Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Seattle's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Seattle’s modern history dates back to the Denny Party’s landing in 1851. Since its founding, the city has divided itself into neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality. But where did the names of those neighborhoods come from? The answers range from references to the area’s American Indian heritage to lost coin flips, American presidents to misidentified foliage. A vast (though not 100% exhaustive) list of these histories is below. If this sort of information piques your interest, be sure to check out the Washington State Online Encyclopedia and the Museum of History and Industry. Full Article

Alki Point: Alki Point is the westernmost neighborhood in West Seattle (so you know it’s really far west) and is also the southern boundary of Elliot Bay. It was also the first landing point for the Denny Party, who were the first western settlers in Seattle. The area was originally named “New York Alki,” after the state that many in the party had originally called home, and the Chinook Jargon (a language used to bridge communications between natives and early western settlers in the Pacific Northwest) word Alki which means “eventually.” The name remains relevant today, as “eventually” is a succinct answer to the question, “If we leave now, when will we get to Alki?”

Ballard:  Ballard is named after Capt. William Rankin Ballard who ran, among other enterprises, a feed store in Salmon Bay with fellow ship captain J.A. Hatfield. After the two men reluctantly accepted a deed to 160 acres of logged land north of Seattle as payment for a large hay bill, both Hatfield and Ballard decided they did not want to be responsible for the property. So they flipped a coin, with the loser getting the land. Ballard lost the coin flip, developed the land, and profited to the tune of $160,000. However, the neighborhood’s name remained Gilman Park until railroad conductors started calling the last stop on the Eastern Railroad line (which ended just south of the current Ballard locks) “Ballard Junction.” The area picked up the colloquial name Ballard, and when the town incorporated itself in 1890, the name was made official.

Belltown: Belltown is named after William Nathaniel Bell who was a member of the Denny Party which first settled Seattle. Bell not only named the neighborhood, which abuts downtown to the northwest, but also named two of the area’s major thoroughfares after two of his children (Virginia Street and Olive Way)

Capitol Hill: There are two origin stories for the name of Seattle’s oldest suburb and both are related to developer James Moore, who platted the area. The first is that he hoped to move the state capital north from Olympia. The other is that he was trying to make his wife feel more comfortable by naming the area after the neighborhood in Denver that she hailed from.

Leschi: This neighborhood which lies just south of Madrona along Lake Washington is named after the Nisqually Indian Chief Leschi, who had an encampment in the area. Leschi was hanged by settlers in 1858, but his legacy remains. While a large number of the areas around Seattle have American Indian names, Leschi is one of the few areas within Seattle that still has a name that pays tribute to the area’s native heritage.

Magnolia: While Magnolia was named for the magnolia tree, it was done so erroneously. In 1857, Lt. George Davidson mistook the madrona trees on Magnolia Bluff (which were likely more plentiful than the growth of madronas in present-day Madrona) for magnolias. Despite Davidson’s error, the name for the bluff stuck, and the neighborhood there took the name.

Pioneer Square: Pioneer Square is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood and original downtown. That said, the neighborhood has struggled through hard times, getting hit by the Great Fire of 1889, and falling into disrepair during the Great Depression when the neighborhood’s nickname “Skid Row” took on its modern connotation. The neighborhood was named for the importance the area held for pioneers in the Puget Sound area.

Queen Anne: Queen Anne is named after the glacial hill on which it sits. Queen Anne Hill was originally named Eden Hill by the Denny Party, but it did not develop quickly. When it did start to develop, a number of the first houses on the hill were of the Queen Anne style, leading Rev. Daniel Bagley to ask as a joke whether the area would become Queen Anne Town. Sometimes jokes become real, and in this case the name stuck.

Wallingford: The North Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford takes its name from John Wallingford, who moved from Maine in 1888 and purchased a great deal of the land that sits to the north of Lake Union. While present day Wallingford has clear borders, for a while, the area was amorphous, bleeding into both the University District to the east and Green Lake to the north.

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