Ballard is a singular Seattle neighborhood with an unmistakable Scandinavian accent. A city in its own right between 1890 and 1906, Ballard built a handsome business district now preserved as a national and local historic district. The nearby Fishermen's Terminal, Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, Shilshole Marina, and Golden Gardens Park attract tens of thousands of visitors each year. Ballard is located along Salmon Bay in northwest Seattle, and easily reached from downtown via Elliott and 15th avenues or Aurora Avenue.
This tour begins by focusing on the Ballard business and historic districts, then expands to include nearby attractions.
Note: This tour is intended for personal use only and was prepared by HistoryLink for the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development, Tourist Division. Copyright 2001, City of Seattle. All references to contemporary businesses in this tour date from June 2001. They are cited for orientation and information purposes only and do not imply recommendation or endorsement by the City of Seattle or by HistoryLink.
The first claim in the future city and neighborhood of Ballard was filed in 1852, the same year settlers arrived in Seattle itself. Development proceeded slowly until railroad entrepreneurs Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman (remembered now with the Burke-Gilman Trail) assembled a large tract in 1888 for the construction of a new community.
Meanwhile, a ship's captain named William Rankin Ballard lost a bet with a business partner and found himself the owner of 160 acres of seemingly worthless logged-off land adjacent to the planned Gilman Park development. Burke and Gilman hired him to manage their project, and appreciative residents named their new city after Ballard when they incorporated in 1890.
The new town grew quickly thanks to new electric streetcars linking it to Seattle and thanks to the establishment of numerous lumber and shingle mills along Salmon Bay. Meanwhile, the influx of immigrants escaping famine and tensions in Scandinavia provided a skilled work force for local mills and fishing fleets. The popularity of chewing tobacco among these new arrivals earned the neighborhood the nickname "Snoose Junction."
A new business district rose along Ballard Avenue NW and the town built a handsome City Hall in 1899. Legend has it that Ballard decreed a perfect balance between vice and virtue by limiting saloon licenses to the number of churches in the city, but the municipal government had trouble delivering basic services such as potable water. Ballardites voted reluctantly in 1906 to annex to Seattle, but their neighborhood retained its distinctive culture.
The output of Ballard's mills made it the "Shingle Capital of the World," and the Port of Seattle built Fishermen's Terminal to house Ballard's fishing fleet on the south shore of Salmon Bay in 1913. Four years later, the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Government Locks (now named for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district head Hiram Chittenden) created new economic opportunities for maritime commerce.
In recent years, "Old Ballard" has become a hub for a wide array of ethnic cafes from Cajun to Asian and lively music clubs. It remains a "city within a city" with its own pace and special flavor that reminds us of a gentler era in Seattle history. Local groups and merchants sponsor an evening Arts Walk on historic Ballard Avenue on the second Saturday of every month.
To learn more, visit the Nordic Heritage Museum, located in north Ballard at 3014 NW 67th Street (206-789-5707; www.nordicmuseum.com).