City of Seattle purchases Woodland Park on December 28, 1899.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 9/03/2001
  • Essay 3529
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On December 28, 1899, after much debate, the City of Seattle agrees to purchase Woodland Park for $100,000. The 200-acre tract stretches from the shore of Green Lake to the crest of Phinney Ridge. It was established by developer Guy Phinney (1852-1893), but his widow Nellie (Wright) Phinney (d. 1909) could not maintain the grounds. The park houses a small menagerie which provides the foundation for today's Woodland Park Zoo.

The City paid Nellie Phinney $5,000 in cash and assumed a $95,000 mortgage. Critics of the purchase complained that the park was too distant from the city center, but expanding streetcar service and city annexations soon made it accessible.

From Menagerie to World-Class Zoo

The city expanded the animal collection and opened the Woodland Park Zoological Gardens in 1904. The zoo grounds and Green Lake shore were landscaped five years later according to plans drawn up by John C. Olmsted.

Despite local protests, the zoo was separated from the balance of Woodland Park by the construction of Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue N) in the early 1930s. The City undertook a series of revolutionary exhibit and habitat improvements beginning in the 1970s, and the Woodland Park Zoo is now regarded as one of the top 10 in the nation.


Walt Crowley, The Woodland Park Zoo Guide (Seattle: Woodland Park Zoological Society, 1995); Howard Finny Sr., Finney/Phinney Families in America: Descendents of John Finney of Plymouth and Barnstable, Mass. and Bristol, R.I., of Samuel Finney of Philadelphia, Pa., and of Robert Finney of New London, Pa. (Richmond: The William Byrd Press, Inc., 1957).
Note: This essay was updated on November 10, 2004.

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