Seattle's Oldest Neighborhood
- PUBLISHED: September 2005
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Western History, Pacific Northwest / History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 256 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 125 illus.
- ISBN: 9780295985039
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
This fascinating history weaves together first-person accounts, photographs, and varied cultural perspectives to shed light on the birthplace of modern Seattle. It reveals that Pioneer Square has always been a barometer of Seattle’s health and an incubator for trends that characterize the city today.
In 1852, a group of settlers who had spent the winter on Alki Beach relocated to the east side of Elliott Bay and chose the only flat area along the shoreline for the first settlement in downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square. Called Djicjila'letc, "little crossing over place," by friendly Duwamish Indians, it was near the heart of their ancient homeland. By 1853, Henry Yesler’s steam-powered sawmill was processing and exporting timber from the densely forested hillsides. Other businesses sprang up near the mill, making Seattle the region's major commercial center and a magnet for workers and entrepreneurs. The assimilation of people of diverse ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds continues today, as one of Pioneer Square’s defining characteristics.
After the Great Fire of 1889, Seattle rallied to build a modern city of brick and stone. Pioneer Square rose quickly from the ashes with elegant brick buildings that still give the area an architecturally harmonious feeling. The district formed the heart of the city upon the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad and during the Klondike Gold Rush. As the population exploded, city engineers scrambled to regrade steep hills and fill in tide flats to make them suitable for development.
In the early twentieth century, overcrowded Pioneer Square burst at its seams: the downtown business district moved north, industries surged south onto reclaimed tide flats, and Chinatown and Japantown spread east into what is now the International District. As Pioneer Square deteriorated, a local minister dubbed it Skid Road, applying the name of the mill logslide (now Yesler Way) to people on the skids. The term later entered the national vernacular as a synonym for urban slum.
From the late 1950s the neighborhood became a battleground between advocates of urban renewal and those who envisioned a restored district of handsome buildings, outdoor cafes, and an easy mingling of artists, merchants, and the down-and-out. Architects, gallery owners, activists, and many others recognized that Pioneer Square was not only a place of beautiful buildings, but a place of spirit as well. In 1971, the City of Seattle created the thirty-block Pioneer Square Historic District, the first designated landmark district in the city. In the ensuing decades the neighborhood, which never lost its Skid Road identity, became a vibrant center for the arts and a hub of regional transit, urban living, and professional sports.
Authors & Contributors
Mildred Tanner Andrews is an award-winning author specializing in Northwest social history and historic preservation. Marc Blackburn is a park ranger with the National Park Service and was recently stationed at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square. Dana Cox has served as a long-time tour guide and historian with Pioneer Square's Underground Tour. Leonard Garfield is executive director of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. Karin Murr Link is a historic preservationist and coauthor of Impressions of Imagination: Terra Cotta Seattle.
Introduction / Leonard Garfield
1. A Change of Worlds / Mildred Andrews
2. Urban Frontier Years / Mildred Andrews
3. Rise of the Urban Center / Karin Link
4. Railroads: Premier Entrance to the City / Mildred Andrews
5. Prospectors and Patriots / Marc Blackburn
6. Skid Road / Mildred Andrews
7. The Era of Booms and Busts / Mildred Andrews
8. Left Bank / Mildred Andrews with "Out of the Closet" by Dana Cox
9. Preservation and the Era of Civic Revival / Karin Link
A lively and wonderful book.- Salem Statesman Journal
An excellent introduction to the chaos, tragedy, and happiness that made and still make Seattle an interesting place to live.- Sunday Seattle Times & Seattle Post-Intelligencer
A valuable contribution to local and state history.- Pacific Northwest Quarterly