Seattle acquires its first water-pump station owned by the City on August 15, 1891.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2096

On August 15, 1891, under Ordinance 1797, the City of Seattle acquires a pump station site on Queen Anne Hill. This is the first city-owned water pumping facility.

Early Water Systems

Henry Yesler (1810-1892) built the first water supply system in Seattle in 1854. An open V-flume and trough, it ran from a spring at 8th Avenue and Madison Street to 4th Avenue and Yesler Way. From there, it traveled to the Yesler Sawmill and northward on the waterfront.

Around 1870, the Reverend Daniel Bagley built the first water supply system using pipe. The pipes were made from 12-inch diameter fir logs, with a two-inch hole bored through the center using a hand-augur. Sections of pipe were six feet in length and were joined by wooden spigots driven together with a wooden maul. Bagley's 2,000-foot long system was fed from a spring near 6th Street and University Avenue.

Primitive water works like these served Seattle well in 1870, when the city had only 1,107 residents. By 1890, the community had blossomed to 42,837 people, and elected officials felt that the City should construct and maintain its own water works. Inadequate water pressure had allowed the Great Fire of 1889 to annihilate the city, and something had to be done.

Water Flows Uphill, then Down

The City acquired the pump station on Queen Anne Hill in the purchase of the Union Water Company, which was incorporated in 1882 by David T. Denny (1832-1903). The station, located at 4th Avenue N and Ward Street, was supplied from springs and had an 80,000-gallon capacity.

Later, a separate well was sunk 348 feet at the top of the hill and a large wooden tank constructed over it. This well proved inadequate and was soon abandoned. Next, a pump was installed on the shore of Lake Union to supply the Queen Anne tank. The Queen Anne pipes were bored wood, but the Lake Union pump used iron pressure pipe. Water was pumped up the hill into the holding tank, and was then meted out to the city below.


Mary McWilliams, Seattle Water Department History 1854-1954 (City of Seattle: Dogwood Press, 1955), 1-3.

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