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Seattle Neighborhoods: Seward Park -- Thumbnail History

HistoryLink.org Essay 3143 : Printer-Friendly Format

Seward Park is a southeast Seattle neighborhood that derives its name from the city park located on the Bailey Peninsula extending into Lake Washington.  In 1911, four years after annexing much of what is now southeast Seattle, the City acquired the peninsula from the Bailey family to develop a park named for U. S. Secretary of State William H. Seward (1801-1872), noted for advocating the U.S. purchase of Alaska.  The surrounding area that took its name from the park grew as street grading and completion of Lake Washington Boulevard improved access.  While many Seattle neighborhoods that were named by real estate speculators had definite boundaries, Seward Park evolved after the developers and the name embraces parts of Brighton Beach, Hillman City, and Lakewood along both sides of South Orcas Street. The area is racially and economically diverse and is a center of the Jewish community in Seattle.

First People

The first residents of the area were members of a Native American tribe whom Euro-Americans called Duwamish. The members of this tribe called themselves hah-chu-AHBSH ("lake people") or skah-TELB-shabsh after a mythical being with long hair who lived at the bottom of the Black River which drained the lake. (Black River is no longer extant.) These people established a permanent winter camp of several cedar longhouses just south of Bailey Peninsula. They called the settlement hah-HAO-hlch or "forbidden place."

From 20 to 25 members of extended families lived in each long house. The residents caught fish, hunted and trapped animals and waterfowl, and gathered bulbs of wapato or "Indian potato." Summers, the people looked for food beyond the permanent camps and lived in shelters of woven cattails. The people usually married outside their villages, which fostered close ties among groups and easy communication.

Settlement and Early Dreams

In 1850, Isaac Ebey (1818-1857) paddled past the long beach between the mouth of the Black River and Bailey Peninsula. He called the lake Geneva before continuing on to the north.

The first American settlers in the area were Edward A. Clark (d. 1860) and John Harvey (1828-1892) who filed claims in 1852. They built their cabins along the common boundary of their properties to provide some sense of community. Clark's claim included Clark's Prairie at the base of the peninsula. Clark traded his land for property closer to Puget Sound and Harvey left the area after the Indian War of 1855-56.

David Graham farmed on the land for 10 years, then traded it to his brother Walter. Walter Graham planted a large orchard. In 1876, the population of loggers and farmers produced enough children to justify the establishment of School District No. 18. The district built a school on the north side of the hill on Fruitland Street (later 48th Avenue S and S Brandon Street). Loggers arrived to attack the stands of old-growth fir and hemlock. They skidded logs to Hewett Lee's sawmill on Andrews Bay along corduroy (log) roads using teams of oxen. The sawmill attracted employees who built small houses nearby.

John S. Maggs filed his claim along the lake shore and proved it up, gaining title. Guy Phinney (1852-1893) bought the land in 1883 and he platted it as Maynard's Addition with streets laid out north of what would become South Hudson Street. But occupation of the area was slow because good transportation was lacking.

Residents Arrive

In the 1880s, a group of English immigrants arrived in the area south of the peninsula and bought lots. They named the area Brighton Beach after a fashionable resort in East Sussex in England. In 1888, developer J. W. Edwards platted Sunnyside in five-acre tracts near Rainier Avenue. The tracts were in blocks of eight. At that time, 40 acres was seen as the amount of land that could be worked by one man and one mule. Edwards laid out streets naming them after Walter Graham's fruit trees (Hop, Fruitland, Peach, Plum, Pear).

In 1891, an electric trolley line was completed down the Rainier Valley to Columbia City. This opened southeast Seattle to development and the real estate promoters went to work. In 1902, Clarence D. Hillman (1870-1935) bought up most of the Sunnyside development between Somerville and Brighton Beach. He named the project Hillman City with city-sized lots and streets named after people instead of Walter Graham's fruit trees. Developers were free to name streets without regard to the name of the same street on an adjacent plat. Ultimately, the City Engineer had to resolve all the inconsistencies. Peach Avenue became Euclid, which became Juneau. Hop became Graham, Peach became Orcas, and Viking became 44th Avenue S.

A Neighborhood in the City

In 1907, Seattle annexed the Rainier Valley including Columbia City, Hillman City, Brighton Beach, and Bailey's Peninsula. In 1911, the city purchased the peninsula from the Bailey family for a park named for William H. Seward. Transportation to the area improved with the grading of streets and the completion of Lake Washington Boulevard along the lake shore.

In 1907, German immigrant Caroline Kline Galland Rosenberg donated the bulk of her estate to establish a home for the aged. The Kline Galland Home opened in 1914 and has operated continuously since then. By 1997, Brighton Beach and Seward Park had become a center for the Jewish community in Seattle. It has three synagogues, Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath, the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, and Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. Ninety percent of Seattle's Orthodox Jewish community lives within a mile of the synagogues. "It's a little bit like 'Fiddler on the Roof' when Sabbath comes," stated resident Kent Swigard (Seattle P-I).

The ridge overlooking Lake Washington attracted builders who erected impressive homes. Inland, away from views of the lake, Mount Rainier, and the Cascades, the homes became more modest. The mixture of ethnicity and real estate makes Seward Park diverse, yet stable with relatively low turnover. Home ownership is approximately 80 percent. The area is roughly one-half white, one-quarter African American, and one-quarter Asian and Pacific Islander. 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.; Don Sherwood, "Brighton Playfield," Ibid.; David Buerge, "The Native American Presence in the Rainier Valley Area," typescript, undated, Rainier Valley Historical Society, Seattle; David Buerge, "Indian Lake Washington," The Weekly, August 1-August 7, 1984, pp. 29-33; 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; "Anderson's New Guide Map of the City of Seattle and Environs," July 1890, Seattle Public Library; Mark Higgins, "Large Jewish Population Calls Diverse Community Home," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 20, 1997, (seattlep-i.nwsource.com); "Galland Center," Metropedia Library, (www.Historylink.org); David Wilma interview with Grover Haynes, president, Lakewood-Seward Park Community Club, March 31, 2001, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was revised slightly on November 4, 2011.

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Entrance to Seward Park, Seattle, 1940s

Map showing location of the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle
Map by Chris Goodman, Courtesy HistoryLink

Boaters at Seward Park, 1930
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

Seward Park turnaround, 1935
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

Taiko Gata stone lantern, Seward Park, 1932
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

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