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Washington State

The History of Seattle

During the last half of the 19th century, Seattle gradually grew to become a major port of call for ships plying the Pacific Coast. The surrounding hills and islands supplied thousands of shiploads of lumber and coal for California towns. The term "skid road," meaning an unsavory part of town, is said to have originated in Seattle from the route (Yesler Way) down which logs were skidded from the hills to the waterfront. South of the road, brothels and saloons thrived; the respectable part of town began north of the road.

On June 6, 1889 a disastrous fire burned most of the city to the ground. Seizing the opportunity for urban renewal, city engineers raised downtown streets several feet above the high tide level, leaving intact store fronts below street level. Within a year of the great fire, some 130 structures were rebuilt with brick and mortar atop the rubble. Known as Pioneer Square today, the district is a showcase for Victorian Romanesque architecture and the Underground Tour explores the ruins below street level.

The young town's growth was fueled by the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1884. Though first connecting Tacoma, 30 miles south , a northern spur later established Seattle as the de facto terminus for the transcontinental route.

"Gold!" On July 17, 1897, a steamer filled with gold from the north arrived on Seattle's waterfront. The Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890's transformed Seattle into an outfitter, ship builder and transshipment port for the thousands of prospectors and millions of tons of goods heading north to Alaska and the Yukon. Today, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square offers perspective on this wild and prosperous chapter in Seattle's development.




Document Information
Source: Seattle CVB;
Last modified: 20080810
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