When we think of the pioneer white settlers of Washington Territory, we are referring to those who came before statehood in 1889. We assume that these adventurers were young single men out to make their fortune or young families seeking land claims and the opportunity to grow with the Territory.
There are some notable exceptions to the typical “young pioneers” storyline. Some men and women age 50+ were bold and energetic enough to start new lives on the frontier of the Pacific Northwest. One of these exceptional older adventurers was Cornelius Marshall Van Doren who was 56 years old when he arrived in the Territory in 1871, along with his wife Delia, age 54. The Van Dorens traveled with two adult children, son G.M. and his wife Amanda, and the Van Doren’s daughter Louisa and Louisa’s husband George W. Ward, age 33. The three couples left what appeared to be prosperous and settled lives in Illinois, and they traded this in for the adventure of new lands and unknown challenges.
This blog article will outline the activities of C.M. Van Doren when he became an active community member in Kent, Washington, about sixteen miles southeast of Seattle. At the end of this article we will briefly note his land claims which included part of what is now the Lake City neighborhood in northeast Seattle. We don’t know why Van Doren bought this northeast Seattle property in 1871; perhaps he simply held it as an investment like a savings account, which he hoped would grow in value.
The origins of Lake City in Seattle go back to this 1871 land claim of Van Doren’s, but it would be many more years before a community grew up in remote northeast Seattle.
From Illinois to Washington Territory in 1871
C.M. Van Doren and his son-in-law, George W. Ward, had some similarities of background. Both came from families which had been in America for many generations. Each man had ancestors who had fought in the War of the American Revolution.
Both C.M. Van Doren and George W. Ward had lived in New York State before moving to Ottawa, LaSalle County, Illinois. Van Doren and his son-in-law were businessmen in town, with Van Doren the owner of a store and George Ward working in the insurance business.
An extensive biographical outline of George W. Ward’s life is given in one of Seattle’s primary historical records, the History of Seattle by Clarence Bagley. The text has been posted on George W. Ward’s memorial site at Find A Grave.
Clarence Bagley, who was himself the son of a minister, told that George W. Ward never allowed his business enterprises to become immoral or unjust, and always conducted himself according to Christian principles. The Wards were active in the community and were active church members in Seattle. (More on the life of George Ward and his house which is still extant in Seattle, in an essay by Seattle Historian Rob Ketcherside.)
We may imagine the pros and cons which were discussed by the Van Doren and Ward families as they considered giving up everything they had in Illinois, to start a completely new life in a territory they had never seen, outside the still-small community of Seattle. We know from George Ward’s biographical sketch that one of his brothers had preceded him out to Washington Territory. This brother might have written some persuasive letters, urging George to take advantage of the opportunities to be found.
Somehow Cornelius & Delia Van Doren agreed that at their ages (56 & 54), they still had the strength to begin anew, so in 1871 they went along with their son & daughter’s families out to live in Washington Territory. The Van Dorens were very active in their new community for more than fifteen years until their deaths.
When the Wards and Van Dorens arrived in Washington Territory in 1871, they settled in the fertile farming valley about sixteen miles southeast of Seattle. After two years George & Louisa Ward moved into Seattle to pursue business opportunities. C.M. Van Doren became both a merchant and a farmer along what was then called the White River. Now we call it the Green River at the site of what is now Kent, Washington.
Van Doren’s Landing on the Green River
The river valley of southeast King County had rich soil but early farmers sometimes experienced severe flooding when the rivers would overflow. Sometimes the rivers would even change course, obliterating some farms and opening new lands that had previously been under water. This may be how C.M. Van Doren was able to get a good land claim although he was a relative late-comer in the valley. The river valley had been farmed by some of King County’s earliest white settlers in the 1850s, but when C.M. Van Doren arrived in 1871 he was able to obtain land next to what was then referred to as the White River, now the Green River at what is now Kent, WA.
Van Doren was both a merchant and a farmer. One of his enterprises was a “landing,” on the banks of the river. A landing is a place where there is a dock or other provision, such as a raft or canoes, so that people and goods could be loaded onto the sternwheelers and steamers which plied the river. The river boats would have to stay in mid-channel where the water was deep enough, and people would have to go out to the boat either via a dock or by rowing out. People along the river could flag down a commercial boat to make a stop for them, but a landing was a place where the boat would always stop for sure.
Farmers in the community would come to Van Doren’s Landing to send poultry, eggs, potatoes and vegetables to market “downriver” which meant toward Seattle, to the Duwamish River and thence to Seattle. Van Doren’s Landing is today a park on the Green River at 21901 Russell Road, next to the Kent Ponds.
Van Doren operated multiple enterprises, including a store and a blacksmith shop at the Landing. He could repair farmer’s tools at the blacksmith shop and could buy and sell goods to supply his store. In early days it was typical for a storekeeper to also be the postmaster. Van Doren’s store was ideally situated at the landing where mail would be unloaded, and as of May 1875 Van Doren became postmaster of the White River Post Office at the Landing.
The new enterprise: hops
C.M. Van Doren turned sixty years old in 1875 but he was still going strong with multiple enterprises, and he did not hesitate to launch into even more ventures in the years from 1875 until his death in 1887.
In 1865 pioneer settler Ezra Meeker, who lived near Puyallup, became the first in King County to plant hop vine cuttings on his farm. The crop was spectacularly successful and became a major source of income for farmers throughout the White River Valley.
Hops are the cone-shaped flower of a vine which needs to be supported by wires for its climbing. The vines need a lot of tending and watering, and the flowers had to be hand-picked, which led to a major source of employment for the Indians who still lived in the Duwamish River area in the 1870s and 1880s.
Hops are a major flavoring and preservative ingredient of beer, and are also believed to have medicinal value in reducing stress and inducing better sleep. Hops were sold at herbal medicine shops to be brewed like tea.
In 1877 the Daily Intelligencer newspaper reported on the progress of White River Valley farmers who were venturing into the hops business. In March 1877, it was noted that C.M. Van Doren was going to plant twenty acres of hops, and along with that he had completed a large new building for drying and storing the hops. In December the newspaper reported that Van Doren had a successful crop and he had packaged the hops wrapped in paper and boxed for the herbal medicine trade.
Hops became such a dominant crop that it caused the town of Kent to acquire its name. The town had previously been called Titusville after an early settler. Kent, England, had been known as the major hops-growing area of the world until the White River Valley in Washington usurped the title.
Van Doren as a civic activist
In 1879 the newspaper reported that Van Doren was president of the White River Water Company, along with early settler G.H. Titus and several others as directors. Their objective was to put water through wooden pipes to facilitate the watering of farm crops.
We don’t know for sure how long C.M. Van Doren kept up his farming work, but we do know that he was active in the community right up until his death in 1887, when he was in office as a King County Commissioner.
C.M. Van Doren served two terms, 1881-1883 and 1885-1887, as one of the King County Commissioners. This three-man board held considerable authority to legislate, run departments, appoint officials and administer tasks such as road maintenance. At the time, Seattle was the only incorporated city in King County so the rest of the county was governed by the Commissioners. In 1890 Kent was the second city in King County to incorporate, showing the strength of the economy and the community due to the success of hops.
Remembering Van Doren’s Landing today
The site of Van Doren’s property has been preserved as Van Doren’s Landing Park, 21901 Russell Road, Kent, WA 98032. It is a ten-acre park along the Green River Trail. At this writing in September 2020, the park has closed for a levee setback and park relocation project.
Townships and land claims
C.M. Van Doren seemed to be a financially successful person and we note that in addition to the property where he lived and had his businesses on the White (Green) River, Van Doren owned other properties in King County. We don’t know if he ever did anything with these properties such as arranging for the timber to be logged, or leasing the properties. It is possible that Van Doren simply held the properties as an investment in anticipation, like so many early settlers, of the possible railroad route which they thought would bring economic advantages to King County.
The properties that C.M. Van Doren owned in the 1870s are listed on the Bureau of Land Management site for homestead claims, which could be made as cash purchases at $1.25 per acre.
Some of the properties that C.M. Van Doren owned are in Township 26 (Township abbreviated as Twp in the column on the chart), which is Seattle north of 85th Street. Sections 22 and 27 of Township 26 are part of today’s Lake City neighborhood east of 35th Ave NE, nearest to Lake Washington. Sections 13 and 14 are portions of land on the western side of Seattle overlooking Puget Sound at about NW 145th Street (not visible on the portion of the township map below).
On the chart of Van Doren’s land holdings, the last two on the list are for Township 22 which was the Kent-area lands where he lived.
Township 26 – north Seattle and Shoreline
In preparation for statehood in 1889, the Land Office at Olympia, WA, made lists and maps to show the “chain of title” of land claims. The Township 26 map shown below, is the area from 85th Street (bottom line of the map) northward to 205th Street. Today’s north Seattle City Limits are at 145th Street and the City of Shoreline extends from there to 205th, which is the King County line.
The township maps were based upon the work of surveyors in the period 1855 to 1860, men who walked out the land with measuring tools to mark out a grid. The purpose was to make it possible for white settlers to mark the boundaries of their land claims, since at that time there were no streets or other kinds of markers. Township 25 was the first to be surveyed, for the six-mile distance from downtown Seattle out as far as 85th Street. Then the Township 26 survey continued northward from there.
The map (below) was meant to show the names of original land claimants, and we see that many of the names shown on the map were people who were no longer living by the year 1889. We may also note that most of the names shown, were people who never actually lived on these properties. An exception is the name of Charles Becker near the lower edge of the map where two branches of the creek system converge, a place which today is called The Confluence. Becker was a German immigrant who lived near the present site of Nathan Hale High School. Shortly after this map was made, Becker sold much of his land claim property to a fellow German immigrant, August Fischer.
Names on the Township 26 map of north Seattle
Township 26 holds the names of many very early white settlers who were not homesteaders in the sense of living on their claim property. Some were simply investing in land in hopes of harvesting natural resources such as timber. Others hoped that their land might end up in the path of a railroad, which would greatly increase the land value.
The dark square on the upper left marks the claim of John Thornton (1825-1904) at the headwaters of the creek named for him. Thornton was still living in the Port Townsend area as of 1889. Land Office records show that he paid cash for his claim in north Seattle’s Township 26. Thornton served in the Territorial Legislature and probably filed his claim at the Land Office during one of the times that he was in Olympia for the legislative session.
The small lake marked with the name John Welch, is at 125th & Meridian Avenue and later became known as Haller Lake.
A name shown on numerous places on the township map is Marshall Blinn (1827-1885), founder of the timber mill town of Seabeck. At the bottom edge of the map, the first vertical line on the right is 35th Ave NE, and we see that Blinn owned property along that line from NE 85th to 100th Streets. The corner of 85th & 35th is today the site of a Rite-Aid store in the heart of the Wedgwood business district. Another article on this blog tells how that site was later platted as the Pontiac Addition by a would-be developer in 1890.
In the bottom right corner of the Township 26 map (above) is written the names of Coulter & Tilley. Samuel Coulter and his wife’s brother, Moses Tilley, came to Washington Territory in the 1850s. They had a meat market in Olympia, Washington and perhaps never saw their north Seattle land claim, which today is the site of the Inverness plat of houses.
C.M. Van Doren’s properties in the future Lake City
In the close-up of part of the Township 26 map shown above, we see the number 22 out in the water and the name Van Doren above that. This property in Township 26, Section 22 is between NE 140th to 145th Streets which today is the northeast corner of Lake City.
Directly below Section 22, we see that Van Doren owned most of Section 27, which is part of today’s Lake City neighborhood on the side closest to Lake Washington between NE 110th to 125th Streets.
After the death of C.M. Van Doren in 1887, his son G.M. Van Doren was appointed administrator of his estate. G.M. would first have had to see to the needs of his mother, Delia, until she died just two years after her husband. Then G.M. Van Doren moved into Seattle and like his brother-in-law George W. Ward, G. M. worked in real estate transactions and insurance.
The Van Doren’s north Seattle land claims were sold to the Lees, who filed the first Lake City plats (maps of streets and house lots) in 1906-1907. These plats were east of 35th Ave NE, closest to Lake Washington. There were few roads at that time and the property was easier to reach via boat from Lake Washington, with a dock set up to receive future residents of Lake City. These first Lake City plats eventually gave their name to the neighborhood.
It was not until 1914, when the Erickson Road was put through from Seattle to Bothell, that people began to travel to Lake City by car. Then the intersection of NE 125th Street developed as a commercial center along today’s Lake City Way NE.
Many other land investors, such as Minnie Kraus, took portions of Lake City property as investments which would grow in value. By the 1950s Lake City was its own unique community until finally, in 1954, the area officially came within the Seattle City Limits.
THANK YOU to the Tremaine family for their inquiry about “Van Doren” marked on the Township Map, which set me on the quest to find out who Van Doren was.
Four Wagons West: the story of Seattle, by Roberta Frye Watt, 1931. On page 362 the author wrote, “Many young professional men….migrated to the Northwest on hearing that the Northern Pacific (railroad) was to actually begin construction in 1870. These men were the new apostles of pioneering who were to write their names large in the second phase of Seattle’s history.”
This statement gives us another clue as to why George W. Ward might have thought that Seattle would be a good business environment. He may have counted on growth of the city due to its soon-promised railroad connection in the 1870s. In Seattle, Ward invested in contracting and building, and he also worked in the insurance and loan businesses. The City of Seattle was shocked and disappointed in 1873 when it was finally announced that Tacoma would be the terminus of the railroad. By that time, businessmen like George W. Ward seem to have decided to hold on, stay in Seattle and keep on investing in Seattle.
The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish, by BJ Cummings, University of Washington Press, July 2020. See more info on DuwamishHistory.com The author’s recent “book talk” is on YouTube, where she speaks on the topic of the river.
Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, by David B. Williams, University of Washington Press, 2015. Chapter 4, “Replumbing the Lakes,” explains how the ship canal project and the lowering of Lake Washington transformed the Duwamish River, its watershed with other rivers and the Cedar River Watershed. Essays on the ship canal and rivers can be found on HistoryLink and on the author’s website, geologywriter.com
#387 “O’Brien/Kent Beginnings: White River Post Office,” by Greg Lange, 1998.
#1683 “Railroad Development in Seattle/Puget Sound Region 1872-1906,” by Heather M. MacIntosh & Walt Crowley, 1999.
#3455 “Haller Lake – Thumbnail History,” by Louis Fiset, 2001.
#3583 “White River Valley (King County) – Thumbnail History,” by Alan J. Stein, 2001.
#3587 “Kent – Thumbnail History,” by Alan J. Stein, 2001.
#7742 “Ezra Meeker plants hops in the Puyallup Valley in March 1865,” by Paula Becker, 2006.
#7943 “King County Commissioners,” by Emily Lieb, 2006. The list includes C.M. Van Doren who served 1881-1883 and 1885-1887. In 1969 the County Commission was replaced by the present King County Council system with nine members and an elected County Executive.
#8447 “Puyallup – Thumbnail History,” by Frank Chesley, 2008.
Bureau of Land Management – land claims of C.M. Van Doren.
Find A Grave: C.M. and Delia Van Doren, George W. Ward and Louisa are buried in Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill, Seattle. The Van Doren’s son G.M. Van Doren and his wife Amanda stayed in Seattle until sometime after the year 1900, when they returned to Illinois. They are buried at a cemetery in the Chicago area.
King County Watershed – articles and maps.
Seattle Public Library – online genealogy resources including the census; township maps; some years of Seattle City Directories.
Washington Digital Archives: dates of birth, death, marriage, and the census of years prior to statehood.
Washington Secretary of State – historical newspapers. By this means I found 1870s references to C.M. Van Doren’s farming and merchant activities as recorded in the Daily Intelligencer newspaper, forerunner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.