Yesler Way

This street is named after Henry Leiter Yesler (1810–1892). Originally from Leitersburg, Maryland, which was founded by his great-grandfather, and living in Massillon, Ohio, before coming west, he moved to Seattle from Portland, Oregon, in 1852. As John Caldbick writes for HistoryLink.org:

…[Yesler] quickly established himself as the most important resident of the rain-swept little spot that would soon become Seattle. He had the first steam-powered sawmill on Puget Sound up and running within months, and for several years he employed almost every male settler in Seattle and a considerable number of Native Americans. His mill was early Seattle’s only industry, and without it the town’s development would have been greatly delayed.

Carson Dobbins Boren and David Swinson “Doc” Maynard had already claimed land on Elliott Bay either side of what is today Pioneer Square, but they gave him part of their claims so he could access the water from the claim he made farther up First Hill. Yesler’s mill was built at the foot of what is now Yesler Way but was originally Mill Street, also known as Skid Road — and yes, Seattle may be where the term originated, referring to a neighborhood largely inhabited by the “down and out.”

Yesler was also King County auditor in 1852, and Seattle mayor from 1874 to 1875 and 1885 to 1886.

Yesler had two children: a son, Henry George Yesler (1845–1859), by his wife, Sarah Burgert Yesler (1822–1887); and a daughter, Julia Benson Intermela (1855–1907). Her mother wasn’t Sarah, who didn’t come to Seattle until 1858, but rather a Duwamish woman named Susan, daughter of Salmon Bay Curley (Su-quardle), who had worked at Yesler’s mill. When Sarah finally joined her husband, he sent Susan and Julia to live with Jeremiah S. Benson, a cook at the mill. In the 1870 territorial census, Julia is listed as living with the Bensons, but the next year she is listed as a HB (“half-breed”) house servant for the Yeslers. Unlike Rebecca Lena Graham, who successfully sued the relatives of Franklin Matthias to be recognized as his rightful heir, Julia inherited nothing when her father died in 1892. Even so,

…The settlement of Henry Yesler’s estate was an imbroglio of epic proportions. It pitted Minnie Gagle Yesler [a younger cousin whom he married a few years before his death] and her mother against James Lowman [his nephew] and municipal authorities, who believed that Yesler had made a will that left most of his fortune, by then worth more than $1,000,000, to the city, hoping thereby to cement his reputation as the “Father of Seattle.”

Yesler is also quoted as anticipating “Strange Fruit” by 55 years… though it’s by no means a sentiment Abel Meeropol or Billie Holiday would have shared. In January 1882, a mob lynched James Sullivan, William Howard, and Benjamin Paynes between two of his maple trees. Harper’s Weekly reported Yesler’s reaction: “That was the first fruit them trees ever bore, but it was the finest.”

Henry L. Yesler
Henry L. Yesler. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 12257

Yesler Way begins on the Elliott Bay waterfront at Alaskan Way and goes 2⅙ miles east to Leschi Park, just past 32nd Avenue. It also appears just west of Lake Washington Boulevard, where it goes about 200 feet west and essentially serves as a driveway for a couple of houses.

Yesler Way, which becomes E Yesler Way east of Broadway, also divides three of the city’s directional designation zones from each other. South of Yesler, east–west streets carry the S prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix S. North of Yesler, north–south avenues carry no suffix; east–west streets carry the E prefix east of Broadway and no prefix west of Broadway.

S Holgate Street

This street is named for John Cornelius Holgate (1828–1868). Born in Ohio, he took the Oregon Trail west in 1847 and explored Elliott Bay and the Duwamish River by canoe in the summer of 1850. (The Seattle Times calls him “the first non-Indian of record to have done so.”) He returned to Oregon afterwards, however, and did not settle in what is now Seattle — specifically, Beacon Hill — until 1853, two years after the Denny Party landed at Alki Point. His mother, Elizabeth; brothers, Lemuel and Milton; and sister, Abigail, along with her husband, Edward Hanford (namesakes of S Hanford Street), soon followed. The Hanfords settled on the hill — known thereafter as Holgate and Hanford Hill until the late 1880s — adjacent to Holgate. (Milton was one of three whites to die in the Battle of Seattle in 1856, and was himself the cause of one of those deaths, having earlier shot Jack Drew, a deserting sailor from the USS Decatur, in a “friendly-fire” incident.)

A gold prospector, Holgate left for Idaho in 1863, and died there in 1868, the first casualty of the War Under the Mountain, a conflict between two rival gold mines in the Owyhee Desert, one of which he was part owner. According to Robert L. Deen, writing for True West magazine, there are conflicting accounts of Holgates death. The Owyhee Avalanche reported that:

Desperate fighting ensued during the charge…. John C. Holgate… one of the foremost in the advance, was shot in the head, and must have died instantaneously.

The Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman had a slightly different story:

It appears that J.C. Holgate has been killed, some say assassinated, murdered — not killed in a fight, but shot through the head without provocation.

SW Holgate Street begins in West Seattle just west of 47th Avenue SW and goes ¼ of a mile east to California Avenue SW at Palm Avenue SW. There are two more short segments on the peninsula, between 41st Avenue SW and Arch Avenue SW and between Victoria Avenue SW and Brook Avenue SW. S Holgate Street resumes at Utah Avenue S and goes ¾ of a mile east to an overpass over Interstate 5, where it becomes Beacon Avenue S. There is a one-block stretch between 12th Avenue S and 13th Avenue S on top of the hill, and then Holgate goes a mile from the Beacon Hill Playfield at 14th Avenue S to 31st Avenue S at Colman Park, the half-block east of 16th Avenue S being a stairway and the block between 28th Avenue S and 29th Avenue S being unimproved. There is finally a short stretch east of Lakeside Avenue S at 36th Avenue S that essentially serves as a private driveway; it is a shoreline street end, but one not yet accessible to the public.

Boren Avenue

This street was named for Carson Dobbins Boren (1824–1912), a member of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in November 1851. His sisters Mary Ann (1822–1910) and Louisa (1827–1916) married brothers Arthur (1822–1899) and David Denny (1832–1903) in 1843 and 1853, respectively. These weren’t the only Boren–Denny connections, either: his mother, Sarah Latimer Boren (1805–1888), who had been widowed in 1827, married John Denny (1793–1875) — Arthur and David’s father — in 1848. (Their mother, also named Sarah, had died in 1841.)

Boren is said to have built the first cabin in Seattle, at what is now 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street, in April 1852. He was elected King County’s first sheriff the same year. Boren’s land claim of 320 acres covered what is today a rectangle approximately bounded by (going clockwise) Yesler Way, 15th Avenue, E Cherry Street and its projection west, and Western Avenue and its projection north, but he sold it for $500 to Charles Terry and Edward Lander in 1855.*

* “Its projection” is necessary here because of Boren and Arthur Denny’s decision to have their street grid follow the shoreline, while “Doc” Maynard preferred his to follow the cardinal directions; Maynard’s grid eventually extended through the entire city and, indeed, county. (See “Seattle’s first streets.”) The actual southern boundary is a bit north of Yesler Way since both Boren and Maynard adjusted their initial claims to give Henry Yesler land to build and supply his sawmill.

Why Boren sold his land isn’t entirely clear. Sophie Frye Bass writes in Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle that he sold it “early at a great sacrifice and became a roamer and, therefore, did not share in the up-building of the town”; her sister, Roberta Frye Watt, is indirectly quoted by Junius Rochester thus: “Carson had an unhappy home life. This compelled him to move deeper and deeper into the forest; to hunt and dream; and to shed most of his possessions.” Indeed, he and his wife, Mary Ann, divorced in 1861.

Carson Dobbins Boren, photographer and date unknown
Carson Dobbins Boren

Today, Boren Avenue S begins at 14th Avenue S, Rainier Avenue S, and S Jackson Street, and goes 2⅕ miles north to Valley Street and Lake Union Park, becoming Boren Avenue as it crosses Yesler Way and Boren Avenue N as it crosses Denny Way. It is one of the few north–south streets in Seattle to have three directional designations.

S Charles Street

Charles Street originates in the 1876 plat of Plummer’s Addition to the City of Seattle, filed by George Washington Harris (late 1840s–1914).* How did Harris end up with the land, and why would he name the addition after Charles Plummer (who, it appears from the text of the plat description, bought the tract from David Swinson “Doc” Maynard in 1860)?

* I write “late 1840s” because Harris’s birth year is given variously as 1848 (death certificate, historical journal article, Tacoma Public Library), 1847 (Genealogy.com, The Seattle Times), and 1846 (Geni, FamilySearch). 

As it turns out: Plummer married Ellender Smith (sister of Dr. Henry A. Smith, namesake of Smith Cove and Smith Street) in 1855. Harris’s mother, Sarah Jane Crossman, was widowed the next year. Plummer himself became a widower when his wife died giving birth to twins Edward and Frank in 1859, and he married Harris’s mother in 1860, apparently at Maynard’s own Alki Point house. Harris then became Plummer’s stepson (and a daughter, Ida, was born to the newlyweds the next year). When Plummer died in 1866, Harris apparently inherited at least this much of his stepfather’s estate. (It’s unclear just what Edward and Ida may have received; Frank is reported to have inherited $60,000.)

Charles Plummer
Charles Plummer

Today, S Charles Street begins at Airport Way S and 6th Avenue S and is stopped a block and a half to the east at 7th Avenue S by the city’s Charles Street Service Center. (Its twin to the south, S Plummer Street, also ends at the service center, never to return.) It briefly reappears at the northern lip of Beacon Hill between 12th Avenue S and Sturgus Avenue S, and then east of Interstate 90 runs for about ⅓ of a mile between Poplar Place S and 20th Place S at Judkins Park. The right-of-way, which continues through the park, becomes an improved street again at 22nd Avenue S, and ends just east of 26th Avenue S. East of here, S Charles runs three blocks from 28th Avenue S to 30th Avenue S, and then around ¼ mile made up of alternating roadway and stairways from the alley west of 32nd Avenue S to a shoreline street end on Lake Washington — one of Leschi’s String of Pearls.

S Judkins Street

S Judkins Street, like S Norman Street, S Addition Street, and SW Seattle Street, was named in the 1869 plat of Judkin’s (sic) Addition to the Town of Seattle, whose street names were, from north to south, Norman, B, Judkins, Addition, Town, and Seattle.

Plat of Judkin's Addition to the Town of Seattle

Because its original location is covered by King County Metro’s Atlantic Base and Interstate 5, Judkins Street now starts on Beacon Hill just west of 12th Avenue S and goes around 850 feet east to just east of 14th Avenue S, where it becomes a stairway to 15th Avenue S. The unimproved right-of-way continues through a greenbelt to 16th Avenue S, where there exists a 100-foot stretch of Judkins before it is stopped by Sturgus Avenue S, Daejon Park, and Interstate 90. On the other side of I-90, it resumes at 20th Avenue S and goes ⅘ of a mile east to Lake Washington Boulevard S, the last 50 or so feet being a stairway. Between Lake Washington Boulevard S and Lakeside Avenue S, only the first 150 feet is improved, mainly serving as a driveway for two houses. And east of Lakeside Avenue S there is a very short stretch that, like its neighbor to the north, S Norman Street, turns into a shoreline street end on Lake Washington — one of Leschi’s String of Pearls.

Judkins Street gives its name to Judkins Park and Playfield, which stretches for a number of blocks north of S Judkins Street and 22nd Avenue S, as far as Washington Middle School. The land between S Judkins Street and Interstate 90 through which the I-90 Trail winds (part of the Mountains to Sound Greenway) is also sometimes considered to be part of Judkins Park. The park, in turn, gives its name to the neighborhood of Judkins Park, and to the future Judkins Park station of Sound Transit’s Line 2 extension to the Eastside.

Built on the site of a former ravine landfill that was used for about four decades, Judkins Park was transferred to the parks department in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and opened to the public on October 8, 1977, according to a story in the October 6 issue of The Seattle Times.

Aerial view of Judkins Park and Playground, 1965
Aerial view of Judkins Park and Playfield, 1965. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 29470. S Judkins Street is at bottom center and right, below the park. Washington Middle School is at the north end of the park and 23rd Avenue S is the arterial to its east. Lake Washington and the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (Washington State Route 520) are visible in the distance.

S Norman Street

For the origin of S Norman Street, we go back to our first street name post, SW Seattle Street, which read in part:

On August 4, 1869, Ike M. Hall — the executor of the estate of Norman B. Judkins — filed the Judkin’s (sic) Addition to the Town of Seattle, located just southwest of where the interchange between I-5 and I-90 is today. From north to south, the east–west streets are named Norman, B, Judkins, Addition, Town, and Seattle.

Plat of Judkin's Addition to the Town of Seattle

Today, S Norman Street begins on the other side of Beacon Hill, the portion shown above having been obliterated by King County Metro’s Atlantic Base and Interstate 5. (In fact, S Addition Street is the only one remaining in its original location, Judkins Street now starting on Beacon Hill and Seattle Street only existing in West Seattle.) Beginning at Poplar Place S just east of Interstate 90, it goes for a block northeast to Rainier Avenue S. It picks up again at Davis Place S and S Bush Place and goes a block east to 21st Avenue S. Resuming at 22nd Avenue S, just east of Judkins Park (also named for Norman B. Judkins), it goes ⅗ of a mile east to 33rd Avenue S, with only two short interruptions:

  • An unimproved stretch south of St. Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church between 26th Avenue S and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S: what looks to be a bramble patch followed by a driveway for some townhouses; and
  • A stairway from 31st Avenue S to half a block west of 32nd Avenue S.

There appears to be a privately maintained stairway from 33rd Avenue S down to Lake Washington Boulevard S, and the next block is completely unimproved, though in both cases neighbors appear to be incorporating the right-of-way into their yards and driveways. Finally, there is a short stretch of Norman Street east of Lakeside Avenue S that turns into a shoreline street end on Lake Washington — one of Leschi’s String of Pearls

King County Parcel Viewer showing S Norman Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Way S
King County Parcel Viewer showing S Norman Street between 26th Avenue S and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. What appears to be a private driveway from Martin Luther King is actually public right-of-way.
King County Parcel Viewer showing S Norman Street from 33rd Avenue S to Lake Washington
King County Parcel Viewer showing S Norman Street from 33rd Avenue S to Lake Washington. The private driveway in the public right-of-way east of Lake Washington Boulevard S (center of image) is easily visible, as is the shoreline street end east of Lakeside Avenue S.

S King Street

King Street is another of the first streets platted in Seattle by David Swinson “Doc” Maynard in May 1853. It was named after William Rufus DeVane King, a slaveholding Unionist Democratic politician who founded and named Selma, Alabama; was a senator from Alabama from 1819 to 1844 and from 1848 to 1852 (he was ambassador to France in the interim); and was vice president under Franklin Pierce for 45 days in 1853 (he died two days after he returned to the U.S. from Cuba, where he had been convalescing from tuberculosis; King Street was named in his honor 35 days after that).

King County, of which Seattle is the county seat, was named after him in 1852, though it was “renamed” after Martin Luther King, Jr., in 2005. No such action has yet been proposed for King Street.

S King Street begins on the Elliott Bay waterfront at Alaskan Way S and runs ¼ of a mile to King Street Station just past 2nd Avenue S. It resumes at at 5th Avenue S, where it is spanned by the Historic Chinatown Gate, then makes it a full mile to 20th Avenue S, passing through Chinatown and Little Saigon along the way. East of there it exists in various segments, none of which is longer than ⅓ of a mile, and it finally ends at Lakeside Avenue S, where it is one of the String of Pearls shoreline street ends.

Historic Chinatown Gate, S King Street and 5th Avenue S
Historic Chinatown Gate. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

S Jackson Street

Jackson Street was another one of the first streets platted in Seattle by David Swinson “Doc” Maynard in May 1853. It, like King, Lane, and Weller Streets, was named after a prominent Democratic politician — in this case Andrew Jackson, president of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Because of his history as a slaveholder and a proponent of Indian removal, there have been calls to at least symbolically change the street’s namesake to another Jackson, if not change the name outright.

S Jackson Street begins today at Alaskan Way S on the Elliott Bay waterfront and has an uninterrupted 2-mile run as an arterial to 31st Avenue S in Leschi. On the other side of Frink Park, it makes its way the few remaining blocks to Lake Washington as a minor arterial, then a staircase, then a minor street, and finally a shoreline street end, part of the String of Pearls.

Bilingual (Japanese and English) street sign at corner of 6th Avenue S and S Jackson Street
Bilingual (Japanese and English) street sign at corner of 6th Avenue S and S Jackson Street. Photograph by Stephen Fesler, The Urbanist, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

S Weller Street

Weller Street was among the first streets platted in Seattle by David Swinson “Doc” Maynard in May 1853. It was named after John B. Weller, Democratic senator from California from 1852 to 1857 (Maynard named four streets in his plat after prominent Democratic politicians). Though he wasn’t a slaveowner like President Andrew Jackson or Vice President William R. King, or a future secessionist like Joseph Lane, who was the Southern Democrats’ nominee for vice president in 1860, he was a pro-slavery “Lecompton Democrat” who planned to have California become independent in case of civil war.

S Weller Street begins today at 5th Avenue S and runs ¼ of a mile through the ChinatownInternational District to just east of 8th Avenue S, where it, like S Lane Street, is blocked by Interstate 5. It resumes at 10th Avenue S and runs ¾ of a mile to its end at 20th Place S and Washington Middle School.

S Lane Street

Lane Street was another one of Seattle’s first streets, platted on May 23, 1853 by David Swinson “Doc” Maynard. It was named after Joseph Lane, governor of Oregon Territory (which then included what is now Washington) from March 1849 to June 1850. Ten years later, he was the pro-slavery, pro-secession Southern Democratic nominee for vice president, with John C. Breckenridge at the head of the ticket.

S Lane Street begins today at 6th Avenue S just east of the flagship Uwajimaya grocery store, and runs ⅕ of a mile through the ChinatownInternational District to just east of 8th Avenue S, where it is blocked by Interstate 5. East of there, it is a path and stairway from 10th to 13th Avenues S, past which it appears in segments of varying lengths until it ends for good at Lakeside Avenue S.

S Washington Street

Washington Street was one of Seattle’s first streets, platted on May 23, 1853 by David Swinson “Doc” Maynard and named after President George Washington. Its initial segment begins at Alaskan Way S on the Elliott Bay waterfront and ends half a mile to the east at Kobe Terrace Park. East of Interstate 5 it exists in a number of segments interrupted by schools and parks and finally ends at S Frink Place and Frink Park.

Washington Street Boat Landing, September 2007, by Joe Mabel
Washington Street Public Boat Landing, September 2007. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported