Harvey Pike starts to dig a canal connecting Seattle's Union and Portage bays in 1860.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 6/24/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3404
In 1860, in Seattle, Harvey Pike begins digging the first ditch between Lake Washington's Union Bay and Lake Union's Portage Bay. Harvey's uncompleted effort is the first Montlake Cut. Eventually Montlake Cut will  be excavated further and will become part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal (opened 1917).

Pike had taken the land between Lake Washington and Lake Union in payment for painting the Territorial University. He soon gave up the project (he was digging by himself with a pick and shovel) and deeded the land to the Lake Washington Canal Company in 1871. He was one of the incorporators of this firm.

This firm did not build a canal but rather a quarter mile long tramway (narrow gauge railway) over which coal transferred from Lake Washington barges was carried to Lake Union barges.

These rails were torn up in 1878. Chinese labor hired in 1883 by David Denny (1832-1903) and Thomas Burke (1849-1925) dug the second Montlake Cut.

Sources: Paul Dorpat, "Log Canal to Portage Bay," Seattle Now & Then 2nd Edition (Seattle: Tartu Publishers, 1997), Story 89; Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle Washington Vol 1 (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916), p. 372.
Note: This essay was corrected on May 4, 2012, to reflect that Pike started work in 1860, and that he did not complete a canal.

Related Topics:   Firsts | Infrastructure

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