George Boman, originally from Tennessee, was a Civil War veteran who made the classic American western migration across the USA in search of opportunities. After his Civil War service ended in 1865, Boman went to Kentucky, spent a few years in Nebraska, and then came to Seattle in 1875. He formed business partnerships with developers of streetcar lines, real estate promoters and Seattle visionaries who planned improvements such as a railroad and a ship canal.
Boman and the small population of Seattle held on and refused to give up through the 1870s and 1880s, though they could not be sure that Seattle would ever amount to anything.
Seattle’s big breakthrough came, ironically, via a fire which burned thirty blocks of the downtown core. Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, caused a reorganization of the street system, the institution of building codes, and a rebuilding boom. Newcomers poured into the city in search of jobs in the rebuilding. They brought increased diversity to the economy and a vast array of skills such as that of architects, contractors, carpenters and brickmasons.
The year 1890 dawned brightly for George Boman and his wife of four years, Mary. They had profited from real estate investments and the economic outlook seemed to point toward continued prosperity. Little did they know that despite all the good things of the year 1890, at age 46 George Boman’s health would fail, and he would die on December 19, 1890.
This is the fourth article on this blog about the life of George Boman, tracing him from his origins in Tennessee, through the Civil War, his arrival in Seattle in 1875 and his prosperity in the 1880s in Seattle.
One of the first things George & Mary Boman did in January 1890 was to “file a plat” for property adjacent to their house on the north side of Lake Union. They lived just on the edge of the newly created Fremont.
Fremont, created as a suburb in 1888, was about four miles from downtown Seattle. In 1889 Fremont’s economy roared to life with industries for providing rebuilding materials after the Fire of June 6, 1889 in downtown Seattle.
A plat is an area of land, any size, for which a map of lots is made. Most often this means that the owner intends to sell lots for houses or commercial buildings. This area where the Bomans lived was outside of the City of Seattle as of 1890, so there was no City involvement in creating streets. Although streets are shown on the Boman’s Edgemont plat map it doesn’t mean there actually were streets, unless the plat owner created streets themselves by clearing the land for it.
Plat filers give their plat a name and we see that the name Edge + Mont gave tribute to the neighborhoods on either side of the Boman’s property. To the right (east) along Stone Way was Edgewater. To the left (west) was the Fremont neighborhood. Boman’s property was just outside of the plat which formed Fremont, a development that had started in 1888. The Boman’s plat of Edgemont was just to the west side of today’s Stone Way, centered along Boman Avenue (today’s Woodland Park North).
The plat filing document was notarized by attorney Junius Rochester, the brother of Boman’s real estate business partner, Percy Rochester.
The Occasion of the Commotion
A highlight of the year 1890 was the celebration of George Boman’s 46th birthday on May 22nd. The event, a surprise party, was described in a lengthy article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. Some of the conclusions we can draw from the article are that Boman had a lot of friends as well as business contacts. We can infer that Mary Boman truly loved her husband and wanted to do something special for him. We might also infer that she had plenty of money to work with, as the birthday surprise involved a lot of arrangements such as chartering a boat, renting a hall, and ordering catered refreshments.
“Fremont was treated to a most brilliant affair Thursday evening. The 46th anniversary of Mr. G.M. Boman was observed an a manner seldom outdone in hospitality. Mrs. Boman had been unusually active for several days, but only on Wednesday evening when her cards were issued did her friends surmise the object of her activity.
At 3 PM on Thursday the Fremont band boarded the D.T. Denny and came across Lake Union to the foot of the electric street car line to receive many friends from the city.
David T. Denny, one of the pioneers of Seattle who’d arrived in 1851, had set up Western Lumber Mill at South Lake Union in 1882. He owned at least one ferry boat which plied the lake. This news article implies that Mrs. Boman had chartered the boat to start at the Fremont side with a band playing on board. The music signaled to waiting partygoers at South Lake Union that the boat was coming to pick them up. The boat then sailed back across Lake Union to a point at what is now North 34th Street & Woodland Park Ave North, where the Bomans had a dock.
“Music filled the air as the boat sailed for Mr. Boman’s wharf. Upon the arrival Mr. Boman, concluding something uncommon was happening, went down to the wharf bareheaded to investigate, and only when his friends flocked around him did he realize the occasion of the commotion.
“Joined by many more friends from Fremont and vicinity, the company, led by the band, proceeded to Scribner’s Hall where Professor Bray’s orchestra gave measure for the merry trip.
Scribner’s Hall was a building located on Fremont Avenue in the 3200 block, at about where the Fremont Bridge is now. Scribner’s had storefronts and an assembly hall which was rented out for meetings and parties. The distance to walk there from Boman’s house was about four blocks and the news article indicates that Professor Bray’s band led the way in a kind of march, in “measure for the merry trip.”
“Percy W. Rochester, in an appropriate speech, gave Mr. Boman the presents to which the happy and surprised recipient replied with feeling remarks. Refreshments were served, after which the band played….. and the company, with congratulations and good wishes to Mr. & Mrs. Boman, dispersed. Everybody was delighted with the party.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, May 25, 1890.)
The newspaper account of Boman’s birthday included long lists of guests’ names as an estimated 200 persons attended. Some of the guests were business associates such as Boman’s real estate partner Percy Rochester and his brother Junius, who was Boman’s attorney. Some of the friends at the party were neighbors such as Corliss P. Stone and Milton Densmore. Fremont businessmen who attended included George Grow who owned a hardware store and a young man, Charles Remsberg, who would later become well-known as an attorney, Justice of the Peace, Fremont banker and a member of the first Port Commission when the ship canal was finally built in 1911-1916.
Planning a big new house
The house where the Bomans lived was at the northwest corner of Boman & George Streets (today’s North 36th Street & Woodland Park Ave North). It was in one of the blank spaces shown on the Edgemont plat map, which might indicate that they were keeping that section for themselves.
In 1890 the Bomans made plans to build a big new house at the southwest corner. They engaged an architect, Willis Alexander Ritchie, who was one of the newcomers who had come to Seattle in 1889 looking for work in designing new buildings after the Fire.
Ritchie got the commission to help design, with others, the second King County Courthouse (no longer extant). His courthouse work helped set him up for future commissions. He moved to Spokane, WA, in 1892 and spent the majority of his career there.
The Boman house is the only residential project Ritchie is known to have undertaken in Seattle. In September 1890 Ritchie ran a request in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, for contractors’ bid proposals for the Boman’s new house.
A new friend in 1889-1890: Charles B. Reynolds
Some of the listed guests at George Boman’s birthday party in May 1890, had been in Seattle as early as Boman (1875) or before. Some of the Fremont party guests were people who had been in Seattle and then moved to the newly created suburb as of 1888. The Bomans would have shopped in the Fremont business district and gotten to know people.
Some of the party guests were very new to Seattle, having arrived less than a year before Boman’s birthday, such as young Charles Remsberg. Due to the population boom in Seattle after the Great Fire of June 6, 1889, it is not surprising that George Boman had acquired some new associations since that date. We see that he contracted with a newly arrived architect, Willis Ritchie, for designing Bomans’ new house.
Another party attendee who was a newcomer of 1889 was Charles B. Reynolds, a minister who had become a “freethought lecturer.” Reynolds was about 56 years old when he arrived in Seattle and he settled his family on the Boman’s block at North 36th Street.
Reynolds, who was originally from New York, had discarded the main doctrines of Christianity, such as the centrality of God, and in 1882 he began teaching secularism and freethought. In 1884 he joined with others in founding the American Secular Union. He went on a lecture tour teaching “a religion of humanity,” which he taught would “give freedom from error and fanaticism.”
After a lecture in Morristown, New Jersey, on October 13, 1886, Reynolds was arrested for blasphemy, a law which prohibited lack of respect for deity. The case went to trial, and Reynolds recruited a known agnostic attorney, Robert Green Ingersoll, to defend him. The jury found Reynolds guilty, but the judge imposed such a small fine that Ingersoll reached into his pocket and got out enough money to pay the fine.
Reynolds then traveled Out West on a lecture tour, and, ending in Seattle, he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and settled in 1889. He became a leader of the Washington Secular Union.
Freethought and secularism in Seattle
George Boman’s obituary published in the newspaper in December 1890 said that he was a member of the Washington Secular Union and “he was an ardent Freethinker all his life…but he was never offensive in the expression of his opinions.”
Mary Boman’s son by her first marriage was named Ralph Waldo Seymour. The names “Ralph Waldo” would seem to be in tribute to Ralph Waldo Emerson who taught another non-orthodox doctrine called American Transcendentalism, that individuals should transcend beyond the physical world into deeper spiritual experience such as communing with nature. The followers of Emerson were humanists and very involved in societal issues, such as being against slavery, as Emerson himself was.
In this we find that George & Mary Boman were both intellectually inclined and their common secularism may have been something that drew them together. They both believed in practicing kindness and we will see that in coming years Mary continued to help the Reynolds family and others, beyond the time of Mary’s own stay in Seattle. When Charles Reynolds died in 1896, Mary Boman provided a burial site for him with Reynolds’ name carved into one side of the obelisk, the tall stone marker, which had George Boman’s name on the other side.
The death of George Boman
In November and December 1890, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper published a couple of “warning notices” that George Boman was unwell and that he was sinking fast. In an era when people didn’t have phones at home, such a notice was a way to let friends know of an illness. It might also have been meant as a heads-up to creditors, that they might soon not be able to collect debts. In the case of George Boman, it seemed that the former was meant, as he was in good shape financially.
On December 1, 1890, George Boman made a will of just two pages, leaving everything to his wife Mary. He referenced the two children he’d left behind in Tennessee, but not by name. He called them “heirs” and bequeathed $1 each to them. This was a common way to meet the legal requirement of acknowledging heirs, with the option of not leaving a larger portion of the estate to them.
The will was witnessed by Charles B. Reynolds and Junius Rochester. This would not be the last of Junius Rochester’s legal work for George Boman’s estate, however. Lawsuits were set off in the year 1891, besetting Mary Boman with multiple issues.
George Boman died on December 19th and funeral programs were held over two days, on December 21 and 22, 1890. The first day’s program was led by Charles B. Reynolds, who as a secularist talked about the good of Boman’s life.
On the day of the second program, Junius Rochester eulogized Boman before a procession to the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery on Queen Anne Hill. There, members of the organization of Union Army veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), carried Boman’s coffin to the place of burial.
“The procession went to the cemetery where the Grand Army funeral service was read by S.F. Street, commander of Stevens Post of the GAR of which Mr. Boman was a member, L.A. Treen and W.L. Ames, M.M. Holmes, the department commander, saying the solemn words of commitment…. The symbols of the order — the laurel of the soldier and the white rose of purity — were laid on the casket and then the body was lowered to its last resting place.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, December 22, 1890, page 8)
The next article on this blog will tell what happened to George Boman’s widow Mary and the estate issues in the years following his death.
Census, newspaper and genealogical resources.
Chronicling America — historic newspapers.
Find A Grave — location of gravesites.
Fremont street names and neighborhood boundaries.
Reynolds, Charles B., freethought-trail.org/profiles/
“Willis Alexander Ritchie (1864-1931),” essay by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, pages 70 to 75 in Shaping Seattle Architecture, 2014.