Northern Pacific sets off an economic boom and a bidding war in Puget Sound region beginning in August 1870.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 7/29/1999
  • Essay 1592
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About August 2, 1870, immediately after Northern Pacific Railroad surveyors arrive in Seattle, speculators begin a buying-frenzy of Seattle real estate. One Northern Pacific team will survey a route from Yesler's Wharf at the foot of Mill Street (later renamed Yesler Way), proceeding south to Olympia. Another team will survey a route that goes around the south end of Lake Washington and over the Cascade Mountains. Seattle property immediately doubles in price and some real estate increases three to four times. Puget Sound towns vie for the Northern Pacific terminus and within a couple of years a bidding war has erupted among towns over which one would donate the most land, cash, and bonds to the Northern Pacific.

Survey Party Welcomed

The Northern Pacific survey party comprised 29 men. One group of 14 surveyors, headed by Charles S. Kidder, surveyed a route from Seattle to Olympia that was extended to Portland, Oregon. J. R. Maxwell headed a second party of 15 to survey a route from Seattle around the south end of Lake Washington and then across the Cascade Mountains. They began from Yesler's Wharf at the foot of Mill Street.

When the survey party arrived, Seattle held a feast and a "grand ball" in its honor. Almost before the celebration ended, real-estate speculators started a Seattle buying boom. Most dramatically, one city lot that sold for $300 in 1868 sold for $10,000 in 1870. During a 10-day period in late July 1871, Philo RemingtonĀ (1816-1889), a New York capitalist, purchased more than $50,000 in King County real estate from 14 property owners.

For two to three years Seattle was confident that it would be the Northern Pacific Railroad's terminus. Starting in July 1872, Puget Sound towns got into a bidding war over the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad line. Seattle held a town meeting and offered the Northern Pacific $50,000 cash, $200,000 in bonds, 3,000 acres of land, and 7,500 town lots. This totaled a pledge of more than $700,000.

In 1873 the Northern Pacific dashed Seattle's hopes when it announced that Tacoma would be the railroad terminus.


Thomas Prosch, "A Chronological History of Seattle from 1850 to 1897" (Typescript, dated 1900-1901, Northwest Collection, University of Washington Library, Seattle), 205; "Surveying From the Sound," The Weekly Intelligencer, August 8, 1870, p. 2; Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West: The Story of Seattle (Portland, OR: Metropolitan Press, 1931), 365.
Note: This timeline essay was revised on August 26, 2004.

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