As of 1874 George Boman had done a lot of living in his thirty years of life. He’d already been married and divorced in Tennessee, had fought for the Union in the Civil War, had made a new marriage in Kentucky and had gone to Nebraska to obtain land via a homestead claim.
After his Civil War service with the Union Army ended in June 1865, Boman did not go back home to Tennessee to live. He lived a few years in Kentucky, where he took a new wife, Adelia. George & Adelia then went to Richardson, Nebraska, and lived there about seven years until they had “proved up the claim” and had been awarded ownership of the land. A land grant document was recorded for George Boman on February 10, 1873, meaning that he owned the land and could then sell it if he wanted.
As he considered what he might do next, it is possible that while George Boman was still in Nebraska, he read newspaper articles about Seattle’s May Day Picnic of 1874. Working together as a community on May Day, the fledgling City of Seattle had a can-do spirit with determination to build Seattle’s own railroad. As a Civil War veteran who had learned the vital necessity of rail corridors as supply lines, Boman might have been attracted to the young, vigorous City of Seattle with its potential for economic advantages of rail and port.
This blog post is the second article about the life of George Boman. In this article we will see what things Boman did once he moved to Seattle in 1875.
George & Adelia Boman arrive in Seattle in 1875
In 1869 the first transcontinental railroad was completed with its terminus at Sacramento, California. In the 1870s there were constant rumors of more rail lines to be built, such as a northern route to the Pacific Northwest. People wanted to get in on the prosperity which they thought would come with the railroad. Towns sprang up at stops along rail routes and became centers of commerce as the railroad moved goods to market.
We may wonder if Boman knew that Seattle had been “snubbed” by the Northern Pacific Railroad in July 1873, when the NP chose Tacoma over Seattle, for their rail terminus. At that time some people did leave Seattle because they figured that the town would never amount to anything. Others were determined to stay, in hopes of the prosperity which they believed would come, when Seattle would eventually get a railroad.
With his experience of the vital importance of railroads during the Civil War, George Boman may have thought he would get in ahead of the coming of the railroad to Seattle, where property values would increase if the city became a rail terminus and shipping center.
Seattle was very small when George & Adelia Boman arrived in 1875. The population was only a couple thousand white people, and native Americans still lived in the area. We may wonder what motivated the Bomans to give the frontier town of Seattle a try, and what gave them the determination to hold on in hope of the future of Seattle.
Writing in his book Washington Territory, historian Robert Ficken described early Seattle as having a dynamic quality of life with residents who were optimistic about opportunities. Describing Seattle in the 1870s-1880s, Ficken writes,
“Seattle already possessed many of the features that would eventually make it the singular urban area of the Pacific Northwest. Persons arriving by sea, still the most practical means of reaching the place, gazed upon what one traveler described as “a picture of entrancing loveliness” when entering Elliott Bay, especially at night. Illuminated by gas lights, buildings and streets were “duplicated and extended in the clear and glassy waters of the harbor.” Townspeople believed in what the Post Intelligencer newspaper called “the spirit which is not content with ‘well enough,’ but which seeks to make the most of every opportunity.”
George Boman’s next career: business investor and real estate dealer
When he first arrived in Seattle it was clear that George Boman was not planning to do farming. He was thirty-one years old and seemed to be looking to become a businessman and investor. Boman must have had some money from land sales in Nebraska, because he began buying and selling properties in Seattle and east of Seattle in King County.
Boman began entering into business partnerships with some men who were also new arrivals in Seattle in the 1870s and 1880s. Perhaps George’s wartime experiences had taught him to evaluate other men for the character qualities of trustworthiness, steadiness of temperament and reliability, because George did chose good business partners and their investments were successful.
By the 1880s Boman had formed partnerships to buy and develop properties in Seattle, and he was an investor in streetcar lines and the proposed ship canal.
As of 1882 Boman’s list of properties included land along today’s 21st Avenue South adjacent to Judkins Park, and on 23rd Avenue by today’s Garfield High School. His business partners included Fred Sander, developer of the Yesler streetcar line, and Percy Rochester, an attorney, who did the legal filing of real estate transactions. “Boman & Rochester” was the City Directory listing of their real estate firm. Later, Boman became a client of Percy’s brother Junius Rochester, also an attorney, who handled Boman’s estate documents and court cases.
Making life changes in the 1880s
George Boman was described by others as a “temperate” person, meaning someone who did not drink, gamble or engage in other vices, and was described as of a kindly nature. He engaged in business partnerships seemingly with good relationships, yet during the fifteen years that he lived in Seattle, his personal life was full of turmoil.
According to the divorce case which Adelia Boman filed in 1883, in the spring of 1882 George had informed her that he was not going to live with her any more. The reasons for this are not clear, as he did not contest the divorce. Adelia filed for divorce on the basis of abandonment. In the divorce action a division of property was made so that Adelia would have income from rentals or from sale of properties to support herself.
A measure of how small Seattle was at that time, was that Adelia’s divorce case was handled by Thomas Burke’s law firm and he certainly knew George Boman as well.
Burke, Boman, and others had formed an investors group which was planning to create a ship canal along a very similar course as in Seattle today. Clearly the businessmen of Seattle in the 1880s had to keep their business issues separate or Burke could not have continued with Boman in the canal investors group.
We see that Adelia’s divorce suit was very straightforward and was filed by a younger attorney, Rasin, in Burke’s office so probably in this way Burke kept from direct involvement in it.
For Adelia’s 1883 divorce suit, depositions were given by neighbors who affirmed that she had been living alone since George left, and that Adelia had been asking neighbors if anyone had seen her husband or knew where he was. One of those who gave a deposition was David Denny, a member of the pioneer settlers group of Seattle in 1851, whose house was at what is now Seattle Center. We are not sure if Adelia literally did not know where George had gone, or if she was simply trying to establish grounds of abandonment since the depositions (written testimony) of neighbors was that they had not seen George at home with Adelia for about a year.
It is my belief that the reason why Adelia might not have known where George was living, was that sometime in 1882 he had moved to the north shore of Lake Union. Investors Corliss P. Stone, Milton Densmore and William Ashworth owned property there on both sides of what is now Stone Way, which we now think of as the dividing line of the Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods. Boman bought a strip of land to the west of Stone Way and built a house there. Boman’s first house was on the northwest corner of what is now Woodland Park Ave North (Boman Avenue) and North 36th Street (George Street).
As of 1882 almost no one was living on the north shore of Lake Union and the area was hard to access due to lack of roads; Westlake Avenue North had not yet been created. Some early residents, such as the John Ross family, kept a personal canoe and rowed themselves across Lake Union when they wanted to go to downtown Seattle. They would dock at about the present site of the museum (MOHAI) at South Lake Union.
By 1890 a streetcar line had been created on Westlake Avenue northward to Fremont. Other modes of transportation were that there were little steamers which carried people across Lake Union, and the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad travelled through Fremont along the course of what is now the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Investing in the expansion of Seattle
In the early 1880s it would have taken either a visionary or a gambler to think that Seattle would eventually grow and expand up to the north shore of Lake Union at today’s Fremont and Wallingford. Boman seemed to be a person who either could visualize this or he just made very lucky investments. He was on the ship canal committee so he did hope to reap benefit from development of the land on the north side of Lake Union.
Some events which impacted the economy of Seattle could not have been predicted, such as the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, which caused real estate investments to soar in value as the City rebuilt.
Another one of Boman’s lucky strikes was that his property was right next to what became the Fremont neighborhood, so that he benefited from its development. As of 1883 Fremont had not yet been created. Boman’s property along what is now Woodland Park Avenue North, one block west of Stone Way, was outside the property line of the land which became Fremont in 1888.
Before 1888, the entire land area of what is now Fremont was still in legal limbo because of the unclear ownership. The original owner, William Strickler, had disappeared in 1861 and the estate issues had never been resolved. For that reason, the land was unoccupied.
Early settlers such as Henry Yesler kept an eye on Strickler’s land because it was where Seattle’s ambitious boosters wanted to create a ship canal. In one case in 1872, two men were prosecuted for illegal timber-cutting on Strickler’s land and the court decreed that they must pay damages back to the estate. We don’t know who reported the men for illegal timber-cutting, but it is possible that they brought the logs to Yesler’s Mill and he asked where they got the logs.
George Boman had joined Yesler & Burke’s ship canal committee which had plans to widen the existing stream called The Outlet, draining from Lake Union westward toward Puget Sound. Boman may have chosen his homesite at this spot, the northwest corner of Lake Union, which he anticipated would develop as soon as the canal made it possible for ships to pass through.
Perhaps, as of 1882, Boman wanted to get ahead of a projected increase in real estate values by moving to the northside-of-Lake-Union area, where he could show house lots to prospective buyers.
Boman knew that a fellow Civil War veteran, Milton Densmore from Vermont, had moved to the area, as well, and that Corliss P. Stone and William Ashworth were going to call their property development Edgewater, on the east side of today’s Stone Way. To the left of their platted area is the land they had sold to George Boman (his name is written vertically). As of this plat map of Edgewater filed in June 1889, Boman had not divided up his adjacent property into house lots.
Boman’s properties out in eastern King County
George Boman also owned some land in eastern King County to the northeast of Bothell & Duvall, which was listed as a farm. He may have had a tenant farmer living there or he was thinking of other income sources such as logging or a cattle ranch. In the 1880s Boman’s name appeared along with residents of Duvall at meetings of the King County Roads Commission. Boman petitioned for and received permission to survey for a road to access his property and that of a neighboring property, belonging to John Selleck of the Cherry Creek Farm, 19228 Duvall-Monroe Road NE.
John Selleck had been one of the earliest farmers in the Duvall area in the 1870s. By 1883 he was almost sixty years old and it appears that he wanted to give up farming and move into town.
In November 1883 the entire Selleck family, including their married daughter Mary Seymour, got on the sternwheeler Nellie in the Snohomish River and traveled to Everett, then out to Puget Sound and down to Seattle. They were met at the dock in Seattle by George Boman, who took them to his house on the north side of Lake Union.
The next article in this series will tell more about the events in the life of George Boman in the 1880s in Seattle.
Bureau of Land Management — land claim documents.
Census and City Directory listings.
“Census of 1870,” HistoryLink Essay #9466 by John Caldbick, 2010.
Boman court cases and property records — Puget Sound Regional Archives. The Boman divorce is Frontier Justice Case Number KNG-3296.
Newspaper articles accessed via Chronicling America – Historic American Newspapers.
“Seattle citizens start work on Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad on May 1, 1874,” HistoryLink Essay #924 by David B. Williams, 2013.
Sternwheeler Nellie at Snohomish, WA, circa 1876. The Nellie did freight hauling on the Snohomish-Snoqualmie river systems and would enter Puget Sound at Everett. See also: Carnationwa.gov “Historic Overview: Carnation, Washington.’
Washington Territory by Robert Ficken, 2002.