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Seattle Neighborhoods: Lakewood -- Thumbnail History
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Lakewood, a neighborhood on southeast Seattle's Lake Washington shoreline, is located west of Genesee Park and north of Seward Park (it is often considered part of the Seward Park neighborhood). The area was originally a peninsula on the western shore of Lake Washington, formed by a long inlet called Wetmore Slough -- the present location of Genesee Park -- that extended more than one-half mile south from the lake and turned west toward Columbia City. Not until a bridge carried Lake Washington Boulevard S across the mouth of the slough in 1912 and a trolley line opened on S Genesee Street did the community gain good communication with the rest of the city. The lowering of the lake after the Lake Washington Ship Canal opened in 1917 drained the slough. The City of Seattle acquired the land where the slough had been to develop a park, but used it for some years as a dump. In 1957, the City developed the Stanley S. Sayres Memorial Hydroplane Pits at the north end of the former slough. In 1968, Forward Thrust bonds allowed completion of the long-delayed plans to develop the remaining slough area as Genesee Park and Playfield. In addition to its park, Lakewood is a mix of large homes close to the lakeshore and more modest dwellings inland.
Lakewood's and Seward Park's first residents were Native Americans of the Duwamish Tribe who lived along the shore of Lake Washington. The thick forest sheltered game and provided the cedar trees that the Duwamish used for their longhouses, but the tribe does not appear to have established a permanent camp there. During summer months, families erected shelters woven from cattails on the shore of the lake where they caught fish and dug roots. During the winter, they lived in elaborate longhouses on Pritchard Island or at other settlements around the lake.
The slough was named for Seymour Wetmore who had come to Seattle in 1857. Wetmore founded a tannery and shoe factory, but those were unsuccessful. He moved to the Rainier Valley and homesteaded there. In 1872, he trapped a cougar who was killing his sheep and the animal was sold as a curiosity. Wetmore's son Frank purchased property on the west side of the slough.
John S. Maggs filed his claim along the lake shore and proved it up, gaining title. In the 1870s, Hewett Lee built a sawmill in a small cove on land owned by Charles Waters who developed Somerville to the southeast. Guy Phinney (1852-1893) bought all the land in 1883 and he platted it as Maynard's Addition with streets laid out and named. But occupation of the ridge between the slough and the lake was slow because of transportation. In 1890, Columbia City was founded around a sawmill inland near the head of the ravine that led to Wetmore Slough. An 1894 map shows one road into the area "poor or infrequently traveled" (McKee).
The port of Columbia City
The slough and ravine caught the eyes of dreamers who saw a seaport. Fresh water was attractive to ship owners because it killed the salt water organisms which attacked wooden hulls. There was no deep water connection between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington so two major ship canal schemes went forward in the 1890s. One plan involved cutting through Beacon Hill to Lake Washington making Wetmore Slough, which reached almost to Columbia City, the logical location for an inland seaport. The Beacon Hill scheme progressed only a short distance before landslides ended the project in 1897.
In 1917, the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed at Ballard and sea-going ships could reach Lake Washington. The level of the lake dropped nine feet however and Wetmore slough dried up, along with Columbia City's future as a port.
A Community Grows
In 1903, C. B. Dodge replatted the area and called it Lakewood. He filed his plan with the clerk of Columbia City, which had boomed since the construction of the Seattle, Renton and Southern Railway through the Rainier Valley. In 1907, Lakewood and Columbia City were annexed into the city of Seattle. The neighborhood was still somewhat remote from Seattle. Travelers took the trolley to Columbia City and then walked a mile up Genesee Street toward the lake.
Residents of Lakewood yearned to enjoy the benefits of Seattle citizenship. In the spring of 1910, in the parlor of A.G. Corbitt, they organized what would later become the Lakewood Community Club. The club's purpose in 1914 was "To promote by education and active cooperation better sanitary and symmetrical conditions in all public and private buildings and grounds, to cultivate a higher public spirit and better social order." One of the first items of business was to get the unpaved streets graded. Developers had laid out streets which followed the contours of the land and some thoroughfares were too steep for traffic.
The club lobbied for a sidewalk on South Genesee Street. The city council approved a two-plank walkway, but this was too narrow to accommodate baby carriages. The club kept working on the council until the city approved a three-plank walkway. The club also successfully worked for an extension of the Seattle, Renton and Southern street car line up Genesee Street and across the slough to provide a connection to main line on Rainier Avenue S. This feeder line was dubbed the "Toonerville Trolley" and "Bouncing Betsy." In 1924, the area finally got graded streets and concrete sidewalks.
In 1908, the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm proposed parks in the newly annexed neighborhoods of Seattle. They picked the headland of the peninsula for a park to be connected with the other parks in the city by a boulevard system. The park was not built, but Lake Washington Boulevard was completed along the lake shore and crossed the mouth of the slough on a wood-pile trestle. In 1937, this unsafe structure was replaced by the Works Progress Administration with fill.
In 1947, the city purchased the slough area as a park and playfield, but used it instead as a garbage dump. Rats and seagulls replaced wild ducks and geese to the great annoyance of the neighbors. Dumping ended in 1963, but for years the landfill polluted the lake with leachate.
In 1957, the city developed a pit area for hydroplane races at the north tip of the peninsula. The pits were named for hydroplane driver Stanley S. Sayres (1896-1956) who was credited with bringing the Gold Cup races to Seattle. The fill area served as a parking lot during races in August, but was unstable for other uses. Ohler's Island to the south became a small boat marina.
In 1968, Forward Thrust bonds allowed completion of the long-delayed plans as Genesee Park and Playfield. The old garbage dump was stabilized to allow the construction of grassy areas and recreation facilities, but methane from the decaying garbage still comes to the surface.
The neighborhood is a mix of large homes close to the lakeshore and more modest dwellings inland. In about 1985, the Lakewood Community Club changed its name to Lakewood-Seward Park Community Club to embrace the neighborhood north of about S Othello Street and east of 42nd Avenue S.
"Lakewood Community Club," brochure, 1948, Rainier Valley Historical Society, Seattle; David Buerge, "Indian Lake Washington," The Weekly, August 1, 1984, pp. 29-33; Don Sherwood, "Seward Park - Graham Peninsula," Interpretive Essays on the History of Seattle Parks, Handwritten bound manuscript dated 1977, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library; Don Sherwood, "Genessee P.F., Wetmore Slough," Ibid.; Don Sherwood, "Stanley S. Sayres Memorial Park," Ibid.; "Cougar captured near Lake Washington about February 23, 1870," Timeline Library, (www.Historylink.org); Paul Dorpat, Seattle Now and Then, (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1984), 82; Lucile B. McDonald, The Lake Washington Story, (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1979), 23, 87, 88; Redick H. McKee, Road Map of Seattle and Vicinity, 1890, Seattle Public Library; "Guide Map of the City of Seattle, Washington Territory," ca. 1888, brochure, Seattle Public Library; David Wilma Interview with Grover Haynes, president, Lakewood-Seward Park Community Club, March 31, 2001, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was revised and corrected on November 2, 2011.
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