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, when part of his property was flooded, but then unexpectedly the canal created a new means of livelihood for him.
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. This mill was the first to be established outside of the downtown Seattle waterfront where Henry Yesler had been the first to set up a lumber operation.
Seattle’s population was only about 3,500 people in the 1880s, and all around Seattle the hillsides were still 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
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
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 was commemorated in 2016-2017.
Census and city directory listings for Waldo B. Staples.
“Lake Union Lumber and Manufacturing is Incorporated on March 9, 1882,” HistoryLink Essay #10218 by Jennifer Ott, 2013.
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.