a new school to be built.  The school was named in his honor and the new building opened at its present site, 39th & Linden, in May 1892.

Day’s gift of land shows his generosity and civic-mindedness, but we presume that he also was aware of the real estate value of having a school in the neighborhood.  He had personally seen how inadequate the school system was, with the local children being taught in a series of makeshift locations.  The Seattle School District history records say that Day required the new school building in Fremont to be of a certain monetary value, which would ensure that it would be a substantial structure and not temporary.  This permanent edifice would inspire confidence in families looking for a place to live with a good school for their children, and might help increase land values near the school.  Ultimately Day’s gift might have benefited him by improving real estate sales in his LaGrande plat.

Looking north up Fremont Avenue in 1892 we see business development and the outline of B.F. Day School on the top of the hill.

Looking north up Fremont Avenue in the early 1900s we see business development and the outline of B.F. Day School on the top of the hill.

As of 1892, Fremont was an up-and-coming place, so much so that it had already been annexed into the City of Seattle with all of the benefits of electric trolley lines and important elements of community life such as the elementary school.  Day’s generous gift was only just in time, before the economic crisis which began in 1893 and which might have made it financially impossible for him to donate land for a school.

The second installment of the B.F. Day story on this blog, will tell about the booms and busts of the 1890s in Seattle, and the lawsuits which consumed the last year of B.F. Day’s life in 1903-1904.


Everyone knows that Fremont is the Center of the Universe.

“B.F. Day,” An Illustrated History of the State of Washington, 1893, by Harvey Kimball Hines, p. 365-366.  Suzzallo Library/Special Collections, University of Washington.

Building for Learning, Seattle Public Schools histories, B.F. Day School.

Census records (territorial and federal)

A Chronological History of Seattle, 1850-1897, by Thomas W. Prosch.  Suzzallo Library/Special Collections, University of Washington.

City Council meeting minutes of 1883-1884, Seattle Municipal Archives, City Hall, Seattle.

City Directory listings:  Polk’s Seattle City Directory, available at Seattle Public Library 9th & 10th floors, and at the Seattle Municipal Archives, Seattle City Hall.

Compiled Charters of the City of Seattle 1869-1886, by Clarence B. Bagley, Seattle Municipal Archives, City Hall/Third Floor.

Daily Intelligencer newspaper (forerunner of the Seattle PI) is on microfilm on the 9th floor of the Seattle Public Library, downtown.

“George Kinnear,” Wikipedia essay.  The full text of Kinnear’s account of the anti-Chinese riots was published and is available on-line, with the list of Home Guards.

History of Seattle by Clarence B. Bagley, three volumes, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library.

Valarie's husband, son-in-law and daughter with the Waiting for the Interurban statue in Fremont.

Valarie’s husband, son-in-law and daughter with the Waiting for the Interurban statue in Fremont.  The statue is on Fremont Avenue just north of the bridge.  The Interurban was a train line to Everett, north of Seattle.

King County Deed Index and Tax Assessment Rolls, properties owned by B.F. Day in the 1880s and 1890s.  Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.

Memoirs of Orange Jacobs, 1908.  Seattle Room of the Seattle Public Library.

“A Petition Signed by 45 Citizens in the Third Ward,” April 3, 1884.  File 991986, Seattle Municipal Archives, Seattle City Hall.

“Sand Point on Lake Washington is first surveyed on August 29, 1855,” HistoryLink Essay #2215, by Greg Lange.

Seattle Public Library on-line collections:  City Directories.








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.

8 Responses to Seattle’s Pioneers of Fremont: B.F. Day – Part One

  1. Lee says:

    You can sure find lots information. I need you to be my genealogist. Bet you could find out all kinds of interesting things about my families. 🙂 Keep up the good work.

  2. Seattle is blessed with wonderful on-line research resources and in-person archives as well. I am helped by librarians and archivists of the City of Seattle archives, the property archives of the county, and the public library. So many people have helped me and I am so thankful for all!

  3. Great post, Valarie! I just sold a rental duplex I’d owned since 1999, on Whitman south of 48th – it was one of the buildings the Historical Society included on their list. Wonderful that you were involved with that!

  4. Thanks, Joseph, and it’s wonderful to see you posting on your blog, photos of our beautiful Pacific Northwest.

  5. hdemare says:

    I am always amazed when I read about how much manual labor went into building things like the ship canal. It is hard to even imagine that scene.

  6. The Seattle pioneers were amazing in their desire to rearrange the known universe! In some ways it was good that they didn’t have the means, at least at first. Since you have listened to David B. Williams talk about the regrading projects of Seattle, we see that in regrading and in also the canal digging, eventually Seattle really did recreate itself.

  7. Hi Valarie,
    This was wonderfully informative. I am particularly interested in Fremont right now, as I hope to set a novel there some day. Thank you — I look forward to Part Two!

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