Seattle Neighborhoods: Brighton Beach -- Thumbnail History

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 3/18/2001
  • Essay 3110
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Brighton Beach is a neighborhood on Lake Washington in southeast Seattle.  It is just south of the Bailey Peninsula (home to Seward Park) and extends from the lake over Graham Hill, across the Rainier Valley, and up the side of Beacon Hill, generally between S Othello Street on the south and S Orcas Street on the north.  English immigrants who purchased lots there in the 1880s named the neighborhood for a resort town in England.  Before that the area had been home to Duwamish Indians who had a village called hah-HAO-hlch ("forbidden place") just south of Bailey Peninsula, and then to settlers who logged the huge trees, built farms, orchards, and a schoolhouse, and platted house lots.  The 1891 completion of an electric trolley line down the Rainier Valley as far as Columbia City opened Brighton Beach to more development.  The neighborhood and adjoining ones was annexed into Seattle in 1907.  The City developed Brighton Playfield during the 1930s and Sharples Junior High School was later sited next to the playfield.  In the years following World War II many African American families moved from the Central Area south down the Rainier Valley.  Brighton Beach and Seward Park also became a center for Seattle's Jewish community, with three synagogues and some 90 percent of the city's Orthodox Jewish population.

First People

The first residents were members of a Native American tribe whom Euro-Americans called Duwamish or "inside people." The members of this tribe on Lake Washington 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 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 (1820-1892) who filed claims in 1853. 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 1855-1856.

David Graham farmed on the land for 10 years, then traded it to his brother Walter. Walter Graham built a large orchard. Loggers arrived to attack the stands of old-growth fir and hemlock. They skidded logs to sawmills on corduroy (log) roads using teams of oxen. The sawmills attracted employees who built small houses nearby.

In 1872, Charles Waters purchased 350 acres, which he platted as Somerville to honor his hometown in Massachusetts. 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).

A Little Bit of England

In the 1880s, a group of English immigrants arrived in the area 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, clustered 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 roads and named them after Walter Graham's fruit trees -- Cherry, Plum, Pear, Peach, Hop, and Fruitland.

In 1891, an electric trolley line was completed down the Rainier Valley to Columbia City. This opened southeast Seattle to development and real estate promoters began to dream. 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 after 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 and Viking became 44th Avenue S.

Judge Everett Smith (1862-1933) bought 100 acres of the Graham farm in 1889 and he helped organize financing for the new trolley line. He donated land just south of the summit of Graham Hill for a school. In 1901, the district built Brighton School. A larger Brighton School went up west of there in 1904 and the first school closed. After World War I, the first school reopened as the Brighton Annex, Little Brighton, and Brighton Beach School. A new school, Graham Hill School, was built on the site in 1960.

In 1901, the Brighton Post Office opened in the Hadlock grocery store at Rainier Avenue S and S Holly Street. The Rainier Valley including Columbia City, Rainier Beach, and Brighton Beach was annexed to the city of Seattle in 1907. The post office closed in 1911.

The Grand Plan

After the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, Seattle boomed. In 1908, the city retained the services of the Olmsted Brothers architectural firm of Brookline, Massachusetts, to include the newly annexed areas in their 1903 design for a system of parks and boulevards. They recommended a park for the Brighton neighborhood. In 1911, the residents of Brighton petitioned the Parks Board for a playfield. A series of bond issues resulted in the purchase of the Brighton Playfield on S Graham Street west of Rainier Avenue S (different from the Olmsted plan), and of the Bailey Peninsula for Seward Park.

Purchase did not constitute development as a park. For 20 years, the playfield site was used as a construction camp for street graders, for gardens, and as a garbage dump. Creation of the park had to wait until 1930 when the residents formed a local improvement district for sewers and the park. By 1933, Brighton Playfield had a shelter house and tennis courts.

In 1948, the Seattle School Board selected a site south of the Brighton Playfield for a junior high school. The facility was named after Dr. Caspar Wistar Sharples (d. 1941) a prominent physician and a member of the school board for nine years. Part of the Olmsted Plan was for schools to be sited next to playfield to provide recreation for students.

The Post-war Years

Low-income housing projects at Rainier Vista, Seward Park Estates, and Holly Park built during the World War II attracted families into the area. African Americans moved south into the Rainier Valley from the Central Area because housing discrimination prevented them from buying homes elsewhere. In 1968, Forward Thrust bonds provided funds to rehabilitate the Brighton Playfield field house. In 1973, the Model Cities program brought in more money to renew the neighborhood, which had seen property values decline and crime rates rise as poverty levels increased.

In 1907, German immigrant Carolyn Rosenberg Kline Galland (1841-1907) 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, with three synagogues -- Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath, the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, and Congregation Ezra Bessaroth -- in the vicinity. Ninety percent of Seattle's Orthodox Jewish community lives within a mile of the synagogues. In the words of resident Kent Swigard "It's a little bit like 'Fiddler on the Roof' when Sabbath comes" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).


Don Sherwood, "Brighton Playfield," Interpretive Essays on the History of Seattle Parks, Handwritten bound manuscript dated 1977, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library; 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; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Central Area - Thumbnail History" (by Mary T. Henry) and "Galland Center" (by Lee Micklin),; Mark Higgins, "Large Jewish population calls diverse community home," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 20, 1997, (
Note: This essay was revised on October 31, 2011.

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