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CHARLES MORFORD, who migrated with his parents from Iowa in the spring of 1887, was 20 years old when he recorded this unique Seattle cityscape a few months later. Morford’s subject looks east up Columbia Street from the Seattle waterfront as far as the Coppin water works at Ninth Avenue. The four-story tower’s open First Hill observatory stood 300 feet above Morford’s prospect. The well below it supplied most of the neighborhood, and its bored-log pipes reached down the hill at least as far as James Colman’s mansion. Its Italianate tower also breaks the horizon, here at the southeast corner of Columbia and Fourth Avenue.

We may be confident that the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway baggage/express car, at the bottom, is new. By historian Thomas Prosch’s reckoning in his “Chronological History of Seattle” (1901), the car was delivered in September 1887. This timing is in fine coincidence with the construction scaffolding attached to the Toklas and Singerman Department Store, on the right. The rough lumber is soon to come down. The store was completed on Sept. 28, although the formal opening waited until Nov. 9.

A few days after the opening of the department store, which was then the highest building in Seattle, the railway was also celebrating. On Thanksgiving Day it gave 108 locals a free round-trip ride to its then new end-of-the-line in Bothell.

Included among Morford’s surviving glass-plate negatives are several more of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern. At what point Morford also became an employee of this railway is unclear. But in the fall of 1887 he would not yet have known that most of his gainful employment here would be with the retail business behind the scaffolding. Morford became a clerk, first, with MacDougal Southwick, the partnership that bought out Toklas and Singerman in 1892. Morford soon became the store’s general manager and one of its stockholders.

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