People of the Ship Canal: McMullen Fuel Company

In 1889 J. S. McMullen, age 55, pulled up stakes and went out West.  He had spent most of his life in Michigan but perhaps he was enticed to start a new life by word of the rich natural resources of the Seattle area.  McMullen brought his wife and four adult children, and the family became business leaders in the Fremont neighborhood.

In the early 1900s the McMullens had this office at the intersection of North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue. It served as a receiving station for their customers to be met and conducted to the larger Hay and Grain building nearby.

In the early 1900s the McMullens had this office at the intersection of North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue. It served as a receiving station for their customers to be met and conducted to the larger Hay and Grain building nearby.

The McMullen family arrived at an opportune time, just before Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889 which resulted in an enormous demand for materials for rebuilding the city.  The McMullens established a building materials company which supplied wood, brick, lime, plaster, cement and sand, and they had a fuel business of wood and coal used for heating homes.  The company also sold hay, grain and poultry feed.

J.S. McMullen died in 1912 and his eldest son John E. McMullen took over the business.  By that time, after more than twenty years in the community, the McMullens had become a dynasty in Fremont.  John and his brother David led the company and several of their sons worked in the business.  The McMullen Company had a large complex between 34th to 35th Streets, Evanston to Phinney Avenues, with a large “Hay and Grain” sign visible on their building.

Before construction of the ship canal there was this ditch which had been created by hand-digging. Photo circa 1912, with the McMullen's Hay and Grain building at right. Photo courtesy of MOHAI 83.10.6934.

Before construction of the ship canal there was this ditch which had been created by hand-digging. Photo circa 1912, with the McMullen’s Hay and Grain building at right. Photo courtesy of MOHAI 83.10.6931.

The McMullens were vigorous advocates for the government’s ship canal route past Fremont because they knew it would enhance the business opportunities of the community.  The ability to transport heavy items such as wood and coal via ship, to be unloaded at canalside, would be a great advantage to the McMullens and to other Fremont businesses.

The McMullens are an example of the emphasis of Fremont businessmen upon expansion of maritime and industrial use of the ship canal.

The McMullen building is at right, shown with steam shovels during canal construction. Photo courtesy of MOHAI 83.10.6934

The McMullen building is at right, shown with steam shovels during canal construction. Photo courtesy of MOHAI 83.10.6934

Although the McMullen’s name is unfamiliar today, the McMullen’s large building with its “Hay and Grain” sign is an excellent orientation point in photos taken in 1911 to 1916 during the years of construction of the ship canal.

The McMullen’s were in the block which is the present site of the Red Door Tavern at 3401 Evanston Avenue North, the Burke Building on North 35th Street nearest to Phinney Avenue, and other commercial structures.  In the 1916 photo below, the trolley car barn is visible, which today is the Theo Chocolate factory on the corner of 35th & Phinney.

mcmullen-building-circa-1916-mohai-photo-2006-7-1

Near the time of completion of the ship canal in 1916, we see the advantageous position of the McMullen’s Hay and Grain building, where products could be transported to the building by water. Photo courtesy of MOHAI 2006.7.1.

Sources:

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.

Census and city directory listings, McMullen family.

Fremont Colleague newspaper, January 2, 1904, page 15.  Microfilm, UW Library.

“J.E. and D.E. McMullen,” Seattle and Environs by C. H. Hanford, Vol. 2, pages 531-533, 1924.  Seattle Room of the Seattle Public Library R979.72

Making the Cut 100, website of the centennial of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

 

 

The McMullen Building on the ship canal celebration day, July 4, 1917.

The McMullen Building on the ship canal celebration day, July 4, 1917.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

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

2 Responses to People of the Ship Canal: McMullen Fuel Company

  1. sbhopper8 says:

    Fantastic, loved the photos and the history. What became of the family? Are any of them still in Seattle?

  2. Your comment made me smile, because I also wonder about families although I did not trace the McMullens to the present day. John McMullen had five sons and some of them started other companies. With changes in the construction industry and factors like the economic depression of the 1930s, the Hay and Grain branch of the company went out of business.

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