Seattle Neighborhoods: Queen Anne Hill -- Thumbnail History

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 6/28/2001
  • Essay 3414
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Queen Anne Hill is a largely residential community, rising 456 feet above Puget Sound. Named for a style of architecture popular in the 1880s, the hill's steep slopes made it one of the last neighborhoods in Seattle to be completely developed.

The hill that came to be known as Queen Anne was formed by the Vashon Glacier more than 13,500 years ago. The hill was almost completely surrounded by water, Smith's Cove and Salmon Bay and the marsh that connected them on the west, Lake Union on the east, and a creek that connected Lake Union and Salmon Bay to the north. Native Americans of the Shilshole, Duwamish, and Suquamish tribes camped around the base of the hill to gather fish and shellfish, and to hunt. When settlers from the United States arrived on Puget Sound, the Duwamish lived in permanent settlements of cedar long houses south of the hill at what became downtown Seattle. The Shilshole lived on the north side of Salmon Bay. A meadow south of the hill was called baba'kwob or prairies. It stretched between Lake Union and Elliott Bay and the tribes trapped ducks flying between Lake Union and Elliott Bay in nets.


In 1851, members of the Arthur A. Denny (1822-1899) Party arrived and began filing claims to the land. David Denny (1822-1899) liked the meadow (the alternative was dense forest) and he claimed 320 acres there. The newcomers called the area Potlach Meadows because the Duwamish gathered there for tribal festivals. On January 23, 1853, a famous Seattle honeymoon, that of David and Louisa (1827-1918) Denny, was spent on this land. The claim was bounded by Lake Union and Elliott Bay and what would become Depot Street (Denny Way) and Mercer Street.

Eden Hill

Settlement of Eden Hill, as it was then known, began around the base. Thomas Mercer (1813-1898) settled just north of the Denny claim next to Lake Union. Dr. Henry Smith (1830-1915) staked out the cove on the west that would bear his name. John Ross picked the area on the north along The Outlet, the shallow creek that connected Lake Union to Salmon Bay. Edmund Carr chose the northwest corner, on the south side of Salmon Bay.

Eden Hill was slow to develop. The thick forest and steep slopes discouraged settlers who needed flat, open land on which to build their farms. Loggers found plenty of tall timber elsewhere where geography was more cooperative. A military road cut through the forest in the 1860s followed a Native American trail on the east side of the hill that would later become Dexter Avenue.

In 1872, David Denny subdivided 500 acres into building lots, but these were slow to sell. He even offered a two-for-one deal if the buyer immediately erected a house. The hurricane of March 1875 helped settlement by knocking down thousands of trees, but some houses and barns went as well. George Kinnear (1839-1912) moved to Seattle from Illinois in 1878 and launched the transformation of Eden Hill into a residential district.

It Was Just A Joke

In the 1880s, Seattle began to boom with new wealth from timber, coal, and real estate and in 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad connected the city with the rest of the nation. Eden Hill had also been known as Galer Hill or North Seattle. As residents built their homes up the south side of the hill, they followed an architectural style known as Queen Anne, imported from England. The Rev. Daniel Bagley (1818-1905) asked people in jest, if they were going to "Queen Anne Town?" The name stuck and by 1885 Queen Anne appeared in real estate ads. That same year, the city approved a wagon road between Temperance Avenue (Queen Anne Avenue) and Farm Street (Aurora), which became Mercer Street.

In 1887, the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad was completed along the west and north sides of the hill. The Ross homestead on the north side at 3rd Avenue W and W Nickerson Street became the community of Ross with a general store, a post office, a school, and a railroad flag stop. This was just across The Outlet from another growing community, Fremont. By 1890, Seattle's population had multiplied 12 times over 10 years.

In 1889, downtown Seattle burned in the Great Fire. The city quickly rebuilt and more homes worked their way up the south and east slopes of the hill. Sawmills lined the shore of Salmon Bay, Lake Union, and The Outlet. But Queen Anne would remain on the periphery until the problem of transportation was solved. Few people wanted to live there if they couldn't get to jobs and to shopping.

The Counterbalance

Beginning in 1902, electric street car lines reached to the top of the hill along Queen Anne Avenue and up the easy grades  of 5th Avenue N and 10th Avenue W. The 18 percent grade of Queen Anne Avenue was equipped with a system of counterweights built under the street to pull cars up and slow them down the hill. The grade up Queen Anne became known as The Counterbalance.

These routes made possible the development of the top of the hill and homes and businesses soon followed. During the first decade of the twentieth century, many fine homes were built on the south side of the hill to take in views of Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay, and the growing city.


Queen Anne residents were active in politics beginning in the 1880s. David and Louisa Denny and many of their neighbors opposed the sale of alcoholic beverages (they named Temperance Avenue), supported the vote for women, and opposed the oppression of the Chinese. The Queen Anne Improvement Club was formed in 1901 to organized to pressure City Hall for increased city services such as sewers, fire protection, graded streets, water, electric service, and schools. Improvements were not limited to infrastructure. In 1887, George Kinnear donated land for a park on the south slope of the hill. Other parks and additional streets were added to the Olmsted Brothers plan for parks and boulevards. In 1891, Seattle moved the city limits from W McGraw Street to N 85th Street and Ross was absorbed into the rest of the city.

The demand for housing on Queen Anne continued through the first 30 years of the twentieth century, slumping during the Great Depression. The last major development was Queen Anne Park, platted on the northwest side of the hill in 1926.

The completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1917 transformed Salmon Bay into a freshwater basin. The Outlet became a navigable waterway suitable for ocean-going vessels. Queen Anne's east, north, and west sides became oriented to the maritime industry. Despite the hill's reputation as an exclusive residential district, the vast majority of residents were wage earners who lived in modest homes. By 1930, the population of Queen Anne was approximately 30,000.


The Great Depression hit Queen Anne as it did the rest of the nation, but the neighborhood did benefit from some of the public works programs of the time. Several parks were developed and improved and the Aurora Bridge and Queen Anne Boulevard Bridge accommodated the increased used of the automobile. In spite of Queen Anne's temperance tradition established by the Dennys, residents supported the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 by a vote of 3 to 1.

During World War II, an anti-aircraft gun and detection equipment were installed in Mount Pleasant Cemetery as part of the air defense of Seattle. Approximately 24 soldiers lived there in tents until wooden huts could be built. Queen Anne resident Robert E. Galer (b. 1913) became a Marine fighter pilot during the war and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1948, KRSC delivered the Northwest's first television broadcast from an old grocery store and surplus U.S. Army radar tower at 3rd Avenue N and Galer Street. West Seattle High School played football against Wenatchee at the Memorial Stadium. More people saw the game in the stadium at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill than saw it on television. This operation was purchased by KING the following year, the first sale of a television station in the United States. Queen Anne's 450-foot summit was established as the best place from which to transmit the new technology. KOMO built a tower in 1952, and KIRO put one up in 1958 over the protests of Queen Anne residents. The tallest tower rose to 613 feet above the ground. When the stations planned 1,000 foot towers, the city council placed limits on their height.

The 1962 Seattle World's Fair put Queen Anne on the map. Seventy-four acres of David Denny's Donation Land Claim became the Century 21 Exposition. The Civic Auditorium became the Opera House and the Armory became the Food Circus. Homes, schools, apartments, a fire station, and whole streets disappeared. When the fair closed after its six-month run, the community was left with The Seattle Center, an enduring focal point for cultural and recreational activities. Queen Anne (or more precisely Seattle) got its own professional basketball team in 1967. The Seattle Supersonics were named after a Boeing airliner that was never built.


Queen Anne High School, a Beaux Arts-style building with a commanding view of Seattle at 2nd Avenue N and Galer Street, opened in 1909. The school drew students from Queen Anne Hill and Magnolia Bluff. Enrollment peaked with more than 2,600 students with the baby-boom generation in the 1960s, but plummeted to fewer than a thousand by 1980. The school closed in 1981. In 72 years, more than 23,000 students graduated from Queen Anne High. The building was ultimately registered as a Historic Landmark building. It was renovated and reopened in 1986 as a rental apartment building. In 2006 the building is undergoing additional renovation and conversion to condominiums.

Several institutions had their origins on Queen Anne. The Seattle Seminary was opened in Ross in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church, and grew into Seattle Pacific University. The Seattle Children's Home, Seattle's oldest charity, had its first permanent home at the bottom of the hill in 1886. In 1905, it moved to 9th Avenue W and W McGraw Street where it continued into its second century of service to Seattle's youth. Queen Anne resident Anna Herr Clise (1866-1936) founded Children's Orthopedic Hospital in 1907. In June 1908 she was able to open Fresh Air Cottage at Warren Avenue N and Crockett Street. This grew to a three-story brick hospital in 1911. In 1953, the hospital moved to Sand Point and the building became King County Hospital Unit 2, and later, a retirement home.

The Twenty-first Century

Queen Anne's tradition of political activity joined with preservation forces of the 1960s and 1970s to prevent the conversion of the neighborhood to high-density housing. Grass roots groups like the United South Slope Residents (USSR) fought real estate corporations in court to preserve the character of the neighborhood. Transportation continued to influence life on Queen Anne. In the 1990s and 2000s, Seattle's system of roads and freeways became choked with traffic, making Queen Anne's proximity to downtown a major attraction to renters and home buyers.


Kay Frances Reinartz, Queen Anne: Community On The Hill (Seattle: Queen Anne Historical Society, 1993).
Note: This essay was corrected on August 14, 2006, with regard to the fate of the Queen Anne High School building, with thanks to Scott Nodland, Project Manager for the owner of Queen Anne High School Condominiums: Queen Anne HS, LLC.

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