Shoreline -- Thumbnail History

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 2/20/1999
  • Essay 958
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The City of Shoreline is one of Seattle’s closest suburbs. Located immediately north of Seattle's city limits, the area was settled first by homesteaders and soon after by vacationers. Over time a community formed, and although Seattle’s boundaries have pushed farther north, Shoreline has preserved its autonomy and, in the 1990s, incorporated as a city in its own right.

Horse, Boat, and Train

Despite the access to Puget Sound, little evidence exists for any major Native American encampments in the Shoreline area prior to the arrival of settlers. The first people to homestead there arrived in the 1880s. They cleared the land of timber and set up small farms. Boats were used to transport goods the short distance down the coast to Seattle.

The introduction of railroads greatly opened the Shoreline area to development. In 1888, the Seattle, Lakeshore and Eastern Railway was completed to the east along the shores of Lake Washington. But the Great Northern, which ran from Seattle to Minnesota, had a larger impact on Shoreline. In 1891, the portion that ran through Shoreline was completed, and this provided a direct link to downtown Seattle. The rail lines encouraged people to buy property in the area. Even as early as the 1890s, many people dreamed of escaping the urban center for a more bucolic environment. Shoreline was close enough for people to live in the country and still have jobs in the city. Also, for the more well-to-do, the area was ideal for summer cottages and vacation getaways.

Another boost for development was the construction of the Interurban. Construction was started on this light-rail system in 1902. By 1910, electric trains were running between Everett (in Snohomish County to the north) and Tacoma (in Pierce County to the south). Capable of speeds greater than 30 miles an hour, the Interurban was the prime method of transport for Shoreline commuters and small farmers for almost 30 years.

A Stop Called Ronald

An early resident in the Shoreline community around the turn of the century was Judge James Ronald. Ronald purchased five acres of land for $100 from a friend who owed him money. Working on the weekends, he cleared his tract and planted cherry and apple trees. Improving the land came naturally to him, he claimed, having been raised in the Deep South. Judge Ronald was a friend of Fred Sander, the man who built the Interurban. Ronald gave right-of-way through his property for Sander's rail line and offered to build a small station house if he could name it. Sander agreed, and after the station was built, Ronald gave him a sign reading "Evanor," named for Ronald’s daughters, Eva and Norma.

Shortly thereafter, Judge Ronald was riding the train. He got off at his station and was shocked to see that its name had been changed to Ronald. Not wanting to see his name in a public place, he confronted Sander. Sander informed Ronald that he'd promised to name the station "Evanor" but not to keep the name. Said Sander, "This is my railway and I change names of stations when I please. I have changed it to Ronald and if you don’t like that name you can stay away and not see it!" The name further ingrained itself into the community a few years later when Ronald donated land for a school building. The name of the building? Ronald School, now (1999) home to the Shoreline Historical Museum.

Work and Play

Although early Shoreline was home to many folks who worked elsewhere, like every community it had businesses of its own. Lumber mills processed the cedar, Douglas Fir, and hemlock trees abundant in the area. Once the land was cleared, it became home to farmers, who raised chickens and produce such as berries. In 1907, the Portland Ship Building Company built a small shipyard along the shores of Puget Sound. One of the boats built there was the S.S. Duwamish, a fireboat for the Seattle Fire Department. The Duwamish, a 121-foot steel vessel, could suck in and shoot out water at a rate of 22,800 gallons a minute. The Duwamish put out fires along the shore for more than 75 years, and is now (1999) a national historic landmark.

Other businesses in the Shoreline community were not as labor-intensive as building boats or felling trees. In fact, they were centers of fun. Echo Lake, located just south of the Snohomish County border, was from 1916 to 1966 a popular bathing beach. In the early days, it cost a nickel to get in. Some kids would spend this on candy and sneak in instead. In the winter, the lake was also used for ice-skating. But probably the most fun could be had at Playland. Located on the shores of Bitter Lake, now (1999) just inside Seattle city limits, this popular amusement park had bumper cars, a merry-go-round, a funhouse, and all sorts of rides and games for young and old alike. Prior to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, people would travel from all over the state to enjoy themselves at Playland.

Not the Scenic Route

By the 1930s, the Interurban had outlived its usefulness. America was turning automotive, and cars were the preferred method of travel. By 1939, the Interurban rails were sold for scrap metal and paved roads crisscrossed the community. Aurora Avenue, or Highway 99, was originally a bumpy wagon-trail that closely paralleled the rail line. By 1912, it was paved with brick all the way to the county line. As the Interurban faded away, Aurora Avenue became the most heavily trafficked road in the community. Evidence of this can be seen today in the old motels and gas stations still located along the sides.

In the 1960s, Interstate-5 was built east of Aurora Avenue and today carries the greatest amount of traffic through Shoreline. The north-south commute to Seattle remains part of the lives of many local residents. Ironically, many commuters caught in I-5 gridlock might look back at the “speedy” 30-mile-per-hour Interurban and wonder what progress has wrought. Still, many find Shoreline a pleasant place to live. In 1995, the city incorporated and is today [2021] home to more than 57,000 people. 


LouAnn Bivins Shoreline or Steamers, Stumps and Strawberries (Seattle: Frontier, 1987); Jack Broom, "Venerable Firefighting Boat in Need of Rescue, Says Group," The Seattle Times, April 12, 1999 at ( Additional information provided by the Shoreline Historical Museum.

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