This is Part 1 of a two-part overview of King County history. Part 1 begins in the prehistoric period and takes the overview to World War II. This was prepared as a community history resource by staff of the former King County Office of Cultural Resources, now 4Culture (King County Cultural Development Authority). It was last revised in February 2000.
OVERVIEW OF KING COUNTY HISTORY
Historical Paper No. 3
King County Landmarks and Heritage Program, King County Office of Cultural Resources
506 Second Avenue, Suite 200, Seattle, WA 98104-2307 (206) 296-7580, 1-800-325-6165 V/TDD
This overview provides a brief chronological framework for the historical development of the many communities around King County. It is a slightly revised version of Chapter 2, Part II (pp 29-48) of the King County Heritage Resource Protection Plan, published by the King County Department of Planning and Community Development in 1985. The overview was originally written as a context statement for analyzing the important themes associated with historic sites and landmark properties in trans-Seattle King County. Many other significant themes relating to personal or social experience in King County's rich heritage are touched upon in the overview only minimally or not at all. The significant actions of individuals, most organizations and their motives are not mentioned, due to the limited scope and stylistic requirements of the original planning document. The emphasis is instead upon significant trends and events that have shaped community growth and development. While there are many available books about the history of Seattle and other communities, there are few existing studies available that deal with the field of King County history as a whole. The overview was added to the Historical Papers series to provide a framework for research in countywide heritage.
The extensive bibliographic sources used in the preparation of the "Overview of King County History" are available, along with other resource information materials, in the Historic Preservation Program's Historical Papers series. Readers of the overview are advised to consult the bibliographies for reference materials on specific aspects of regional history and heritage. For information on the series, contact the Preservation Program at the above address.
It should be noted there is relatively little information available to the public about King County archaeology, and only a few publications address archaeology and Native American prehistory at the state and regional level. This is due in part to the sensitive nature of information on archaeological sites, which is exempt from public disclosure under state law to prevent the sites from being looted and vandalized.
The area presently known as King County is located within a region designated by archaeologists as Southern Puget Sound, an area that has been determined by hydrological or watershed boundaries to extend roughly from the Pilchuck River to the north, to the Deschutes and Nisqually Rivers to the south, and from the crest of the Cascade Mountains, to the shorelines of Puget Sound. Since archaeological done in King County has been limited, the pattern of data derived from archaeological work in the larger region is essential for understanding local prehistoric sites. The environmental settings that characterize Southern Puget Sound prehistory include saltwater or littoral, lakeshore or lacustrine, inland and riverine, prairie and lowland, as well as foothill and mountain. In spite of the diversity of local environmental settings, the majority of known archaeological sites are found adjacent to water along river banks, lakeshores, and Puget Sound shorelines. Sites throughout King County are considered essentially related.
The Archaeological Time Frame
Despite the limitations of our present knowledge, a generalized outline of cultural sequences has been suggested which may provide a simple framework for understanding the County's archaeological resources. Three major time periods may be defined as follows (bp indicates "before present"):
- Late Period < Historic: 250 bp
- < Prehistoric: 2500-250 bp
- Middle Period < Prehistoric: 4500-2500 bp
- Early Period < Prehistoric: 8000-4500 bp
Prehistoric sites include several different types: shell middens, burials, lithic sites, wet sites and rock shelters. These resource types reflect a number of cultural uses including villages, camps, food gathering and other seasonal activity sites.
Fewer than 100 prehistoric archaeological sites have been discovered in King County and registered on the state's official inventory. Of that number, the majority of sites have been destroyed or damaged. Some sites were subjected to data recovery or excavation to mitigate the substantial or total loss of the resources associated with them.
King County archaeological sites have yielded important data for understanding the region. The West Point sites, for example, not only yielded a mass of information about the foodways of Puget Sound peoples, but also provided information on an earthquake that dropped part of the site to below sea level. The same geological event may have affected a number of sites around the county. The Jokumsen site near Enumclaw provided information about life on the plateau area of King County prior to the Osceola Mudflow, which erupted from Mount Rainier nearly 5,000 years ago.
The archaeological surveys, studies and data recovery (or excavation) projects conducted in King County and throughout the Pacific Northwest have provided us with a quantity of information and artifactual material about prehistoric times. However, even with the scientific evidence we now have, there is much we still do not understand about prehistory in the region.
One preferred method archaeologists employ in constructing a time frame or cultural sequence for an archaeological site is the analysis of organic material (radiocarbon dating). Another traditional method is analyzing the layered deposits or strata of sand, soil, or other materials (depositional or stratigraphic dating) which may exist at a site. Artifacts and data from various sites are compared to establish patterns and correlations for geographic districts and regions.
Unfortunately, the climate, soil conditions and other environmental factors of the Puget Sound region often work against the formation of stratified deposits and the preservation of organic materials, especially those of more remote prehistoric periods. the prehistoric record is therefore far from complete. Under the circumstances it is difficult to construct a precise concept of the social life or the physical characteristics of the County's earliest inhabitants.
The Early Period is known from excavations at the Jokumsen site near Enumclaw which contained numerous lithic (stone) artifacts and charcoal. Characteristic artifacts were projectile points, scrapers, choppers, blades, burins, etc. Occupation of the site may have begun as early as 4,000 bp. The period is also represented at Chester Morse Lake and a site tested near Carnation in 1977, which may be as old as 5,000 bp. Artifacts recovered from this site include a variety of lithic materials.
The Middle Period is known in King County from the Jokumsen site, the earliest level of the Marymoor (A) Site, a site near Bothell, sites around Chester Morse Lake, the West Point Site and several others. Artifacts include a variety of lithic materials and projectile points as well as some shell materials. This period shows evidence of the beginnings of trade across the Cascade Mountains and seasonal settlement patterns.
The Late Period is divided roughly into the Late Prehistoric and Historic Periods, beginning respectively in 2500 bp and 250 bp. Late Period sites are located, most notably, at Marymoor (A&B) Sites, Tokul Creek (Fall City), Jokumsen, Skykomish, the Duwamish River (Seattle), and Earlington Hill and Black River sites (Renton). Materials recovered from these sites are represented by a variety of bone, shell, and lithic materials, and in the historic period, some trade goods. The Biederbost (Duvall) site, just north of the King County line in Snohomish County, also furnished some remarkable wood, basketry, and cordage fragments. Human burial remains are also known from the very Late Prehistoric and Historic Periods, mostly in coastal sites.
Recent archaeological work suggests major prehistoric time periods may be linked to characteristic artifactual styles. Changes in the form of projectile points, the preference for use of certain types of lithic materials for tools, and the presence of fire cracked rock and earth ovens at various sites may indicate cultural turning points in local prehistory. To date, the results of archaeological work in King County indicate that there has been more or less continuous settlement in the river valleys beginning sometime after the retreat of the last glaciation about 13,500 bp. Unfortunately, there are no human skeletal remains from the Early Period to furnish us with data on the physical characteristics of the earliest inhabitants of the area. It is known that in the earliest period the subsistence pattern was based on hunting and gathering technologies, and there was probably some influence from the plateau area of eastern Washington on local technologies.
The Late Period has furnished the most abundant material remains, and therefore our most complete understanding comes from it. Some ethnohistorians and tribal organizations believe, based on oral traditions which appear to describe known geological events, that there has been a continuous cultural tradition from the Early Period through historic time. Archaeologists have, on the other hand, advised caution when interpreting prehistoric materials on the basis of modern ethnohistorical data collected since the late 18th Century.
Historic Archaeology in King County is mostly associated with industrial sites relating to: coal extraction and other mining activities; logging and lumber mills; and transportation, especially railroading. The best-researched historic archaeological site to date is Franklin, a coal mining townsite on the upper Green River not far from Black Diamond. The Green River Community College has done extensive fieldwork there, including data recovery/excavation field school activities for nearly a decade. Historic archaeology has potential for documenting ethnic heritage, especially of Japanese Americans who worked in eastern King County lumber mill towns or camps associated with railroad maintenance work, and of African Americans, who worked in several of the coal mining towns. A number of submerged aircraft and maritime vessels are known to exist on the lakebeds, riverbeds and the floors of saltwater areas of the navigable waters of King County. Some of the submerged properties are significant resources, and, like shoreside archaeological properties, are protected by applicable state or federal laws.
The Native American Indian groups inhabiting the area of present day King County were first encountered by Euro-American explorers beginning in the late 18th century and by traders in the first half of the 19th century.
The major tribal groups associated with King County have been known since historic times as the Snoqualmie, Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Skykomish, and possibly the Suquamish. All of these groups are closely related both culturally and linguistically. In ethnographic literature they are known as belonging to the Southern Puget Sound branch of the Coast Salish. Linguistically, these tribal groups are known as Lushootseed speaking peoples.
Although there are traditional locations at which groups erected villages, hunted, fished, and gathered food and resources, certain territories may have been in common use or their usage changed with developments in intertribal relations. Tribal or extended family bands occupied winter villages, seasonal camps, and territories according to their individual needs as well as their fortunes in intertribal relations, alliances and wars.
Although exact population figures are unknown, there were an estimated several thousand persons in the area in late prehistoric times. It is believed that Euro-American-spread epidemics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were responsible for depopulating Puget Sound by as much as 80% of its indigenous peoples. Attacks by seagoing Tlingits and Haidas from southeast Alaska, which occurred as late as the Historic Period, further reduced and disrupted the local tribal groups. Historic accounts of occasionally brutal intertribal warfare among Puget Sound groups up to the Historic Period may also have been a factor in local population decline.
The Snoqualmie were known to have had major villages at or near Fall City, Tolt (Carnation), North Bend, and other sites along the Snoqualmie River from the Cascade Crest to an area north of Duvall. In historic times they also lived on the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish.
The Duwamish are reported to have had villages along Black River and Cedar River near Renton, along the valley of the Duwamish, at its mouth and immediately southeast of Pioneer Square in Seattle. Related groups extended up along Shilshole, Salmon, and Union Bays. The Lower White (now Green) River and shorelines of Lake Washington were also traditional village sites or areas of influence. Several accounts place closely related bands on Lake Sammamish and the Sammamish River. The Duwamish were also known to have used sites at Alki Point (West Seattle) and at several points farther south on the Puget Sound shoreline.
The Puyallup-Nisqually are said to have had large villages in and around the present City of Tacoma, but used sites on Vashon-Maury Islands and along the southern Puget Sound shoreline of King County.
Several bands of the Muckleshoot lived at sites along the upper White and Green Rivers and on the Enumclaw Plateau. The Muckleshoot were believed to have had close cultural and linguistic ties through intermarriage with Sahaptin-speaking Yakamas and Klickitats of eastern Washington.
The Stevens Pass area of King County was once the hunting territory of the Skykomish who lived downstream, with a village in the Sultan Creek area of Snohomish County. The small number of Skykomish are believed to be largely absorbed into other groups, possibly the Tulalip, Snohomish, and Snoqualmie.
A band of the Suquamish is credited in one account as having used sites Vashon-Maury Islands. Puyallup families were known to have made extensive use of sites around Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon and Maury Islands, especially in the Late Historic Period. Summer villages are believed to have been located at several sites in the islands including Tahlequah and Manzanita on Maury Island and between Burton and Portage on Vashon Island.
All of the major Native American groups erected split cedar houses or longhouses for their more permanent villages. Old Man House (part of a Suquamish Village near Poulsbo), reportedly the largest longhouse on Puget Sound, was nearly 700 feet long and housed as many as several hundred people. Seasonal camps were constructed of woven mats and poles. Several varieties of finely crafted cedar dugout canoes were used for transportation, and they were extensively used by the earliest pioneers. Stone working and woodworking technologies were well developed before the widespread use of smelted metals most of which were introduced by Euro-American trade in historic times. In King County, Indian groups harvested the incredible runs of salmon which have been documented by the early settlers. Other dietary items included shellfish, waterfowl, large and small mammals, roots, herbs, and berries. Among the Duwamish and other groups, cultivation of the Hudson's Bay potato had begun before the arrival of the settlers. Many of the clearings later occupied by the County's first pioneers were apparently naturally occurring prairies which were occasionally burned off by the Indians to increase the berry harvest and hunting of small game.
Trade was routinely conducted across the mountain passes, especially in late summer. Most King County Indian groups had some form of contact, trade, cultural affinity or blood relationship to tribes across the Cascade Mountains. Trails and trade routes across the Cascades are known to exist, and artifactual material from Eastern Washington is known from a number of sites around Puget Sound.
Overall, the lifestyle of most Indian Groups in the King County area was characterized by a natural abundance of food and raw materials. Finely crafted baskets, mats, and woven blankets were in wide use and were also made for trade. Much of the remaining material culture of local Indian groups is now in museums, with many of the earliest collections located in other counties or states.
Religious life was particularly well developed and, among the Duwamish, gave rise to the widely known spirit canoe ceremony, which was an elaborate curing ritual. Puget Sound Indians later evolved the Indian Shaker religion, which combines elements of the indigenous spirit power religion with some aspects of Roman Catholic ritual. The Indian Shaker Religion has become an integral part of Tribal cultural identity in the 20th Century.
Potlatches were among the most important social gatherings and were called for a variety of celebrations and religious ritualistic purposes. Feasting, dancing, singing, storytelling, gift-giving, gaming, and gambling were among the typical potlatch activities. Collusion between missionaries and Indian agency officials succeeded in banning the potlatch early in the 20th Century. Potlatches and other traditional practices have been revived among certain Tribal groups in recent years.
With the influx of American settlers beginning in the early 1850s, pressures increased on the U.S. government to solve the problem of land tenure for the new arrivals. The solution, following the federal policies used to acquire territories across the continent, was to negotiate treaties ceding Indian lands to the Federal government in exchange for limited reservation parcels, some services, and compensation.
The Puyallup, Muckleshoot, and Suquamish eventually acquired reservation lands within their traditional areas of influence. The Snoqualmie and Duwamish were to be relocated, out of the County, to reservation lands, which essentially were overstrained by the numbers of people involved and sometimes inhospitable to their traditional ways of life. Some Tribal members refused to leave their traditional homes in King County. Others left the reservation after a short while, and subsequently found work in pioneer farming and logging operations. The Snoqualmie and Duwamish have not as yet acquired their own reservations, despite their inclusion as signatories to the Point Elliot Treaty.
The Muckleshoot, Snoqualmie, and Duwamish who presently live in King County have endured considerable culture shock and major social readjustments. The changing interpretation of federal Indian policy has, over the years, contributed to the difficulties of local Tribal groups. The introduction of boarding schools for Indian children and the breakup and dispersal of reservation parcels to non-Tribal members have also contributed to the undermining of traditional tribal cultural identity and values.
Indian activism in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in securing the landmark Boldt Decision in federal court on Indian fishing rights in 1974. It has continued in the efforts to secure federal recognition by the smaller Tribes, including the Snoqualmie and Duwamish.
Despite the many difficulties affecting tribal organizations and reservations in the region, most groups are seeking to maintain their language, culture, and traditions. The establishment of Tribal museums and cultural centers around the state in recent years, the institution of language retention programs, the development of Indian educational services through various school districts are characteristic of the Tribal organizations' strong interest in cultural preservation.
Nineteenth Century: Exploration and Settlement
During the early 19th century, a series of international agreements were negotiated between the United States and European powers involved in colonizing the American northwest. After the War of 1812, American-British competition for the Oregon Country was intensified and a joint use agreement was negotiated to alleviate tensions. The British Hudson's Bay Company, which was involved here in the overland fur trade, established several forts north of the Columbia River. Ft. Nisqually was established on lower Puget Sound in 1833 and it introduced farming and cattle raising to the region.
By the 1840s, however, American settlers begin filtering into the territory in increasing numbers via the Oregon Trail. The Oregonians took steps toward organizing a provisional government and aligning it with the United States. In 1846 a treaty was concluded with Britain permanently establishing the mainland U.S. boundary at its present 49 degrees north latitude.
The federal Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850 encouraged settlement in the Territory and, as desirable tracts were claimed south of the Columbia River, a number of pioneering settlers turned their attentions northward to the Puget Sound country. In December of 1852, the Oregon Provisional Legislature established boundaries for King County, named for the Vice President Elect under Franklin Pierce, William Rufus DeVane King. King County then sprawled from the crest of the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. Washington became a territory in 1853, and all but the southern boundary of the County was established as at present in 1857. The territorial legislature enacted several laws in the 1860s defining the County's southern boundary. An election annexing Browns and Dash Points and parts of Tacoma's Commencement Bay tidelands to Pierce County fixed King County's southern boundary at its present limits in 1901.
Permanent Euro-American settlement of the County began in 1851 when several families established Donation claims at the present site of King County International Airport and southward along the Duwamish River encompassing some of the northernmost neighborhoods of what is today the City of Tukwila. Later in 1851, another group of settlers landed by boat at Alki Point in West Seattle, and in the following year moved their claims to a site on Elliott Bay, now part of Pioneer Square in Seattle. Other adventurers and pioneers arrived shortly thereafter in 1852, establishing the first stores, industries and services. By 1853, pioneers were arriving overland across the mountain passes, and settlements were forming at Black River (Renton), White River (Kent-Auburn), and Porter's Prairie (Enumclaw Plateau). Naches Pass was the first to be used, but was quickly abandoned and superseded by Snoqualmie Pass. With few reserves of money and food, settlers immediately set to planting crops and creating farms on the "prairies" and clearings maintained through burning of the foliage by the Indians.
In all of King County there were only a very few of these open spaces available for immediate use by settlers. Among these desirable places were: the Duwamish River; White River; Black River; Cedar River; Muckleshoot Prairie; Porter's Prairie; Ranger's Prairie (Snoqualmie); Squak Prairie; (Issaquah) and Jenkins' Prairie (Maple Valley).
Thick coniferous forest in the uplands and deciduous growth in bottomlands blanketed the non-prairie areas of King County. Stands of timber and brush had to be cleared before agriculture could even begin. Many farm sites, once cleared of trees, were labeled "stump ranches" until the tree stumps were laboriously uprooted and removed. Considerable acreage in cut over stump lands remained well into the 20th Century, and most upland areas were slow to be developed into farms. Areas such as Bellevue and Mercer Island were bypassed in the early years by settlers who preferred the more fertile prairie lands along the Snoqualmie River and at Squak Prairie, now part of Issaquah.
A steam-powered sawmill was set up in Seattle in 1853, and a water-powered mill began cutting lumber at Black River (near present day Renton) the same year. The Black River community opened the County's first school and coal mining operation, and the first Board of County Commissioners was appointed in the same eventful year of 1853 by the Territorial Legislature. Seattle has remained the county seat since then.
Farmers in the Duwamish and White River communities had, by the latter 1850s, begun to market their poultry, eggs, potatoes and wheat in Seattle, transporting them along the only natural thoroughfares-the inland waterways. What overland transportation there was followed beach and Indian trails. Indian canoes and pole-driven scows were the preferred means of transportation until small steamboats began to run upriver to serve the farm communities in the late 1850s. Between 1853 and 1860 the Military Road from Steilacoom to Seattle was cut through the woodlands and river bottoms, providing the first continuously passable track for the southwestern portion of the County.
In 1855-1856, hostile Tribal members from eastern Washington, reacting to a series of affronts and adverse relations with Euro-Americans in the interior, crossed the Cascades into Puget Sound, inciting warfare against the settlers. Regular Army troops and volunteer militias, including the Northern Battalion, which operated in eastern King County, constructed a series of small blockhouse forts along the Duwamish, Snoqualmie and White rivers. Incidents involving settlers and Indians precipitated a series of skirmishes, ambushes, and minor actions at White River, Maple Valley, Mercer Slough, and elsewhere. A state of near panic sent King County settlers fleeing into Seattle for protection. During the hostilities, members of the Snoqualmie Tribe played a significant role in the defense of the settlers. The "Battle of Seattle" successfully defended the settlers and helped break the momentum of the hostile forces.
The crisis, known as the "Indian Wars,' was soon over, although farms and industries were disrupted for several years. A few years after the end of hostilities, settlers resumed farming activities on the Duwamish River, White River, and Black River. New settlements were started in the Snoqualmie Valley in the late 1850s and at Squak Prairie in the early 1860s.
The 1860s saw a painfully slow expansion of the pioneer settlements in the County. Coal was also discovered at Squak (Issaquah) and Newcastle, and the first halting efforts were made to develop the vast potential of the deposits. Lack of local capital slowed the development of the mines and adequate methods of transporting the coal into Seattle. An elaborate system of tramways and barges was at first constructed to move the coal from Newcastle to Seattle, but the labor-intensive handling kept overhead high and production low until better transportation methods were available.
Unsurfaced, corduroy or puncheon (log) roadways were cut into the County at several locations beginning in the 1850s but were rough and jarring or seasonally impassable due to mud. The growth of the communities continued to be slow, and commercial transport was still mostly limited to waterways. The County's wagon road through Snoqualmie Pass was opened in 1867, but Snoqualmie Valley settlers had to bring produce to market down river through Snohomish County. In fact, water routes were the preferred means of bringing most produce to market from remote areas of the County until railroad transportation became available in later years.
In 1862, the federal Homestead Act provided land grants to settlers, providing another stimulus to development of the region. The act was later revised and extended. It allowed a settler to claim, improve and ultimately assume ownership of 160 acres of public land. A number of other parcels of land had been acquired around the County under the Oregon Donation Land Act and by "preemption" or purchase.
In the 1860s, small manufacturing enterprises in Seattle such as metal foundries, breweries, cooperages, and cigar makers began to produce for the maritime trade and local markets. Seattle opened a public school and made its first attempts at cultural events. The University of Washington was established in 1861 and soon began to operate as a normal school for teachers. Civic pride induced the citizens to attempt the incorporation of Seattle in 1865, and by 1869 Seattle became the first city in King County.
Expanding markets for timber products, coal, salmon, and produce enabled Seattle to experience some measurable growth in the 1870s. Steamers and sailing schooners called at Seattle and nearby ports on Puget Sound for an expanding trade to California.
In the early 1870s, the approach of the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) raised the hopes of local citizens for a national rail connection. Instead of selecting Seattle, the NP chose Tacoma for its west coast terminal in 1873. For the next twenty years, Seattle and King County citizens' attempts to get connecting service would be frustrated by the NP.
The Seattle and Walla Walla (S & WW) Railroad, a locally financed enterprise, was constructed from Seattle to the Black River and Newcastle communities in the late 1870s, making the full development of the coal mines a reality. The S & WW was Seattle's first attempt to establish adequate rail service, but the Railroad was short on capital and ultimately failed to link Seattle to eastern markets. A number of Chinese laborers were involved in the construction of this and subsequent rail lines around the County. In the years following the opening of the S & WW, King County began to export hundreds of thousands of tons of coal to San Francisco and other markets. By 1880, control of the S & WW passed to outside interests and was renamed the Columbia and Puget Sound Railway.
During the 1880s, the discovery of the Green River coalfields gave rise to the new communities of Franklin, Ravensdale, and Black Diamond. The Columbia and Puget Sound Railroad was extended to the Green River coalfields but still could not provide the desired national rail access. While eastern capitalists vied for control of the railroads, Seattle and King County interests were thwarted in their attempts to secure adequate connecting service to the Northern Pacific or other, locally financed rail lines.
Seattle was connected to the NP's rail line to Tacoma by 1883, but the rail link was not viable because the NP made its use expensive and difficult. It soon became known as the "Orphan Railroad" due to its underutilization. In their frustration, local citizens organized the Seattle, Lakeshore and Eastern Railroad (SLS&E) in 1883 which built a line from Seattle north around Lake Washington through Woodinville, Sammamish Valley, Squak, and on to the Upper Snoqualmie Valley in the late 1880s. This effectively opened up vast sections of King County's Sammamish and Snoqualmie Valleys to development of their timber, coal, and agricultural industries and spurred the growth of small communities along the way such as Bothell, Woodinville, Squak, Redmond, Preston, Snoqualmie, and North Bend. After a few years, the SLS&E Railway also ran short of capital and was taken over by the Northern Pacific. As a result, the drive for a national rail link was halted during the 1880s despite the best efforts of local interests to construct their own rail lines.
The NP's Cascade Branch tunnel through Stampede Pass near Lester, which was completed in 1888, was an engineering feat and provided the first direct rail access from the east to Puget Sound. Tunnels were also bored through Stevens and Snoqualmie Passes in subsequent decades, greatly improving rail access to the County.
Other developments in overland transportation were also achieved in the 1880s with County road-building projects at Vashon, Kirkland, Squak, Renton, Newcastle, Maple Valley and Snoqualmie.
From the 1870s to the 1880s, large numbers of Chinese laborers came to work at the railroads, mines, farms, and construction sites in the northwest. In 1882, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act was passed at the insistence of labor interests in order to curtail Chinese immigration. Violent attacks on the Chinese occurred at Squak and Newcastle by white and Indian laborers. In 1886, an anti-Chinese mob rioted in Seattle, and wholesale, violent expulsion of the Chinese was narrowly averted in the resulting armed confrontation with local law and order forces.
The Knights of Labor, a national organization which began operating in the King County coal fields in the mid-1880s, was instrumental in fomenting the anti-Chinese hysteria. The Knights' aggressive confrontations with mine owners contributed to periodic labor disputes from the 1880s to the 1900s. By the late 1900s, a new union, the United Mine Workers, had superseded the Knights of Labor.
The ethnic diversity of mining communities was a significant aspect of their social life. In the late 19th century, the predominant group in the King County coal fields was from the British Isles. Many pioneering African-American families also came to work at the mining communities of Newcastle, Franklin, and Ravensdale in the 1890s. By the early 20th century the majority populations in coal mining communities were eastern and southern European, especially from Italy and the Balkan countries.
Seattle had become a shipbuilding center by the 1880s, and small boat building operations had also begun on Lake Washington at Yarrow Point and at Pontiac near Sand Point. A "mosquito fleet" of small steamers began operating on Puget Sound and inland waters. This enabled small settlements at Vashon-Maury Islands, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Kirkland, Des Moines, Redondo, and Richmond Beach to develop.
In the late 1880s the County experienced an agricultural boom known around Puget Sound as the "hops craze." The beer flavoring ingredient, hops, was a lucrative cash crop which attracted interest in every farming district of the County. The Snoqualmie Hop Ranch was, in its heyday, the largest in the world, with 80 kilns and a workforce of up to 1200 persons, many of them Native Americans. The crop was shipped to national and European markets. Falling prices and insect infestations made for a rapid decline in the industry in the 1890s, although hop growing continued here well into the 20th century. Ultimately, hop growing east of the Cascades became the focus of the industry in the state.
The City of Seattle's growth was phenomenal in the 1880s with new civic improvements such as construction of street railways, erection of a county courthouse, and the organization of a Chamber of Commerce. The shipbuilding, mining, wood products, and cannery industries were developing. The population of Seattle rose from 3,500 to nearly 43,000 in the 1880s.
The great Seattle fire of June 1889, was a temporary setback but proved a boon to local brick and quarrying industries during the reconstruction process. The fire proved to be a turning point for the City's development as the downtown area was rebuilt with a new core of more permanent structures.
Washington Territory was granted Statehood on November 11, 1889. Over the years, King County has become the most developed and populous of Washington's 39 counties. Seattle eclipsed Portland as the largest city in the Pacific Northwest just after the turn of the century.
In 1886, the King County Commissioners requested the U.S. Government to establish an army post in Seattle. A property on Magnolia Bluff in Seattle was acquired through the efforts of local business people and Ft. Lawton was officially dedicated there in 1900. The facility did not, however, grow to be the important military installation local boosters had desired.
The heady developments of the boom years of the 1880s encouraged considerable speculation in land and industry which was dashed in the panic and depression of 1893, a national economic downturn which had a paralyzing effect on Seattle and King County. Mining, logging, manufacturing, banking and a host of other enterprises, including the Kirkland Steel Mill and the Calkins resort hotel complex at East Seattle on Mercer Island, were among the many victims.
Although the economic stagnation of the 1890s was problematic, the decade saw the arrival in Seattle in 1893 of the Great Northern (GN) Railroad through the Stevens Pass district of King County, opening that area to large-scale mining, recreation, and lumbering activities. It also provided basic rail service to the Richmond Beach-Shoreline area of north King County. After the arrival of the GN in Seattle, the Northern Pacific improved its service to the city. After the turn of the century, the Union Pacific, and Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroads also provided service to Seattle and King County. An interurban railway from Seattle to Renton commenced operation in 1896, further increasing commuter residential possibilities in the Rainier Valley, Columbia City, Hillman City, Bryn Mawr, and Renton areas.
The real emergence from the depression of the 1890s, however, was stimulated by the discovery in 1897 of gold in the Yukon Territory. Seattle and King County enterprises and industries, including Schwabacher Hardware, Kirkland's woolen mill, and the farms of the White River Valley became outfitters, suppliers, and provisioners to the tens of thousands of gold seekers who poured through Seattle on their way to the gold fields. Flour milling and meat packing industries also were flourishing, and numerous Seattle and King County entrepreneurs prospered by "mining the miners." Several subsequent gold rushes in Alaska also contributed to Seattle's north coast economic connection. Federal legislation was passed in later decades to insure the strong economic ties of the Seattle area to Alaskan markets.
In the late 1890s, Seattle undertook the major engineering process of regrading its difficult downtown terrain. The steepest hilltops were removed by a hydraulic sluicing operation. The muddy tide flat areas south of the business district were filled in by the process, and have since become a major industrial area. The last of the major regrades of the downtown areas were completed only in the 1930s.
In 1895, citizens of the White River Valley organized the County's first drainage district. In the following decades, rivers were straightened and thousands of acres of farmland were "reclaimed" in the river valleys of the County.
At the close of the 1890s, two very significant events occurred in King County industries. The Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company at Kent produced its first cans of Carnation milk in 1899, signaling the rise of the King County dairy industry and the birth of a world class food processing operation. At Snoqualmie Falls, the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company inaugurated the hydroelectric power era in King County with the construction in 1899 of a generating station that was heralded as one of the engineering marvels of the world.
Twentieth Century: The New Era
In the early 1900s, the development of the Puget Sound Electric Railway from Seattle to Tacoma stimulated further settlement in the Duwamish and White (Green) River Valleys and their adjacent uplands. In north King County, the commuter era also commenced in the 1910s as the Seattle-Everett Interurban was extended. Both lines provided a stimulus to Seattle's streetcar suburbs and to the small farmers and market gardeners who produced primarily for Seattle.
By the early 1900s, the logging industry had been revolutionized by the introduction of specially geared steam-powered locomotives or "lokeys." steam "donkeys" or stationary engines, and improved saw milling equipment. A number of technological innovations in the field of logging were introduced here, including several techniques of high-lead logging. A number of Seattle and King County mills were booming as exports of wood products helped to support construction projects around the world and to rebuild fire-stricken cities such as San Francisco which burned in 1904. In 1895, the community of Ballard was acclaimed the "Shingle Mill Capital of the World."
In 1907 the Pike Place Public Market was organized in order to eliminate the "middleman", the brokers and commission houses which paid King County farmers low prices for produce while maintaining high consumer prices. In the 1900s Japanese-American immigration and settlement in rural areas began to have significant effect on King County's agriculture. Eastside, Duwamish Valley, Vashon Island, Enumclaw, and Green River Valley farmers sold a variety of produce at the market including strawberries, apples, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, eggs, and poultry. In the early decades of the market, most of the produce sold was locally raised.
In rural areas, especially on the Enumclaw Plateau and in the Green River Valley, cooperative processing, distribution, and retailing operations were started by farmers in the 1900s. The co-op movement was in part responsible for many of the economic successes in King County's agriculture.
By the 1900s competition among the owners of "mosquito fleet" vessels on Puget Sound and Lake Washington was providing better access to island and shoreline communities in the County. Summer homes became more popular and practical, and a number of new residences were built on the Eastside, Mercer Island, Bainbridge Island, the shorelines north and south of Seattle, and on Vashon-Maury Islands. Resorts, dance halls and recreational facilities were also constructed at ferry and boat landings on Lake Washington and along the shorelines of Puget Sound.
King County government began its first ferry service across Lake Washington in 1900, and service to West Seattle and Vashon Island commenced in the following decades. The County contracted out the ferry service, but it maintained an involvement in it into the late 1940s. Although several previous attempts had been made to develop a ship canal between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, the current Montlake to Salmon Bay canal route was selected only in the 1900s. King County played a lead role in property acquisition. Automobiles made their first appearance around the County in the 1900s, but there were few surfaced roads on which to drive them.
Seattle began operating its own municipal street railway system, including cable cars, which connected downtown to the Lake Washington ferries at Madison and Leschi Parks. The City also constructed the nation's first municipally owned hydroelectric plant at Cedar Falls. The City's water system began delivery of service from the Cedar River Watershed in 1901. Seattle's (Cedar and Tolt Rivers) and Tacoma's (Green River) watersheds are significant features of eastern King County.
The 1900s were also a time for great city expansion and annexation. Seattle had acquired considerable territory along its northern limits in 1891, but in the three years from 1907 to 1910 eight King County municipalities were annexed into the City of Seattle, including Ballard, Columbia City, Georgetown, Ravenna, South Park, South Seattle, Southeast Seattle, and West Seattle. Several of the municipalities incorporated solely to expedite the annexation process and existed only for a matter of months. Others, including West Seattle, Ballard, Georgetown and Columbia City had been established and operating for a number of years. Ballard resisted annexation, however, until Seattle Ballard access to its water supply. Seattle later resumed selling water to suburban cities.
In the years from 1900 to 1910, the population of Seattle nearly tripled, from 81,000 to over 237,000 persons. This was due in part to annexations, but was also related to economic expansion in the Seattle-King County area. The total King County population grew from 110,000 in 1900 to 284,000 in 1910.
From the 1890s to the 1910s, King County experienced its first "wave" of incorporations. In a little over 20 years, 22 municipalities had been established in King County beyond Seattle (including those later annexed). One town, Ravensdale, later disincorporated after a disaster in the town's main industry, an explosion in the local coal mine killed 30 men and precipitated a shutdown of the operation.
The Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYPE) focused international attention on Seattle and King County in 1909; and real estate developments at Lake Forest Park, Kirkland, and other points around Lake Washington were actively promoted during the fair as were other communities around King County. The event was a financial success and left a legacy of buildings that were used by the University of Washington for decades. King County's contribution, the Forestry Building, was used for a while for the facilities of the Burke Museum.
Export of lumber products to all parts of the world allowed the County's lumber mills to flourish. Small shipyards as Dockton (Vashon-Maury Islands) and Houghton (Kirkland) were beginning to produce a number of small steamers, yachts, and fishing vessels. Pacific Car and Foundry set up operations in Renton in 1909, producing railcars and logging equipment. Other manufacturing operations, such as the Northern Clay Products Company at Auburn and the Denny-Renton Clay and Coal Company at Taylor, produced brick, tile and terra cotta.
In 1906 disastrous flooding in south King County necessitated permanent diversion of the White River into Pierce County. It had originally flowed through Auburn where the Green River joined it, through Kent to Tukwila, where it was joined by the Black River and became known as the Duwamish. After the diversion, the Green River became the main tributary of the Duwamish, and the valley of Kent and Auburn was then renamed after the Green River.
The Port of Seattle was created in 1911 to manage the thriving but complex Seattle waterfront activity. Trade to Asia, to Alaska, and "coastwise" to California provided the Port's major markets. Over the years, the Port has helped to reshape the Seattle harbor and waterfront, restructuring the mouth and lower reaches of the Duwamish River to facilitate industrialization.
With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, lumber production, manufacturing, shipbuilding, and coal mining operations were increased. The local dairy industry, which had begun to experience growth in the 1900s, rose to national prominence in the 1910s and 1920s. Local packers were beginning to produce agricultural specialties, eggs, poultry, canned fruits and vegetables for national and world markets.
In 1916 the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Chittenden Locks at Ballard had a dramatic overall effect on the economy of King County. Lumbering, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries on the lake now had the potential for maritime access, which proved valuable during the years of World War I. Unfortunately, the opening of the canal lowered the water level of the lake by a seasonal average of 8.5 feet, causing water flow problems for tributary rivers, sloughs, and creeks. Navigation and lumber mill operations on Lake Washington, the Sammamish River, and Mercer Slough were disrupted. New shoreline was exposed around the lake, leaving docks high and dry. King County was thereafter involved in erecting and maintaining a number of affected docks. The Black River, which connected Lake Washington at Renton to the Duwamish River, was largely drained and was later filled in. The Cedar River had to be rechanneled through Renton into the lake.
The State Constitution was amended in 1910 to allow women to vote. This date marks the rise of women to positions of prominence in public office at state and local levels. The political power of women began to be a factor in a number of issues, including prohibition of alcohol, education, and the elimination of corruption in government. Women also became a powerful force in professional life and the labor movement. The contributions of women and their organizations to the political, social and cultural legacy of King County has been enormous. Many parks, hospitals, churches, schools, libraries, arts organizations and museums are the result of their pioneering work.
In 1910, King County entered the age of aviation with the first successful airplane flight at the Meadows, at the present location of King County International Airport. In 1916 the Pacific Aero Products Company constructed its first aircraft. One year later, the company was renamed the Boeing Aircraft Company which subsisted in its early years on a variety of governmental contracts and small-scale production work. The Company became an innovator in the field with its aircraft designs, rising to national prominence within a few years of its founding.
In 1916, the State of Washington voted to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages. The United States Government followed with the Volstead Act in 1920, which attempted to enforce nationwide prohibition until its repeal in 1933. Seattle-based rum runners began to import quantities of liquor from Canada, and the shorelines of King County, north and south of Seattle, became preferred sites for clandestine drops of liquor supplies. Small stills were set up in many parts of rural King County, and a number of farmers diverted portions of their fruit and grain production to bootlegging operations. A court case about the wiretapping of Seattle bootlegging activities helped to establish national legal precedents.
The automobile era, which began in Seattle in the 1900s, created a demand for a better and more extensive system of roads. In the Pacific Northwest, the "Good Roads" movement of citizen activism began to have a potent effect on state and local governments by the 1910s. The Pacific Highway was built to Everett through Bothell, and a surfaced road was extended around the entire perimeter of Lake Washington. New roadways, including the Yellowstone Road and Sunset Highways U.S. 10 to the east provided opportunities for motor freight businesses, truck gardeners, public passenger transport stage lines and private automobiling. Bus and motor coach lines were established in many areas, and "jitneys" or "auto stage" cars connected ferry docks with surrounding communities, replacing horse drawn coaches and carriages. As many as ten auto stage lines radiated to Eastside towns from the County ferry dock at Kirkland. By 1916 there were 54 miles of paved road and over 1400 miles of gravel or dirt roads in King County.
With the development of auto travel and prohibition came the roadhouses, speakeasies, dance halls and resorts, which began to spring up around the County. Recreational outings to scenic parks and auto camps were also extremely popular, and resorts in rural areas of the County catered to a growing clientele at Juanita, Snoqualmie Pass, and the Maple Valley-Green River-Enumclaw areas. Many of the upland lakes from SeaTac to Federal Way also had resorts and private auto camps. As auto-oriented recreational facilities increased, some of the destination recreation facilities, which were dependent on waterborne or rail transportation began to decline in popularity.
Labor problems, which had intermittently vexed the County since the coal mining troubles of the 1880s, became more common in the 1910s. Urban trade unions as well as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or "Wobblies," whose power base had originally been in the logging camps, became more aggressive. After World War I, several; violent confrontations involving the Wobblies, including the Everett and Centralia "massacres," focused national attention on local labor strife. In 1919 Seattle experienced the nation's first general strike which paralyzed the City for a short time and raised the specter of rampant Bolshevism in the national media. The "Red Scare" which swept the country after the war was due, in part, to reaction to the influx of immigrants, the Russian Revolution and labor radicalism.
In the County's rural areas, the Grange, a national organization that became a social and political force among farmers in the late 19th century, prospered in the 1910s and 1920s. The Grangers often supported labor union issues and were active in political issues and campaigns, including the fight for public ownership of utilities. In the early 1920s a Farmer Labor political party was also active.
Farm production was still strong in the 1920s as packers shipped from Vashon, Sammamish Valley, Green River Valley and the Snoqualmie Valley. Libby, McNeill and Libby and Stokely Van Camp were among the national distributors operating here. A back-to-the-land movement was promoted around Puget Sound in the 1920s, fueled in part by the sale of cut over stump land by lumber mill companies. The mill companies had turned to real estate promotion and sales in order to supplement their primary resource extraction and industrial activities. Poultry and egg production increased dramatically in the 1920s, with cooperatives assisting local farmers to reach national markets.
In 1924, the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law that had been introduced against Chinese labor in the 19th century, was extended to affect Japanese-Americans. Resentment was already building against their prominent involvement in the agricultural activities of King County. Restrictive state laws further aggravated the hardships of local Asian-American groups.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was active in the rural areas of King County and Washington State during the 1920s in response to labor radicalism, economic and labor competition from immigrants. Racism toward Asian groups and traditional religious bigotry also fueled the movement. Some of the state's biggest mass gatherings of the KKK occurred at Issaquah and at O'Brien in the Green River Valley.
In the years after World War I, King County's coal fields were involved in a bitter strike-lockout, which largely disrupted the local mining industry. In following years, the increased labor costs of the slope mining methods used here, the rise of the alternative petroleum and hydroelectric industries, and the competition of cheaper strip mining operations elsewhere were among the factors which led to the decline of coal mining around King County.
Some industries, including shipyards, declined in Puget Sound as some owners relocated operations to regions where unions were less militant and wages were lower.
The 1920s also saw a decline in the local forest products industry as national markets grew smaller in post-war years and timber reserves were being depleted. Many mills in Seattle, on Lake Washington, and in the Snoqualmie, Sammamish and Cedar River Valleys were bankrupt, passed into the hands of receivers and completely disappeared, along with a number of the communities that depended on the mills for payrolls. The year 1929 was the point of peak production for lumber products in the state, and the center of activity of the lumber industry in was by then located in the southeastern corner of the state. The state's lumber industry, which had led the country in production for nearly half a century until the start of the depression, has been in decline ever since. In King County the industry had been in serious decline ever since the end of World War I.
With the decrease of the mining and forest products industries and the expansion of the Seattle and Tacoma municipal watersheds in eastern King County, many industry-dependent communities and company towns began to disappear. A number of these communities, including Kerriston, Taylor and Franklin have been virtually obliterated. The Town of Lester, located within the Tacoma Municipal Watershed along the upper Green River, was the last to be vacated. It survived precariously until the 1980s.
Residential development was spurred in the Shoreline, Eastside, Burien and Green River Valley areas in the 1920s by transportation improvements including auto travel, interurban railways, commuter trains or improved ferry service.
Significant developments in transportation in the 1920s included the completion of the East Channel Bridge to Mercer Island in 1924. King County facilitated the acquisition of Sand Point by the U.S. Navy for a naval air station in 1928, the same year King County opened its airport at Boeing Field. It was to serve as the primary municipal airfield for Seattle and King County for the next twenty years. The development of U.S. 99, known as the "Federal Highway" (which gave the Federal Way School District and the community of Federal Way their names) in the south, and Aurora Avenue in the north, provided better access to rural and suburban areas and easier access to markets for producers. The Seattle-Tacoma Interurban was shut down in 1928 as automotive competition and declining revenues forced an end to operations.
The disastrous, nationwide Great Depression followed the Wall Street financial collapse in 1929. This aggravated an already weakened economic situation in Puget Sound. Although some businesses weathered the hard times, a number of others failed financially. Major lumber milling and coal mining operations continued to decline in the 1930s. King County's last major slope method coal mining operation, the Pacific Coast Coal Company's New Black Diamond or Indian Mine, closed in 1937.
A "Hooverville" of shanties was erected, despite official efforts to suppress it, in the former tide flat industrial area south of Seattle's downtown, and around King County thousands of jobless workers became migrants looking for work or handouts. Some shanties could be found around rural King County. King County government became involved in providing relief to the needy and housing for the unemployed. The County also partnered with federal agencies to alleviate the distress of jobless workers and to accomplish a variety of public works programs.
Bitter newspaper and waterfront strikes in Seattle in the 1930s aggravated an already difficult economic period, but provided the stimulus for the local labor movement's subsequent rise to power. Radical political activity across the political spectrum became more prominent during the 1930s. It was a factor in various labor and political movements. It resulted at one point in the occupation of the King County Courthouse for several days by unemployed demonstrators. During the same period, the "Silver Shirts", a radical organization, was active on the Eastside of Lake Washington.
During the Roosevelt administration scores of public works projects were undertaken in King County under the Federal Works Progress Administration or WPA. Roads, park buildings and facilities, docks, bridges, post offices, schools, airport facilities and river improvement programs provided thousands of construction jobs. The WPA also created skills-preserving jobs for artists, writers and tradespeople, and succeeded in providing a lasting cultural legacy in King County. The King County parks system was begun in 1937 with the construction of a series of fieldhouses by WPA laborers at White Center, Des Moines, Enumclaw, Bellevue, Burien, North Bend and Preston. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is similarly well remembered for its accomplishments in public works activity in the eastern reaches of the County's national forests and resource lands.
Remarkably, the Boeing Company and numerous other industries endured the difficult decade of the 1930s. Boeing's large capacity, single-wing "monomail," which was developed in the 1930s was a revolutionary technological development in military and commercial aviation. The prototype of the famous B-17 bomber, which was to play a significant role in World War II, was also developed in this period.
King County's agriculture, despite the hard times of the Depression, was still among the most prominent in all of Washington State. The Kent-Auburn area during the late 1920s and early 1930s was acclaimed the "lettuce capital of the world," and trainloads of lettuce were shipped eastbound. In some respects, the depression had a less pronounced effect on the rural areas of the County than in the urban centers, which were more dependent upon manufacturing. The number, output, and resident population of farms increased in the 1930s while the average size and value of farms decreased.
There was a considerable amount of migration to the Pacific Northwest from other parts of the country during the late 1930s, due in part to: favorable press about the region; federal investment in the hydropower industry; related expansion of aluminum production; an increase in irrigation farming; and extremely depressed or "dust bowl" conditions in other parts of the country. There were many "caravans to the northwest" in which families in other parts of the country packed up all their belongings into cars or trucks to seek work or new beginnings in the region.
The Seattle-Everett Interurban that had served the north end of Seattle and the Shoreline communities ceased operations 1939 due to declining revenue and automotive competition. It was the last of the interurban railways to serve the area. Shortly thereafter, Seattle scrapped its remaining cable car and streetcar operations.
In 1940, the Lake Washington Floating Bridge was completed to Mercer Island, opening the island and Eastside communities to increased development. The rapid decline in ferryboat service on the lake ensued, ending completely in 1950.
Continued in Part 2.