On January 5, 1902 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishes a full-page feature about the remarkable colony of floating homes that had arisen on Elliott Bay just off Seattle's central waterfront. It commenced with this evocative introduction:
"No rent or taxes to pay, no lawns to mow, no book agents to dodge, and with but a few of the so-considered necessary evils ordinarily attending life in a civilized community, such a condition might appeal to one as an ideal existence. Yet such is the life of nearly a thousand of Seattle's population, a floating population not in name alone, but in fact" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
Very likely the first major piece published on this specific topic, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's uncredited photo-essay introduced certain themes -- the inexpensive, low-maintenance, idyllic lifestyle aboard floating homes -- that would pervade decades' worth of media coverage to follow. Perhaps that was because of an underlying truth behind those notions. Yet, in reality, life within houseboating community is not always perfectly carefree.
Indeed, during the early houseboating days of the late nineteenth century most folks who lived on houseboats -- which were often merely shacks on rafts moored to piers – were the working poor: fishermen or dock workers. But it seems that the more their waterborne mode of living was publicized, ever greater numbers of people -- from various socio-economic classes -- joined them. By the 1890s the practice went upscale when some of Seattle's wealthiest families started enjoying their splendid summer homes anchored along Lake Washington's shores.
Conversely during the Great Depression of the 1930s legions of the homeless unemployed scavenged materials to build their own floating huts. At mid-century Seattle was home to nearly 2,500 houseboats -- a number that has dwindled to about 500 today (mainly on Lake Union).