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Medina -- Thumbnail History

HistoryLink.org Essay 1059 : Printer-Friendly Format

Medina, Washington, in King County on the Eastside of Lake Washington, was a traditional Indian hunting ground. It was later explored by Colonel Issac N. Ebey (1819-1857), Catherine Maynard and David S. Maynard (1808-1873) and other early settlers; then homesteaded by orchardists, berry growers, and timber cutters; and finally, on February 18, 1914, platted as "Medina Heights." Medina grew up as a sister to larger Bellevue, but has since moved ahead as a residential area and as one of the county's most affluent communities.

The land upon which Medina, Washington, rests forms part of the wet slopes and rich loam left behind by 40,000-year-old glaciations. The glaciers also sculptured Lake Washington, Medina's front door. The Medina area -- along with the entire lake -- was the home of the hah-choo-AHBSH or Lake People.

Those Indians, principally members of the Duwamish nation, fished, hunted, picked berries, and moved back and forth along waterways that drained and fed the lake.

In the summer of 1850, a white settler named Colonel Issac N. Ebey (1819-1857) explored "Lake Geneva" as he called Lake Washington, and probably paddled in view of the hillsides of future Medina. Immediately after Ebey's visit, other settlers from Puget Sound explored the lake during the early 1850s. That great inland body of water was used by Caucasian settlers for fishing and hunting, and as a site for picnics. Aaron Mercer (1824-1902) paddled Mercer Slough in 1864.

A Bakery and a Bay

A few years later German-born William Meydenbauer (1832-1906), owner of Seattle's famous Eureka Bakery, filed a claim in the bay next to Medina at the foot of old Bellevue. Meydenbauer Bay is the principal water portal to Bellevue, Washington.

During the 1870s, Seattle businesspeople and real estate investors began to buy property at Medina. Marshall Blinn purchased what became Hunts Point, followed by banker Jacob Furth (1840-1914) and merchant and Seattle mayor Bailey Gatzert (1829-1893). Next came the seekers of timber. Logger Albert King and his brothers homesteaded nearby Groat Point and Eastland in 1875. Within 10 years berry farms and fruit orchards were spreading among the stumps. The strawberry crops of that era became so famous that a strawberry festival was held for many years, occasionally revived in the 1940s and 1950s. Medina's berries and lakeside serenity attracted Seattleites in the 1880s, including George Baum, Judge Thomas R. Burke (1849-1925), Samuel Belote and M. Gigy. Most of these "weekend" prominent citizens at first chose to live in simple lakeside cabins or in huts left by loggers.

Among the Seattleites discovering Medina was businessman Thomas L. Dabney, often referred to as Medina's first "permanent" settler. His claim, known as "Dabney's Landing" because of the dock he constructed, grew into the center of Old Medina near the present-day (2004) picturesque city hall (once the Mosquito fleet ferry landing). Dabney called the community "Flordeline" but the women of the community were not impressed and instead chose "Medina Heights" which honored the second holiest city to those of the Moslem faith. The pronunciation of "Medeena" was initially used, but eventually lost out to the "Me dye na" faction. The relentless Medina Heights contingent periodically removed Dabney's town signs, causing a small community ruckus.

Medina Heights supporters got to the courthouse first. On February 18, 1914, E. A Barnes and his wife Ade Barnes platted Medina Heights by name. Among the first shoreside residents were E. W. Johnston and his wife Maude Johnston, and William and Edna Calvert.

The Mansions of Medina

The first great home built in "Medina" - the shortened version of the town's name - was "The Gables" owned by Edward E. Webster, Secretary and General Manager of Seattle's Independent Telephone Company. Shortly after Webster erected his grand manse, Captain Elias W. Johnston, a Yukon millionaire, acquired land on both sides of Dabney's Landing and built a great mansion with a Japanese pagoda roof. His friend and neighbor, William C. Calvert, the town's first real estate salesmen, touted Medina far and wide. Calvert's efforts were rewarded with the arrival of several more wealthy citizens, including publisher Miller Freeman, lumberman William Neil Winter, James G. Eddy, and W. B. Nettleton. James and Charlotte Clapp, members of King County's timber-wealthy Norton/Weyerhaeuser clan, purchased Webster's Lake Front Acres Tract and built one of Medina's stately homes overlooking Lake Washington.

The Best Laid Plans ...

In 1909, stock was sold to construct an electric car line between Medina and Lake Sammamish, the lake that lies to the east of Lake Washington. That dream - along with investors' funds - vanished. Another stillborn plan involved placing smokestack industries at Factoria, south of Medina and Bellevue, with a branch line for passengers connecting with the Medina ferry.

The Gold Coast

Nevertheless, the dreamers kept on dreaming. When the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the locks officially opened on July 4, 1917, and water from Lake Washington flowed into Lake Union and from there into Puget Sound, the water level of Lake Washington dropped about nine feet. Medina millionaires occupying what was referred to as the "Gold Coast" found added lakeshore acreage in front of their homes. Ambitious landscaping, much of it done by Norwegian-born Otto E. Holmdahl, became a prestigious symbol for lakefront properties.

In 1929, Medina's population was estimated at 900. Because the area was playground for mostly affluent homeowners, James S. Ditty, founder of nearby Beaux Arts Village, introduced plans for a future Eastside metropolis. He envisioned an airplane field in Medina with ferry landings everywhere. Medina's largely residential environment and well-heeled homeowners were not enthusiastic about Ditty's dreams.

By the 1930s, it was clear that the enclave called Medina was going to be a special place. Virtually no businesses, few public areas, well-tended private properties, the 160-acre Overlake Golf Club, stables for the breeding of Arabian horses, sprawling lawns with ponds, brooks, orchards, and formal gardens - these were and remain today (2004) the characteristics of Medina, Washington.

When, in 1939, the first Lake Washington floating bridge was built (called Lacey Murrow for the bridge's chief engineer, the brother of newsman Edward R. Murrow), the ingress of homeowners picked up steam. Most of the newcomers headed for adjacent Bellevue. Also in the 1930s and 1940s, members of the Skinner, Eddy, Clapp, Freeman and Pigott families settled in Medina.

Medina's comfortable 1990s atmosphere has taken on a new glow with the ever-growing home of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. The little post office and corner grocery across the street from a quaint city hall and park mark Medina as a quiet, well-off neighborhood that prefers not to change.

Sources:
Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago-Seattle: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929). Also see, Junius Rochester, Lakelure: A Tale of Medina, Washington (Seattle: Tommie Press, 1993).


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Medina, Burke Farrar Boulevard, ca. 1919
Courtesy MOHAI (Neg. 83.10.1,481)


 
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