Seattle residents celebrate Independence Day on July 4, 1854, and adopt names for Lake Union and Lake Washington.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 7/01/1999
  • Essay 1445
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On the Fourth of July, 1854, most of Seattle's few hundred residents gather to celebrate near a lake called Tenas Chuck ("little waters"). Thomas Mercer (1813-1898) addresses the group and proposes naming the larger lake to the east, known variously as Hyas Chuck, Geneva, and D'wamish, as Lake Washington. He also proposes renaming Tenas Chuck as Lake Union because he believes that a canal will ultimately connect it to Lake Washington and to Puget Sound.

Settlers approved the new lake names, which were formally adopted a few weeks later. Mercer's vision of a canal was not fully realized for many decades. Work began on the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1911, and the Government Locks, now named for engineer Hiram M. Chittenden (1858-1917), were dedicated on July 4, 1917.

The canal was declared complete in 1934, 80 years after Mercer first proposed it.


Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916).
Note: This essay was revised slightly on May 3, 2012.

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