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.

Thomas Burke’s speech on the “Chinese question” and the rule of law

On February 7, 1886, a mob forced 350 Chinese laborers out of their homes and down to the waterfront, there to be loaded onto a waiting steamship. Men such as King County Sheriff John McGraw, while not preventing the expulsion, helped ensure it was done without physical violence, and citizens led by Home Guards Captain George Kinnear escorted a number of them next day to the courthouse. The federal judge told the laborers they could stay, though only a small percentage elected to do so. Some 200 of them set sail for San Francisco that day, and the remainder followed a few days after.

This was the culmination of years of anti-Chinese sentiment, and months of rising tensions. On November 5, 1885, 600 to 700 people gathered in the Opera House for a meeting to discuss the “Chinese question.” At it, Judge Thomas Burke spoke in defense, not of the Chinese laborers’ right to remain, but of the rule of law. For this, he has been praised over the years, though his position was more akin to those who wanted to send freed slaves back to Africa rather than give them the equal rights they deserved. This was a mere two days after the anti-Chinese riot in Tacoma that left two Chinese men dead, and Seattle leaders were hoping to avoid similar bloodshed here.

At any rate, though I was able to find an image of his speech online, there doesn’t seem to be a transcript of it anywhere, so here it is, from the November 6, 1885, issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:


Judge Thomas Burke was next called:

It was considered by a number of persons who met today that it was the duty of all good citizens to unite for the purpose of considering this question, and advising as to the best line to pursue. False stories have been carried to and fro, to incite hostility, and they, like poison, have done their mischief, by tending to alienate one class from the other. It was the judgment of thoughtful men that a meeting where false statements might be pierced by the keen point of truth, would be conducive of good, and tend to unite the community. There is no division among the honest people. We are all laborers, and the attempt to draw class lines is false and malicious. We want, by lawful and fair means, that this community and the Territory shall be freed from the presence of the Chinese. There are but two questions. Shall we do it, like Americans, according to law? or as foreigners, outside the law?

I am an American, and appeal to the Americans. Of the two methods — the lawful and unlawful — I favor the American method. The deputy sheriffs were organized to protect the interests of the laborers. History records the fact that no class suffers so much from riots as the working men, and in the future you will curse the counsel of those who incite or advise you to lawlessness. This nation has turned to the oppressed of Europe, and welcomed them to her doors. After being here two years they can take a farm, and in five years be accorded the ballot, which requires an American 21 years to attain. All fields are open to them. All that is asked of them is to uphold the laws.

I have patience with the German, the Frenchman, or the Englishman, when he sneers at the laws of this country, but none for the Irishman. I am but one remove myself, having been born in America, and I have a right to speak of him. He comes from a land where he is ground down, burdened and oppressed, to free America, where he is given a farm, his children can grow up and be educated, as our public schools are thrown open to them, his sons can, and do, fill offices of trust, and every freedom is accorded to him. When an Irishman raises his voice against this Republic then my patience ceases, and I stand aghast at the base ingratitude. How can they raise their hands against the laws of a government that has done more to elevate the laboring man than any other government on the face of the earth?

I am a poor man, and don’t hire much help; but I have not had a Chinaman in my house for two years. I pay a white woman five dollars more per month than a Chinaman would do the same work for; but it is a matter of principle with me, and I felt it my duty. In this matter much has been accomplished. There is not a corporation in King county employing Chinese, and outside of the laundries there are only a few house servants in private families, and they are being replaced as speedily as possible. This is all being accomplished by peaceful means.

Three or four hundred armed men at Tacoma went around and packed up the Chinese, bag and baggage, and marched them through the streets and eight miles out to Lakeview, where they were left on the prairie all night, exposed, without shelter, to a drenching storm, and two died from exposure. After the expulsion of the Chinese, their stores and houses were burned. The Mayor of Tacoma is a foreigner, and can hardly speak the English language. I have read how the Germans rose up against the Jews and drove them from their homes. I remember how they drove the Russian peasants out; but what am I to think that only thirty miles from where I stand, in the Republic of the United States, such atrocities have been committed. It could not be done under an American. It was done under a German. [Derisive shouts and hisses from the gallery.]

George V. Smith

I hope the workingmen will be patient and listen to what the Judge has to say.

Mr. Burke

Excuse me, Mr. Smith, but I can assure you I need no one to intercede with a Seattle audience for me. I know the people of Seattle. They will hear me if they hate me. They have no reason to hate me, for I have always been their friend.

Why, gentlemen, injustice to a dog I would denounce. One year from tonight you will say I am right. In Tacoma they will say I am right. In Tacoma they have gone further, and actually notified lawful American citizens to go. “The American must go.” That’s the word in Tacoma. I am a free man, and would rather live under the autocrat of all the Russias than live under the rule of a dozen or twenty lawless men — worse than tyrants. You may go outside the law, but you will be glad to get back.

Mark the course of the French Republic; mark the course of our Nation. Look at the English; while they oppress they demand their liberty, because the greatest King of England cannot go outside the law. I have never advised you wrongfully. Look at it! One year ago, while you were voting for the forfeiture of the unearned land grants held by grasping monopolies, the people of Tacoma stood almost to a man for monopoly. Now they go to the other extreme. I do not believe there is a city in the United States presided over by an American, or a man with an American heart, where such outrages could or would be permitted.

They say they did it peacefully. If a highwayman presents a pistol to my head and takes my pocket-book from me, or comes to my house and holds a bludgeon over me and compels me to leave, he does not use force or violence. He would do it peacefully, but would it be lawful or right? To call such work peaceful is adding insult to injury. In the future the blackest page in the history of Washington Territory will be that on which it is recorded that 200 human beings were driven out of Tacoma like dogs, and compelled to face a driving storm all night, during which two of their number died from exposure. Dumb animals are deserving of better treatment than that.

The same God that makes my heart beat made the Chinaman. He is not to blame for his condition or color. In the South black men are persecuted, in Hungary the Jews are maltreated and persecuted, and so it goes. I believe the people of Seattle would lay down their lives in defense of the law. It has not been twenty years since I carried water on the railroad, and less than that since I worked on the dump. My brothers are laborers, and why should I speak against the laboring men. I am a free man, and will preserve my liberty. This question is on the rapid road to solution, but in order to hasten it you cannot afford to violate the eternal laws of justice.

The Chinese want to go, but don’t like to be robbed or murdered. Let the workingmen of the Queen City show to the world that the great principle of justice prevails here. Do not be unjust to a dog or horse, or anything else. The Chinamen are here under solemn treaty stipulation, but they are going. The workingmen will look around and see no Chinamen employed. It is to our interest to see them go, but it is not to our interest, but just the opposite, to see one drop of innocent blood spilled or a single breach of the law. I knew you would listen to me. If I should say a thousand times as distasteful things you would listen to me. I thank you.

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.

Canton Alley S

Canton Alley, twin to Maynard Alley a block to the west, is another one of the few named alleys in Seattle. It goes just under ⅕ of a mile from S King Street in the north to S Dearborn Street in the south, between 7th Avenue S and 8th Avenue S.

Similar to the one in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was named after the city and province of Canton in China, today known as Guangzhou in Guangdong province, from where the majority of Chinese immigrants to Seattle came.

As with Maynard Alley, even though Canton Alley had been called that for years, and was signed as such, its name was not officially made Canton Alley S until 2019, so that addresses from which 911 calls were coming could be more easily located and emergency vehicle response times could be reduced.

(The earliest reference I can find to Canton Alley in The Seattle Star, The Seattle Times, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is an article in the February 12, 1911, issue of the Times.)

Portion of Summary and Fiscal Note to Seattle Ordinance 125753 Regarding Canton Alley S
Portion of summary and fiscal note to ordinance 125753 regarding Canton Alley S

One major difference between Canton and Maynard Alleys is the house numbers, as mentioned in the excerpt from the summary and fiscal note to the ordinance above. House numbers on Maynard Alley S follow the standard pattern; the 500 block of Maynard Alley is the one south of S King Street, due west of the 500 block of 7th Avenue S, that of 8th Avenue S, etc. But house numbers on Canton Alley S follow the “European system” (also used in American cities like New York), so very low addresses such as 9 Canton Alley S exist — quite rare in Seattle — and were not changed by the ordinance.

Maynard Alley S

Maynard Alley, one of the few named alleys in Seattle, goes just under ¼ mile from S Jackson Street in the north to S Dearborn Street in the south between Maynard Avenue S and 7th Avenue S. Like Maynard Avenue, it was named for David Swinson “Doc” Maynard, who is generally credited with naming the town of Seattle, after his friend siʔaɫ, or Chief Seattle, and was its “first physician, merchant, Indian agent, and justice of the peace.”

Maynard Alley sign, Seattle, 2010
Maynard Alley sign in front of Washington State Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Center on S King Street, 2010. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Even though it had been named that for years, and was signed as such, its name was not officially made Maynard Alley S until 2019, so that addresses from which 911 calls were coming could be more easily located and emergency vehicle response times could be reduced. (The same thing was done for Canton Alley S, a block to the east, as part of the same ordinance.)

(The earliest reference I can find to Maynard Alley in The Seattle Star, The Seattle Times, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is an article in the March 30, 1910, issue of the P-I.)

Portion of Summary and Fiscal Note to Seattle Ordinance 125753 Regarding Maynard Alley S, from http://clerk.seattle.gov/search/ordinances/125753
Portion of summary and fiscal note to ordinance 125753 regarding Maynard Alley 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.

Maynard Avenue S

Maynard Avenue S, which was 8th Street in David Swinson “Doc” Maynard’s first plat of Seattle in May 1853, was given its current name as part of the 1895 Great Renaming. It begins today at S Main Street* and goes about ⅖ of a mile south to Airport Way S just past S Charles Street. There is another block-long segment in the Industrial District and then one of 2½ blocks in Georgetown. Maynard is generally credited with naming the town of Seattle, after his friend siʔaɫ, or Chief Seattle, and he was its “first physician, merchant, Indian agent, and justice of the peace.”

* As a card-carrying address nerd, I feel compelled to mention that the driveway for the Nippon Kan Theatre/Kobe Park Building at the dead end of S Washington Street is, technically, the northernmost segment of Maynard Avenue S, at least for its first hundred feet.

David Swinson Maynard, ca 1868, photographer unknown
David Swinson Maynard, ca 1868, photographer unknown

Maynard — unlike Republican Arthur Armstrong Denny, who platted the tract to the north — was a Democrat, and named a number of streets in his plat after prominent Democratic politicians, including the slaveholders President Andrew Jackson and Vice President William Rufus DeVane King; Oregon Territorial Governor Joseph Lane, who went on to be the pro-slavery Southern Democratic candidate for vice president in 1860; and pro-slavery California Senator John B. Weller. I haven’t seen much online about Maynard’s personal racial views, but he was known to have had good relations (given the era) with the local Native Americans, at least. Junius Rochester writes for HistoryLink:

Perhaps one of Doc Maynard’s most enduring qualities, besides his amiability, was his high regard for the local Indians. Chief Seattle was a particular friend, having stated: “My heart is very good toward Dr. Maynard.” Maynard, who knew tribulations in his own life, understood that besides the tools, medicines, guns, and other wonders that the white men had brought to Puget Sound, they also introduced disease, intolerant religions, and the inhospitable idea of private property.

But, as Clay Eals notes,

There can be no avoiding his privileged promotion of white settlers at Native Americans’ expense. “They will fight,” he writes on Nov. 4, 1855. “There is no reason why they (sho)uld not, but we must conquer them.”

One hopes that, if Maynard were alive today, he would choose worthier men (and women) to honor than Jackson, King, Lane, and Weller.

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

Seattle’s first streets

The Denny Party landed at Alki Beach on November 13, 1851, and moved to dzidzəlalič  (today known as Pioneer Square) in the spring of 1852. The name “Seattle,” according to local historian Rob Ketcherside, first appeared in print that October. But it wasn’t until May 23, 1853, that David Swinson Maynard, Carson Dobbins Boren, and Arthur Armstrong Denny filed the first plats of the Town of Seattle — thereby creating its first official streets.

Boren and Denny famously aligned their streets with the Elliott Bay shoreline (32° west of north, or very close to northwest by north), while Maynard aligned his with the cardinal directions.

Plat of the Town of Seattle, May 23, 1853, by Carson Dobbins Boren and Arthur Armstrong Denny
Plat of the Town of Seattle, May 23, 1853, by Carson Dobbins Boren and Arthur Armstrong Denny
Plat of the Town of Seattle, King County, Washington Territory, May 23, 1853, by David Swinson Maynard
Plat of the Town of Seattle, King County, Washington Territory, May 23, 1853, by David Swinson Maynard

Mill Street, which divided the two plats, was renamed Yesler Avenue in 1888, and Yesler Way — its current name — seven years later. Front Street became 1st Avenue and Commercial Street became 1st Avenue S as part of that same “Great Renaming” ordinance of 1895. Streets that were named in these first plats that have kept their names till today include:

Boren and Denny

  • James Street — after James Marion Denny, younger brother of A.A. Denny
  • Cherry Street — after Cherry Grove, Illinois, where the Denny Party’s journey to Seattle began
  • Columbia Street
  • Marion Street — also after James Marion Denny
  • Madison Street — after President James Madison
  • Spring Street — after the springs along Elliott Bay

Mill Street is now Yesler Way, and Front Street is now 1st Avenue.

Maynard

  • Washington Street — after President George Washington
  • Main Street
  • Jackson Street — after President Andrew Jackson
  • King Street — after Vice President William Rufus DeVane King
  • Weller Street — after John B. Weller, senator from California, later governor of California
  • Lane Street — after Joseph Lane, governor of Oregon Territory, later Southern Democratic candidate for vice president in the 1860 election

Commercial Street is now 1st Avenue S.