The star of the show in this photo — taken a couple years after the city’s Great Fire — is the steamship City of Kingston.

Share story

WE MIGHT WONDER what photographer F. Jay Haynes, “the Professor,” found captivating in this long stretch of the Seattle waterfront. It reaches from a small sample of the Magnolia Peninsula on the far left to the outer end of the famous namesake wharf that pioneer Henry Yesler rebuilt after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. The fire had destroyed the wharf and practically everything else on Seattle’s central waterfront. Although difficult to read, both at this size and in the subject’s morning light, the shed/warehouse on the far right has Yesler’s name printed on its west wall facing Elliott Bay.

We imagine that there also might have been a sensitive side to Haynes’ choice — an aesthetic motivation. The vessel near the scene’s center, which atypically reveals no name on its stern, marks a striking divide between the intimate waterfront congestion of barrels and half-covered bricks on this side of Yesler’s dock, far right, and to the left of the steamship, the long and somewhat mottled urban growth that was then North Seattle. Belltown’s motley gray dapple on Denny Hill’s western slope, left of center, is composed almost entirely of improvised and rent-free squatters’ vernacular sheds, both on the hill and on the beach.

Haynes’ subject also might have been assigned. Born in Michigan in 1853, the year Seattle’s Midwestern founders moved from Alki Point to this east shore of Elliott Bay, Haynes missed the Civil War but not an apprenticeship with Dr. William H. Lockwood’s Temple of Photography in Ripon, Wisc. (“Birthplace of the Republican Party.”)

There, Haynes learned his trade and met Lily Snyder, his co-worker and future wife. Together, they purchased from the Northern Pacific Railroad a Pullman car, which they fitted for a photography studio. In exchange for publicity photographs of the railroad’s expansion and rolling stock, the couple — while raising a family — traveled the greater Northwest, prospering with the rolling dark room and sales gallery. To his status as the Northern Pacific’s official photographer, Haynes added the same distinction for Yellowstone National Park, where he has a mountain named for him.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Dating this visit by Haynes to Puget Sound has left me with an “about” year of 1891, two years following the Great Fire. By obscuring the center of the Denny Hotel on Denny Hill, the steamship’s smokestack also hides the hotel’s tower, the last part of the hotel built, and thereby a perhaps-helpful clue toward a more refined date.

Finally, with the help of an array of historical photos, Ron Edge, a devotee of Seattle history, has determined that the resting steamship here is the City of Kingston and not, as I first thought, its younger sister, the City of Seattle. Edge discovered that there were small differences between them, especially at the stern on the lower deck. The City of Seattle had a railing.