Burials in the Beginning
In 1903, when the nearby Green Lake community could boast a population of 8,000 residents, including 2,000 who called the eastern slope of Phinney Ridge home, its neighbor to the northwest, Greenwood (originally Woodland), could hardly brag about its commercial district that had in its inventory only a grocery store, a real estate office, and a feed and fuel business.
The main draw to the area seems to have been its cemetery, the Woodland Cemetery, which David T. Denny (1832-1903) laid out in 1891 on 40 acres, bordering W 85th Street and Woodland Avenue. Directly to the west was a 40-acre parcel of school land. The cemetery, which in 1903 became known as the Greenwood Cemetery, was sold in 1907 to former state governor Henry McBride (1901-1904) for $75,000. He immediately platted the one-eighth section into residential lots, calling his development the Greenwood Park Addition. During the cemetery's 17-year existence, few bodies had been interred on the grounds, making removals to the City of Ballard's nearby Crown Hill cemetery relatively simple.
Too Boggy to Build
As McBride was staking out his residential development, the Seattle School District sold off its adjacent 40 acres west of 3rd Avenue W, which had been set aside by the Washington territory. City officials deemed the boggy soil unsuitable for building.
Instead, for $19,517 it purchased from McBride 18 lots at the southwest corner of the former cemetery where, in 1909 the Greenwood Elementary School rose. Anticipating future growth in the area and the need for additional classrooms, the District instructed its architect, James Stephens, to design a rectangular brick building onto which additions could easily be built on either end. A combined Tudor and Elizabethan style building resulted, one of five designed by Stephens during his tenure. As anticipated, the school was enlarged in 1928. In 2001 the addition was razed and replaced, and the original structure, having been placed on the historic register, was restored.
Rails and Dirt Roads
In 1906, work began on the new Seattle-Everett Interurban Railway, which soon reached Greenwood from Ballard along W 85th Street. By 1910, when service between the two cities was inaugurated, the route led its trolleys along Greenwood and Phinney avenues, following the Phinney streetcar line through the Fremont district, down Westlake Avenue and into the heart of downtown Seattle. Given this new ease of movement for both people and commerce, the Greenwood area began to grow.
Certainly rail travel was easier than slogging through mud roads in the early automobiles. In the early 1900s, the Greenwood area was mostly marshy swamp, lakes and woods cut by trails, with a dirt and plank road cutting through which connected Seattle with Edmonds and the hinterlands to the north.
On the country side of the city limits, the road became known as Country Club Road because it ran along the eastern flank of the Seattle Golf and Country Club, which opened in 1909 at N 145th Street. Since much of the land in the area was peat bog, it might better have been left as open space. In 1909, when Oscar Williamson opened a grocery at N 74th Street and Greenwood Avenue, the main road was plank and there were no sidewalks. The so-called avenue was suitable for horses and buggies and an electric trolley line, but not for automobiles. Open, weedy ditches drained the boggy ground, and houses built on the unsuitable land often flooded.
The "Miracle Mile"
Despite nature's lack of cooperation, development proceeded once the trolley cars entered the area, which included both the Interurban and the Phinney line, whose various terminuses finally reached N 85th Street. The business district finally established permanence with construction of brick and stone storefronts built during the 1920s and into the early 1930s, many of which survive today. The Greenwood State Bank opened in 1925, bringing money to the area. It later became a branch of Seattle First National Bank.
By the 1940s, the Greenwood Commercial Club boosters had created a "Miracle Mile" along Greenwood Avenue with businesses that made the neighborhood self-sustaining: bakeries, appliance shops, shoe repair stores, taverns, restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores, druggists, supermarkets, doctors, dentists, barbers, variety stores, and a branch of the Seattle Public Library. Even a MacDougall & Southwick department store opened a branch store on the main intersection of the neighborhood at N 85th and Greenwood Avenue.
Muddy and Slipping
Before 1954, most of Greenwood lay north of Seattle city limits. Separated at birth, the two parts joined with annexation of the hinterland that extended north to N 145th Street. This brought the promise of paved streets, sewers, and other city services. It would be 15 years before these improvements began.
By then much of the neighborhood was slipping into slum. Neighborhood improvement could not be sustained without proper drainage, and as late as the 1970s the storm drains were not forthcoming. Well maintained houses south of the former city limits enjoyed sidewalks and good drains. That part of the neighborhood thrived.
A Neighborhood of Art Walks, Antiques, and Classic Cars
Today Greenwood is a Seattle neighborhood with an active commercial core. It is a destination for art and for antiques shops that run along Greenwood Avenue N. The N 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue N intersection is still the heart of the neighborhood, a crossroads where banners are hoisted to highlight the Greenwood/Phinney Art Walk in May and the Greenwood Classic Car & Road Show in June. Residents, too, are an eclectic mix. Senior citizens mix with young families new to the area, and a new low-income housing complex sits blocks from a custom built upscale home. Much of the original housing stock is now gone, but what remains are brick ramblers, old Tudors dating to the 1930s, bungalows, and split-levels from the 1960s.
The Greenwood neighborhood, with its boggy beginnings and delayed drainage systems, cannot compete with nearby Green Lake, Phinney Ridge, or Ballard for their wealth of housing stock, well maintained parks, or natural beauty. Nonetheless, a walk along its side streets still without sidewalks is a reminder of what was once country living beyond the N 85th Street city limit.