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Sand Point: The Early Years, 1850-1920

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 6/04/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2487

Sand Point is a peninsula that juts into Lake Washington within the present (2000) city limits of north Seattle. Sand Point’s documented history begins in 1850 when Isaac Ebey (1818-1857) glided in a canoe paddled by Indians across the waters of Lake Washington. Within a few decades, steamboats plied the lake, locomotives crossing a nearby bluff spouted steam, and automobiles bumped along Sand Point's rough dirt roads. The early era concluded with airplanes landing on the grassy strip of what would become in 1920 the Sand Point Naval Air Station. During the pre-Naval Air Station era, homesteaders raised families at Sand Point, a shipyard built steamboats, and a brick manufacturing firm dug and fired clay. A post office opened, and children learned reading, writing, and arithmetic at a one room school house. Eventually, all disappeared to make way for the era of flight.

Isaac Ebey's Lake Washington Exploration

Europeans had discovered Sand Point by 1850. It is likely that on a spring or summer day of that year, Isaac N. Ebey, probably in a canoe paddled by two or three Indians, traveled far enough north on Lake Washington to spot Sand Point. Ebey, drawn to the West by the California Gold Rush, had reached San Francisco in the fall of 1849, and decided to continue north to Puget Sound. On New Year's Day, 1850, he arrived at its southern end, at the newly established town of Olympia.

Some weeks later, Ebey likely hired Indians with a canoe to paddle him around Admiralty Inlet (another name for Puget Sound) to locate a farmsite. At the time, except for small settlements near Olympia and Nisqually, Puget Sound was populated exclusively by native peoples. Ebey and his guides proceeded north from Olympia along the east side of the sound. Examining the coast along the way, the crew reached a bay Ebey called "Dewams" (Elliott Bay) and entered a river of the same name (Duwamish River). Ebey stated that Dewams River “meanders through rich bottom land … with here and there a beautiful plain of unrivaled fertility, peeping out through a fringe of vine maple, alder or ash .…” At a fork in the river, they proceeded to the left down the later-named Black River (which no longer exists).

Ebey and his crew followed the left trending fork to its source and entered what he described as a “large clear lake … of considerable extent, surrounded principally with woodland, consisting of cedar, fir, maple, ash, oak, &c.” Ebey was so taken by the lake that he named it Lake Geneva because of the “beauty of the lake and the scenery surrounding it.” That name never took hold. For a time it was referred to as Lake Duwamish and ultimately as Lake Washington. Ebey estimated he traveled 20 miles up the lake “without finding its terminus.” His estimate was off since the lake was no more than 18 miles long. It is quite likely that 13 miles up the lake Ebey and his companions sighted a low lying point jutting out from the western shoreline. This point much later received the descriptive name Sand Point.

Ebey left "Lake Geneva" and continued on his tour of the sound. In the few years before Haida raiders beheaded him in 1857, he settled on Whidbey Island and served in the Oregon Territorial Legislature. He was a vocal advocate of a separate Washington Territory and in 1852 sponsored the statute naming King County.

Although no extant documents record an earlier Euro-American sighting of Sand Point, it is doubtful that Ebey was the first. The Hudson's Bay Company, which passed through Puget Sound as early as 1824 and established Fort Nisqually in 1833, sent men out on numerous Puget Sound fur trading and hunting forays and they probably traveled the length of Lake Washington.

The First Discoverers

Preceding the Hudson's Bay Company on Lake Washington by several thousand years were Puget Sound tribes, who, according to their faith and religion, inhabited the surrounding region since the beginning of time. (Current scientific data indicate that Native Americans arrived in the region 11,000 or 12,000 years ago.)

Two or three miles southwest of Sand Point was a village on a Lake Washington bay (later called Union Bay). The people at this village were called the Sk-tahl-mish and were one of the 22 tribes listed in the January 22, 1855 Point Elliott Treaty made between the United States and the north Puget Sound Indians. There were numerous spellings for this tribe, among them, S’ke-tehl-mish, Thuwi’thalbsh, Ska-wamish, Skaquahmish, and Swo-Kwabish.

In the summer of 1856, David S. Maynard (1808-1873) counted just 16 members of the Sk-tahl-mish village, whose elder was Chatskanam. It is unknown how accurate Maynard’s census was but it is likely that the population was much larger. The so-called Indian War of 1855-1856 dispersed the population, and during the previous three-quarters of a century smallpox, measles, and other European diseases had decimated Western Washington Indian populations, likely including those at Sk-tahl-mish. Remnants of this group remained on Union Bay till the beginning of the twentieth century.

Names on the land

The Sk-tahl-mish ranged out from their village along Lake Washington, likely including Sand Point, seeking food and other raw materials. They would have given place names to hundreds of features. Anthropologist T. T. Waterman recorded from Indian informants familiar with the area Indian place names throughout Lake Washington and King County. Following are the names he recorded on Sand Point:

  • SqwsEb – Sand Point
  • Wisa’lpEbc – Mud Lake
  • Tclaa’Lqo – Small stream or channel that ran east from Mud Lake into Lake Washington. Tclaa’Lqo means channel or watercourse. Waterman noted that the Indians had a myth involving this channel but he was unable to acquire the details.
  • Sla’gwElagwEts – Pontiac Bay. Sla’gwElagwEts means literally “cedar bark, where it grows.”
  • T!uda’xEde – East of Pontiac Bay. In this area, a plant grew which had small, inedible white berries.
  • XwExwi’yaqwais – North of Pontiac Bay and Sand Point. X wExwi’yaqwais means “pulling on a line which is made fast to something.”

Newcomers Tread the Land

It was five years after Ebey explored Lake Washington before the recent United States immigrants walked over Sand Point. August 29, 1855 marks the earliest recorded visit to Sand Point. On that summer day, William A. Strickler and his five-member crew, employees of the U. S. General Land Office, arrived to survey the point. The Land Office required a survey before allowing settlers to homestead land. The surveyors described the point as “gently rolling land” on which they noted a small lake (later called Mud Lake) surrounded by a marsh. The crew surveyed a bay at the north side of the point (later called Pontiac Bay) and noted two 20-inch-wide streams flowing into it. Their survey notes mention an old growth forest of Douglas Fir trees that ranged in size from two to six-plus feet in diameter, cedar trees that reached 3 ½ feet in diameter, and hemlock, alder, and ash.

Changes They Are A’comin'

In the decades that followed, Sand Point underwent drastic changes, probably more extreme than at any other site along Lake Washington. Likely within two or three years of 1870, loggers had cut down most of the fir and cedar trees. During the summer and fall of 1916, the level of Lake Washington was made to drop 8.8 feet during the joining of Lake Washington and Lake Union and the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. This exposed something like 150 feet of muddy lake bottom around the entire perimeter of Sand Point. The lowering of the lake also reduced the size of Pontiac Bay and lowered the level of Mud Lake by the same 8.8 feet, significantly reducing the size of the lake and drying out portions of the surrounding marsh.

Starting in the mid-1930s, the decade-old Naval Air Station went through a dramatic expansion that lasted until the end of World War II. With the assistance of the depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Navy trucked in hundreds of loads of fill, which completely altered Sand Point. To make way for expanded landing facilities, hundreds of WPA workers covered most of the point’s “gently rolling land,” buried what remained of Mud Lake and marsh, and eliminated Pontiac Bay. The fill was graded and much of it covered with a slab of concrete for landing strips. The U.S. Navy continued to make changes through World War II. The Sand Point we see today (2000) is a far cry from the Sand Point that existed in 1855.

First Settler on Sand Point

The 1855 U. S. General Land Office survey for settlers was somewhat premature. Thirteen years passed before the first homesteader made a claim on the point. His name was William Goldmyer (1843-1924), and he, in late summer 1868, homesteaded on 81 ½ acres fronting on Pontiac Bay. He likely logged the old growth trees and, with his brother Henry, established a farm. On Christmas day 1874, William married Rebecca J. Spray. They had two daughters while living on Sand Point, Mary C. (b. ca. 1876) and E. J. (b. ca. 1877). In 1878, they sold the property and moved to Fall City.

Bricks and Boats

Industry arrived at Sand Point a few years later. About 1886, ship's carpenter Edward F. Lee (1840-1928) purchased some land and established a shipyard just west of the north end of Sand Point near a bay that in a few years would be called Pontiac Bay. Lee operated this as a family business, and built boats mainly for the Lake Washington freight and passenger trade. Among the boats he built and likely launched into Pontiac Bay were the Laura Maud (constructed in 1887), the 60-foot-long Elfin (1891), the 71-foot-long Hattie Hansen (1893), and the Mist (1896). Lee continued to operate his shipyard and nearby farm until he retired in 1909.

The next industry to arrive was a brick making company. On January 2, 1889, the Pontiac Brick and Tile Company incorporated, intending to construct a brick manufacturing plant near Sand Point. Sand Point offered the brick company two essential ingredients -- raw materials and ready transportation. Just east of Sand Point was an embankment of a “splendid quality of clay” suitable for brickmaking. In 1887, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway had completed a railroad line from Seattle to Gilman (Issaquah) that provided the transporation.

The plant was located west of what would become Sand Point Way and north of NE 70th Street. Pontiac Brick and Tile Company officers M. J. Carkeek (President), C. P. Stone (Vice President), and Thomas Burke (Treasurer) chose an auspicious time to built the plant. On June 6, 1889, just about the time they were ready to start production, Seattle's Great Fire destroyed the business district and created an overwhelming demand for brick, the principal material used to rebuild the city.

In 1900, the company employed at least 10 persons, which increased to at least 24 by 1910. Except for a number of months during the 1893-1897 depression, the brickyard operated continually until 1914 when it permanently closed.

Suburbs Arrive at Sand Point

After the Goldmyer family moved to Fall City in 1878, no one came to take their place, and trees regained control of the point. Starting in 1904, new residents arrived. Nearly all of them lived near Pontiac Bay, probably because of the two fresh water streams that emptied into the bay. Following are the known post-1900 Sand Point residents, ordered by the year they moved to Sand Point.

  • 1904 – Carpenter Lawrence LeMar (b. 1846) and family lived on the point from about 1904 until 1911.
  • 1908 – Attorney Benton Embree, wife Florence P., and son Harold resided at Sand Point from 1908 until 1926.
  • 1918 – Gardener and landscaper Ernest Benson (b. ca. 1883), wife Emma W., and daughter Oliva A. (b. ca. 1918) operated a nursery and lived at Sand Point from about 1918 until 1922.
  • 1918 – Poultry man Martin Marston (b. ca. 1872) and wife Stella raised chickens in their approximately 500 feet of chicken coops from about 1918 until 1923.
  • Late 1910s – Shipwright Peter Peterson lived at Sand Point from the late teens until about 1922.
  • 1920 – Carpenter and miner Anton Smedsrud (b. ca. 1888), wife Esther (b. ca. 1894), and daughter Ethel (b. ca. 1914) resided there from about 1920 until 1922.

Sand Point Becomes Civilized

As the population increased, public impovements were made. In 1889, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern railway laid tracks nearby. Then the Pontiac Brick and Tile Company established the Pontiac Post Office, which operated from 1890 until 1909. In 1909, the area served by the Pontiac Post Office came under the juristiction of the Seattle Post Office. About this time, the Seattle Post Office established house to house mail delivery and closed the Pontiac Post Office. In the fall of 1908, a rural school district built a one-room schoolhouse large enough for 75 pupils (1st to 8th graders) just east of Sand Point Way. The school lasted for four or five years and closed shortly after the Seattle School District annexed the area. Dirt roads were built to Sand Point, but apparently (into the 1920s) were poorly maintained.

End of an Era

In 1919, King County started to purchase land at Sand Point for an airport. Some Sand Point property owners and residents resisted, but by 1926 King County had acquired all of the land that the Navy required for a naval air station. King County then gave the Navy the Sand Point land for free. The Navy took over and converted many of the abandoned residences, chicken coops, and other buildings for the use of the Naval Air Station.


U.S. Bureau of Land Management, “Cadastral Survey Washington Township 25 North Range 4 East,” Microform Seattle, University of Washington Library Newspapers and Microforms; Guy Reed Ramsey, "Postmarked Washington, 1850-1960," Microfilm (Olympia: Washington State Library, February, 1966), 627; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 3, 1889, p. 3; Educational Service District 121, “County Superintendent's Annual Report King County-Washington,” 1908, 1909 (Puget Sound Regional Archives, Washington State Archives, Bellevue, Washington); Marjorie Rhodes, 1870 U.S. Census and 1871 Territorial Census for King County, Washington Territory (Seattle: Marjorie Rhodes, 1993); Meany Pioneer File “William Goldmyer,” University of Washington Library, Special Collections; R. L. Polk & Company, Inc. Seattle City Directory 1921 (Seattle: R. L. Polk & Co., Inc., 1921); Seattle Directories, 1903-1939; Arlene Ely, Our Foundering Fathers: The Story of Kirkland (Kirkland: Kirkland Public Library, 1975), 76, 77, 78; The H. W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest ed. by Gordon Newell (Seattle: The Superior Publishing Company, 1966), 4, 13, 14-15, p 49, 64, 70, 75, 76, 88, 193-194, 194 FN 11; Lewis & Dryden’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest ed. by E. W. Wright (Portland, OR: Lewis & Dryden Printing Co, 1895), 307, 322, 346; Helen Durrie Goodwin, “Shipbuilding in the Pacific Northwest,” The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3 (July 1920), 183-201; Lucile McDonald, The Lake Washington Story (Seattle: Superior Publishing Company, 1979), 34-35, 58; Suzanne Larson, History of the Lake Washington Ship Canal (Seattle: King County Arts Commission, 1975), vii; T. T. Waterman, “The Geographical Names Used by the Indians of the Pacific Coast.” The Geographical Review, Vol. 12, No. 2 (April 1922), 190; John Reed Swanton, Indian Tribes Washington, Oregon & Idaho (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, [1952], 1979), 26; United States Indian Claims Commission, American Indian Ethnohistory: Indians of the Northwest, Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians Vol. 5 (New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1974), 20, 33, 34, 35-36, 37; Oregon Spectator, October 17, 1850, p. 1; Victor J. Farrar, “Diary of Colonel and Mrs. I. N. Ebey.” The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 7, No.3 (July 1916), p. 240-241.

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