One of our first “old folks’ homes” was proposed and funded by Samuel and Jessie Kenney, who both died before it opened in 1909.
THE KENNEY HOME on the western slope of the West Seattle ridge was proposed and funded by an immigrant couple who never saw it: Jessie and Samuel Kenney.
Samuel died in 1895 and Jessie six years later. Her will confirmed the couple’s philanthropic plans for a “home or retreat for such infirm persons of both sexes of above sixty (60) years … who, by reason of poverty, are … unable to adequately provide for themselves, and where such persons, irrespective of their religious or political views, shall be gratuitously supplied as far as may reasonably be, with the shelter, care and comforts of a home, which shall be known as ‘The Samuel and Jessie Kenney Presbyterian Home.’ ”
As we might confirm from the featured photo, when the Kenney Home opened its neocolonial landmark in 1909, the nearby forest of 100-foot firs still rivaled its Independence Hall-like tower at breaking the skyline.
“If These Walls Could Talk”
What: The Southwest Seattle Historical Society’s fourth annual home tour, focused on the Kenney Home.
When: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 25.
Where: The Kenney Home, 7125 Fauntleroy Way S.W.
Cost: $10 for members, $15 for nonmembers.
Our “then” looks north from the intersection of Southwest Othello Street and 47th Avenue. In this long block, 47th has been developed with a 40-foot-high trestle, which carried the Seattle Electric Company’s streetcars over a gully that reached from a spring on the Kenney Home campus to the Puget Sound waterfront. While the Kenney Home was being constructed, the streetcar line was extended from The Junction on California Avenue to the ferries at Fauntleroy and beyond to a neighborhood jovially called Endolyne.
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The home often was referenced in classified ads and other publications. For instance, a Seattle Times “Club Meetings” listing for June 4, 1920, advised that the “Social Service Department of the Women’s Century Club will give its annual tea and entertainment for the old women at the Kenney Home. Bring Basket Lunch. Leave Pioneer Square at 11 o’clock.” The “old women” reference reminds us that it was not so long ago that a “retirement community,” in today’s preferred parlance, was regularly called an “old folks’ home.” Whatever the label, the Samuel and Jessie Kenney Home was one of our local firsts.
On June 25, The Kenney, still a retirement community, will open to all of us. On hand to welcome visitors to this benefit for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society will be the founders’ great-great-great nephew and niece, siblings Stuart and Michele Kenney. Also on hand with historical photographs and memorabilia, revealing how The Kenney has been expanded and renovated over its 107 years, will be experts on the subject from the Society.
John Kelly will be there, too. A West Seattle historian who moved to The Kenney in 2008, John is an old friend from whom I often take helpful instructions. He says, “I coast along here at 95. My grandmother lived until 107, and I expect to be here for a while. So think positive, Paul.”