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Seattle's Seven Hills

HistoryLink.org Essay 4131 : Printer-Friendly Format

Since 1900 or so, Seattle boosters have praised the city’s “seven hills” in a comparison with Rome, Italy. The number is arbitrary and does not accurately describe Seattle's topography of numerous hills, ridges, and bluffs left behind by the retreat of the Vashon Glacier some 14,000 years ago. Regardless, the Roman allusion apparently helped to attract land buyers and new families to the growing "Queen City of the Pacific Northwest" (another real estate slogan coined in 1869 by promoters based in Portland, Oregon).

Points of Conjecture

There is no firm agreement on which hills were counted to arrive at the original “seven,” but the main candidates are:

  • First Hill, also called "Profanity Hill" because of the cursing indulged in by climbers of its steep flank. It rises east of downtown Seattle, and was the city’s first true residential neighborhood.
  • Second Hill, also called Renton Hill after Capt. William Renton, who owned and logged the Central Area ridge roughly along 17th Avenue.
  • Denny Hill, which stood immediately north of Pine Street and was flattened in the early 1900s to create the Denny Regrade.
  • Capitol Hill, northwest of downtown and named by developer James Moore in 1900 to promote sales of luxury homes near Volunteer Park.
  • Yesler or Profanity Hill (actually part of First Hill), original site of the King County Courthouse and now Harborview Hospital at Jefferson and 9th Avenue. Legend holds that it was named by the lawyers who had to trudge up Yesler Way’s steep slope from their Pioneer Square offices before a cable car line was installed in 1887.
  • Beacon Hill, south of downtown. Although first settled in 1851, the ridge was not formally named until 1899, when developer and M. Harwood Young christened it after Beacon Hill in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Queen Anne Hill, originally called Temperance Hill due to a high number of teetotalers who lived there, and now known for the prevailing architectural style of its early homes.

Some accounts substitute Magnolia Bluff, Sunset Hill, Duwamish Head and/or West Seattle Hill, which rises to 522 feet above sea level at 35th Avenue SW and SW Myrtle Street and is the city’s tallest natural point. Many other highlands could be included, but then the total would no longer add up to a romantic seven.

Sources:
Archie Satterfield, The Seattle Guide Book (Chester, CT: Pequod Press, 1989).
Note: This file was corrected on December 13, 2004.


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Seattle's Denny regrade: Nibbling at Denny Hill, topped by the Washington Hotel
Courtesy MOHAI


Queen Anne Avenue Counterbalance, Seattle, 1900
Courtesy MOHAI


 
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