Sarah and John Denny lived in this 1869 home at the corner of Third and Union, now home to a post office.
ON THE FLIPSIDE of the scuffed original print of this week’s “Then” photo, the caption reads, “Built in 1869 by Carson D. Boren for his mother Sarah Latimer Boren Denny — it is now the present site of main post office at Third and Union.” Actually, this tidy home was built for both Sarah and her husband, John Denny, the father of Seattle founders Arthur and David Denny.
She was John’s second Sarah; his first, his wife for 27 years, died in 1841 at the age of 44. In 1851, with her grown son Carson, Sarah Latimer Boren Denny joined John and his sons for the seven-month trek on the Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley.
The Dennys had been a successful farming family of exceptional industry, building farms in Indiana and Illinois before catching the “Oregon Itch” for the warmer and more lugubrious winters promised in the Willamette Valley. There they built a third farm, while their grown children continued on to Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay to found a town they named after the helpful Duwamish leader, Seattle. In 1858, the parents joined their pioneering children in Washington Territory.
While still in Illinois, John Denny had served in the state’s legislature with his friend Abraham Lincoln. Both were admired — and elected — as Whig wits with the gift for telling good stories. Gordon Newell, one of Washington state’s author-Solons, described John Denny as an “American pioneer and frontiersman, citizen soldier and homespun politician.”
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As John’s sense of humor provoked mirth, he often was chosen as speaker, or master of ceremonies, for community events such as a Fourth of July celebration. In 1868, as a member of the fledgling Seattle Library Association, he gave what pioneer historian Thomas Prosch described as a “series of lectures on the progress of science and art,” which Prosch attended.
In her still-enjoyed 1937 book “Pig-tail Days in Old Seattle,” Sophie Frye Bass remembers her great-great-grandmother Sarah and the atmosphere of her home. (John died in 1875, the year Sophie started primary school.)
She writes, “Great-Gramma’s place was a little white gabled house with wide porches. It had tiny panes of glass on either side of the front paneled door and a funny bell which I loved to ring. I recall the hit-or-miss rag carpet, the marble-topped table with the knitted cover that held the family album and stereoscope. If I were a good girl, I was allowed to peek through the stereoscope, which seldom happened. … On the dresser in the tiny bedroom were bottles of hartshorn and camphor. The little house had the sweetest odor — indescribable — an odor of spices and old mahogany furniture and a whiff of some delicious cake baking in the oven.”