This street, which runs, with interruptions, for 2⅓ miles from Queen Anne to just short of Elliott Bay in Magnolia (though it is platted for several more blocks west over the tideflats) is named, as I learned from the Ruffner Family Association, for Presbyterian minister William Henry Ruffner. A slaveholder who “advocated the gradual emancipation and colonization of the state’s African Americans”, he was also, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, “the designer and first superintendent of Virginia’s public school system.”
How did this “Horace Mann of the South” end up with his name on a Seattle street? Apparently, in addition to being an educator, he was also a geologist, and so was hired by Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman (of Burke–Gilman Trail fame), two of the founders of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway, to spend just over five weeks in 1887 surveying the area, the results of which were published in the SLS&E’s promotional book A Report on Washington Territory two years later. When it came time in 1890 for the plat of Gilman’s Addition to the City of Seattle to be filed, Ruffner’s name appeared on the map.
The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern became part of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1892. Today, the Interbay Car Shop of the BNSF Railway, successor to the NP, is located at the corner of W Ruffner Street and Gilman Avenue W.