Cherry Street

Cherry Street was among the first streets platted in Seattle on May 23, 1853. Sophie Frye Bass, author of Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle, writes:

I choose to think that Cherry Street is named for the little town of Cherry Grove, Illinois — Mother’s birthplace — where the Dennys started on their long journey over the Oregon Trail.

“Mother,” in this case, refers to Louisa Catherine Denny Frye, one of three children of Arthur Armstrong Denny and Mary Ann Boren Denny of the Denny Party. She was 7 years old when they landed at Alki Point in November 1851.

In 2006, Hunter Brown wrote a People’s History essay for HistoryLink, “Finding Cherry Grove,” detailing his efforts to locate Cherry Grove, whose name was later changed to Cedar Township. The nearest town today is called Abingdon.

Bass began her Pig-Tail Days piece on Cherry Street by calling it “another up-and-up street… with no interferences. It begins at First Avenue, goes east and ends at Thirty-seventh avenue.” This is no longer quite the case because of a very small gap at the south end of the Seattle University campus. Today, Cherry begins at 1st Avenue and ends a block east of Broadway. It starts up again a couple hundred feet to the east as a continuation of the James Street/E James Way arterial, and then does go on to 37th Avenue in Madrona. All told it is 2⅓ miles long.

James Street

James Street, one of the first streets platted in Seattle on May 23, 1853, was named by Arthur Armstrong Denny after his younger brother, James Marion Denny (1824–1854). Histories of Seattle report that James was too sick to leave Oregon and come to Puget Sound with the Denny Party and, indeed, he died in the town of Sublimity, Oregon, just a year after the street was named for him. Nothing I have found reports an actual cause of death. Marion Street is also named after this brother.

James Street runs ¾ of a mile from Yesler Way just east of 1st Avenue to an alley just east of Broadway. It appears east of there in a few short stretches and finally as a stairway from 38th Avenue to Lake Washington Boulevard at Madrona Park.

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

Maynard

  • Washington Street
  • Main Street
  • Jackson Street
  • King Street
  • Weller Street
  • Lane Street

Post Avenue

Counting Post Avenue and Post Alley as one street, and ignoring a couple of block-long gaps, this street runs about ¾ of a mile from Yesler Way in the southeast to Virginia Street in the northwest. (Post Avenue becomes Post Alley northwest of Seneca Street.) According to local historian Jean Sherrard, writing at PaulDorpat.com, it was named for the offices of the Seattle Post, predecessor of today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, which was built at the corner of Yesler and Post in 1881.

Seattle Post Building, by Asahel Curtis
Seattle Post Building, by Asahel Curtis

Prefontaine Place S

This street, which runs just under 400 feet from Yesler Way and 3rd Avenue S in the northwest to S Washington Street and 4th Avenue S in the southwest, cutting a skewed diagonal through the block, is named for Father Francis X. Prefontaine, Seattle’s first Catholic priest. In 1870, he founded Seattle’s first Catholic church, Our Lady of Good Help, on the block Prefontaine Place cuts through today.

Postcard of Father Francis X. Prefontaine and Our Lady of Good Help, first Catholic church in Seattle

Occidental Avenue S

Occidental Avenue S, which begins at Yesler Way in Pioneer Square, is one of those Seattle streets whose names extend into the suburbs. It makes its southernmost appearance at S 197th Street in Des Moines.

It received its name in 1895 as part of the Great Renaming — it had originally been S Second Street. It once had a partner, Oriental Avenue, to the east (originally S Fourth Street), which is today 3rd Avenue S. “Oriental,” of course, means “Eastern,” as “Occidental” means “Western.” (I haven’t been able to determine just when Oriental Avenue became 3rd, but it was last mentioned in The Seattle Times on October 17, 1920.)

And why this particular pairing? The Occidental Hotel, which once overlooked the beginning of Occidental Avenue, is almost certainly the reason, but it’s not spelled out in the ordinance.

Dilling Way

This street, which runs a mere 200 feet from 4th Avenue to Yesler Way in front of City Hall Park, is named for George W. Dilling, who was mayor of Seattle from 1911 to 1912.

In 1911, Mayor Dilling took an empty lot that until two years earlier had been the location of the Katzenjammer Castle, Seattle’s second city hall, and converted it into what is now known as City Hall Park — originally named Dilling Park in his honor. In 1916, the municipal offices moved once again, to the newly constructed King County Courthouse, then known as the City–County Building, across the Jefferson Street right-of-way from the park. They remained there until 1962, but the park retains the “City Hall” name.

In a letter dated March 29, 1937 from A.C. Van Soelen, corporation counsel for the city, to the Board of Public Works, regarding the ability of the city to restrict parking on Dilling Way, he writes that “Dilling Way apparently never was established or named by ordinance or other action of the City Council and was opened up or paved in 1915 or 1916, presumably in lieu of Jefferson Street which was closed between Third and Fourth Avenue though never formally vacated,” and suggests that the city council “affirmatively declare its policy” regarding the street by passing an ordinance. Such an ordinance was passed shortly thereafter, making the name of Dilling Way official. (Interestingly, that ordinance refers to the street as a “private way,” but the county’s quarter section map shows it as a public road. That same map shows that the walkway in front of the courthouse is still, technically, Jefferson Street.)