Now & Then -- Steamship Alida and the Old Seattle Waterfront

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2575

This view of Seattle's working waterfront was made in 1870 or 1871 from the end of Henry Yesler's wharf. It looks across his mill pond to the sidewheeler Alida, a steamship with a 115-foot keel built in Olympia and Seattle.

Above and behind the steamship's paddle is the dirt intersection of Marion Street and Front Street (now 1st Avenue). That puts the Alida in what is now the parking lot bordered by Post and Western avenues.

The Alida first tested the water on June 29, 1870. Captain E. A. Starr invited Seattle's establishment to join him on the trial run to Port Townsend. The July 4 edition of the Weekly Intelligencer reported that "During the passage down, the beautiful weather, the delightful scenery, the rapid and easy progress made, and last though not least, the excellent instrumental and vocal music which was furnished by the ladies, all contributed to the enjoyment of the occasion." The steam to Port Townsend took four hours and eight minutes.

The Alida's 20-year career on Puget Sound began when her owners, the Starr brothers, won a federal subsidy to carry mail from Olympia to Victoria. But the Alida's was too slow and too light for the open waters of the straits. She was soon restricted to steaming between Olympia and Port Townsend and way points like Seattle.

In 1890 the Alida came to a fiery end. She was anchored just offshore in Gig Harbor when a brush fire swept down to her mooring and burned her to the water.

A year earlier the Great Fire of 1889 had swept the Seattle waterfront. In the rebuilding process, all the water visible in the historical scene was planked over and eventually filled in to the seawall that we see in this contemporary scene, 500 feet out from 1st Avenue.


Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now and Then Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1988), Story 1.

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