Fremont in Seattle began as a planned community after investors purchased the land and filed a plat map in May 1888. A “plat” is any defined area of land for which a plan of lots and streets is laid out.
The investors, who were from Fremont, Nebraska, thought that Fremont would be a good name for this suburb, outside the city limits of Seattle at that time.
Before Fremont received its name in 1888, in the 1850s it had been the homestead claim land of William A. Strickler. Strickler was a single man, age 30, who was from Virginia and who had been in Oregon before arriving in Seattle in 1854.
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Like other men who came to Seattle in the 1850s, William Strickler worked in Yesler’s sawmill for income while he looked around for a land claim. Strickler located and settled on a claim of 214 acres at the northwest corner of Lake Union. There was not yet a ship canal, but there was a stream which flowed from Lake Union westward toward Puget Sound. Strickler and other nearby settlers thought they could float logs on the stream and send the logs out to Yesler’s Mill on the downtown Seattle waterfront.
In the 1850s William Strickler became an active citizen of Seattle. His most notable achievement was in leading the first land survey for Township 25, from downtown as far north as 85th Street. The purpose of the survey was to lay out a grid so other Seattle settlers could mark their land claims.
William Strickler disappeared in 1861, and no one knew for sure what happened to him. After seven years had gone by, Yesler had himself appointed administrator of the estate of Strickler, presumed dead as of 1868, to protect Strickler’s land claim.
The legal disputes over ownership of Strickler’s land claim were not resolved until 1887. For this reason, no one lived on the (future) Fremont property until after the legal issues were settled.
Finally in 1887 Seattle attorney Thomas Burke sued to force the sale of the Strickler homestead claim land. The motivation behind Burke’s legal action was that he was involved in business and land ventures including a railroad line, a ship canal, and development of other neighborhoods including Ballard. Burke wanted to clear up the lingering legal issues so that he would be able to obtain clear title to portions of the Strickler property where he wanted the rail line to run, and where an existing stream could be enlarged into a ship canal.
Thomas Burke succeeded in bringing the issue of ownership of Strickler’s claim property to a resolution by a sheriff’s sale auction. At the auction held on November 19, 1887, Seattle investors Arthur Denny and John P. Hoyt bought the land for the winning bid of $20,641.68. After court costs were paid, about $900 each was paid out to twenty-one heirs of the original homestead claimant, William A. Strickler. Most of the heirs of the estate were nieces and nephews and none lived in Seattle.
The investors named the plat the Denny & Hoyt’s Addition to Seattle but they only owned the property a few months before deciding to sell. In March 1888 another investors group, led by Edward and Carrie Blewett of Fremont, Nebraska, purchased the plat for $55,000. On May 8, 1888, the Fremont investors filed a revised plat map but retained the name, Denny & Hoyt’s Addition to Seattle. The new plat map had named streets. Today, some of the streets in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle still have their original names and some do not.
Seattle’s street system
Arthur Denny, leader of the Denny Party group of the first white settlers to come to Seattle in 1851, was from Cherry Grove, Illinois, where he had been Surveyor of Knox County. With experience in laying out land areas with streets and lots, Arthur Denny filed the First Plat of the Town of Seattle on May 23, 1853.
The plat map above shows Arthur Denny’s first layout of streets, turned so that north is at the left side of the page. The southern boundary of the plat was Mill Street (Yesler Way) on the right side of the page. Front Street (First Avenue) was closest to the waterfront.
In planning the street layout, an argument arose with David Maynard, another early Seattle resident, who owned the land south of today’s Pioneer Square at Yesler Way. Maynard wanted to file his plat on a north-south grid, while Arthur Denny, Carson Boren and Henry Yesler agreed to lay out their land parallel to the shoreline of Elliott Bay. This resulted in the elbow-bend which still exists today in the streets which meet at Pioneer Square.
David Maynard named the streets in his plat for political figures he admired, who were Democrats of the 1850s such as Jackson and King.
In his naming of streets which became the core of downtown Seattle north of Pioneer Square, Arthur Denny chose a scheme of alliterative names beginning with Jefferson and James, Cherry and Columbia. In her book, Four Wagons West, the granddaughter of Arthur Denny wrote, “Why Mr. Denny named the streets in alliterative pairs, no one knows.” (Page 107, Four Wagons West.) When a person files a plat, they are not required to give an explanation of the plat name nor of the street names chosen, so we are left to speculate on the reasons for the street name choices of Seattle pioneers.
Clearing the chaos: Seattle’s first street name ordinance in 1895
Seattle did not have any regulation of street names until after the explosive growth of the city following the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, making it necessary to get better organized. Seattle had grown slowly between 1853 to 1889, but after the Fire a lot of newcomers arrived to get in on the rebuilding of the city. More land areas were platted for residential development and more street names were chosen.
To get an idea of the economic boom caused by the Seattle Fire, we can look at statistics for plat filings. It had taken 34 years (1853 to 1887) for developers to create 168 subdivisions in all of King County, with most filed in the vicinity of Seattle. In just three years from 1889 to 1891, more than 400 new subdivisions were filed. (Statistics from page 12, Early Neighborhood Historic Resources Survey Report, see source list.)
By the early 1890s some Seattle streets had been extended so that as they passed through different plats, each segment of the street had a different name. Westlake, for example, had four different names between downtown to where it reached the Fremont Bridge. Seattle City Ordinance 4044 was passed in 1895 and one of its provisions was to change the name to Westlake along its entire length. Along with many other street name changes, the first Seattle street name ordinance of 1895 included systematization so that a thoroughfare which ran north and south was to be called an “avenue,” and if it ran east and west it was to be called a “street.”
Another ruling of City Ordinance 4044 was that streets and avenues in different parts of the city had to have unique names. Up until that time, there were several neighborhoods which had a main street called Broadway. It was ruled that Capitol Hill would keep its Broadway but others, such as Ballard, had to change their main street name. It became Market Street after Ballard was annexed to Seattle in 1907.
Street names in Fremont
Seattle’s city street ordinances of 1895 and later, affected Fremont in that we can see that some original street names were not kept. On the original Denny & Hoyt’s plat map of 1888 (below), we see a “Fremont Avenue” which was east-west and so it had to be changed to a street, not an avenue. It is now North 38th Street. Lake Avenue, the original main thoroughfare, was changed to Fremont Avenue because Lake had already been used in another neighborhood.
On the original plat map called Denny & Hoyt’s, filed in May 1888, the investors, organizers and promoters of Fremont were honored with the street names of Ewing, Blewett and Kilbourne: today’s 34th, 35th and 36th Streets. Edward Corliss Kilbourne is the likely namer of many of the original streets in Fremont, because the plat map legal filing info says that he acted as attorney on behalf of the Blewetts. Kilbourne was a nephew of Corliss P. Stone, an early mayor of Seattle. Kilbourne came to Seattle in 1883 to practice as a dentist. Like many others who came to Seattle in early years, Kilbourne soon abandoned his original vocation as he became deeply involved in real estate development.
Although his name is not well known in Seattle history, E.C. Kilbourne was very influential as one of the developers of the streetcar system. Immediately following Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, Kilbourne took the lead in restoring and extending the streetcar routes. It is partly because of Kilbourne that Fremont became the “center of the universe” for travel by streetcar in the 1890s, because he made the routes go through Fremont as a transfer point before turning to other destinations such as Green Lake and Woodland Park.
After the Stone & Webster cartel gained control of the Seattle streetcar system, as of 1910 they constructed the Interurban Railroad which also had a transfer point in Fremont.
E.C. Kilbourne was from Aurora, Illinois. In the days before it was made into Highway 99, Aurora was an ordinary residential street in Fremont. Other names of nearby streets are also possibly derived from towns near to Aurora, Illinois such as Albion, Evanston and Palatine. Some of the old street names in the Fremont neighborhood which originally referred to places in Illinois have been changed, such as Chicago Avenue (now called 1st Avenue NW).
Pearl Avenue in Fremont, an original name on the plat map, was quickly changed by the developers themselves when they put through a streetcar line from Fremont out to Guy Phinney’s zoo, changing the name from Pearl to Woodland Park Avenue.
The boundaries of Fremont
The original plat of Denny & Hoyt’s included land on the south side of a stream, which was also considered part of Fremont as far south as today’s Florentia Street. It was not until the creation of the present ship canal in 1911-1917 that the south side was separated from Fremont and is now considered north Queen Anne.
The north boundary of the Denny & Hoyt plat which became Fremont was N. 39th Street. Other people, such as B.F. Day, developed land to the north of the Denny & Hoyt’s plat. B.F. Day’s land included the site of the present elementary school and other areas on the east side of Fremont Avenue between N. 39th to N. 42nd Street.
The eastern and western boundaries of the Denny & Hoyt’s plat map included the land from 3rd Avenue NW on the west, to Albion on the east (not quite as far east as Stone Way.)
To the west of the Denny & Hoyt’s plat was the homestead claim land of John Ross, on both sides of today’s ship canal including the present site of Seattle Pacific University.
To the east of the Denny & Hoyt’s plat, a plat called Edgewater was developed by Corliss P. Stone and William Ashworth. When Thomas Burke succeeded in putting the railroad through in 1887, there were train stations at Ross, Fremont and at Edgewater which was close to the present North Transfer Station on property once owned by William Ashworth. The railroad route is today’s Burke-Gilman Trail, named for the two railroad organizers Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman.
The process of neighborhood naming: plats, post offices and rail stations
When Thomas Burke’s Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad began running in 1887, stations were established along the way and some of these contributed to the naming of neighborhoods. Stations of the railroad were spaced about one-and-one-quarter miles apart, and often a post office was at or near the same location. In Bothell, for example, grocery store owner Gerhard Ericksen was asked what to call the station since he would be appointed to receive the mail. He said it should be called Bothell because that family were early residents.
In the 1890s as rail stations and post offices began to be established along the north shore of Lake Union, people began to use these as locators and some of them grew into neighborhood names. Plat names were also used, such as Ross, Edgewater and Latona. In the Seattle City Directory of the 1890s, some people listed their home address as “Ross 1st Addition” or “Ross 2nd Addition.” These were plat names of the old John Ross property located either north or south of the creek (today’s ship canal), and located west of 3rd Ave NW, the boundary with the Fremont neighborhood. The Ross post office was south of the creek, now under the waters of the ship canal.
Some of the rail station names and plat names decreased in use over time. In the 1890s there was a rail station and a post office at Edgewater, east of Stone Way, and another at the foot of Latona Avenue on Lake Union. These names fell out of use when the stations closed, and as the name Wallingford rose in popularity for the neighborhood name.
Seattle’s neighborhood names and identity
In the 1980s the City of Seattle established a Department of Neighborhoods which promoted neighborhood identity, and the present-day “boundaries” of Seattle neighborhoods were created at that time.
Although the setting of “boundaries” of Seattle neighborhoods is arbitrary, the purpose was to help give Seattle residents a sense of ownership and investment in their neighborhoods for involvement in issues.
Today’s boundaries of Fremont are defined as from the ship canal up to North 46th Street, and from 6th Avenue NW to Stone Way.
Abstract of Title, Denny & Hoyt’s Addition, by Greg Lange, 2007. Traces the timeline of legal actions from the homestead claim until the establishment of the plat. Unpublished document in the holdings of the Fremont Historical Society, Seattle.
Early Neighborhood Historic Resources Survey Report and Context Statement by Greg Lange and Thomas Veith, 2005 (revised 2009.) The report is listed as “Residential structures constructed prior to 1906” under context statements, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods historic preservation page.
Four Wagons West, Roberta Frye Watt, 1931, Seattle Public Library. Written by one of the granddaughters of Arthur Denny, the book tells the story of the Denny Party’s arrival in 1851 and their first years in Seattle.
John Philo Hoyt 1841-1926, Wikipedia essay.
“Edward Corliss Kilbourne, 1856-1959,” HistoryLink Essay #1251 by Louis Fiset, 1999.
“Finding Cherry Grove,” HistoryLink Essay #7875 by Hunter Brown, 2006.
“First Survey 1855,” HistoryLink Essay #2215 by Greg Lange, 1999.
“Judge Thomas Burke 1849-1925,” HistoryLink Essay #2610 by Junius Rochester, 1999.
“Plat filed for Town of Seattle on May 23, 1853,” HistoryLink Essay #2026 by Walt Crowley, 2000.
Seattle Annexation Map: Fremont was annexed to Seattle on May 1, 1891.
Seattle City Ordinance 4044, passed by the full Council December 16, 1895. An ordinance changing the names of certain streets and avenues in the City of Seattle. Seattle Municipal Archives legislative records, Seattle City Hall.
Seattle Street Renaming Searchable Table by historian Rob Ketcherside.