The city's announcement, in the summer of 1938, that Seattle's three cable railways (on Yesler, James and Madison streets) would be abandoned, inspired considerable...

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The city’s announcement, in the summer of 1938, that Seattle’s three cable railways (on Yesler, James and Madison streets) would be abandoned, inspired considerable citizen resistance. Led by attorney Ben A. Maslan, the protesters organized the Seattle Downtown Association. They managed, however, only to postpone the end.

The city’s entire cable service was retired in 1940, and so was the fleet. After 51 years of clutching the cables beneath Madison Street, car No. 42 was scrapped.

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This view of the climbing cable car looks west on Madison from mid-block between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The old Carnegie Library (1906-1957) is on the right. A rail fan named Whinihan (the name is printed on the back of the original print) took the photograph as a tribute to the doomed cable car and line.

Arthur Denny, the city’s founder-surveyor, named Madison Street in 1853 for James Madison, but he did it for poetics (and fraternity) more than politics. In deciding to name his streets as a sequence of alliterative pairs (Jefferson and James, Cherry and Columbia, and so on) Denny needed another M-moniker to partner with the street he named for his brother Marion. The fourth president was an obvious choice.

Lincoln-appointed federal attorney John McGilvra improved the three-plus miles of Madison Street between the central waterfront and Lake Washington in order to reach his home beside the lake. Madison Street (more than Yesler) then became the principal first leg to the hinterlands both across the lake and to the northern destinations such as Bothell and even Laurelhurst. The lake’s first steamers picked up and delivered their passengers at McGilvra’s dock.


Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.