Belltown and downtown from Space Needle, 1962, Courtesy Seattle Public Library (spl_gg_76600009)
Belltown district, Seattle, 1882


by Peter Blecha
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Since time immemorial a Duwamish village site known as babáqWab existed along the seashore at the cliffside foot of today’s Bell Street. After Seattle’s settlement by non-Natives in 1851, pioneers including William Bell staked out land claims along Elliott Bay. Bell’s 340-acre homestead extended from the water east to today’s Yale Avenue, and from Pine Street north to Denny Way. His land would become known as Bell’s Town.

In 1852 Bell built a log cabin, and later a frame house with lumber cut by Henry Yesler’s sawmill, but the house was torched in January 1856 by marauding Indians during the “Battle of Seattle.” The Bell family (wife Sarah Ann, son Austin, and daughters Virginia and Olive ) fled to California but left its mark via street names, including Bell, Virginia, Olive, and Stewart (named for Olive’s husband Joseph Stewart).

For years Bell’s Town — stretching north from Stewart Street to Denny Way, and from the waterfront cliffs east to about 3rd Avenue (where it abutted the very steep Denny Hill) — remained a sleepier area than the nearby central business district. The “Denny Regrade” project in the early 1900s transformed Bell’s Town, and the neighborhood was more commonly known as the Regrade. In time Belltown grew to include hotels, apartments, theaters, ballrooms, taverns, union houses, and light industry, and for a spell was the home of Film Row, Seattle’s movie industry. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, wrote HistoryLink founder Walt Crowley, the bustling Belltown neighborhood was offering “a yeasty combination of the bohemian and the trendy, with a significant nightlife.”

Walking distance: 2.0 miles
Walking time without stops: 44 minutes
Terrain: City sidewalks, mostly flat, steeper grade between 1st Avenue and Western Avenue

Tour Stops

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

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