West Seattle Beginnings: Alki Post Office opens on April 29, 1854.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 11/24/1998
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 385
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On April 29, 1854, the Alki Post Office opens. Alki is located at Alki Point in West Seattle. Charles Terry (1830-1867) is appointed the first postmaster. The post office closes on March 27, 1855.

Alki was the first town in King County. Charles Terry platted the town on May 8, 1853. He had arrived at Alki Point on November 13, 1851, on the schooner Exact, and brought ashore merchandise to start a store.

In early 1853, Charles Terry persuaded Captain William Renton (1818-1891) to build a steam sawmill on the north side of Alki Point, and one source calls this mill the Terry-Renton Mill. The mill was exposed to winds from the north, which played havoc with the log booms (logs tied together and floated on water to the mill). This problem and the lack of fresh water for the steam boilers prompted Renton to move the mill to Blakeley.

Mail by Sail on a Rough Sea

Mail was brought to Alki by boat from Olympia. In June 1854, a traveler named Webster Kimball (1828-1916) hitched a ride on the mailboat, and years later described his exciting mail delivery experience in a letter:

"I took passage with the mail coming from Olympia to Alki Point, about 60 miles, in a small open boat about 12 or 18 feet in length. We left Olympia in the afternoon and went as far as Steilacoom, where we remained for the night.

"The next day we left Steilacoom at such time in the day as the tides would favor our passage through some of the narrow channels where the current was very strong, sometimes our way, and sometimes the other, as the tide was coming in or going out.

"On this part of the journey there was one other person -- an older gentleman.

"We were all night on the Sound, and rounded Alki Point about three o'clock in the morning of the next day.

"This I believe was June 19 [1854] or eight days from Oregon City. I remember of having a very rough passage of our little craft, from an island, which, as I remember, was called Brashaws [Vashon] Island to Alki Point, a distance of several miles. The wind was blowing quite hard and the sea was rough.

I had to steer the little boat with an oar, while the mail carrier managed the sail.

Sometimes it required all my skill and strength to keep her headed straight for Alki Point, and when we reached it and passed around into smooth water, we felt relieved. While at Alki Point a few buildings across the harbor were pointed out to me by Mr. Russell, with whom I stopped, as Seattle.

I remember that I thought Alki Point was a pretty place. There was at that time quite a number of Indians there, and I also remember that while there I saw Indian women bathing in the surf, and Mr. Russell said to me that they bathed there constantly every day.

"At that place I met the agent of the coal company, who had engaged three Indians with a large cedar Indian canoe to take us to the end of our journey at Bellingham."

The growth of Seattle led to Alki's demise, and in 1855 the post office closed. Charles Terry hung on until 1860, when he moved to Seattle.

On July 18, 1905, an Alki Point Post Office opened. William K. Kirshner served as the only postmaster. The post office lasted just one year before it closed on July 14, 1906. Alki Point annexed to the City of Seattle in 1907 and is part of West Seattle.

Sources: Guy Reed Ramsey, "Postmarked Washington, 1850-1960," Microfilm (Olympia: Washington State Library, February, 1966), 552-554, 687; Webster Kimball to J. A. Blanchard, January 21, 1906, in Washington Miscellany, File P-B 206:1, Hubert Howe Bancroft Collection, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Note: This file was revised on October 7, 2000, and corrected on June 30, 2015.

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