Seattle Neighborhoods: Georgetown -- Thumbnail History

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 2/10/2001
  • Essay 2975
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Georgetown became a Seattle neighborhood through annexation in 1910. It is but was not always a tiny enclave of homes and businesses hemmed in by factories, warehouses, freeways, railroads, barge terminals, and airplanes. It was not always even dry land. Georgetown is located about three miles south of downtown Seattle, formerly along the winding Duwamish River. The landscape changed when the Duwamish was straightened: The center of Georgetown lies about a mile inland.

Before 1850, the fertile bottom land was home to the Duwamish tribe. A people who called themselves Qelqaquby, or Proud People, lived in a community they called Tu-kwel-tid or By the River Bank. The Duwamish had built cedar longhouses (each about 48 by 96 feet) to house families in communal groups. They took salmon and steelhead from the river, gathered shellfish, and raised potatoes. At plus tides, the Duwamish River reached the lower slopes of the long ridge that rose to the east.

First King County Settlers

Georgetown deserves credit as the birthplace of King County. On September 14, 1851, Luther Collins (1813-1860) explored the Duwamish river meandering through the fertile valley. Two days later, he claimed 640 acres granted him under the Donation Land Claims Act passed by the U. S. Congress in 1850. Soon, Jacob Maple (or Mapel) (1798-1884), Samuel Maple (or Mapel) (1827-1880), and Henry Van Asselt (1817-1902) also filed claims nearby. The Denny party arrived at Alki Point about a week after the Collins party. The following spring, most of the Denny party moved to what is now Pioneer Square, 3½ miles to the north, and founded Seattle.

In 1855, some of the tribes resisted encroachment by white settlers and war broke out. Local volunteers constructed a blockhouse on Luther Collins's claim. The two-story structure was of unfinished logs and was 22 feet square. It was dubbed Fort Duwamish. The day after the volunteers demobilized in January 1856, warriors killed 13-year old Milton Holgate, younger brother of settler John Holgate. The warriors went on to attack Seattle, but were driven off by gunfire from the U.S.S. Decatur.

When peace returned, the Duwamish settlers farmed and Henry Van Asselt also made wood cabinets. Those Native Americans who did not remove to the reservations assigned to them by the U.S. Government, continued to live along the river. They earned cash picking hops and other crops. Luther Collins ran a ferry across the river. He charged 12½ cents for a man, 50 cents for a man and a horse and 12½ cents for each horse or cow. The Maples (or Mapels) gave their name to the long ridge that would later become Beacon Hill.

In 1869, King County took title to 160 acres from the estate of John Thompson. Thompson had died without any heirs and the county commissioners thought it would be a good site for a county poor farm. In 1869, John Pinnell, a Seattle saloon and brothel keeper, built the Seattle Race Course on land rented from Diana (Borst) Collins (1816-1876). Along with horseracing came saloons and other adult entertainment. The D'wamish Post Office opened across the river in 1874 and the area became known as the precinct of Duwamish.

Mother Joseph (1823-1902) and the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence opened the County Poor Farm on May 3,1877, establishing their first hospital in the area. After 14 months, the sisters moved to their own hospital in Seattle. The Poor Farm reopened in 1890 and in 1893, a three-story county hospital was completed. The Poor Farm continued to operate just upstream as a shelter for the indigent.

The Birth of Rainier Beer

Hops grew well in the soil and climate of the valleys of King County. In 1883, John Clausen and Edward Sweeny built a brewery. Ten years later it evolved into the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company. The complex eventually covered five acres and became the world's sixth largest brewery. (This was the origin of Rainier Beer.) Germans and Belgians made up much of the work force and the community.

In 1871, developer Julius Horton (brother of pioneer Seattle banker Dexter Horton (1825-1904)), purchased some of the Collins homestead. He platted a town and sold lots. In 1890, he called the community Georgetown, after his son who had just graduated from medical school. The post office changed its name to Georgetown in May 1901.


Seattle's first railroad started in Georgetown. On May 1, 1874, 300 Seattle residents started building the Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad from Steele's Landing (East Marginal Way S and S Lucille Street in 2001) because the Northern Pacific had established the terminus of its transcontinental line in Tacoma. The citizen-builders knew that without a railroad, Seattle would not prosper. They envisioned crossing the Cascades with their line by contributing one day's labor every week. They had graded just 3½ miles before the owners of the Renton and Talbot Coal Mines completed a railroad between Seattle and Renton the following year. All major rail connections to Seattle from the south ran through Georgetown along the base of Maple (later Beacon) Hill. Tracks crossed the mud flats on pilings, and in later years marshalling yards were built on fill.

Travel to Georgetown and beyond had been along the river, but by 1886, the railroad had largely supplanted steamer travel. Electric streetcars reached Georgetown from Seattle in 1893. In 1902, the town became a stop on the electrified Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway. The interurban built its car barns there and many employees made their homes in Georgetown. Brewing and railroading became Georgetown's largest source of jobs.

Stone and Webster of Boston, which owned the interurban and the Seattle Electric Co., built a large steam power plant in 1907. The plant supplied electricity to the interurban line and to breweries and factories. The interurban connected Everett to Tacoma through Seattle until 1928.

Dry Threatens Wet with Serious Results

In 1903, Georgetown had seven saloons, five grocery stores, and four churches. Neighborhoods around Georgetown were voting to be annexed by Seattle. But state law prohibited the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors within one mile of any city. If Seattle's boundaries drew too near, Georgetown would go dry and lose its saloons, not to mention its largest employer, the brewery.

On January 8, 1904, Georgetown incorporated as a city of the third class by a vote of 211 to 165. John Mueller, superintendent of Seattle Brewing and Malting, became the first mayor. A marshal and a justice were appointed and the Rainier Volunteer Fire Department became the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department. The Meadows Race Track was built during these years and became a popular attraction.

The City of Georgetown

The city became a convenient destination for revelers from Seattle, earning Georgetown a reputation for being "wide-open." As many as 24 saloons operated 24-hours a day and advertised attached lodging arrangements. The opening of The Meadows Race Track lured more visitors. In 1908, Seattle embarked on a campaign to limit saloon licenses and to disperse its red-light district, which only helped business in Georgetown. But things were beginning to get out of hand, so the city council passed an ordinance in 1909 closing saloons at 1:00 a.m. It went largely unenforced however. The Rev. Mark A. Matthews (1867-1940) called Georgetown, "the cesspool of Seattle" (Robinson).

On March 29, 1910, voters chose to be annexed by their larger neighbor to the north. The vote came just nine months after completion of the new city hall, which later became a police station, a fire station, and a public library.

The Duwamish River Straightened

The early 1900s was a time of great public works projects. The Panama Canal was nearing completion and work on a canal connecting Lake Washington and Puget Sound (the Lake Washington Ship Canal) had begun. Rivers were rechanneled and one, the Black River, which connected Lake Washington to the Duwamish, disappeared entirely. Seattle's City Engineer Reginald H. Thomson (1856-1949) had embarked on ambitious plans to remove hills, build sewers, and provide light and electric power to the growing metropolis. Beginning in 1913, engineers started straightening the Duwamish's meanders and deepening the channel.

Parts of Georgetown that had been next to the river ended up half a mile from the water. New land for industrial development rose from the mud flats with the soil from Seattle's hills. The new, straight Duwamish Waterway accommodated ocean-going ships and barges.

Farmers of Italian and Japanese origins farmed the old Collins and Van Asselt claims and reclaimed land. They hauled produce to Seattle and sold it at the newly opened Pike Place Market.

Boeing Field

In 1910, the Meadows Race Track hosted the first powered airplane flight in Seattle. Charles K. Hamilton (1881-1913) demonstrated his Curtis Reims Racer biplane until an accident damaged the craft. The Meadows served occasionally as an airstrip until Seattle acquired a proper airport.

In the 1920s, the Boeing Company built airplanes for the Army and Navy in its plant across the Duwamish Waterway from Georgetown. Some of the planes were tested from a gravel strip there. In 1928, Seattle's first municipal airport was opened on land once owned by Henry Van Asselt. The location was chosen because it was well served by Highway 99, the river, and by three rail lines. The airport was named Boeing Field after the city's most successful aircraft manufacturer. Coast-to-coast scheduled airline service began in 1929. A journey from Seattle to New York took 56 hours by way of Los Angeles and Kansas City.

In 1935, the Boeing Company opened its Plant 2 on the west side of Boeing Field, across the river from its first home and just outside the city limits. By the end of World War II, 6,981 B-17 bombers had been produced there. At peak production, the facility operated three shifts, seven days a week and employed thousands of workers.

After production of larger and more advanced aircraft moved to Renton and Everett, the firm used Boeing Field to develop and test new models. Mainstays of commercial aviation such as the 707 and 747 made their first flights from the runways just south of Georgetown.

As part of the war effort, the Duwamish Bend housing project was completed in 1943. Its streets followed the old bed of the Duwamish. In December 1947, 1,044 families of veterans lived in one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. The pre-fabricated buildings were intended as only temporary and the project disappeared by 1954.

Georgetown at the End of the Century

Industrial development engulfed the community after World War II. The library closed in 1948. The movie theater closed in 1952. Interstate 5 was completed in 1962, ending most business activity in Georgetown. Georgetown school, which opened in 1898, experienced a 91 percent turnover in students in a single school year. The school closed in 1970.

In 1998, Georgetown claimed just 1,500 residents, but 12,000 people worked there every day. In 1990, almost a quarter of the population of Georgetown was below the poverty level. Jack Benaroya's construction of the Seattle Design Center and the Seattle Gift Center in the 1970s took away some housing, but this started a trend away from noise and pollution. By 1997, a small artists' colony began to emerge, taking advantage of affordable housing and studio space.


Seattle City Light acquired the Georgetown Steam Plant in 1951 and continued to operate it to supplement Seattle's electricity needs. In 1980, it was declared a Historic American Engineering Record site, and it reopened as a dynamic museum and teaching facility.

As America embraced the automobile, U.S. 99, along the west side of Georgetown, became Seattle's principal north-south highway. One reflection of this change in society and technology was the colorful Hat 'n' Boots service station. Motorists paid for gas at the hat and found restrooms in the boots. The construction of Interstate 5 relegated Highway 99 to secondary status and Hat 'n' Boots eventually closed. In 2002 the Georgetown Community Council obtained title to the historic structures and in December 2003 moved them to Oxbow Park at 6400 S Corson Avenue.

After Interstate 5 was completed along the edge of Beacon Hill, motorists could see little of the community except for the 12-foot tall red "R" of the Rainier Brewery, a corporate descendant of Seattle Brewing and Malting. The "R" was replaced in 2000 by the great green "T" of Tully's Coffee, which transformed the brewery into a roasting plant.


Walt Crowley, National Trust Guide, Seattle: America's Guide for Architecture and History Travelers, (New York: Preservation Press, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998); Greg Lange, "King County's First White Settlers," (; "Georgetown Beginnings: D'wamish Post Office opens on June 24, 1874," (; June Peterson Robinson, The Georgetown Story: That Was a Town 2nd Ed. (Sequim, WA: Poverty Bay Publishing, 2000); Richard Berner, Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration, (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991), 68, 162, 163, 129, 130, 141, 165; Richard Berner, Seattle 1921-1940: From Boom to Bust, (Seattle; Charles Press, 1992), 208; Duwamish Diary 2nd edition (Seattle: Cleveland High School, 1949); Mark Higgins, "Artists' Colony Blossoms Amid Industrial Grime," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 22, 1997 (; 1990 U.S. Census, Census Tracts 93 and 109, (; Paul Freeman, "Georgetown Struggles to Define Itself," Puget Sound Business Journal, August 21, 1998; Kathy Mulady, "Rainier's Landmark Big 'R' Surrenders I-5 Perch to a Sign of the Times: Tully's 'T'," Ibid., July 4, 2000; Don Sherwood, comp., "Georgetown P.F.," Interpretive Essays of the Histories of Seattle Parks and Playgrounds, (Seattle: Seattle Parks and Recreation Dept., 1978); Marty Loken, "Georgetown Faces Very Grim Future," The Seattle Times, March 19-1967, p 80; Frank Lynch, "Seattle Scene: Things Are Different Now," clipping, n.d. Newspaper Clipping File, University of Washington Archives, University Manuscripts and Special Collections; Map of Georgetown by Tim O'Brian, Seattle, 1999.

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