People of the Ship Canal: Waldo B. Staples Boat Marina

When the Lake Washington Ship Canal was constructed in 1911-1917, people hoped that the canal would benefit Seattle’s business environment.  It was difficult to foresee, however, all that might happen, and what would be the actual impact of the canal work.  In the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Waldo B. Staples found that the new, deeper and wider canal caused problems at first, but then unexpectedly the canal created a new means of livelihood for him.

In 1935 Waldo B. Staples put on his 1889 firefighters coat and hat for a news interview. In his left hand is his original firefighters axe.

Waldo B. Staples put on his 1889 firefighters coat and hat for a newspaper interview in 1935 when he was 72 years old. At right, Mr. Staples holds his original firefighters axe.

Waldo B. Staples came from Iowa in 1883 when he was twenty years old, and he found work in a South Lake Union lumber mill owned by Seattle pioneer David Denny.  Seattle’s population was only about 3,500 people at that time, and all around Seattle the hillsides were covered with vast stands of trees.   Mill operators like Henry Yesler, David Denny and others sought timber for the mills to supply the construction industry.  There were no building codes or fire prevention systems in Seattle, most of the downtown buildings were constructed of wood, and there was only a volunteer fire department.

Waldo Staples was one of the volunteer fire-fighters who responded on June 6, 1889, the day of the Great Seattle Fire.  The fire began at the corner of First & Madison Streets in downtown Seattle and burned southward to Yesler Way.  After the fire, lumber mills started up again with even more urgency for the rebuilding of the city.   Reconstruction efforts required downtown buildings to have brick walls and heavier interior timbers to make the city more fireproof.

Finding a home in Fremont

In 1894 Ross and Fremont were shown as place names with railroad stops. The ship canal had not yet been built but there was a creek called The Outlet from Lake Union, flowing westward.

In 1894 Ross and Fremont were shown as place names with railroad stops. The ship canal had not yet been built but there was a creek called The Outlet from Lake Union, flowing westward.

From the 1890s until he established his own business in 1908, Waldo B. Staples lived in Fremont and worked in wood products industries such as Bryant Lumber & Shingle Mill, located close to the present site of the Fremont Bridge.  In 1908 Waldo started Canal Manufacturing Company at 360 West Ewing Street, on the south side of the little hand-dug canal which had formerly been called Ross Creek.  Now considered part of the Queen Anne neighborhood, in those days the north, flat area of Queen Anne next to the canal was part of Ross and Fremont.  Ross was the former land claim of John Ross and was west of Fremont, between 3rd to 6th Avenues NW on both sides of Ross Creek.

Life along the canal

The view from the marina at 360 West Ewing Street, northward across the canal to Fremont.

The view from the marina at 360 West Ewing Street, northward across the canal to Fremont.

In his work, Waldo Staples began to specialize in wood products for boat-building because his house at 360 West Ewing Street was near to the canal.  He also planted an extensive garden for his family’s use, but his potato patch was lost one day in 1914 because of the rising water level of the new, wider and deeper Lake Washington Ship Canal.  The water of the canal came up over Waldo’s backyard potato patch and formed a cove (a small bay.)  The cove then became Waldo Staples’ means of livelihood.  Waldo’s flooded potato patch became a marina, and Waldo began deriving income from storing and repairing boats.

Today Waldo B. Staples’ original house is still used as the office of Canal Marina.  While some think of the ship canal as a conduit for recreational boating, actually the canal has been the means of expansion of maritime and industrial businesses in Ballard, Fremont and north Queen Anne.  The Lake Washington Ship Canal has helped to grow the economy of Seattle, and its centennial is being commemorated in this year of 2017.

Waldo B. Staples' house at 360 West Ewing is now the office of Canal Marina.

Waldo B. Staples’ house at 360 West Ewing is now the office of Canal Marina.

Sources:

Census and city directory listings for Waldo B. Staples.

Original property records for 360 West Ewing Street, Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.

“Waldo B. Staples,” Seattle Daily Times, June 30, 1935, page 1.

Boats at Canal Marina, 360 West Ewing Street on the south side of the ship canal.

Boats at Canal Marina, 360 West Ewing Street on the south side of the ship canal.

 

 

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

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

8 Responses to People of the Ship Canal: Waldo B. Staples Boat Marina

  1. Thanks for the great article! I’ve got a question: was “Ross,” a the name of a neighborhood as well as a creek? Or does the Ross on the map simply note who had the land claim? Thanks for the great work!

  2. Thanks for the great question, Jennifer. Some areas of Seattle acquired their names gradually and were sometimes given the name of an early settler, such as John Ross who had claimed that land so very early, in the 1850s. Then in the 1880s a plat was filed, naming the area Ross and including a plan for streets, so that house lots could be sold. Some businesses in the Fremont area also called themselves Ross, such as corner grocery stores, since it was a recognized place name. At the time of the ship canal, Ross was still used as a place name. The new canal was so wide that, just as it divided the area in two, it also caused people to begin to think of the land areas differently. On the north bank of the canal, the Ross area became absorbed into Fremont. The south bank gradually acquired its identity as part of Queen Anne.

  3. Fascinating. I’ve got an old Kroll map, (no date, but the Kroll employee guessed it was just post WWII) and it shows a couple streets IN the water on the south side of the canal. I think it’s part of this Ross neighborhood.

  4. One of the things that my Fremont research partners and I have been doing, is looking at the lots which were “taken” for widening of the ship canal. You are right that some lots on the south side eventually were under water and in some cases the water came up higher than anticipated. The home of Waldo B. Staples used to be one block south of the small, hand-dug canal. Now it is on the edge of the water.

  5. Your research sounds fun. Per my map, the “underwater streets” ran parallel to W Ewing, for just a couple blocks.

  6. That’s right. There is still a West Ewing Street on the south side of the canal; on the north side it is now called N. 34th Street. Originally, Waldo B. Staples’ address was on Blewett Street (that would now be 35th) but that street is underwater on the south side of the canal.

  7. hdemare says:

    Man, he still looked GOOD at 72!

  8. As a result of a lifetime of activity, Mr. Staples was still trim and was still able to wear the fireman’s coat he’d worn as a young man.

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