THIS WEEK’S “THEN” photo looks south toward early downtown Seattle from halfway up the southern slope of then-Denny Hill. With his extension pole, Jean Sherrard lifted his camera to approximate the prospect used by pioneer photographer David Judkins for his panorama — close but, Jean and I agree, still a few feet below Judkins’ roost.
After studying the crowd of clues in Judkins’ photo, Ron Edge, our frequent sleuth, agrees that Judkins’ photo was recorded in 1885 or 1886. That was three or four years before the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, destroyed about 30 city blocks, including almost everything shrouded here behind the industrial smoke ascending from the right (west).
In early photographic cityscapes, stacks were frequently embraced as the most obvious signs of a community’s industrial success. They stood as booming pillars of pride, and a study of Seattle’s demographics from that time — city directories, tax records and such — confirms it.
In his typewritten “Chronological History of Seattle from 1850 to 1897,” Thomas Prosch, the former owner/editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the city’s busiest booster, included a panegyric to the growth of his city, which, since the 1880 national census, was the largest town in Washington Territory, surpassing Walla Walla by a few hundred citizens.
“The boom that began in 1886 and grew in volume and force in 1887 continued with unabated activity and vigor in 1888,” Prosch wrote. “It was manifested in a thousand ways, but particularly with real estate speculation, in the platting of additions to the city, hundreds of new buildings, scores of graded streets, the new railways, banks, hotels, stores, factories, shops and people.
“The inhabitants of Seattle, who numbered 3,533 in 1880 and 9,786 in 1885, increased in number to 12,167 in 1887 and to 19,116 in 1888. Much as this great increase signified, it was dwarfed by that of the next two years, for the census of 1889 showed Seattle to have 26,740 inhabitants and that of 1890, 42,837.”
(Such rapid growth some 130 years ago should excite a “Wow!” from some of our readers. Want more? Our blog features a complete copy of Prosch’s prose.)
The most striking aspect of this “Then” photo might be the two hand-drawn Mount Rainiers, the result of merging the panorama’s two halves, each of which sported a peak. Did Judkins believe anyone would fall for his manufactured substitutes? In 1885, it still was difficult to photographically record bright, snow-covered icons such as “The Mountain That Was God” (title of a 1910 guidebook self-published by John H. Williams).