Yesler, one of the most prominent citizens in early Seattle, arrived in what was then called Duwamps in October 1852. A millwright, he played a key role in the settlement's economic survival by building a steam-powered lumber mill on Elliott Bay. Yesler's mill was the young town's main industry (and for a while, its only industry), supplying lumber for local construction in addition to serving markets up and down the West Coast.
A small cookhouse built for the benefit of Yesler's millworkers served as Seattle's community center for a number of years. In 1865, Yesler convinced the Masonic Lodge to contribute to the construction of a new town hall on his property. Yesler's Hall, a 30 x 100 foot building located at present-day 1st Avenue and Cherry Street, was used for local orations and dances and for travelling road shows, including minstrels, concerts, and theatricals.
Yesler was involved in many of the town's other civic improvements, including its first water system -- a series of V-shaped log flumes that carried water from springs on 3rd Avenue to his sawmill. He later extended the flumes to the end of his and neighboring docks, to supply fresh water to ships.
While successful in many of his early enterprises, Yesler made his fortune in real estate. He and his wife, Sarah, eventually built an opulent mansion. They donated space in the mansion for use as Seattle's first public library.
Yesler was appointed as King County's first auditor, beginning in 1853. He later served two one-year terms as mayor of Seattle, in 1874 and again in 1885. Under the city charter in effect at that time, mayors and councilmen served one-year terms, and elections were held on the second Monday in July.