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Yarrow Point -- Thumbnail History
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Yarrow Point, a small peninsula located in King County on the east side of Lake Washington, extends a mile northward into the lake, forming the western shore of Yarrow Bay, just south of Kirkland. It is the farthest east of three fingers of land, the other two being Hunts Point and Evergreen Point. Clyde Hill and the SR-520 Highway edge Yarrow Point's southern border. Residents of Yarrow Point can hear caroling bells sound on the quarter hour, echoing across Yarrow Bay from Carillon Point to the east. Pleasure and tour boats crisscross highways through the waters to and from Seattle and Kirkland's harbor, reminders of the busy world across the bay. Before the late nineteenth century, Yarrow Point remained forested and unspoiled, only visited by shifting gray, soft fog, and frequent mists. William Easter filed the first homestead claim in 1886. Later came strawberry, vegetable, and holly farms. Yarrow Point incorporated as a town in 1959. Conserving the peninsula's wetlands and woods has been a key focus of the town.
Until the middle of the twentieth century small farming enterprises that grew strawberries, vegetables, and holly still covered much of Yarrow Point’s 231 acres. In 1902, Edward Tremper purchased a large tract of land and imported holly stock from England to plant on it. By the 1920s, he owned the largest holly farm in the United States. Farmers of Japanese descent came to work for Tremper and on leased land where they grew strawberries and vegetables. During World War II, the policy of Japanese American internment forced the Japanese of Yarrow Point and elsewhere in the Northwest into internment camps. Cano Numoto owned and farmed land west of 92nd Avenue NE and was one of only a few who returned to the Eastside after World War II.
Others who settled on Yarrow Point came for the benefits of its country setting. Samuel Curtiss Foster and his wife Harriett filed a "Declaration of Homestead" document and in 1910 built a cabin on the west side of their one-acre Yarrow Point property that fronted on 92nd Avenue NE and extended eastward to 94th Avenue NE. Counseled by his doctor to move to the more salubrious air of the “country,” Mr. Foster and his wife established a permanent home there that three generations of their family enjoyed from 1910 to 1983. Curtiss Foster moved his Seattle plumbing business to the Eastside, doing this work on many of the early homes on the Point and for schools in Bellevue and Kirkland.
Their daughter Wilma commuted daily via boat to Seattle's Garfield High School, from which she graduated in 1926. Foster cultivated the eastern parcel of his property in corn, beans, and peas, using a draft horse he kept in a barn on Clyde Hill to pull the plow. By 1923 the Fosters, appreciating the benefits of living on the Eastside, decided to build a more permanent home, moving the cabin closer to 92nd Avenue NE at the northeast corner of the intersection of NE 42nd Street. Foster built up the present house from the cabin, doing much of the construction himself. The house remains today (22003) essentially as it was when built, lovingly restored by its current owners.
What’s in a Name?
Two individuals are especially significant to Yarrow Point history because of their contributions to the town’s names. Leigh S. J. Hunt, owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, became Yarrow Point’s first land speculator. He bought most of it in 1888 and on its northern shoreline built a large estate he named “Yarrow” after a favorite poem by William Wordsworth. Over time the name “Yarrow” seemed suitable as a name for the location, and the small peninsula became known as Yarrow Point.
In 1907 a Scotsman, George F. Meacham, filed the first development plat for Yarrow Point. He advertised lots for sale and sponsored a contest to name the streets, asking for Scottish names. Sunnybrae, Bonneybrae, Mossgiel, Loch Lane, and Haddin Way continue to appear alongside the numbers on Yarrow Point street signs. In 1913, he deeded two acres for a park that became known as the George F. Meecham-Morningside Park and later the location of the Yarrow Point Town Hall, dedicated in 1990.
Developing a Community
By the 1940s, women on Yarrow Point participated in community service endeavors as members of the Overlake Service League and of the Yarrow Garden Club. In 1946, Yarrow Point established its own Circle of the Overlake Service League. Along with members from neighboring community circles, their efforts included helping the disabled, assisting the Red Cross, providing shoes and sewing clothing for disadvantaged children, and eventually establishing a Thrift Shop off Main Street.
For more than 50 years, since its founding in 1948, the Yarrow Garden Club’s dedication to “knowledge and love of gardening” has contributed to the establishment of beautiful gardens on Yarrow Point and the improvement of its public landscape. Members have also helped beautify Bellevue High School and Clyde Hill Elementary School and contributed to such causes as the Marine Hospital in Seattle and Eastside Handicappers. Founding member Marjorie Baird became a trustee of the University of Washington Arboretum Foundation and chaired the Gardens of the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia.
Yarrow Point citizens voted to incorporate as a town in 1959, and as a result of this decision they began to define and develop the community’s traditions and values.
Yarrow Point’s Fourth of July Celebration
In 1976 celebrations occurred all over the nation to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence. On the east side of Lake Washington so many communities organized celebrations that to avoid competition that year Bellevue delayed its own until July 10. For most towns it would be a one-time event. For Yarrow Point, the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration became both a tradition and a transformation.
Minor Lile was Mayor in 1976 and he and his wife Sue gathered together a committee of friends and neighbors to brainstorm what they could do to celebrate. Sue Lile remembers that the idea just came to her: “We really ought to have a Fourth of July celebration on Yarrow Point.” She not only became chair for the next three years, but also launched what would become Yarrow Point’s most important annual community tradition. Neighbors found out they enjoyed celebrating and working on committees together, having a common goal.
As the celebration grew in size and complexity it became more integral to community life, with planning beginning months in advance and more residents focused on it as the commencement of their summer fun and activities. Participation in the annual celebration encouraged friendships and volunteerism in other aspects of community life throughout the year. Chairs of the event sometimes went on to serve on the town’s commissions; one eventually even became mayor! No longer just a place to live, the town began to function as a community, putting forth its own set of values as a cohesive future agenda.
The celebration also became the logical time to commemorate other events. In 1979, it became an anniversary party for the town’s incorporation, and 10 years later, in 1989, citizens memorialized another defining occasion for Yarrow Point with the dedication of the Wetherill Nature Preserve.
Wetherill Nature Preserve
The land, so beautiful and so valuable, continues to be the vital source of the outlook and character of Yarrow Point. In 1894, Jacob Furth purchased from Leigh S. J. Hunt a 22-acre plat on the southwest side of Yarrow Point, and established himself and his family as regular summer visitors to what was still a relatively untouched peninsula of land. The new property, located on the comparatively undeveloped eastside of Lake Washington, was only accessible either by boat or by going around the lake over rough, dirt roads. Nevertheless, the impressive lakefront site showed promise.
The Furths built a comfortable country home there to accommodate their family’s summer holiday needs and even gave it a name, calling it Barnabee, after a famous Shakespearean actor. Jacob’s wife Lucy loved to recite passages from the plays and sonnets written by the famous Bard. A farm girl from Indiana, it was also she who had an orchard planted. Otherwise, it was mostly open space with only a few trees on the property. Eventually, the family leased 16 acres of it to the Saiki family to farm.
In 1916 when Lake Washington was lowered nine feet to create the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which provided access from Lake Washington into Puget Sound, the property gained rich lake bottom land at the new lower level along its waterfront boundary. In 1927 Sidonia Furth Wetherill, daughter of Jacob and Lucy Furth, and her husband, Army Colonel Wetherill, took over the Furth estate. Their two daughters, Marjorie and Sidonia loved going there for summer vacations. Later, when daughter Marjorie's husband Hugh Baird was called to war in 1941, she moved there with their two children, and when Hugh returned it became their permanent residence.
After World War II, the leased farm property reverted to a woodland with blackberry vines and small trees thriving where a field of strawberries and vegetables had formerly grown. It became a haven for birds and small animals and even had a resident beaver.
Marjorie and her sister, Sidonia Wetherill Foley, who now lived on the East Coast, became concerned about the preservation of the beautiful piece of land their family had enjoyed for so many years. Eager buyers called Marjorie, inquiring if she would divide it up into parcels for homes. Preferring to conserve its natural beauty, she first contacted the Nature Conservancy, but they wouldn’t guarantee its preservation for perpetuity.
All of this led to what would result in a “gift of a lifetime.” When James Barton, Mayor of Hunts Point, suggested gifting the land to the towns of Hunts Point and Yarrow Point, pledging to guarantee it would be kept as is with the trees, Marjorie and Sidonia could see that gifting the land in this manner would benefit the most people. They officially deeded 16 acres as the Wetherill Nature Preserve on July 4, 1988. Their decision to protect fields and forests from being turned into concrete and housing tracts and to preserve the wildlife is an incredible, unprecedented commitment of individuals to the environment. A sign at the entrance announces that the Wetherill Nature Preserve is a “natural place, a habitat” area. True to that concept, any designs for it have remained simple, primarily giving the public access rather than creating a landscaped garden.
Defining Decisions -- Land and Water Issues
When in 1916 the construction of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and the Lake Washington Ship Canal lowered the level of Lake Washington, the additional shoreline of Yarrow Bay created a wetlands area, a natural sanctuary for wildlife. Along Yarrow Point’s eastern boundary, Yarrow Bay has been the focus of several development attempts. Each has resulted in decisions with vital consequences for the town of Yarrow Point.
The first, proposed in the 1950s by the Austin Company, would have resulted in the creation of a little “Venice.” It envisioned a shopping center, home sites, boat moorage and apartments built along canals. A downturn in the economy prevented its realization, but Yarrow Point citizens understood the significance of the Yarrow Bay project and decided to incorporate as a town in order to have the authority to determine how the town would develop.
In the 1970s developers again proposed to develop Yarrow Bay and claimed it would be the largest development north of San Francisco. Citizens of neighboring communities, including Yarrow Point, founded the Yarrow Bay Conservancy Council. They worked for three years to educate public officials and the community about the importance of preserving the Yarrow Bay wetlands.
Supported by guidelines determined by legislation for wetland protection, a consortium of government agencies established an official wetland boundary for Yarrow Bay. This resulted in preservation of two thirds of the area as “undisturbed wetlands.” In the 1980s, the remaining upland parcel near Lake Washington Boulevard eventually was developed.
A Unique History with Regional Significance
Some may be surprised that Yarrow Point, essentially a neighborhood of homes, has a notable and unique history and that its citizens have contributed to issues with regional significance. Its development as a community reflects the transformation from rural to suburban life repeated throughout the Northwest during the past century.
The Year 2000 census recorded 1,008 residents living in 393 homes on Yarrow Point. From early settlers who were Seattle businessmen, farmers, and small landholders to all those citizens who dedicated time and talent to the community and the town, Yarrow Point’s history is about people and what they value. They value the land and want to preserve it, and they adjust to change by becoming involved and finding solutions. Their history ensures Yarrow Point’s future as well.
Robert E. Ficken and Charles P. LeWarne, Washington: A Centennial History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988); Point in Time: A History of Yarrow Point, Washington, ed. by Suzanne Knauss (Yarrow Point, WA: Belgate Printing, 2002); Roger Sale, Seattle: Past to Present (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1976); Jeanne Whiting, Yarrow: a Place (Seattle: 1976).
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