The Panic of 1893, a nationwide economic crash, had a chilling effect upon Seattle. Historian Thomas Prosch wrote that Seattle businesses, banks manufacturers and even churches closed down and went out of business due to lack of money to operate. Rents went down so low that property owners could not make enough profit to pay their mortgages, and so they lost their holdings. Ten years later, in a court case in 1903, B. F. Day of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle testified that in 1893 he had been in “financial embarrassment” and he had been left with nothing but his own house. At that time he had put title to some of the land he owned into the names of other people so that the properties would not be taken from him by creditors.
B.F. Day had come to Seattle in 1880 at age 45 and he quickly became involved in the life of his newly-adopted city. He worked in real estate and served one term on Seattle City Council before moving out of the city limits. By or before 1889 B.F. Day and his wife Frances built a big house where they had land holdings in Fremont, a suburb of Seattle.
The history of the Fremont neighborhood closely parallels the ups and downs of Seattle itself. In Part Two of the story of B.F. Day, we will read how his life was impacted by the economic crash of 1893.
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The Fremont neighborhood is founded and named in 1888
Fremont was established as a named community in 1888 when investors from Fremont, Nebraska, came out to Seattle to buy land for development. A plat map was filed which showed a plan for a commercial district and house lots. In appreciation for the Seattle businessmen who helped with the financial arrangements, the plat, extending from 30th to 39th Streets and centered on Fremont Avenue, was named Denny and Hoyt’s. Some of the plat is now south of the ship canal which did not come into existence until 1911-1917. Fremont’s main intersection is at 34th Street along the north edge of today’s Lake Washington Ship Canal.
A summary of Fremont history is posted on Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods Historic Preservation site as a “context statement,” written by Caroline Tobin as part of a survey of Fremont housing in 2009, in which I participated.
After its establishment in 1888, the Fremont community developed rapidly due to its advantageous location at the northwest corner of Lake Union. There was a stream called The Outlet which flowed westward toward Ballard, and in 1885 B.F. Day was a member of the Improvement Company which had The Outlet enlarged into a canal for floating logs to mill. Fremont’s founding just a year before the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, was very advantageous. After the Fire people looked for new places to live, farther from the burned-out downtown area. Fremont grew rapidly as a commercial site and as a residential neighborhood with convenient transportation options to downtown Seattle.
The Gold Rush re-boots the Seattle economy in 1897
A world-wide economic depression called the Panic of 1893, affected Seattle. Seattle did not recover economically until the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897 brought an infusion of commerce and money into the city to end the economic depression. In 1897 Seattle advertised itself as the jumping-off place to the Yukon Gold Rush, which brought not only gold-seekers but also business and investment into Seattle.
As the economy improved, Seattle City directory listings show that as of 1898 B.F. Day returned to work in real estate sales. He had a downtown Seattle real estate office in the Bailey Building (today’s Broderick Building) at the southwest corner of Second and Cherry Streets. B.F. Day shared the office with a younger man, Fremont resident and Odd Fellow fraternal member Charles E. Remsberg, an attorney specializing in real estate. Seattle City directory listings for B.F. Day’s office show that he continued working until at least the year 1900 when he turned 65.
While times had been good, in 1889 B.F. Day had filed plats for land he owned and he derived income from sales of lots. Then the 1893 economic crash put the brakes on real estate sales. After the economy improved again, in February 1901 B.F. Day filed one more plat of land in Fremont which he called the LaGrande Extension. It was located east of Woodland Park Avenue and included the site of B.F. Day’s own house at North 39th Street. The plat filing of the LaGrande Extension seemed to indicate that B.F. Day was breaking up his farm-like personal land holdings to derive income and possibly to pay debts.
During a court case in 1903, testimony was heard that as of the economic depression in 1893, B.F. Day had been nearly destitute and had managed to retain only his home property. The LaGrande Extension plat filing of 1901 was made in the name of not only B.F. Day, but other several other people, as well, including the Day’s housekeeper Martina Westby and Seattle businessman John B. Agen, so that portions of the profits from the lots sold would go to each specified person. This was very likely a way for B.F. Day to repay debts owed to them.
After 1900 there were no further downtown Seattle real estate office listings in the Seattle City directory for B.F. Day. We may speculate that as of 1901 B.F. Day withdrew his real estate office operations to Fremont so that he would be on-site to sell lots in the LaGrande Extension plat. We may also speculate that B.F. Day was fully retired as of age 65 in the year 1900, but other records show that the last four years of his life, 1901 to 1904, were not a restful time. In those years B.F. Day became embroiled in two different court cases.
Years of crises: 1901 to 1904
On April 29, 1901, B.F. Day petitioned the Superior Court of King County for guardianship of a four-year-old girl, Meta Lassen (Case #3904, on microfilm at the Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.) The next day the child’s uncle, Hans Lassen of California, filed a countersuit asking the court to award guardianship to him. Like B.F. & Frances Day, Hans & Annie Lassen were childless. In his suit Lassen claimed that he and his wife were young and strong, financially stable, well-able to care for Meta and that in California she would be surrounded by other relatives.
In court testimony B.F. Day recounted that on August 4, 1899, Mr. Marinus Lassen, who had been staying with the Days, left for Alaska. He asked Mr. and Mrs. Day to care for his motherless little girl, Meta, who was then two years old, and he gave $220 for her support and maintenance. Marinus Lassen returned to Seattle about year later, in the summer of 1900 and was recorded on the federal census on June 15th as staying at the Day’s house with his daughter. According to B.F. Day, Marinus expressed satisfaction with the care Meta was receiving. Marinus left again and said he would be back in a few weeks, but that was the last time the Days ever saw or heard from him.
In his countersuit on April 30, 1901, Marinus Lassen’s brother, Hans Lassen, alleged that the Days were “aged people and unfit and unable to care for said minor by reason of their age and by reason of their poverty.” He also alleged that the Days were not actually caring for Meta but had given her care over to Martina Westby, the Days’ domestic servant. Judge Boyd Tallman awarded guardianship to the Days, as the evidence appeared to be that the child’s father had left her with them and that he would be coming back to get her.
It is somewhat puzzling that at their age (they were in their late 60s), Mr. and Mrs. Day would have been willing to take on the care of a small child, and that B.F. Day went to so much trouble and legal expense to pursue legal guardianship of Meta. Certainly if the Days had wanted to adopt a child, they could have done so earlier in their lives. B.F. Day’s motivations, as stated in court documents, were that Meta’s father had entrusted her to the Days and said he would come back, and that they were genuinely fond of Meta. It is also true that the Days had the help of their housekeeper, Martina Westby, in caring for the little girl. Another of B.F. Day’s motivations to fight for the guardianship of Meta might have been simply because Mrs. Day wanted him to. He may have seen how Meta brightened their home and that caring for Meta gave Mrs. Day something useful to do.
Two court cases in 1903 and the guardianship is decided
As of 1901 the court had ruled that little Meta Lassen would stay with B.F. and Frances Day until Meta’s father came back to get her. We do not know whether Meta’s uncle, Hans Lassen of California, was aware of the Days’ divorce case which had begun in the summer of 1903 or not. He came back to Seattle that same summer of 1903 to again pursue the guardianship of Meta Lassen.
On August 31, 1903 Hans Lassen returned to King County Superior Court in Seattle with proof that his brother, Marinus, was not in Alaska as the Days had thought. Marinus had gone gold-mining in the Philippines and had died there. Hans had a letter from the Office of the United States Senior Inspector at Mindanao, that Marinus Lassen had died of cholera on February 4, 1903. The Philippines was then under US government as a result of the Spanish-American War, so that is how an official United States document was obtained to verify the death of Marinus Lassen. With proof of his brother’s death, Hans Lassen applied to the court in Seattle as a blood relative to be given guardianship of Meta.
Judge Tallman revoked the Day’s guardianship and ordered that Meta, who was then age six-and-one-half, be brought to court to be reunited with her uncle on September 7, 1903. One can only imagine the trauma for Meta, to be taken away so suddenly by someone she didn’t know well, and the heartache for the Days and for their housekeeper Martina Westby who had cared for Meta as their own. During this time, B.F. Day had had to move out of his house as a result of his wife’s divorce suit begun in June 1903; he was staying with friends on 39th Street in Fremont. Even though his wife Frances had taken legal action to eject him from his own home that summer, Day still pursued his wife’s desire to retain guardianship of Meta until he had exhausted all legal options, lost the case, and lost Meta.
The stress and emotional upheaval of these days was borne privately by the Days, however, as the guardianship case was not picked up by newspapers. I speculate that the courts did not permit news reporters access to this type of case. The guardianship case was in great contrast to the divorce action that same summer, which received lurid coverage in both the Seattle Daily Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspapers.
Mrs. Day sues for divorce
In July 1903 Mr. & Mrs. Day went to court for the first hearing of a bizarre divorce action in which Mrs. Day’s grandniece, Mrs. Bevington, who had come to live with them, claimed that Day had been abusing his wife. According to testimony reported in the newspaper articles covering the trial, the grandniece said that Mrs. Day needed someone to protect her. Other charges brought against Day in the divorce suit were that he had been unfaithful and that he had tried to conceal property and assets from his wife.
The case was heard by Judge Joiner on November 26, 1903. Day refuted the claim of concealment of assets by explaining that “during a time of financial embarrassment” in 1893 he had put some real estate into the name of Martina Westby so that his creditors could not seize it. Martina Westby, the Day’s fifty-year-old housekeeper, took the stand during the divorce trial and testified that there was no truth to the accusation that she and 68-year-old Mr. Day were “having an affair.”
In court testimony B.F. Day claimed that there was a conspiracy on the part of relatives to estrange his wife from him and get possession of his property. He showed proof that Mrs. Bevington had put fourteen lots of the Days’ twenty-two lot homesite into her own name.
Newspapers reported that Mrs. Bevington had received anonymous threats of vigilante action if she did not stop bothering the Days, and neighbors testified at the trial that the Days had always lived together harmoniously.
Judge Joiner dismissed the divorce action, saying that there was no proof of the charges that had been brought against Mr. Day. It was the judge’s conclusion that the elderly couple was victim of meddlers in their family affairs. The appropriately named “Judge Joiner” brought the couple back together and said, “I believe that there is no reason why this aged couple should not live together until they are separated by the decree of that higher court from whose decisions there is no appeal.” (quoted from Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, November 26, 1903, page 1.)
Reconciliation and recovery
Since the court-ordered separation in July 1903, B.F. Day had been staying with friends on 39th Street in Fremont. After the dismissal of the divorce case on November 26th, Day waited a few days for Mrs. Bevington to vacate the Day’s house and then, on December 3rd, a Seattle Daily Times reporter accompanied B.F. Day on an appointment to see his wife. It was reported that Mrs. Day was glad to have her husband back again and that the couple were entirely reconciled.
On December 11th the Days jointly petitioned the court for restitution of the fourteen lots of land which had been transferred to Mrs. Bevington during the time of the Days’ separation. There were twenty-two lots in the block where the Days lived on Woodland Park Avenue between North 39th to 40th Streets. At the time Mrs. Day died in 1911, she still owned her house and six adjoining lots facing Woodland Park Avenue on either side of her house.
On January 23, 1904, Day wrote a codicil to his will adding a third person, George F. Peck, as executor along with Everett Smith (Day’s attorney) and Martina Westby. Day added a statement directing the executors to take care of Mrs. Day. It is not known how George Peck was related to B.F. Day. He was a 35-year-old farmer in Monahan, east of Lake Sammamish. Census records show that George Peck was born in Kentucky and his mother was born in Ohio; perhaps Peck was a nephew of the Days, who were also from Ohio.
Death of B.F. Day
At the end of the year 1903 B.F. Day and his wife Frances appeared to be living happily ever after, but no one knew at that time that B.F. Day had only a few more weeks to live. In March 1904 upon medical advice to take a rest, he went to Los Angeles. He was so sick when he arrived there that he entered a hospital immediately, and never left it. He was diagnosed with kidney failure and he called to his bedside members of the Odd Fellows fraternal order of Los Angeles. He asked them to take care of the arrangements to send his body back to Seattle, and instructions were sent to the I.O.O. F. of Fremont for his burial. Instructions were also given for a telegram to be sent to Day’s attorney in Seattle, Everett Smith. Smith went in person to see Mrs. Day and inform her of her husband’s death on March 25, 1904, in Los Angeles. B.F. Day was buried in the I.O.O.F. section of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, 700 West Raye Street, on Seattle’s Queen Anne hill.
Mrs. Day continued to live in her home until she died at age 81 on February 7, 1911. After her death, attorney Everett Smith donated the Day’s house at 3922 Woodland Park Avenue to the YWCA to be used as an industrial-training home for young girls as referred by the juvenile court. The donation included all the furniture of the house and six lots adjoining the property. The Day’s house was torn down in 1938.
Reflecting on the life of B.F. Day
B.F. Day came from a farm background and by his own admission, his education was limited. He spent all of his early life in farming until, at age 45, he made a complete break with his past: he traveled West and started out fresh in a new and growing city, Seattle. In Seattle B.F. Day achieved the pioneer’s dream of becoming someone he never could have been in his old home environment. For the first two-thirds of his life, B.F. Day was a country boy. In the last third of his life, the 23 years spent in Seattle, B.F. Day became a man of the city. He joined other movers and shakers of Seattle in starting a canal system which contributed to the city’s growth and commerce. Day served on City Council and tried to shape the morals of Seattle, which was then a rough frontier town with a wide-open trade in vice. Despite the extreme economic ups and downs of the era, including the economic depression of 1893, B.F. Day was able to have a degree of success in business and achieve the dream of owning a home on acreage.
There are many questions about the life of B.F. Day which my research failed to answer. We don’t know exactly why Day chose to come out to Washington Territory and what motivated him to stay, even after his dissatisfaction with the moral climate of Seattle in the 1880s. We know only that after B.F. Day built a house in Fremont in the 1880s, he stayed there the rest of his life. We don’t know enough about Day’s activities in the Fremont neighborhood and how he contributed to its development, other than his donation of property for the elementary school, and his name as as one of the signers (incorporation) on a streetcar line which traveled north-south on Fremont Avenue. Along with many other Seattle ventures, this line went bankrupt in the Panic of 1893. We know that B.F. Day was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows fraternal organization of Fremont which had their own wood-frame building as of 1891. The Odd Fellows later rebuilt in brick on the same site, at 3501 Fremont Avenue North.
In the 1880s and 1890s B.F. Day’s occupational listings in the Seattle city directories show that he was a real estate agent, but there may have been other sources of income, such as land leases or use of his Fremont property for farming.
From B.F. Day’s life history we can derive some information about his character. He was a person who wanted to influence the world around him for good, as evidenced by his participation in the Lake Washington Improvement Company’s canal projects. Although the canal was meant to bring profit through commerce, the name of the project also indicates that the participants wanted to improve the life of their city through the canal’s benefits.
We also see that during his time on Seattle City Council, B.F. Day fought for what he thought would be beneficial to the life of the city: a reduction in the levels of vice, crime and corruption. Though he resigned from City Council and appeared to retire from the field of battle, Day may have gone on to participate in civic involvement in the Fremont neighborhood, perhaps through activities of the Fremont chapter of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. The Fremont Odd Fellows had their own building as of 1891 and we may assume that B.F. Day was an active member of the group, which was a mutual benefit association. The way that the Los Angeles chapter of the I.O.O.F. responded to help B.F. Day while he was dying in a hospital there, is an example of the organization’s function.
In his personal life B.F. Day showed integrity and faithfulness. Despite the reputation-ruining divorce case in 1903, Day made all efforts to restore his relationship with his wife. He fought the divorce vigorously and then afterward, Day updated his will to clearly indicate that he had no intention of concealing material assets or leaving his wife without financial support.
B.F. Day is little-known in Seattle history except for the elementary school which was named in his honor. After his brief time on Seattle City Council in 1883-1884, Day did not serve in any other political office. Unlike successful Seattle businessman John B. Agen, B.F. Day did not invest in business blocks of downtown. Unlike fellow Fremonter Charles E. Remsberg, Day did not get involved in other businesses such as banking or platting of properties across a wide area of Seattle.
There is only a little information available about B.F. Day’s business relationships, such as the directory listing of a shared real estate office with Charles E. Remsberg, and the plat filing of the LaGrande Extension with John B. Agen. However, based on his associations with the above two men, we can say that Day chose to be involved with others who were of good character and above reproach in their business practices. B.F. Day is a little-known early resident of Seattle, but what we know of him, tells us what life was like in Seattle’s pioneer days with its political upheaval and economic ups and downs.
Census and Seattle City Directory listings, 1880s to 1903.
Court cases: Guardianship case #3904, King County Superior Court, decision date August 31, 1903; Probate #5522, last will and testament of B.F. Day, King County Superior Court, April 6, 1904. On microfilm at the Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.
Deed indexes and Tax Assessment Rolls, King County. Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.
Historic background info: Buerge, David, Seattle in the 1880s, The Historical Society of Seattle and King County, 1986; Prosch, Thomas W., A Chronological History of Seattle, 1850-1897, UW Special Collections; Tobin, Caroline, Historical Survey and Planning Study of Fremont’s Commercial Area, Fremont Neighborhood Council, 1991.
Newspaper articles (in chronological order):
“B.F. Day, a Seattle pioneer, is made defendant.” Seattle Daily Times, July 11, 1903, page 4.
“Parties to a sensational divorce suit.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 12, 1903, page 16.
“Have loved for nearly half a century, pathetic case begun in King County Superior Court, answer of aged B.F. Day to his wife’s suit for divorce.” Seattle Daily Times, July 12, 1903, page 1.
“Threats made by vigilantes against Mrs. Bevington, involved in Day case.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 17, 1903, page 5.
“Judge refuses to divorce Days.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 26, 1903, page 1.
“Aged couple reconciled and are living together again.” Seattle Daily Times, December 4, 1903, page 1.
“Days seek to recover, ask court to return property deeded to Mrs. Day’s niece.” Seattle Daily Times, December 11, 1903, page 4.
“Old citizen dead.” Seattle Daily Times, March 26, 1904, page 3.
“B.F. Day is dead at Los Angeles.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 26, 1904, page 16.
“Y.W.C.A. opens gift cottage as industrial home for girls.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 20, 1911, page 9.