In the early 1900s almost no one lived in what is now the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle, due to the area’s lack of access to water, its remoteness and the lack of roads.
In the 1870s, Capt. DeWitt C. Kenyon, a Civil War veteran from Michigan, came to Seattle and made a homestead land claim of 160 acres on both sides of the present NE 75th Street. Land records tell us of the boundaries of the Kenyon claim, but we don’t know exactly where the Kenyon’s log cabin home was located. Possible locations include the present site of Nathan Eckstein School at 3003 NE 75th Street.
After living in Seattle for about twelve years, Capt. Kenyon moved on to California. In 1888 Capt. Kenyon’s north Seattle homestead claim property was sold to a young land speculator, Charles H. Baker. But Baker’s investment never did yield a profit for him; house lots did not sell well due to the remote location and the ups and downs in the Seattle economy in the 1890s.
This blog post will tell how Baker’s investment land, named the State Park plat, was populated by just a few families by 1910. A few more people came to Wedgwood in the 1920s and 1930s. Finally the Wedgwood area really began to grow in the 1940s due to the wartime demand for housing for workers, and development of the first Wedgwood houses by Albert Balch.
Looking at the houses along 31st and 32nd Avenues NE gives a representative history of the phases of Wedgwood housing from the early 1900s to today. We know that some of the earliest houses in Wedgwood were located here, just north of the (future) Nathan Eckstein site, and that these streets did not get completely filled up with houses until the 1950s.
Copyright notice: text and photos on this article are protected under a Creative Commons Copyright. Do not copy without permission.
Charles Baker sets out to make his fortune in Seattle
Charles H. Baker came to Seattle in 1887 to get a job and establish himself so that he could get married. He worked as a surveyor for the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad and that is how he first saw the spectacular natural feature which is now called Snoqualmie Falls. The railroad developers wanted a “picnic grounds” at the falls and they employed Baker to plot the best route of a railroad to the site. In looking at the thundering waterfall, Baker got the idea to generate hydroelectric power from it and he built the plant which today is still sending power to Seattle.
In his work in the Seattle area Charles Baker came in contact with land developers who were also closely involved with streetcar lines and railroads, creating access to transportation which would help sell house lots in developments like Green Lake. Baker began making speculative land purchases where he thought that streetcars or railroad might eventually run, and probably that is why he became interested in buying the former homestead land of Capt. DeWitt C. Kenyon in northeast Seattle.
The original title abstract of 1888, shown below, lists Charles Baker as a single man along with some co-investors to purchase Capt. Kenyon’s land. C.C. Calkins was an early investor in Mercer Island, and William D. Wood was the developer of Green Lake in Seattle. The other two men, William J. Jennings and Martinius Stixrud, had worked on the railroad. In the 1890s Jennings became the ticket agent at the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern office, and Stixrud became a civil engineer with an office in the Burke Building, present site of the Federal Building in downtown Seattle.
Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889 heats up Baker’s speculative land investments
By 1890 Charles Baker was married, and he and his wife Gladys filed a plat called State Park for some of his land purchase in the future Wedgwood. A “plat” is a section of land, any size, for which a map of lots and streets has been laid out, even though the streets have not actually been put through. The State Park plat was on the north side of NE 75th Street between 30th to 35th Avenues NE.
Charles and Gladys Baker’s State Park Addition was one of hundreds of plats which were filed in the months following Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. Seattle began growing explosively with newcomers arriving daily to get in on the rebuilding of the city. Land speculators like Charles Baker thought it would be a good time to try to sell lots, thinking that newcomers would buy. After his work with the railroad, in the 1890s Baker began working for Seattle pioneer David Denny on extension of streetcar lines into the University District. It is likely that Baker thought the lines would continue from the University District on out to northeast Seattle and that this would increase the value of house lots in his State Park plat.
Plat filings in the (future) Wedgwood in the year 1890
Several plats were filed in the (future) Wedgwood area in 1890, including Mary J. Chandler’s at the present site of the Picardo P-Patch. With Charles Baker as surveyor, in 1890 Joseph Doheny filed two plats on the east side of 35th Ave NE, the Pontiac and Manhattan Heights plats.
Through the 1890s, lots in the above named plats did not sell. The location was just too remote, with no access to water and no way to get to the properties (no roads). Investors like Joseph Doheny and Charles Baker had been overly optimistic that streetcar or rail would soon reach northeast Seattle so that land could be developed, like William D. Wood had done successfully at Green Lake.
In 1893 a catastrophic national economic depression took place, called the Panic of 1893, which put a freeze on further transportation development in Seattle, and which depressed land prices, as well.
By 1900 the King County property tax assessment rolls for Charles Baker’s State Park plat showed red ink, indicating that the property taxes had not been paid. Baker had owned the property for more than ten years without making a profit. By 1902 most of the properties had been sold for taxes at a King County foreclosure auction.
Some of the earliest residents in the (future) Wedgwood in northeast Seattle
By 1905 the King County property tax assessment rolls began to show names of owners who had bought properties in the (future) Wedgwood for as little as $30 per lot, apparently holding it as an investment only. One of the first to come and actually live in the area was an eccentric ginseng farmer, Charles Thorpe, who lived at about NE 81st Street just west of 35th Ave NE.
Before 1910 only a few people lived in Wedgwood, including Charles Thorpe the ginseng farmer, Charlie Schultz who lived at 3202 NE 75th Street, and John Blomquist who lived at what is now the Nathan Eckstein School site.
Another early family was the Bouldens who built a house at 3103 NE 80th Street in 1907. They listed their address in the City Directory as “Charles Street,” which was the original name of 31st Ave NE as given on Charles Baker’s State Park plat map.
Other streets in the State Park plat had been named for co-investors Stixrud (32nd Ave NE) Woodman (for William Wood) on 33rd Ave NE, and Jennings on 34th Ave NE.
Early residents around NE 77th Street on 31st and 32nd Avenues NE
A young couple, Charles & Edna Near, left their farm home in Michigan to start a new life in Seattle in 1908. Charles & Edna had heard of the world’s fair event planned for 1909, which they believed would bring increased business opportunities to Seattle.
The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, to be held on the campus of the University of Washington, would bring a lot of visitors to Seattle. The event brought some new permanent residents to Seattle, people looking for new opportunities, like Charles and Edna Near.
Charles & Edna chose to live in the University District to be close to the hustle and bustle of the AYP Exposition and its business opportunities. Their first residence was a tiny cottage at 5252 11th Ave NE, just big enough for themselves and their daughter Maxine, age three, who had been born in Michigan.
In Seattle Charles found plenty of work as a carpenter, enough to support the move of the family to a bigger house which could accommodate new baby Howard, born in 1910, plus Edna’s widowed mother Harriet Potter from Michigan.
Harriet Potter had sold her farm property in Michigan and she used some of the money to make a speculative land investment in northeast Seattle. In contrast to the booming University District in 1910, lands to the northeast were still undeveloped and lots were not expensive. At that time, there were no side-streets put through in what later became the Wedgwood neighborhood, and there were no utilities – no electricity or city water supply. The few, scattered houses in northeast Seattle each had to have a well-water source.
Property tax assessment records show that in 1911 Harriet Potter had a house built on one of the three lots she purchased, at what later became 7700 31st Ave NE. The three lots at that corner had been owned by Thomas Clausen, a carpenter living in Fremont. It was common for carpenters or other building tradesmen to buy lots where they might build a house and sell it. We can’t know for sure, but it may be that Clausen was the one who built a house on the site for Harriet Potter.
We don’t know exactly why Harriet Potter chose to have a house built there on 31st Ave NE or whether she ever lived in it herself. She died in Seattle in 1917, and address listings for her daughter and son-in-law Edna & Charles Near, show that they stayed in the University District.
By the 1920s Charles Near was riding the meteoric rise of the automobile industry. He had his own auto repair shop called Cottage Garage, located on the north side of NE 45th Street across from the present site of Dick’s Drive-In. Charles, Edna and their two children moved to a house on 2nd Ave NE just around the corner from the auto shop.
It was not until the third generation that Harriet Potter’s legacy was fulfilled in the building of the present house at 7700 31st Ave NE. Harriet’s granddaughter Maxine grew up and married a Navy man, Robert Thurston. After traveling with the Navy, the Thurstons returned to Seattle where Robert worked as a telephone technician at the naval base at Sand Point.
In 1932 Robert & Maxine Thurston had a new house built on the land which Harriet Potter had purchased in 1911. This new house at 7700 31st Ave NE was on the southernmost of the three lots and was not the same as the house built there in 1911. By the time that the Thurstons built their new house, city water and electric service were available on that street.
Living on 31st and 32nd Avenues NE in early years
King County’s original property tax assessment rolls show ownership of lots and whether there were any “taxable structures” which had been built. The tax assessment roll of 1910 showed the Schultz family living at 3202 NE 75th Street, and the Boulden family at 3103 NE 80th Street. In between these was a house built in 1909 at 7723 32nd Ave NE, but we don’t know for sure who lived in the house. The information card shown below, written in 1938, listed Mr. Van Maurik as owner as of 1925.
The property tax roll for the year 1910 had listed the house at 7723 32nd Ave NE with value of $200. At that time the house was owned by a University District real estate man, Charles B. Kittredge, but we know that he did not live there himself. We may speculate that Kittredge had the house built for workers to live in while they were preparing the street for access and digging a well for a water source. These improvements would help Mr. Kittredge sell lots for house-building.
The next resident on the block was a Dutch immigrant, Hendrik Van Maurik, who as of 1925 owned several adjacent lots including the little house formerly owned by real estate agent Charles B. Kittredge at 7723 32nd Ave NE. In 1928 Mr. Van Maurik built a big new house at 7716 31st Ave NE. His house shared a well-water source with 7723 32nd Ave NE.
The census of 1930 listed the Van Maurik family as living in the new house at 7716 31st Ave NE (current photo below). Information on the 1930 census was that Mr. Maurik had immigrated to the USA in 1913, and he was a bricklayer by trade. He took a new wife, Susanne, after coming to the USA and they had two daughters born in Washington State.
As of 1930 Mr. Maurik’s 23-year-old son Joe, from his first marriage, was also living in the house with Joe’s wife and baby daughter, and there was another man living with the family who was employed as a construction helper with Mr. Maurik. With this many people (five adults and three children), we may wonder if they all lived in the one house at 7716 31st Ave NE. It is possible that some of them, perhaps Joe and his family, were living in the little house at 7723 32nd Ave NE, though that house was not listed separately on the census.
Mr. Maurik began building more houses and records show that in 1930 he built the brick house located a few blocks away at 7503 34th Ave NE, shown at right, showcasing his skills as a bricklayer.
Mr. Maurik then built a house at 7719 32nd Ave NE, pictured below, with that same set of house plans as 7503 34th Ave NE, on a lot back-to-back with his own home.
The brick house at 7719 32nd Ave NE was begun by Mr. Maurik in 1938 but property records show that as of 1940 the house still was not finished.
Mr. Maurik’s wife Susanne died in 1939 and the census of 1940 showed that his son Joe was no longer living in the Seattle area. We may speculate that Mr. Maurik’s troubles, including the death of his wife and the lack of helpers with his work, caused the building project at 7719 to be delayed.
Sometime after 1940 Mr. Maurik finally finished the house, pictured at right, and sold it to a buyer, the Thompson family. At the end of this article is a photo of the house in its unfinished state in 1940.
The Thurston family builds two more houses
The Thurston family at the corner of the block, 7700 31st Ave NE, also purchased adjacent lots and had houses built. The two houses directly behind theirs were built by the Thurstons for family members to live in or to use as rental properties.
The house at 7711 32nd Ave NE, built in 1933, pictured at right, was lived in by Mrs. Thurston’s brother Howard Near and his family. After returning from service with the Navy, Howard Near got a job as an aircraft mechanic in Seattle.
The Fargo family migrates to Seattle
Another house built by the Thurstons was at 7701 32nd Ave NE, built in 1942. It was rented by a family who, like others on the block, had come to Seattle for work opportunities. Ray & Mary Ellen Fargo started out as newlyweds in St. Louis, Missouri. They headed Out West when they heard of the wartime industries of Seattle in the 1940s.
Later in the 1940s Ray & Mary Ellen Fargo heard of the newly organized parish of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, 8900 35th Ave NE, and that there would be a school established for the children of the parish in the growing Wedgwood neighborhood. The Fargo family moved to 7701 32nd Ave NE which was back-to-back with the Thurstons, so that they could live in the Our Lady of the Lake parish.
Then in the 1950s Mr. Maurik of 7716 31st Ave NE, decided to give up his big house and move to the Kitsap Peninsula. The Fargo family moved to that house and owned it until 2009. The present owners of 7716 31st Ave NE, still with its original brickwork by Hendrik Van Maurik, continue to cherish the house.
Becoming Wedgwood in the 1940s
The onset of World War Two in the 1940s was the catalyst for the creation of Wedgwood as a neighborhood. As the City of Seattle was flooded with war-industry workers, vast tracts of land were still available in northeast Seattle and it began to fill up with small wood-frame houses produced under wartime restrictions on materials.
Developer Albert Balch bought the forty-acre tract which had once been the isolated home of Mr. Thorpe the ginseng farmer, and Balch created the first Wedgwood plat in 1941. This was a unified development of two hundred homes all on the same scale, from NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE.
The name of Balch’s development, Wedgwood, caught on when nearby businesses began to use it, and it gradually became the name of the neighborhood.
Along 31st and 32nd Avenues NE where there had once been only four houses, in the 1940s the available lots on that block filled up with small “starter” homes. The process of building these 1940 homes in and around the older houses, was called “infill.” The early 1900s residents of the block had typically owned more than one lot, because they needed space for a well-water site, a vegetable garden and outbuildings such as a place to store firewood. As city utilities became available, the lots around each old house were given up for the 1940s houses which were built with access to city waterlines and electricity.
A new era of houses on 31st and 32nd Avenues NE in Wedgwood
Some of the old houses on 31st and 32nd Avenues NE are well-preserved like Mr. Maurik’s at 7716 31st Ave NE, and remind us of early years on the block. Some, like the very small 7723 32nd Ave NE, have been remodelled and expanded at least twice.
Some other houses on 31st and 32nd Avenues NE, even those built in the 1950s, have given way to new construction, such as the original site of the Boulden house at 3103 NE 80th Street. The site had a new house in 1956. That house was torn down and the one pictured at right was completed in 2019.
The Schultz house at 3202 NE 75th Street was expanded over time. From a value of less than $300 when it was built more than one hundred years ago, the house, pictured below, was listed for sale in 2019 for more than one million dollars. It remains to be seen if the house will be preserved or torn down for new construction.
Census listings: On HeritageQuest accessed through the Seattle Public Library website.
City directory listings: Polk directories available at the Seattle Public Library and at the Seattle Municipal Archives.
Property records: King County Tax Assessment Rolls, Title Abstract and Property Record Cards, Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.
#715: Seattle’s Great Fire by Greg Lange, 1999.
#1169: William D. Wood (1858-1917) by Louis Fiset, 1999.
#1972: The Panic of 1893 by Greg Lange, 1999.
#2227: Seattle Neighborhoods: Green Lake – Thumbnail History, by Louis Fiset, 2000.
#3489: Dick’s Drive-In by Priscilla Long, 2001.
#3729: Mercer Island’s Calkins Hotel Burns Down in 1908, by Alan J. Stein, 2002.