In 1911, a large crowd gathered in Fremont to celebrate the beginning of construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
I HAD BEEN familiar with the right half of this “then” panorama for nearly 40 years, but beyond recognizing that Queen Anne Hill was on the horizon, it continued to puzzle me. Recently a studious friend, Ron Edge, while reviewing the Webster and Stevens Collection of historical Seattle subjects in the library of the Museum of History & Industry, found the left half: the street scene with the loosely parked array of motorcars.
After merging the two parts, Ron was able to match the historical porch of the home on the far left with the existing porch at the northwest corner of Northwest Canal Street and First Avenue Northwest. It is mostly hidden behind the landscape in Jean Sherrard’s “now” photo, again on the far left.
The site is about a half-mile west of the Fremont Bridge, on the north side of what, before the ship canal, was still called Ross Creek, Lake Union’s outlet to Salmon Bay. Before the Fremont lumber mill was constructed in the late 1880s, this was known as part of Ross, a community named for the truly pioneer family that first settled here in the 1850s. Ross School on Third Avenue Northwest survived until 1940.
We found a clue to the date for this canal-cutting celebration in another Webster and Stevens photo of this event, which included a detail of a Dreamland poster promoting a dance for June 2. From the evidence of the motorcars, we began our search in photos from late May 1911, and we were soon rewarded.
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The smoke rising from the center of the pan marks the moment — or nearly — when, to quote The Seattle Times for June 2, 1911, elderly Judge Roger Greene “stood on the little platform in the midst of a throng and waving, with all the vigor of his long-past youth … gave the signal which started the steam shovels in their task of digging the canal west of Fremont … It was the most dramatic moment of the entire day, which had been dedicated to the celebration in this city of the Progress & Prosperity events taking place on June 1.”
That singular day’s long list of promotions began downtown with a Second Avenue parade celebrating the completion of the 18-story Hoge building, briefly the tallest in Seattle, and the start of construction on the 42-story (more or less) Smith Tower.
The parade, led by Kavanaugh’s marching band, included a long line of motorcars and “at least 400 Ballard citizens” carrying picks and shovels. The Ballardian canal boomers led the auto-less pedestrians up Second Avenue to trolleys waiting on Pike Street to carry them to Fremont and the afternoon program, featuring prosperity-succoring VIPs speaking loudly in counterpoint with the satisfied growling of steam shovels.
The leader of the Progress & Prosperity Day committee was Miller Freeman, the brilliantly pugnacious publisher of the Pacific Fisherman, the Pacific Motorboat and The Town Crier. With federal money at last ensuring the canal project, Freeman promoted the Progress & Prosperity Day in part to get even by expressing his political resentments toward the canal’s “lurking foes … and to flay these opponents with the lash of public scorn and resentment.”
And at the end of the day, “to insure the steady progress of Seattle and the prosperity of all the people,” the estimated 310,000 residents of Seattle were urged to keep their porch lights burning citywide between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.