The city's website says the first known Caucasian settler in present-day Clyde Hill was Patrick Downey (1848?-1926), an Irish immigrant who homesteaded a 160-acre tract of land on the southern slope of the hill in 1882. His property extended south and east of Clyde Hill into what we now know as Bellevue, and it was bordered by NE 16th Street on the north, 100th Avenue NE on the east, NE 8th Street on the south, and 92nd Avenue NE on the west. He soon had a few neighbors, but it was still a pretty remote life; when he wanted to go to Seattle, he walked to nearby Houghton (now part of Kirkland) and rowed across Lake Washington to the city.
Downey cleared his land of its abundant fir and cedar trees and sold the logs for a nice profit, and by the end of the decade he'd built an 18-by-27-foot log house with four rooms, as well as a barn, a stable, and a henhouse. Later he planted 15 acres of strawberries and ran a decent-sized dairy farm, which also proved quite profitable for the pioneer. Most of the northern part of his property was located in what eventually became the city of Clyde Hill, but he and his family lived on its southern part in what later became the Vuecrest neighborhood in Bellevue. He married Victoria Kotaska (1869-1960) and they had 13 children -- 10 girls and three boys. The family was active in the Bellevue community, and they had such an impact that they've been referred to as "a cornerstone of the developing community" ("Heritage Corner...").
There are two different versions of how Clyde Hill got its name. One version says Downey named a ferry landing on Meydenbauer Bay "Clyde Landing" after the River Clyde in Scotland, and the community adopted the name over time. However, a version on the city's website says a local pioneer, maybe Downey or maybe not, came up with the name when a new road (now 92nd Avenue NE) was put through the area in the early 1900s. He named it Clyde Road after the Firth of Clyde, a body of water off the western coast of Scotland, and the name eventually became connected with the community. Whatever the case, the name doesn't seem to have caught on immediately. The earliest reference to "Clyde Hill" this writer has seen is dated 1940. Perhaps this was because in the early twentieth century many considered Clyde Hill part of Bellevue -- which itself was then just a small unincorporated farming community. Others called Clyde Hill "Nanny Goat Hill" as a poke at the farms there.
Over the next half-century more farms were established on Clyde Hill. There were dairy farms, vegetable farms, fruit and berry farms, and vineyards. There was even a fox farm and a mink ranch, both located just south of today's NE 24th Street. Many of the farmers were either Japanese or of Japanese descent, and along with their neighbors in nearby Medina enjoyed considerable success in their ventures and from all appearances lived harmoniously with their Caucasian neighbors. In the early decades of the twentieth century elementary-age school children from Clyde Hill and Medina went to school in either Medina or Hunts Point, and a 1928 photograph of the second grade class in Medina shows a remarkable racial makeup for its day, with 11 of the 26 students being of Asian (mostly Japanese) descent. This came to an abrupt end in the early 1940s when the Japanese were "relocated" to internment prison camps soon after the United States entered World War II. With a few exceptions, most of the Japanese did not return after the end of the war in 1945.
By the 1940s the area was developing a stronger sense of community as Clyde Hill, and this connection as well as concerns over encroaching development led to the establishment of the Clyde Hill Community Club on May 13, 1949. It got off to a somewhat less than auspicious start. Less than two months after the club's formation, tolls were lifted on Lake Washington Floating Bridge (now known as the I-90 bridge), and a grand celebration took place on July 2. The new club proudly entered six decorated cars and a float in the gigantic parade that traveled through most of the Eastside before crossing the bridge to Seattle. But as the Clyde Hill float got to the city, it found itself separated from the rest of the parade and riding solo down Seattle's 12th Avenue with eight motorcycle police escorts whose blaring sirens loudly announced the faux pas. It bravely soldiered on for about 10 minutes, until it met the parade coming head-on and was happily reunited.
The bridge's 1940 opening opened Seattle's previously rural Eastside to development, which accelerated after World War II ended in 1945. In those days it wasn't uncommon for Seattle's communities to have restrictions on property deeds limiting sales to Caucasians and even, in some cases, to "Gentiles" ("Aryans Only..."). Clyde Hill was no exception, but one restriction by a local property seller during the 1940s to persons of the "Aryan" race has caught the attention of a few historians. Aryan was a term usually associated with Hitler's Germany, which had just been defeated in World War II by the time the lots first went on sale in 1946. It was an odd term to use, but it seems to be nothing more than that.
By the early 1950s, the Eastside's burgeoning growth had reached a point that local communities began considering whether to incorporate as their own cities and towns or remain part of unincorporated King County. One of these communities was Clyde Hill, which was primarily interested in incorporation because it would allow the community to maintain its minimum-lot sizes of 20,000 square feet. (The county allowed lot sizes as small as 6,000 square feet, far too small for Clyde Hill's liking.)
Relative to other Eastside communities that incorporated in the early and mid-1950s, Clyde Hill was early to the party. In October 1952 the community submitted a petition to the Board of King County Commissioners to incorporate as the Town of Clyde. A few weeks later the board rejected the petition because it contained a faulty description of the proposed town's legal boundaries. The community quickly filed a new petition seeking to incorporate as the Town of Clyde Hill.
Bellevue had likewise filed a petition to incorporate, which included Clyde Hill, but in January 1953 the board deleted the Clyde Hill area from the petition. Despite this seeming victory, there was considerable ambivalence in the community about whether to incorporate as its own town. Many were willing to incorporate with Bellevue but many were not, and they were more vocal. With leaders of the Clyde Hill Community Club spearheading the effort, county commissioners set a date of March 24 for Clyde Hill's vote to incorporate.
It passed by a comfortable if not overwhelming margin, 148 to 119. Clyde Hill officially became a town of the fourth class when papers were filed with the Secretary of State's office on March 31, 1953. Kenneth "Ken" Day became the town's first mayor, and the town's first council members were F. Lee Campbell, Robert Glueck, P. A. Jacobsen, Leslie Rudy, and A. C. Thompson Sr. The town boundary's northern limits ran east from 84th Avenue NE to 98th Avenue NE along a line just south of today's State Route 520 (and it includes 520 from 92nd to 98th Avenue NE), then south on 98th NE to approximately NE 12th Street, west to 84th Avenue NE, and north back to its northern boundary.
Flipping For the Future
The new town had its work cut out for it. Many of its streets weren't paved and it wasn't yet on a sewer line. The town decided to delay paving its streets until the sewer lines were put in, reasoning that it made no sense to lay pavement and then tear it up again to put in the lines. The problem was the sewer lines didn't arrive for years. Perhaps sensing an opportunity, Bellevue put out feelers in 1958 urging Clyde Hill to seek annexation to Bellevue, but the Clyde Hill Community Club shot it down. Installation of sewer lines began a year later, and from there the town wasted little time catching up to the modern era. By the end of 1961, 85 percent of its streets were paved and most of the streetlights in major intersections were in. The timing was excellent, because Clyde Hill's population jumped by 68 percent during the 1960s, reaching 3,150 in 1970. The little community was growing up.
Clyde Hill unexpectedly found itself in the national spotlight in the autumn of 1975 when its mayoral election between incumbent Liberino "Lib" Tufarolo and challenger Miles Nelson ended in a 576-576 tie. Though it wasn't unheard of in King County for a small municipal election to end in a tie (there were a total of more than 160 issues and offices on the 1975 ballot alone), it captured the national imagination when it was announced that the mayor's race would be decided by a coin toss, the traditional method in Washington of deciding tied races.
The press was looking on on Monday morning, December 1, when the two candidates met in the office of Ralph Dillon, King County Superintendent of Elections, at the County Administration Building in Seattle for the ceremonial coin toss. Nelson was given the honor of making the call and called "heads" as Dillon flipped a half dollar -- and dropped it as the crowd cackled. The second try was more successful. Nelson won and served as Clyde Hill's mayor for the next four years, and the election and second coin toss merited a short story in People magazine the following month.
Clyde Hill Today
In 2016 Clyde Hill is a pleasant, affluent city (its town council voted to organize the town as a non-charter code city in 1998), which has been organized under the mayor-council form of government since its incorporation in 1953. Its population has hovered on both sides of 3,000 residents for nearly half a century because of the city's small area; at just over one square mile, most of Clyde Hill has long since been developed. The 2010 U.S. Census recorded Clyde Hill's population at 2,984. The city's racial makeup was 84 percent Caucasian and 12 percent Asian, with the remainder split between various races.
It's a pricy place to live. City-Data.com reported the average house price in Clyde Hill to be just shy of $1 million in 2013, more than twice the median for King County. The average median income in Clyde Hill -- reported by City-Data.com in 2013 as "over $200,000" -- was nearly triple the King County median. In September 2014 Business Insider (an online news website) listed Clyde Hill as the most affluent small city in Washington, with the average median household income reported to be $210,500.
Clyde Hill has its own police department, but it contracts with Bellevue for fire and emergency services, and it also receives its water and sewer services from Bellevue. The city's children attend public school in Clyde Hill through middle school but go to high school in Bellevue. The city is almost exclusively residential, with the exception of limited commercial zoning areas for a 76 gas station and a Tully's coffeehouse. Its zoning code maintains its minimum lot size requirement at the 20,000 square feet, which was so important to the community when it incorporated in 1953, though smaller lots that existed before have been grandfathered in.