This street is named for David Thomas Denny (1832–1903). He was one of the members of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in 1851, led by his older brother, Arthur Armstrong Denny (1822–1899). In 1853, he married his sister-in-law, Louisa Boren (1827–1916). (Louisa’s older sister, Mary Ann Boren [1822–1910], had married Arthur in 1843. She, Louisa, and their brother, Carson Dobbins Boren [1824–1912], were also part of the Denny Party).
The Dennys settled on land in what is now Lower Queen Anne, living in a series of houses in the area until they went bankrupt in the Panic of 1893 and had to leave their mansion for their summer cottage at Licton Springs, where they lived with their oldest child, Emily Inez Denny (1853–1918), until they died.
Denny Park is named for the couple, which had given the land to the city as its first cemetery in 1861; the bodies were moved to the Washelli Cemetery on Capitol Hill in the 1880s, at which time the original cemetery was converted to a park, likewise the city’s first. (Just a few years later, Washelli was also converted to a park, initially known as Lake View Park, then City Park, and finally, in 1901, Volunteer Park. The Dennys’ private burial ground near the no-longer-existent Oak Lake eventually became the Oaklake Cemetery, which, after being sold by their son Victor in 1914, was renamed Washelli after the original cemetery of that name; Evergreen Cemetery, across Aurora Avenue N from Washelli, bought the latter in 1922, and the combined cemetery took its current name, Evergreen Washelli, in 1962.)
David Denny was active in government. According to HistoryLink.org, he was:
…Probate judge, King County commissioner, Seattle City Council member, a director of the Seattle School District, and regent of the Territorial University of Washington.… Denny was an ardent advocate of woman suffrage and helped lead the movement that in the 1880s won Washington women the right to vote. He opposed the expulsion of Chinese immigrants in 1886, which antagonized local nativists.
Denny was also involved in the development of a number of Seattle neighborhoods; in addition to Queen Anne, he developed tracts in South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and Ravenna, and founded the Rainier Power and Railway Company, which ran the first streetcar from Downtown (Pioneer Square) to the University District (Ravenna Park).
Denny Way — originally named Depot Street by Denny after a proposed train station that never materialized — begins as a shoreline street end on Elliott Bay, indistinguishable from the surrounding Myrtle Edwards Park. On the other side of the BNSF Railway tracks, W Denny Way begins as a pathway and stairway from Elliott Avenue to Western Avenue. From here, it is a major arterial, becoming Denny Way as it crosses Queen Anne Avenue N (originally named Temperance Street by Denny), and going 2½ miles east to E Madison Street and 22nd Avenue. (It becomes a neighborhood street on crossing E Olive Way, and the block between Broadway and 10th Avenue E was renamed E Barbara Bailey Way in 2019). E Denny Way begins again at E Madison Street and 23rd Avenue and goes ⅘ of a mile east to Madrona Place E and 38th Avenue, where it turns into Madrona Drive.
Denny Way, which becomes E Denny Way east of Eastlake Avenue E, also divides five of the city’s directional designation zones from each other, similarly to Yesler Way. North of Denny but west of Queen Anne Avenue N, east–west streets carry the W prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix W. North of Denny between Queen Anne Avenue N and Eastlake Avenue E, east–west streets carry no prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix N. North of Denny east of Eastlake Avenue E, east–west streets carry the E prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix E. South of Denny but west of a line that includes Melrose Avenue, Minor Avenue, E Union Street, and Broadway, neither east–west streets nor north–south avenues carry a prefix or suffix. And south of Denny but east of that line, east–west streets carry the E prefix and north–south avenues carry no suffix.