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.
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. In the larger photo below, look for the streetcar barn next to the McMullen building. Today the former car barn houses Theo Chocolate.
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. In those days the main purpose of the ship canal was industrial including fishing boats. The pleasure boat traffic which we see travelling through the ship canal today, developed more slowly and was most in growth after the end of World War Two in the 1940s and 1950s.
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 1917 during the years of construction of the ship canal and the opening ceremony on July 4, 1917. The McMullen’s Hay and Grain building was at 460 Ewing Street (now called N. 34th Street) in the block between Evanston and Phinney Avenues.
The McMullens were in the block which today includes the Red Door Tavern at 3401 Evanston Avenue North, the Burke Building nearest to Phinney Avenue, and other commercial structures. In the 1916 photo below, the trolley car barn is visible. Today the old car barn building is the Theo Chocolate factory on the corner of 34th & Phinney.
Census and city directory listings, McMullen family. Earliest listed address of the business was 460 Ewing Street (on 34th between Phinney and Evanston Avenues) with the additional small kiosk, a receiving station for customers, located at the southwest corner of Fremont Avenue & Ewing Street.
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.
Postscript: according to city directory listings, the McMullen Company closed down its operations in approximately 1932 during the depths of the economic crash called the Great Depression. The closure would have been due to the lack of building projects which were the customers of McMullen’s business. The McMullen property was later acquired by Wellington Coal, and then by the J.R. Burke company’s Industrial Center.