This 1884/1885 panoramic image of ‘where rails meet sails,’ by Theo E. Peiser, is one of only six or so photos taken from the hill before Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889.

Share story

GIVEN ITS generous prospect, we might have expected that Seattle’s earliest photographers would have made many climbs up Beacon Hill for recording panoramas of the city. If I have counted correctly, there were a mere half-dozen photos taken from the hill before the city’s Great Fire of 1889. Carlton Watkins, the itinerant California photographer best known for his early records of the Yosemite Valley, shot the earliest one, in 1882. We featured it in this column a century later, on Oct. 3, 1982.

By comparison, local recorder George Moore made his first panoramic photo of the city aiming south from Denny Hill in 1872. That was 13 years after E.A. Clark, almost certainly the city’s first resident with a camera, recorded the city’s first extant photograph, a daguerreotype of Sarah and Henry Yesler’s home at the northeast corner of James Street and Front Street (First Avenue).

This week, we return to Beacon Hill’s desirable location with Theo E. Peiser’s panoramic photo of the city and its tideflats from 1884 or 1885. Peiser’s photo shows four rail-supporting trestles heading across Plummer’s Bay to the Beacon Hill shoreline. The parallel quays on the left were new in 1884, and the space between them was soon filled with oversized warehouses. This was Puget Sound’s most prosperous transshipment harbor, “where rails meet sails.” This is Seattle, the “Seaport of Success,” and the booming beginning of its years as Washington state’s principal metropolis.

Seattle historian Kurt E. Armbruster is the most helpful unraveler of the sometimes-snarl of Seattle’s railroading history. Washington State University Press recently reprinted his book “Orphan Road.” We highly recommend it to readers who especially want to research the “rails meet sails” part of our pioneer history. Our readers might also wish to consult my “Illustrated History of the Seattle Waterfront,” available for free on our blog, in which I quote often from Armbruster’s book.