In 1880, Seattle was the second-largest city in Washington, with 3,533 residents (Walla Walla was No. 1). By 1883, Seattle’s population had more than doubled, to 7,500.

Share story

WHAT IS MOST revealing about this street scene might be that stack of bricks on the left. The anonymous photographer stood where now stands the Pioneer Square Pergola and looked southeast to the clapboard businesses on the south side of Mill Street (Yesler Way). Second Avenue (Occidental Street) is on the left and the surviving alley between Occidental and First Avenue South is on the right.

The print is not dated, but based on the small clue of those bricks, I think it was recorded in 1883. Construction began in 1883-84 on multistory structures of brick, stone and ornamental cast iron, replacing many of the false fronts on Front Street (First Avenue) and at Pioneer Place (then Yesler’s Corner) with elegant facades.

The bricks piled in the street might be designated for the 1883 construction of the elaborately ornate Yesler-Leary Building at Front and Mill streets. Or they might be waiting on the equally ornate Occidental Hotel, which was raised in 1883-84 on what was then and is still the pie-shaped block between James Street and Yesler Way. At that time bricks sold for $16 to $18 per thousand in Seattle.

Most of these wooden structures were built in the 1870s and destroyed in the Great Fire of 1889. One that was built earlier is the box with the balcony, center-right. In 1865, when standing alone, this was home for Kellogg’s Drug Store at the sidewalk and E.M. Sammis’ photography studio upstairs. Sammis was the first professional picture-taker to set up a temporary studio in Seattle. A painted outline of the external but removed stairway to the Sammis studio is easily recognized on the building’s west facade at the alley.

See more historical photos

The 1880 census counted 3,533 Seattle inhabitants, 55 fewer than Walla Walla, at the time the largest town in Washington Territory. In his Chronological History of Seattle, 1850 to 1897, Thomas Prosch noted that three years after the census of 1880, in matters of wealth, additions, transfer of real estate and public works, “Seattle and King County unmistakably took the lead among Washington towns and counties … Though the figures seem small in the light of later days, they were then simply immense.” Seattle’s population at the close of 1883 was about 7,500.