Hi, I'm Dawn Klinge, welcome!  I write here because doing so helps me to take notice of the sweet things in life.




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Underground Seattle

We traveled back in time yesterday, to the latter half of the 19th century, when Seattle was just small logging town.  We started at Alki point, the location of Arthur Denney's first settlement of cabins, and crossed Elliot Bay by boat to Pioneer Square.  Arthur Denney also crossed the bay to this location in 1851, and re-built his settlement after the original at Alki point was washed away.  Arthur Denney, from Illinois, saw a great opportunity to make money through logging and shipping.  Soon others followed, and Seattle became a rough town of loggers and sailors.  The street in the picture below, where you see the trolley, is said to be the original "skid row".  It received this nickname because the logs would be rolled down this hill to the waterfront, making a skidding sound. The original town had serious problems with mud, disease, and rats.  Scant knowledge of tidal patterns led to an issue with waste being brought back every time the high tide came.  Tide patterns were published in the newspaper so that people wouldn't make the mistake of flushing the commode at the wrong time of day.   When a fire broke out and destroyed most of the business district in 1889, it was decided that they would re-build higher up.  Huge retaining walls, 30 ft. high and 5 ft. thick in some areas, were built on each side of the street.  New buildings were constructed higher up, and the work of building the city higher began with the filling in of the space between the retaining walls.  More dirt was excavated in this process than what was even removed during the building of the Panama canal.  They sometimes ran out of dirt so they would use whatever they could.  There are even old rail cars buried in there.  This took many years, so there was a time when the streets, along with newer businesses were 30 ft. higher than the sidewalk and the older businesses.  One had to go up and down a ladder to cross the street.  Eventually, the sidewalks were covered over, but the businesses below still operated.  This is why there is now an underground Seattle.   The businesses below were of the less reputable variety.  Speakeasys and brothels populated the underground.  The picture below is of a skylight, looking through the sidewalk above.  The brothels were quite profitable.  One mayor put a "sin tax" on each worker of ten dollars a year.  At one point, 85% of the city's budget came from this "sin tax".  A Madame named Lou Graham, became one of Seattle's wealthiest citizens.  When she died, she left the single largest personal endowment to Seattle Public schools to this day, other than Bill Gates.  I found it fascinating to walk through underground Seattle, although I felt a little disappointed that there was little to see, other than rubble.  I had to use my imagination to "see" what it might have looked like.  The tour guide was full of amusing stories though, and I enjoyed seeing photos like the one below, of places I love to visit today, pictured long ago. Below, is Smith Tower.  When it was completed in 1914, it was hailed as the tallest skyscraper outside of New York City.  It remained the tallest building west of the Mississippi for fifty years.  It still has it's original brass and copper caged elevators that take visitors to an observation deck.  This beautiful building will be my next stop on my tour of old Seattle. 

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Reader Comments (10)

wow- very cool history!

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermichelle

I love learning about the history of places I live. Learning more about the school house and the village now means so much! What an awesome adventure.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjessica

I loved this post with a passion! Buried cities are one of my favourite things. I could almost smell the dust and dirt of those tunnel streets. Thank you so much for sharing.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersarah

wow, that is fascinating! It must have been a (smelly) sight to behold back in the day!

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

What a fun post! I loved reading this and wish I would have known about underground Seattle when I was there years ago. Looking forward to the next post!

June 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristiane

How super cool! I've wanted to go see that for quite awhile.

June 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdelena

I have never been to Seattle, but I would love to go someday.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

what beautiful pictures!

June 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterangelina

Wow, that is absolutely amazing and I'm glad you had the opportunity to travel back in time and discover all this history. Your pictures are amazing, and speak volumes. The underground Seattle looks interesting, but at the same it looks like its just been left there. I wonder whether they will at least try and do something about it, and conserve it? It would be a shame just to leave it like that. Eventually it will rot away if things aren't done about it, and could be in the hands of someone new who could turn it around and turn its history into something new. You never know. The Smith Tower looks really pretty, and I can imagine going up there must have a wonderful feel about it. Thank you so much for the share. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences in Seattle. :)

June 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAna Goncalves

Thank you for sharing the images and history. I have been thinking about WA as a possible retirement place, but my husband thinks the beach will be too cold for me!

June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

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