Seattle celebrates its 54th birthday and dedicates the Alki Point monument on November 13, 1905.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 8/07/2002
  • Essay 3917

On November 13, 1905, the City of Seattle celebrates its 54th birthday by unveiling historic plaques throughout downtown, and by dedicating a granite monument on Alki Point, where the city’s first settlers landed in 1851. In attendance for all the events are three surviving members of the landing party, as well as a host of some of Seattle’s most notable individuals.

Signed and Stamped

The exercises opened at 9:00 a.m. with nearly 200 people in attendance at the Stevens Hotel, on the corner of 1st Avenue and Marion Street. It was at this location in 1852 that Arthur Denny (1822-1899) established Seattle’s first post office. Joseph A. Kuhn, president of the Washington State Pioneers Association and chairman of the day’s events, called on Denny’s son, Orion O. Denny to unveil a plaque screwed to the side of the hotel. All the plaques presented throughout the day were gifts from The Seattle Times.

After the unveiling, publisher and historian Thomas W. Prosch (1850-1915) presented the plaque and gave a comprehensive history of the post office in Seattle. In his speech, Prosch spoke of the pioneers having to pick up their mail at the nearest post office in Olympia -- 60 miles distant. Instead of paying a canoe-paddling letter-carrier 25 cents per item, Arthur Denny established the post office and became Seattle’s first postmaster.

Current Postmaster George Stewart accepted the plaque with pride on behalf of the city, and told of the many improvements in service that had occurred since 1852. ”The memento presented today,” he beamed, “will have an honored place, and in its own mute way tell the story of the birth of a new metropolis on the Pacific, a new gateway to the Orient, and a theatre for Alaska commerce.”

Back to School

The procession headed down 1st Avenue to Madison Street, gathering more people along the way. They stopped at the Sullivan Block, the site of Seattle’s first schoolhouse. The honor of unveiling the plaque that commemorated the school was given to Catharine Paine Blaine (1829-1908), the city’s first school teacher.

Dillis B. Ward, a former student of the school and later a teacher, presented the plaque to the city. He spoke fondly of Mrs. Blaine, and was glad that the 76-year-old schoolmarm was able to attend. He looked back on his first days at the school in 1859, when 1st Avenue was no more than a trail, and Indians lived down on the beach.

Seattle school superintendent Frank B. Cooper accepted the tablet on behalf of the city. He contrasted the size of the present Seattle school system with that of a half century ago, pointing out that Seattle has a much larger number of students to accommodate. He hoped this commemoration would be an inspiration to them all.

Bitter Memories

The procession moved on to Kennedy’s drugstore at the foot of Cherry Street. It was here in 1855 that settlers barricaded themselves in a blockhouse when Native Americans attacked Seattle. Walter Graham, one of the defenders of the old fort, unveiled the tablet on the side of the more modern building.

Judge Cornelius H. Hanford, who as a child was carried into the fort during the battle, presented the plaque to the city. It was apparent that over the years, his opinions on Native Americans were greatly influenced by the attack. In his speech, he opined that Indians were a nuisance until they were conquered by the Caucasian race. He rationalized this conquest by saying that native inhabitants, “as occupiers of the land, failed to use it as God intended.”

Colonel George R. Lamping graciously accepted the bronze plaque on behalf of the National Guard. His speech contained no divisive rhetoric, and instead thanked the local men who had gone off to fight foreign wars and memorialized those who didn't return. Colonel Lamping stated the he was honored as a citizen soldier to follow in the footsteps of trailblazers and pioneers.

Money Talks

The crowd next marched to the Mutual Life Insurance Building near the foot of Yesler Way. It was here in 1852, that Henry Yesler erected the first steam-powered sawmill on Puget Sound. Pioneer lumberman Captain J. R. Williamson unveiled the plaque, which was presented to the city by millionaire road-builder Samuel Hill.

Williamson spoke eloquently of how the mill's opening, “with the buzz and whirl of the little saw,” led to the grand city now around them and to more wondrous things to come. “Do you men and women," he asked the audience, “regret that you were not here at the beginning of things? You are here today at the beginning of things.”

Ex-Governor John McGraw (1850-1910) accepted the plaque for the city as president of the Chamber of Commerce. He sung the praises of Seattle’s prosperity, but warned of untried regulations from municipal government. He listed off a few local millionaires, and recommended that they proceed along in their businesswork with no unreasonable restrictions.

Calling the Police

By now, hundreds more people had joined the crowd as it walked through Pioneer Square towards the intersection of Occidental Avenue and Main Street. On the side of the Schwabacher Building awaited a plaque commemorating a smaller fort built in 1855 to protect against attacks. It was unveiled by John Blaine, who was taken aboard the Decatur just prior to the “Battle of Seattle.”

Historian Clarence Bagley (1843-1932) presented the plaque to the city, and related some of Seattle’s pioneer history. Possibly in response to Cornelius Hanford’s earlier remarks, Bagley gave a more even-handed account of the settlers interaction with native inhabitants, and pointed out that many friendly Indians once lived along the shores of Puget Sound.

Police Chief Thomas Delaney had been asked to accept the plaque for the city, but after Bagley finished his speech, the officer was nowhere to be found. Chairman Kuhn stood on a soapbox and called out “Tom!” into the masses, but unable to find him, the crowd moved on.

The Sheriff and the Judge

They stopped at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street, the site of Carson Boren’s first cabin and now home to the Hoge Building. In 1851, Boren arrived with the Denny Party, became King County’s first sheriff, but later retired as a recluse, living in the forest. On this day in 1905, the 80-year-old gentleman quietly came into the city to unveil his plaque.

Judge Thomas Burke did the honors of presenting the plaque to the city. He noted the “strange felicity,” by which a young Carson Boren built his house on this spot fifty years past, and was standing here today to help commemorate that event. Burke spoke of all the pioneers and of their self-reliance and fortitude that led to the creation of this city.

Seattle Mayor Richard A. Ballinger accepted the plaque, and echoed much of Judge Burke’s comments. Once the mayor's speech was ended, Chairman Kuhn thanked everyone who participated and attended, and told them to meet over at Alki Point at 3:00 p.m. for the grand finale to the day’s events.

Monumental Accomplishments

More than 1,000 people were on hand at Alki Point to witness the unveiling of a monument marking the site of the Denny Party landing in 1851. Three of the 24 settlers were in attendance: Carson Boren, Mary Low Sinclair, and Rolland H. Denny, who had arrived on shore at the age of six weeks. Also in attendance were D. Thomas Denny, son of David Denny; Mary Terry Kittinger, daughter of Charles Terry; and William Coffman, grandson of William Bell.

These six people removed the flag that draped the granite pylon, and a great cheer went up from the multitude. Professor Edmond Meany, one of Seattle’s foremost historians, thanked them all and addressed the crowd. He retold the tale of the landing, down to the finest detail.

After praising the accomplishments of Seattle’s first white settlers, Meany ended his speech with a special tribute to the pioneer wives. He spoke of their heroism and fortitude, having been taken from homes of comfort into the wild unknown. He urged the audience to consider the Alki monument as a memorial to the courage of both manhood and womanhood that led to the creation of a great and prosperous city.

After the ceremonies were completed, few if any noted the sad irony of Meany’s closing statement. The granite shaft at Alki listed all the names of the male settlers. The married women were engraved into stone as “And Wife.” It wasn’t until the sesquicentennial celebrations in 2001 that the pioneer women became memorialized with an addendum plaque of their own.


“City’s Birthday Impressively Observed” The Seattle Times November 13, 1905, pp. 2-4; “Observe City’s 54th Birthday” Seattle Post-Intelligencer November 14, 1905, pp. 1, 8.

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