Kenmore -- Thumbnail History

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 10/13/2015
  • Essay 11127
Located along the northernmost shore of Lake Washington, Kenmore began as a mill town, and grew to become home to a variety of businesses and industries. Like many Seattle suburbs, the community saw tremendous growth and development following World War II and gained a reputation as a family-friendly town with safe neighborhoods and many amenities. Kenmore incorporated in 1998, and in 2015 its population was 21,500.


For centuries, the Sts'ahp-absh -- a subgroup of both the Duwamish and Sammamish tribes -- inhabited the banks of the Sammamish River (known to them as Sts'-ahp), which flows between Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington. At the confluence of the Sammamish River and Lake Washington, the Sts'ahp-absh established the village of Tl'awh-ah-dees, which they used primarily as their winter quarters.

The settlement most likely consisted of several longhouses and a ceremonial building. Throughout the year, the Sts'ahp-absh would fish, hunt, and gather food throughout the region, often traveling between the two lakes on dugout canoes built from nearby cedar trees. During the winter, they would gather in the longhouses, where they had stored much of the food they had harvested and the wild game they had dried or smoked. Much of the season was spent passing along their traditions, sharing stories, or visiting with members from nearby villages.

This way of life changed after 1855, when Puget Sound tribal leaders signed the Point Elliott Treaty and relinquished most of their lands in northwest Washington in exchange for cash, relocation to reservations, and access to traditional fishing and hunting grounds. Most of the Sts'ahp-absh left the Sammamish River region, and their villages soon disappeared.

The Lure of Lumber

By the 1860s, non-Indian settlers had begun filing land claims east of Lake Washington and many of them traveled the Sammamish River by canoe or rowboat. During this time, the Puget Mill Company -- run by lumber barons Andrew Pope (1820-1878) and William Talbot (1816-1881) -- purchased more than 1,100 acres in what is now Kenmore. In 1871, Philo Remington (1816-1889) purchased nearly 200 acres of land in what is now central Kenmore. Five years later, he sold this property to his son-in-law (and future territorial governor) Watson C. Squire (1836-1926).

Lumber camps dotted the hillsides, and skid roads were used to carry timber to docks on Lake Washington, where the logs were floated to mills located farther south. Transportation to and from the future site of Kenmore became easier in 1887, when construction of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad reached as far as Bothell. The rail line would eventually extend past North Bend.

In 1900, Watson Squire leased 12 acres of waterfront property to John McMaster (1849-1930) and Chris Kruse. The two men opened a shingle mill the following year, and a small settlement for their workers soon followed. McMaster named this nascent village Kenmore, in honor of his previous home of Kenmore, Ontario. McMaster's son William became the community's first postmaster, and later served in the state legislature.

Road to Fortune

In 1902, John McMaster purchased a lumber mill in nearby Bothell, which he operated until 1905. He then dismantled the mill, and had the pieces moved by wagon to a site near the mouth of the Sammamish River. By this time, McMaster and Squire had dredged the river, allowing for easier riverboat transit. But it was the auto age that truly began to transform the community.

By 1909, the wagon road that paralleled the railroad line had been graded and macadamized as far as Lake Forest Park. Beginning in 1911, the rest of the roadway was graded and then paved with brick as far as Bothell. In 1917, the first Kenmore bridge was built across the Sammamish River, providing easier access to Juanita, and beyond that, Kirkland.

Kenmore's first grocery store opened in 1919, on what is now the northwest corner of 68th Avenue NE and Bothell Way. The town's first gas station opened next to it the following year. And as traffic continued to increase along Bothell Way, Kenmore soon became home to numerous cafes -- for hungry travelers -- and various roadhouses, some of which served illicit booze during Prohibition.

Business and Industry

By the 1920s, little remained of McMaster's lumber industry. When Lake Washington was lowered in 1917, due to the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the ground shifted beneath the McMaster mill, which had to close for two years for repairs. By this time most of the old growth timber had long since been harvested, and when the mill reopened it only operated off and on until it burned down in 1928. John McMaster died in 1930.

Since then, other industries have come to find a home in Kenmore. In 1946, Kenmore Air opened on the shoreline of Lake Washington and has since become one of the largest seaplane operations in the world. In 1948, Kenmore Pre-Mix opened nearby, and provided concrete for the rapidly growing number of postwar construction projects. And in 1956, Plywood Supply moved their corporate headquarters to Kenmore and is now one of the city's largest enterprises.

The Needs of a Community

Kenmore's first school was a simple mill shack, built in 1901 for the children whose parents worked at McMaster's mill. A dedicated schoolhouse was built in 1914, but it was only open for two years, after which the Kenmore and Bothell school districts consolidated. Kenmore students attended classes in Bothell until after World War II when the "baby boom" necessitated more school buildings. Kenmore Elementary and Arrowhead Elementary opened in Kenmore in the 1950s, and were followed by Kenmore Junior High, Moorland Elementary, and Inglemoor High School, which opened in the early 1960s.

Early churchgoers in Kenmore also had to travel to Bothell or elsewhere if they wanted to join a congregation. Kenmore didn’t get its first church until 1933, when the Kenmore Chapel opened in a converted roadhouse. Soon, houses of worship opened throughout the community to serve the needs of various faiths and denominations. For years, Kenmore was also home to St. Edwards Seminary, which prepared candidates for priesthood in the Catholic Church. The seminary closed in 1977, and has since become the site of Bastyr University, an institution of natural health arts and sciences.

A City at Last

For most of twentieth century, Kenmore remained unincorporated. King County handled police and fire protection, and beginning in the 1950s, water and sewer districts were created to handle the growing number of new homes and businesses. After 1969, Forward Thrust funds were used to create several parks.

Between 1950 and 1970, voters were asked six times whether they wanted to incorporate their community, but each time they voted no. But by the 1990s, the complexities of community development had become so great that it was becoming harder to manage. Adding to this dilemma, the state's 1990 Growth Management Act opened the door to Kenmore being annexed by adjacent cities.

In 1997, voters were asked again if they wanted Kenmore to officially become a city. Thanks to a grassroots effort by pro-incorporation boosters, 70 percent of the voters in that year's election voted in favor of becoming Washington's newest city. The incorporation became official on August 31, 1998.

Kenmore's first elected officials conducted city business in an empty storefront, and later opened City Hall in a former Wells Fargo Bank Building. In 2010, a new City Hall opened on 68th Avenue NE, two blocks north of Bothell Way. Developed under the U.S. Green Build­ing Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmen­tal Design (LEED) certification, the modern energy-efficient building received LEED Gold Certification.

Sources: Phyllis Droge, Kenmore by the Lake: A Community History (Kenmore: Kenmore Heritage Society, 2003); Fred Klein, et al., Slough of Memories: Recollections of Life in Bothell, Kenmore, North Creek, Woodinville 1920-1990 (Seattle: Peanut Butter Publishing, 1992); Lucile McDonald, The Lake Washington Story (Seattle: Superior Publishing Company, 1979); City of Kenmore website accessed October 4, 2015 (

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