In September 1991 when my daughter entered kindergarten at Wedgwood School, it was a déjà vu moment for me because she was walking into the same classroom where I had attended in my own kindergarten year at Wedgwood School.
As I participated in the PTA during my daughter’s first school year, I drew upon my background of having grown up in the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle. The PTA projects of that year led to the local history writings which I have continued to do up to the present day.
Drawing upon my roots in Wedgwood
As a Wedgwood PTA mom in the 1991-1992 school year, I (Valarie) got involved in a project to bring local history into the classrooms.
For the local-history emphasis, students at Wedgwood School wrote about their own family backgrounds and how they came to live in Wedgwood. They interviewed longtime local residents and asked questions about life in the neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s. Students were introduced to Wedgwood businessmen and community activists who came in to speak in the classrooms.
Dorothy Brancato, then-editor of the Wedgwood Community Council newsletter, heard about our school project and wanted me to write articles about the history of the neighborhood, to be published in the newsletter. With Dorothy’s gentle coaxing and encouragement, I began to write, and my first article in the paper newsletter of the Wedgwood Community Council appeared in the May 1992 edition. In that era before the use of photos in the newsletter, Dorothy arranged for each of my articles to be illustrated with a cartoon by Wedgwood resident Bob Cram.
In the 1990s I also did a local-history project for Meadowbrook, the next neighborhood to the north of Wedgwood. The collection of photos and Meadowbrook history articles was commissioned for the new Meadowbrook Community Center building, 10517 35th Ave NE, which opened in January 1997. The history book is in a display stand in the lobby of the building. Most of the Meadowbrook history articles in that display book are now posted here on this blog, as well.
Launching a blog in 2012
In 2012 I was still writing for the Wedgwood newsletter when the decision was made to end the paper newsletters and transition to all-on-line website and social-media. At that time I started Wedgwood in Seattle History as my personal blog for Wedgwood history articles, separate from the community council webpage. I began by updating and reformatting some of my previously-written neighborhood history articles which had been published from 1992 to 2012, and I posted those articles on this blog.
Since 2012 I have continued to do research and writing about the Wedgwood neighborhood. Then, when I took the Meadowbrook material which I had written in the 1990s and posted it here on this blog, it was the beginning of expanding Wedgwood in Seattle History to include articles about other neighborhoods of northeast Seattle.
Expanding this blog to include other northeast Seattle neighborhood history
According to the page-view statistics for this blog, some of the most frequent subject inquiries on Wedgwood in Seattle History are for information about Wedgwood Rock (I have written six articles about the Rock) and about how and when Wedgwood became part of the City of Seattle.
It is interesting to note that this blog also has high page-view statistics for articles about the origins of other neighborhoods in northeast Seattle, such as Hawthorne Hills, Inverness, Laurelhurst, LaVilla, Matthews Beach, Pontiac, the Sand Point Country Club and Golf Course, and the old village of Yesler.
The number-one most-read article on Wedgwood in Seattle History is a general outline of how the City of Seattle was founded, with an explanation of Seattle’s downtown street names.
The next thing that happened over the years since starting this blog in 2012, is that I began writing about the history of the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.
Growing into Fremont
The Fremont neighborhood is located at the northwest corner of Lake Union, about four miles straight north of downtown Seattle. The neighborhood was named by investors Edward and Carrie Blewett who came out from Fremont, Nebraska, in 1888. Mr. and Mrs. Blewett only came to invest and not to stay. They left the development of Fremont in the hands of their real estate partners in Seattle.
In 1888-1889 Fremont began to be populated with its first homes and businesses. Industries which were established in Fremont’s first year of existence included a lumber mill, a construction materials company and an iron foundry. It was fortuitous timing.
Less than one year after the establishment of residences and industries in Fremont, a major fire destroyed most of Seattle’s downtown commercial core. The industries of Fremont were up and running by that time and were ready to produce materials for rebuilding the city.
The Great Fire of June 6, 1889 in downtown Seattle caused industries and residential development to be pushed out to the edges of what was then the settled areas of the city. After the Fire in downtown, Fremont exploded with even more residential housing, and its industries grew and prospered. Its active citizens sought the benefits of city services and Fremont was absorbed into the City of Seattle boundaries in 1891. In the 1890s Fremont activists served on Seattle City Council and they promoted the proposed route of a ship canal which would go past Fremont and enhance the business environment.
Thanks to the encouragement of Jeannette Voiland, a now-retired librarian of the Seattle Room at the downtown Seattle Public Library, in 2009 I got involved with a neighborhood history and architectural survey project in the Fremont neighborhood. Through this survey project, volunteers did an inventory of all of the residential housing in Fremont. As project volunteers we received orientation in architectural history, training in property research methods and access to archives.
In the process of participation in the 2009 project I fell in love with the Fremont neighborhood and with the wonderful volunteers of the Fremont Historical Society, and I have continued to be involved since then.
One of the Fremont Historical Society projects I have participated in, is the annual Historic Preservation Month exhibit at the Fremont Branch Library. In some years we have featured write-ups about outstanding people and houses of Fremont. In May 2017, because of our participation in the centennial of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, for the library program we did an exhibit about how Fremont residents and business leaders were involved with and affected by the creation of the ship canal.
Fremont Historical Society is not the same as History House
The History House Museum was located in Fremont on North 34th Street at the foot of Troll Avenue, two blocks south of the Fremont Troll sculpture which is on North 36th Street under the Aurora Bridge. History House began in 1998 as a place for exhibits about all the different neighborhoods of Seattle, not limited to Fremont.
History House closed in 2015. Its former building has been torn down and the site has been redeveloped with a new building at 744 North 34th Street, corner of Troll Avenue. History House never really got going with adequate funding and support, and it is not going to re-open.
The Fremont Historical Society started in 2004, is a completely different group of people from History House, and is not connected with History House. The Fremont Historical Society volunteers did the survey of residential housing in 2009 and have done “house histories.” We have continued to research the stories of Fremont neighborhood history.
In the past few years as I have written articles about the history of Fremont in Seattle, I simply added a Fremont category here on this Wedgwood blog.
From Wedgwood to Fremont
My personal writing journey began in my growing-up years when I listened to elderly relatives tell stories of their lives. In the sixth grade in the 1963-1964 school year, my teacher encouraged me to write down these stories. During that school year we lived through the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and I began to understand how seemingly far-away events could affect us on a personal level.
That was the beginning of my interest in setting life stories within the context of historical events. That is why, when I chose a name for this blog, I called it Wedgwood in Seattle History. The need to know the background of the history of our city, has caused me to continue to do research and expand my understanding of historic events. Social, cultural and economic forces set the stage for why the City of Seattle developed as it did, and why and how Seattle neighborhoods differ from one another. The story of the Fremont neighborhood is in great contrast with Wedgwood and it helps to explain the different factors which shaped the growth of Seattle.
My Wedgwood neighborhood history writing has progressed from the first community newsletter articles which I wrote on a typewriter in 1992, to today’s convenient blog format. One of the best aspects of blogging is being able to share widely with anyone who is interested in the subject of Seattle history. I follow several other Seattle blogs here on WordPress, and I greatly enjoy all the photos and blog posts about the city that I love.
I want to thank all of my blog readers who have followed Wedgwood in Seattle History since 2012. Most recently I have been focusing my research and writing efforts on the history of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, and in the next few months I will be posting the articles. I hope you will continue to follow the adventures in Seattle history here on my blog.