In the year 1900 Alexandrina McKenzie was a 43-year-old farm wife in Bingham Township, Huron, Michigan, with five of her six children still at home.
Ten years later, Alexandrina was a widow in Seattle, supporting herself and her children with income from real estate sales. Alexandrina was a woman in real estate transactions in the early years of what would become the Wedgwood neighborhood of northeast Seattle.
Alexandrina lived in the 7301 block of 35th Ave NE near what would become the site of the Big Green House. We don’t know for sure if she was the one who had the house built and lived in it, but the Big Green House story, part of neighborhood history, is still a source of fascination even though the house has been demolished.
In this blog article I will trace Alexandrina’s origins and how her activities paralleled the growth of northeast Seattle.
The origins of Alexandrina
Alexandrina was the first child of her Scottish-immigrant parents to be born in Canada. Alexandrina had two older brothers who had been born in Scotland and she had four younger sisters born in Ontario, Canada or in Huron County, Michigan, when the family migrated there.
Alexandrina seemed to be a precocious young woman who was eager to grow up quickly. She finished eighth grade in 1870, turned fourteen years old and then married a 26-year-old local farmer, David McKenzie. Huron County had many other Scottish immigrants like David McKenzie whose families had come through Canada and then migrated to Michigan.
The McKenzie family moves from Michigan to Seattle
In the year 1900 David & Alexandrina McKenzie’s eldest son was married and out on his own in Michigan. The McKenzies had five other children still at home. Soon their next two children, Christina and Sarah, found spouses from among the farmers of Scottish descent in their community.
In 1902 the McKenzies made a radical decision to leave Michigan and make a new start out in Seattle. The reasons may have included health concerns as David at age 58 was no longer able to work. The McKenzies’ two married daughters Christina Slack and Sarah Farrell with their husbands, along with David & Alexandrina and the three youngest McKenzie children, left their Michigan farm home and migrated out to Seattle in the Pacific Northwest.
In Seattle, Christina’s husband Charles Slack worked as an architect and home builder. We may speculate that he helped Alexandrina learn about property and buildings as it became increasingly clear that David McKenzie would not live much longer, and Alexandrina would have to find a way to support herself and her younger children.
Buying property in the future Wedgwood in the early 1900s
In 1903 Alexandrina bought a ten-acre tract of land in remote northeast Seattle, in the 7301 block between 33rd to 35th Avenues NE. The next nearest houses were at the Village of Yesler (today’s Laurelhurst) where there was a sawmill and a railroad stop. Perhaps Alexandrina thought that population growth would eventually extend out to her land site, although at the time of her purchase the only road was the unpaved 35th Ave NE. Alexandrina filed a plat (a map with a plan of house lots) and began selling the lots for income. The name of Alexandrina’s plat was Highhurst on the Hill.
On the map of 1894 below, we see only a big blank space in northeast Seattle in today’s Wedgwood area, with no residents or development. The nearest landmark was Calvary Cemetery (established 1889) on 35th Ave NE with the northeast corner of the cemetery at 35th & NE 55th Street. East of there, at 40th Ave NE, with the word “Keith” written vertically on the map below the word cemetery, was a railroad stop at what is now the Hawthorne Hills neighborhood. Pontiac, present site of Magnuson Park, is shown as a community on Lake Washington where there was a brick-making plant and a railroad stop.
Northeast Seattle remained little-populated until after 1910, and Alexandrina was one of the first to buy a tract of land and “do a development” in what would become Wedgwood.
Alexandrina perseveres through hard times
In June 1904 Alexandrina filed a document called Declaration of Homestead, a legal strategy to protect one’s residence from creditors by indicating that it was the family’s sole asset.
A Declaration of Homestead meant that there must have been a house, but due to the lack of evidence of specific lots on property records we can’t be sure which house the McKenzies lived in, in those early years. It may have been that there was a house which is gone now, on or near the same Lot 53 of the Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE. Another possibility is 7302 34th Ave NE since Perry, the McKenzies’ youngest child, was listed as living in the 7302 house with his family after his marriage in 1913.
We don’t know for sure whether the McKenzies built and lived in the Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE.
Property transaction records show that in 1910 there was a house valued at $250, on or near Lot 53. That year, Alexandrina sold Lot 53, the site of the Big Green House to a carpenter, William Voss. At that time the Voss family was living on 15th Ave NE in the University District.
It may be that William Voss was the contractor who built the Big Green House, because he later lived in it with his family. William Voss died in 1930 and the Voss family owned the house until the 1940s.
William Voss had bought adjacent lots as well, and built several other houses including 7318 34th Ave NE, on the street behind the Big Green House. Voss family descendants whom I interviewed told me that the Big Green House was too hard to heat in the wintertime. They used to retreat to the 7318 house in winter, as that house was snug.
Alexandrina’s husband David McKenzie died in 1908 after a long decline in residence at a nursing facility. Alexandrina’s courage and determination to provide for her family carried her through the difficult years until all her children were launched into marriage and careers.
Alexandrina moves to the University District
By 1913 Alexandrina had not sold all of the lots in her Highhurst plat but she had accumulated enough money to build a new house at 5038 18th Ave NE in the University District. She owned this house free and clear. The City of Seattle construction permit said that the estimated building cost would be $3,800. Alexandrina hired a well-known contractor, A.J. Carr of Wallingford, to build the house.
In 1913 Alexandrina, age 57, moved to 5038 18th Ave NE with her one remaining unmarried child, 24-year-old daughter Frances. Frances worked as a hospital nurse and Alexandrina ran a boarding house, meaning that she received income from people renting rooms in the house on 18th Ave NE.
Back in Michigan, Alexandrina’s mother had done the same thing after she was widowed, as opening a boarding house was an often-used strategy for a widow to support herself. Alexandrina would have known that a boarding house needed to be in a convenient location for the residents to get to work or to school. Her new house on 18th Avenue NE was in the growing University District with its schools, businesses and access to streetcar lines. Perhaps by 1913 when Alexandrina built this house, she had realized that her land out on 35th Ave NE was too remote and was developing too slowly for her to conduct a business such as a boarding house there.
The McKenzies begin another migration
Over the years that Alexandrina McKenzie lived in Seattle, most of her married children lived nearby. Last to be married was Frances in 1922, and then a migration to Los Angeles began. By 1930 Alexandrina, age 74, and all four of her married daughters were in Los Angeles. Eldest son Neil stayed in Michigan, but since his children also migrated out to the Pacific Northwest, at retirement age he came to Seattle and lived with his daughter. Alexandrina’s youngest son Perry became known as a Sammamish Valley farmer (near Woodinville, northeast of Seattle).
Alexandrina lived with her daughters in Los Angeles and helped raise her grandchildren. She lived to be almost 90 and died in Los Angeles in 1946.
Alexandrina and the growth of northeast Seattle
When Alexandrina chose to live in and develop a plat of land in northeast Seattle, she was part of a real estate trend to find properties which were inexpensive but with potential to increase in value, due to anticipated city growth outward from the University District and the campus of the University of Washington.
Realtors even came from other places in the USA to get in on the growth, such as the McLaughlin brothers from Detroit, Michigan. They were in-process of developing Laurelhurst at the same time that Alexandrina moved to the 7301 block of 35th Ave NE, about two miles north of today’s Laurelhurst.
Alexandrina’s daughter Sarah Farrell and her husband James were part of the McKenzie family group who had migrated out from Huron County, Michigan in 1902. The Farrells settled in the 4800 block at the growing edge of the Yesler/Laurelhurst community of northeast Seattle, where real estate was advertised as having potential to greatly increase in value. In 1907 plats of land were being filed with names like Exposition Heights, referring to the world’s fair event, the AYP Exposition, which was in planning stages to be held in 1909 on the campus of the University of Washington a short distance away.
Exposition Heights, developed by Crawford & Conover Real Estate, is located by the train trestle where the road passes underneath from Union Bay Place to 35th Ave NE. This ramp-like road was originally named Exposition Place.
Alexandrina’s daughter Sarah Farrell & her husband James lived about a block from Victor & Carrie Palmer, who were also investing in land plats in northeast Seattle.
In addition to their land out in “Chelsea” (today’s Meadowbrook) Victor & Carrie Palmer filed a plat called Ravenna Hill Addition on 35th Ave NE, bordered by NE 70th Street on the south, which was very close to Alexandrina’s Highhurst plat at NE 73rd. Today the Grateful Bread building at 7003 35th Ave NE is on the southeastern corner of the Palmer’s Ravenna Hill plat.
In her efforts to develop her Highhurst plat and see what others were doing to promote real estate, it is likely that Alexandrina read real estate ads in the Seattle newspapers and observed real estate agents showing property around the area. She may have talked to other property owners who were selling lots, such as Victor & Carrie Palmer.
In February 1907 Alexandrina hired real estate agent Charles Udell to run ads in the newspaper for Highhurst on the Hill, and bring potential buyers out from Udell’s downtown office to see Highhurst. Mr. Udell ran ads trumpeting the “best view in the city” and “magnificent forty-foot lots at $350” in Highhurst.
In the newspaper advertisements of 1907 Mr. Udell referred to the intense infrastructure improvements which were going into the university campus and nearby districts, in preparation for the world’s fair event called the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition to be held in 1909. He also mentioned the Lake Washington Ship Canal which was to be built, though the actual digging had not yet started.
After the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition
Seattle’s AYP Exposition of 1909 was an enormous success in boosting Seattle’s image as a vibrant, growing metropolis. The publicity effect of the Exposition was that developers were attracted to Seattle and the general population increased, with people coming in search of economic opportunities in Seattle.
For Alexandrina, the run-up of publicity to the AYPE did increase the visibility of her real estate and she did sell quite a few lots. This did not mean, however, that houses were immediately built upon all of the lots in Alexandrina’s Highhurst on the Hill. Some people bought lots only to hold as an investment which they hoped would grow in value.
Others bought lots in hopes of someday building a house, but there were some factors which held back the development of the neighborhood: no roads, no city water supply and no electricity. The nearest school was Yesler School at 4706 36th Ave NE.
In the newspaper ads he ran in early 1907, real estate salesman Charles Udell said that lots in Highhurst “would be worth more in six months.” He seemed to be assuming that the infrastructure improvements for the AYPE in and around the University of Washington campus would be extended out to northeast Seattle rather soon — but that did not happen.
Some improvements, such as streetcars, never came to northeast Seattle, and it would be another fifteen years until the future-Wedgwood area got electricity and water lines (in 1923-1926). Decades went by until, in 1945, Alexandrina’s Highhurst finally came into the City Limits of Seattle.
Early residents in the (future) Wedgwood neighborhood
Due to its remote location and lack of utilities, by 1910 there were still only a few people living in what would later become the Wedgwood neighborhood.
The Schultz and Sherman families (Chickens and Cows in Wedgwood) lived along NE 75th Street in the block just to the north of Alexandrina’s. The Boulden family lived at 3103 NE 80th Street and nearby was a cluster of interrelated families who had immigrated from Holland.
German-speaking immigrants were coming into the neighborhood, too, such as bridge carpenter Gustav Morris who lived at 7500 43rd Ave NE and restaurant cook William Rose at 6810 40th Ave NE.
Alexandrina acquired an investor and good neighbor when German immigrant William Voss decided to make Highhurst his home.
In 1910 Voss bought the future site of the Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE. Voss also bought adjacent lots, where he began building houses and selling them. He built the house at 7318 34th Ave NE which was also used by his family.
William Voss died in 1930 and the family continued to own the Big Green House into the 1940s.
The Big Green House is gone and so are some of the other houses built by William Voss, especially those on 35th Ave NE where there is now a commercial district between NE 73rd to 75th Streets. There are still some houses built by William Voss on 34th Ave NE, remnants of the era when Wedgwood first began to develop.
Big Green House — previous research and articles which can be found on this blog. I first began researching this house in 2007 and I still do not feel that I have solved all of the mysteries of the Big Green House! Thank you, to all of the archivists, librarians and historians who have helped me in this study.
Census and City Directory listings.
City of Seattle construction permit #124511 of July 12, 1913, signed by Alexandrina McKenzie, for a house at 5038 18th Ave NE. Accessed at the microfilm library of Department of Construction.
King County Parcel Viewer — look up addresses and property details; on the right margin of the page is a link to plat maps.
Newspaper search via the Seattle Public Library on-line access. Some details of the McKenzie family story, such as what year they came to Seattle, were derived from newspaper obituary notices of family members.
Puget Sound Regional Archives, repository of the property records of King County. Deed transactions and original property records for Alexandrina McKenzie.
Washington Digital Archives — dates of marriages in Washington state; death dates.
It’s so sad the Big Green House was demolished and replaced with boring townhouses. Still, I’m cheered its history is preserved here and in archives.