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Seattle Neighborhoods: Fauntleroy -- Thumbnail History

HistoryLink.org Essay 3680 : Printer-Friendly Format

Fauntleroy, in West Seattle, sits along Puget Sound's Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle’s extreme southwest corner. The community faces Vashon Island and the Olympic Mountains to the west. The site was valued by Native Americans, explored by Lt. Charles Wilkes, and named by Lt. George Davidson for his future father-in-law, R. H. Fauntleroy. In 1905, pioneer John Adams acquired 300 acres there, and development began in earnest. Other key developers were John Adams, James Colman (1832-1906), and Dr. Edward Kilbourne (1856-1959). Today Fauntleroy is a small West Seattle community adjoining Lincoln Park on the waterfront. Two points of land, Point Williams to the north and Brace Point to the south form the cove where the ferry to and from Vashon Island docks.

First Residents

Native Americans valued Fauntleroy Cove well before pioneer John Adams acquired his land there in 1905. A 1915 excavation to widen Fauntleroy Way uncovered evidence of an ancient Native American burial ground near where Fauntleroy Creek flows into Puget Sound. In the early years of the twentieth century local residents found middens of clamshells indicating that Fauntleroy Cove had been a clamming and fishing site into the nineteenth century.

At low tide one can still see what Native Americans call a "spirit boulder" south of the ferry dock. Native Americans claim that the boulder, Psai-Yah-hus, is the dormant spirit that lived underground and caused landslides and earthquakes. The boulder -- and slides and quakes -- are still with us.

Explorers and Pioneers

In 1841, the U.S. Navy Exploring Expedition under Lt. Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) was the first of the white explorers to discover the cove. Wilkes named Brace Point and Point Williams. In 1857, Lt. George Davidson anchored his brig in the cove where he observed Indians camping, fishing, and clamming. He named the cove after his future father-in-law, R. H. Fauntleroy. Impressed with the spectacular view of the Olympics to the west, Davidson named Mt. Ellinor, for his bride to be, Ellinor Fauntleroy. He also named The Brothers, Mt. Constance, and Mt. Rose for members of his future family.

In 1881, Swedish sea captain Charles Peterson built a cabin at Brace Point, began to farm, and eventually staked a Homestead claim. He was the first of the white settlers that were on their way to replacing the Native American population.

Early resident John Adams made money in the 1890s by operating an Alaskan outfitting company on 1st Avenue during the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1905, he invested his profits in 300 acres at Fauntleroy. That same year a successful Seattle businessman, James Colman, bought 17 acres from Adams along the cove. Colman persuaded several friends from Plymouth Congregational Church to build summer cabins at the cove. Soon permanent homes replaced the summer tents and cabins. Adams set up a small store, a small shingle mill at Rose Street, and began to promote a streetcar line to isolated Fauntleroy. By 1907 the streetcar line was built. That same year all of West Seattle was annexed to the City of Seattle.

A Community is Built

John Adams, James Colman, and Dr. Edward Kilbourne set out to build the remote Fauntleroy settlement into a community. On July 25, 1908, Fauntleroy Church was "built in a day" on land donated by Adams, labor by the community, and lumber by Colman. The Olmsted plan for parks and boulevards in Seattle recommended including land at Point Williams as part of their system. In time this was done and Lincoln Park was the result.

James Colman's son Laurence Colman and Dr. Kilbourne had been instrumental in building the downtown Seattle YMCA. In 1914, they proceeded to plan and build a gym and recreation center next to the church in Fauntleroy. This became the Fauntleroy YMCA. The "Y," along with the church, is a strong part of the community today.

The streetcar line, roads, and a dock at the cove combined to bring more people to the cove. In 1917, Adams sold land to the Seattle School District for a permanent Fauntleroy School. With the church, YMCA, parks, and school, people of Fauntleroy were determined to build a community suitable for children.

The Kenny Presbyterian Home for the Retired opened in 1907. The striking building was patterned after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It is still in operation and is now (2002) expanding. In 1920 Dr. Frederick Slyfield and Dr. John Nelson opened the Laurel Beach Sanatorium, a private facility, just south of Brace Point. The quiet natural setting seemed an ideal place for the treatment of tuberculosis. Following World War II, new drugs reduced the need for the sanatorium and it closed in 1957.

A small business district evolved at the intersection of 45th Avenue and Wildwood, but Fauntleroy was never to be a significant commercial center. In the 1920s, the Kitsap County Transportation Company began the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Harper ferry run. Today the Washington State Ferry system runs this service.

In the 1930s, the federally sponsored Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civil Works Administration (CWA), and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped develop Lincoln Park by clearing underbrush, building trails, seawalls, playgrounds, and tennis courts. In 1941, Laurence Colman's widow Ida, son Kenneth Colman, and daughter Isabel Colman Pierce continued the family's legacy of community service by building Colman Pool at Pt. Williams and donating it to the community in memory of Laurence Colman.

Following December 7, 1941, the Army set up a small post at Brace Point with searchlights and guns to protect against an attack that never came. Postwar expansion brought more people into the neighborhood. By the 1950’s homebuilding had expanded into the hillsides above Fauntleroy Cove.

Legacy of Community Activism Continues

Fauntleroy Park was bought from the Fenton Family in 1972 and is one of Seattle’s few natural parks. These 28 acres preserve the headwaters of Fauntleroy Creek as well as many plant species. Students and youth groups, as well as veterans of the Civilian Conservation Corps, have all participated in the plantings that have re-created an oxygen rich habitat for aquatic animals, insects, and wildlife along the creek.

The Fauntleroy Creek Fish Ladder was the result of a restoration project begun in 1989 by Friends of Fauntleroy Creek in cooperation with the City of Seattle. Over the years Coho salmon have been released by school children. Volunteers count the return each fall. Judy Pickens led this effort with the participation of the Seattle Summer Youth Program, World Conservation Corps, Fauntleroy Church, Consejo Counseling and Referral Service, and Seattle Public Utilities.

Captain’s Park overlooks the cove and honors all who have plied the local waters including Native Americans who at one time camped at the site. Fauntleroy’s own retired Coast Guard Captain, Morey Skaret, maintains the overlook and shares the history of Fauntleroy with the young and old in the community.

Cove Park was dedicated April 9, 2000, just north of the ferry dock. The active Fauntleroy Community Association led by Mardi Clements, Bruce Butterfield, Gary Dawson, Morey Skaret, Judy Pickens, and Phil Sweetland among others started the project. Volunteers, patron gifts, and city grants were part of this project. The park is a haven for walkers and boaters. Artist Tom Jay’s sculptures remind visitors of the Native American history at Fauntleroy.

Sources:
Roy Morse and Richard Brown, Fauntleroy Legacy (1989); West Side Story ed. by Clay Eals (Seattle: West Seattle Herald, 1987); Fauntleroy Community Church Archives; Ron Richardson interviews with Dr. Jack Pierce, Roy and Beth Morse, Morey Skaret, Judy Pickens, Seattle, 2002.


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West Seattle ferry at Fauntleroy, August 13, 1949
Courtesy UW Special Collections


Dr. Edward Kilbourne (1856-1959)
Courtesy Fauntleroy Legacy


James Murray Colman (1832-1906)
Courtesy Dr. Jack Pierce


Fauntleroy Church, 1914
Courtesy Fauntleroy Community Church Archives


Civil Works Administration construction of seawall in Lincoln Park, 1930s
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives


Endolyne Station, in Fauntleroy at 45th Avenue SW and SW Roxbury Street, 1934
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives


Fauntleroy Trolley, West Seattle, 1900s
Postcard


 
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