Names in the Neighborhood: Chelsea

NE 110th Street in the Meadowbrook neighborhood of northeast Seattle is today dominated by two large school buildings:  Nathan Hale High School on the south side of NE 110th Street and Jane Addams Middle School on the north side.

Hidden in the history of today’s “school street” is the story of a highway of a century ago, and a neighborhood name, Chelsea.  Chelsea referred to NE 110th Street before the present schools were built, Jane Addams Middle School (built 1949) and Nathan Hale High School (built 1963 on the former Meadowbrook Golf Course and Fischer Farm property).

Pictured below is Jane Addams Middle School, looking south with NE 110th Street at the top of the photo.  On the far left of the photo is 35th Ave NE.  Before the school was built, the housing developments we see here were referred to as Chelsea.

Looking southward, we see Jane Addams Middle School circa 1960. NE 110th Street is at the top of the photo showing the golf course property on the south side of NE 110th. The golf course later became the site of Nathan Hale High School.

Migrating westward across the USA

Chelsea, Iowa, founded in 1864.

Mae Gilbert grew up in Chelsea, Iowa, in the first years after the town was founded.  Chelsea was located along a railroad line dotted with similar small towns whose fortunes were built on the hope of economic prosperity via rail.

The origin-story of the naming of Chelsea was lost to recollection but it may have been named by a railroad official in tribute to another Chelsea home town, possibly in Massachusetts.

As a young adult Mae moved to Kansas and in 1894 she married Melvin Yates.  Over their lives together, Melvin & Mae would witness the decline of the railroad era and the rise of the automobile age.

Melvin & Mae’s parents had all started their lives in the eastern USA and gradually moved westward as far as Kansas.  Melvin & Mae would complete the migration, moving westward until finding their new home in Seattle.

The Civil War and westward movement

Civil War veterans had the right to a land claim awarded for their service. Here is the claim document of James C. Yates for land in Kansas. Documents are on the website of the Bureau of Land Management.

Melvin Yates was the son of a Civil War veteran, James Clay Yates of Company M, 12th Illinois Cavalry.  James Yates returned to his home state after completing his service, with the war ending in 1865.

Suddenly at age 50 in 1885, Yates moved his entire family to Kansas where he took a land claim as was his right as a Civil War veteran.  Melvin Yates was eighteen years old and his experience of the family’s move to Kansas may have been the launch of his own westward migration with interest in land acquisition and development.

Buying land in Seattle

Melvin & Mae Yates married in Kansas in 1894 and moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It is clear that Melvin & Mae continued to look westward, because in 1906 they bought land in Seattle, even though they had not yet moved to Seattle.

The Yates bought Lots 9 and 10 of Schlossmacher’s 5-Acre Tracts.  Each lot was five acres, so the Yates acquired ten acres total for $5,500.  Expressed in today’s street designations, the lots extended from NE 110th to 113th Streets, 30th to 32nd Avenues NE.

Albert Schlossmacher, German immigrant in 1880s Seattle

In the 1880s Seattle had a large German immigrant community with its own churches, newspaper and social clubs.

In 1885 Albert Schlossmacher arrived in Seattle, set up a tailor shop and ran ads in the Seattle Daily Intelligencer newspaper.  His first location was advertised as “opposite the Yesler-Leary Building” in the heart of Seattle’s business district.  The Yesler-Leary Building was on the west side of First Avenue, just north of Yesler Way.  The address of Schlossmacher’s tailor shop on the east side of the street was 606 Front Street (now First Avenue.)

Front Street and Yesler Way before the Great Seattle fire of June 1889. The Yesler-Leary building is at left. Schlossmacher’s tailor shop was in the block at right. The triangular building at center is today the sinking ship parking garage.

Schlossmacher’s tailor shop prospered and he used his profits to invest in land around the Seattle area.

Schlossmacher knew German immigrant Charles Becker who’d had a meat market in Seattle.  The Beckers bought land and retreated to their remote property at the present site of Nathan Hale High School on NE 110th Street, and on the hillside to the west.  Becker then sold some of that land to August Fischer, also from Saxony, who had been working as a carpenter in Seattle.

Perhaps these two fellow German immigrants, Becker & Fischer, encouraged Schlossmacher to invest in land on the north side of NE 110th Street.  Schlossmacher never lived out on that site himself, since he was not a farmer like Becker & Fischer.  Schlossmacher continued to operate his downtown tailor shop and live close by it.

Schlossmacher’s full-page advertisement in the Puget Sound Directory of 1887.

 

The Fire and the rebuilding of Seattle

We may imagine the drama of Schlossmacher’s experience on the day of Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.  His tailor shop at First & Yesler was only about five blocks from the origin of the fire at First & Madison Streets.  As the flames shot up and smoke filled the sky, Schlossmacher must have realized that he had just minutes to get away from the oncoming inferno.  He had the presence of mind to gather up his sewing machines and fabric supplies, urging his employees to hurry as they carried everything out.

Ruins of the Yesler-Leary building after Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.

It wasn’t long after the Fire that Schlossmacher began running ads in the City Directory and newspaper again, listing his shop address as “formerly 606 Front Street, now at 516 Third.”  This address was the present site of the King County Courthouse on Third Avenue between Jefferson & James Streets.

In 1890, less than a year after the Fire, Schlossmacher filed a plat for the land he had bought in the 1880s.  In this, Schlossmacher joined nearly 400 other plat filers in 1889-1891 whose property had shot up in value as newcomers poured into the City of Seattle to rebuild after the Fire.  Property owners thought they would easily be able to sell plots of land outside of the city, even as far as Schlossmacher’s on NE 110th Street which was more than six miles from downtown.

Schlossmacher’s 5-Acre Tracts with NE 110th Street as its southern border. In the center with the arrow pointing north, is 35th Ave NE.

To “file a plat” means to divide land into lots for houses or commercial buildings and it is implied that the lots will be offered for sale.  But Schlossmacher’s plat of five-acre tracts was too remote in the 1890s and was not good for development.  The lots did not sell, and with the ups and downs of the Seattle economy, Schlossmacher did not have money to pay the property taxes on his land.  In the early 1900s his five-acre tracts were auctioned for taxes, and Lots 9 & 10 were acquired by Melvin & Mae Yates.

Melvin & Mae Yates move to Seattle

On the census of the year 1910, Melvin & Mae Yates were listed twice, once in Colorado Springs where they still lived, and once at Seattle’s Green Lake where they were visiting Mae’s brother Frank Gilbert.  Frank Gilbert’s occupation was given as “real estate agent” and on this census of 1910 in Seattle, Melvin Yates listed himself as a real estate agent, as well.  However, Melvin kept his day-job even after moving to Seattle in 1912, as he worked for a grocery distribution company.

Melvin & Mae Yates built a house at 3004 NE 110th Street in 1914. This photo is from the 1938 survey of all properties in King County.

In 1914 Melvin & Mae built a house for themselves at 3004 NE 110th Street on the corner of the land they had bought.

Erickson Place is between NE 135th and 137th Streets and merges into Lake City Way NE.

By that year of 1914 the Yates knew that the property they had purchased was on the route of a new highway which extended from Seattle out to Bothell.  The route ran slightly to the east of the present Lake City Way/Bothell Way NE and was sometimes called Erickson Road, named for the state legislator from Bothell who had sponsored it.  After the present Lake City Way NE was built in the 1920s that route, parallel to Erickson Road, was first called Victory Way.

A tribute to Erickson Road can be seen today in the street sign where 35th Ave NE merges into Lake City Way NE.

Despite being a winding road with only one lane in each direction and not paved on all segments, the Bothell highway/Erickson Road of 1914 was the first to connect all the way from Seattle to Bothell for travel by car.  The road passed along the west side of the Fischer Farm (30th Ave NE).  At NE 110th Street, drivers had to turn right (east) and go over to 35th Ave NE before continuing northward.

On the map below, the red and blue lines on the right show that the present Lake City Way NE (blue) was parallel to the old Erickson Road (Old Bothell Highway).  We can see NE 110th Street on the map where the red line of the old highway takes an east-west jog.  At the end of this blog post is another map in black-and-white from a newspaper article which also compared the old highway to the proposed Victory Way.

The reason for the route of Erickson Road/Bothell Highway was partly the terrain.  From today’s Dahl Field on 25th Ave NE in Wedgwood, we see that as it goes north, the road skirts a hill, winding around and becoming 30th Ave NE at Nathan Hale High School near the corner of NE 110th Street.  The other reason for the route was to travel on one side of the Fischer Farm, with its western border on 30th Ave NE where Nathan Hale High School is today.

North of the corner of 30th Ave NE and NE 110th Street there is another steep hill.  To stay on level ground, the route turned right on NE 110th street and went over to 35th Ave NE.  On the map below we see the east-west jog along that five-block segment from 30th to 35th Ave NE along NE 110th Street.

On the map below we see the merge point of the red and blue lines which is at about 137th Ave NE where 35th Ave NE merges into Lake City Way NE.

The Erickson Road, later called the Old Bothell Highway, is the red line to the right (east) of today’s Lake City Way NE (blue line). The route ran up 30th Ave NE and turned right (east) at the corner of NE 110th Street.  The snaking green line along the shore of Lake Washington is the railroad route which is today’s Burke-Gilman Trail.  Map courtesy of Pacific Highway Association.

Chelsea is named

With the anticipation of increased car traffic out past their property in north Seattle, in 1916 the Yates named their community “Chelsea” and began running real estate sales ads in the newspaper.

The newspaper advertisements described Chelsea as the best of both worlds, with acreage plus the convenience of living only a couple of miles north of the Seattle City Limits.  The first ad which ran in the Seattle Daily Times of Sunday, January 7, 1917, said, “half acre or more land with each house site… a home where you can have your chickens, berries, fruit and garden and still be within thirty minutes’ ride from the heart of the city….”

Chelsea real estate advertisement of June 1920 in the Seattle Daily Times.

Chelsea in Seattle, a car commuter community

We don’t know, as of 1914, whether Mae Yates was still in touch with news from her home of Chelsea, Iowa, but we can speculate on her choice of the name for her new home in Seattle.

At the exact same time as the Yates went to live at 3004 NE 110th Street at the corner of a new highway though Seattle, the Lincoln Highway had been built from coast to coast and passed near to Chelsea, Iowa.

If Mae Yates knew about the Lincoln Highway (she might have read it in newspapers) she might have realized that cars and roads were taking the place of rail lines.  The Yates in Seattle seemed to recognize that they were living in a new era, that of the automobile, which would take transportation and housing developments into the future.

In the 1920s more and more young Seattle couples were seeking just-outside-the-city sites for establishing their homes, looking for affordable housing along with the ability to commute to their jobs.  There was no public transportation in Chelsea and new residents were sure to be early car owners.  This fit the pattern of development of most of Seattle northeast of the University District.

The Yates house, built in 1914, still stands at 3004 NE 110th Street. Photo by Valarie.

For Melvin & Mae Yates, the automobile became both a blessing and a curse.  Having a car enabled them to move out to their Chelsea homesite while Melvin maintained his employment, but ultimately the car was the cause of his death.

On September 1, 1928, Melvin Yates was working underneath his car when it fell off of its supports, and Melvin, age 60, was crushed to death by the car.

Mae Yates continued to live in her home for many more years, but it would remain for another widow, Carrie Palmer, to continue the development of Chelsea as a community of starter homes.

Sources:

Today’s 30th Ave NE has a stop sign at NE 110th and the Yates house is across on the northeast corner of the intersection.  On the right is Nathan Hale High School. Photo by Valarie.

Census and City Directory listings; Washington Digital Archives listing of death.

Civil War — Illinois regiments list.

The Historic Pacific Highway in Washington.

“King County Land Use Survey.”  HistoryLink Essay #3692 by Paula Becker, 2002.

Lincoln Highway Association.

Newspaper references:

“Schlossmacher’s 5-Acre Tracts — to Mae Gilbert Yates, lots 9 and 10, October 8, 1906, $5,500.”  Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 5, 1907, page 14.

“For Sale, Real Estate.”  Seattle Daily Times, Sunday, January 7, 1917, page 18.

“Chelsea, A Place of Beautiful Homesites.”  Seattle Daily Times, June 6, 1920, page 12.

Property records:

Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA, repository of the property records of King County.  Accessed March 25, 2021.

Book:

Seattle in the 1880s by David Buerge, 1986; page 71, ethnic groups and immigrants in Seattle.

The plan for the new Victory Way in 1921 — today’s Lake City Way NE. The dotted line is the old Gerhard Erickson Road. Photo from the Seattle Daily Times of March 14, 1920, page 5.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Meadowbrook neighborhood, name of the neighborhood, Plat names and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Names in the Neighborhood: Chelsea

  1. Karen says:

    Thank you for the post. This is an interesting article about this neighborhood. I pass the Yates house all the time. It also struck me how much Seattle’s architecture downtown there looked like San Francisco’s. I wonder if the city would have looked more like San Francisco had we not had that fire. Cheers.

  2. Thanks Karen! I attended Nathan Hale High School and was aware of the Yates house across the street but did not realize that it was so old. I think that early Seattleites (1880s) did mimic San Francisco architecture especially Queen Anne, but much of Seattle reflects more humble housing.

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