Seattle establishes its first public park, Denny Park, on site of the city's first municipal cemetery on July 10, 1884.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 3/23/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7287
On July 10, 1884, the City of Seattle formally accepts a donation of approximately six acres from David Denny (1832-1903) for use as Seattle's first public park. Denny had granted the city use of the tract in the early 1860s as Seattle's first municipal cemetery, but most of the remains were relocated to Capitol Hill's Washelli Cemetery (now Volunteer Park) in the 1870s. The park will be officially named to honor David Denny in 1887, and the administration building for the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation will be built there in 1948. Denny Park is bordered by Denny Way on the south, John Street on the north, Dexter Avenue N on the west, and 9th Avenue N on the east.

David Denny's original 1853 land claim embraced much of the area surrounding today's Seattle Center. He and his wife Louisa (1827-1916) donated use of a six-acre tract for use as a town cemetery in 1864 (some sources say 1861 and 1863; note that Seattle was not effectively incorporated until 1869). In 1884, the Dennys rededicated most of the cemetery property to become a public park once the "residents" were relocated at the City's expense. Ordinance 571, passed by the city council on July 9, 1884, and signed by Mayor H. G. Struve on July 10, 1884, accepted the land donated by Denny and "converted, dedicated, and set [it] apart as a public park."

Where the Bodies Are Buried

Most of the remains from the park site were relocated to the city's second municipal cemetery, Washelli (meaning "west wind" in Makah), which was established on the present site of Capitol Hill's Volunteer Park in 1885. When this was converted to park use in 1893, the remains were again relocated. The Lake View Cemetery immediately north of Volunteer Park (so named in 1901 for American troops in the Spanish-American War) was established in 1872 by the St. John's Lodge of the Order of Freemasonry, which still maintains it.

As the area around Denny Park grew in population, the City added new plantings and amenities. A formal garden was landscaped and a playfield added in 1903. Despite the objections of the Denny family, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation constructed its headquarters on the park's western edge along Dexter Avenue N in 1948. The building, designed by Young and Richardson, won top honors from the American Institute of Architects and remains in use today (2005).


Sources: Robert L. Ferguson, The Pioneers of Lake View, A Guide to Seattle's Early Settlers and Their Cemetery (Bellevue, WA: Thistle Press, 1995); Don Sherwood, "Seattle Parks History," typescript dated May 22, 1974, Seattle Parks and Recreation website accessed March 23, 2005 (http://www.cityofseattle.net/parks); Seattle City Council Ordinance No. 571, "An Ordinance for the purpose of converting Seattle Cemetery into a public park," passed July 9, 1884, copy available at Seattle City Clerk website accessed July 10, 2014 (http://clerk.seattle.gov/~archives/Ordinances/Ord_571.pdf).
This essay, including its title, was corrected on July 10, 2014, to state that the park was created in 1884.

Related Topics:   Cities & Towns | Environment | Firsts

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