First Hill postcard, Courtesy Lawrence Kreisman
First Hill panorama, Columbia Street and Summit Avenue, Seattle, ca. 1903, Asahel Curtis photos stiched by Joe Mabel

First Hill

Listen (English Only)

First Hill is one of Seattle’s most eclectic and historic neighborhoods, characterized by a diversity of building types, architectural styles and periods, and its dense, urban tree canopy. Residents and newcomers to Seattle often dismiss First Hill as that place you go for a doctor’s appointment or hospitalization. Medical centers and high-rise towers have replaced much of the traditional single-family residential neighborhood that developed when First Hill was synonymous with good living, exclusive private clubs, and religious pageantry.

When the first non-Native settlers arrived on the shores of Elliott Bay, the place that would become First Hill was covered with dense, old growth forest. Indigenous communities had been settled along the waters of Puget Sound and Lake Washington for thousands of years. They called what would become Seattle the “Little Crossing Over Place,” with trails traversing the hill, connecting communities on the bay and lake. When Henry Yesler located his sawmill in Pioneer Square, he noted that “Skid Road,” now called Yesler Way, was located along a Native trail that ran up the hill.

By 1883, the crest of the hill having been clear-cut by Yesler and others, First Hill entered a new era as the residential retreat of Seattle’s wealthiest families, including the homes of mayors, judges, industrialists, timber barons, and art collectors. This promontory overlooking downtown and Elliott Bay offered a choice location close to downtown, but far enough from the rowdiness and questionable morals of the waterfront. Over the years, numerous churches, apartment buildings, workers’ housing, hotels, social clubs, and hospitals added to the area’s architecture, creating a visual, cultural, and economic tapestry and a unique sense of place.

Since the 1960s, the hill has been severed from downtown by the I-5 freeway. Its once-commanding views and exclusive residential blocks have been supplanted by a mix of commercial, institutional, and multi-family high rises, hospitals, and clinics. The neighborhood has earned its frequently used nickname “Pill Hill” for the multitude of medical centers.

Tour Stops

This tour made possible by the generous support of

Download the App

Visit HistoryLink.Tours in your mobile browser to download our web app!

HistoryLink Tours App

To add this web app to your device, tap the share icon and select Add to Home Screen.

HistoryLink Tours App

To add this web app to your device, tap the overflow button (three vertical dots) and select Add to Home Screen.