A new downtown square honoring the state's second governor is officially unveiled Wednesday morning.

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A hundred years ago, John McGraw, who was the state’s second governor and friend of Seattle’s Chinese community before the turn of the 20th century, was memorialized with a statue in downtown Seattle. Wednesday morning, the statue was unveiled in a new park that bears his name: McGraw Square Plaza.

Mayor Mike McGinn, who presided over the dedication, said the plaza will create a pedestrian-friendly island in the heart of downtown Seattle. He said it’s one of three transportation hubs serving downtown.

The new plaza, at the end of the South Lake Union streetcar line, between Olive Way and Stewart Street, was built with a $900,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation.

Officials envision it filled with trees and tables, even food vendors.

Its location will make it easier to travel around downtown, with connections from the streetcar to the Monorail, light rail and the downtown bus tunnel, said those at the dedication.

Several of McGraw’s descendants attended the ceremony to honor the man they say was a champion of the early Chinese community in Seattle.

Scott Pattison, McGraw’s great-great-grandson, said that after McGraw died in 1910 the community raised money to buy the land in downtown Seattle and erect the statue. But a park was never completed on the spot.

Pattison is glad that his ancestor’s legacy will be preserved in the downtown park. “I couldn’t be more proud,” he said.

After running away from home in Maine, McGraw made his way west and ended up in Seattle, taking a job as one of four officers in the Seattle Police Department, Pattison said. He became police chief and later sheriff before being elected governor in 1892. He served just one term, from 1893-97.

Pattison said McGraw’s proudest moment came in 1886 — 125 years ago this week — when as sheriff he repelled vigilantes who were trying to round up Chinese laborers in Seattle and send them back to China.

When the vigilantes from outside Seattle arrived, McGraw deputized 400 citizens to protect the Chinese. After some of the Chinese workers were put on a passenger ship to take them back to China, McGraw boarded the vessel and said it couldn’t leave.

He told the Chinese that he would protect those who wished to stay in Seattle. Gunfire erupted, and a bullet went through McGraw’s hat and two through his coat, Pattison said. The vigilantes finally ran away.

“The city of Seattle has done a wonderful job expanding and upgrading McGraw Park,” said Pattison. “The land was bought after he died, entirely with private funds, and the statue was commissioned and erected with private funds as well — it was then turned over to the city.”

After he was governor, McGraw worked with the Alaska gold rush, was president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and president of First National Bank, Pattison said.

“But he told his daughter, Kate McGraw Sanford, my great-grandmother, that of all his accomplishments in life, he was most proud of standing firm against those who tried to extract Seattle’s Chinese American community — which he viewed as against the Constitution and their right to liberty.”

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com