In May 1888, the area that became Ballard was an enormous 700 acre (1.1 square miles) subdivision called Gilman Park. It was platted by the West Coast Improvement Company managed by Captain W. R. Ballard. The following year, when the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway constructed a railroad spur to the development, the station was named Ballard.
In November 1890, the town of Ballard was incorporated with a mayor and city council. Just three years after the post office was established, the 1892 Polk Gazetteer gave the following description of the flourishing town:
"An electric street railway connects the place with Seattle. Ballard contains Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches, three saw mills and three shingle mills, two ship yards, a sash and door factory, a large foundry, water works, commodious hotels, and electric light system, good schools, finely improved streets, many substantial buildings, 2000 inhabitants and a bright weekly newspaper" (Oregon, Washington and Idaho Gazetteer 1892).
By 1901, Ballard had turned into a major manufacturing town boasting of "more shingles being produced here daily than in any other city in the world." It also had sawmills, shipyards, foundries, and boiler works. Three weekly newspapers served a claimed population of 5,500.