Pergola, Pioneer Square, Seattle, August 22, 2018, Photo by Msuner (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Pioneer Square area and Piner's Point (right), Seattle, 1878

Pioneer Square

Seattle's first downtown, handsomely preserved

by David B. Williams

Pioneer Square has long been an important location and center of activity for the residents of this area. The first to recognize its importance were the Native people, who have lived here for thousands of years. Prior to non-Native settlement, they used the area as a winter village known as Sdzidzilalitch, or Little Crossing-Over Place, building seasonal longhouses and taking advantage of the local resources in the forest and in the bay. The next arrivals were the Denny Party, considered to be the founders of Seattle, who arrived in 1852. For them the Pioneer Square area became the business and industrial heart of the small town. It also became the first place that many newcomers arrived and stayed, which led to the neighborhood’s evolution as a melting pot for diverse cultures. For many of these groups, Pioneer Square became home, sometimes by choice and sometimes because they were unwanted elsewhere.

The goal of this walk is to share the stories of those diverse cultures, as well as to highlight the early economic development of Seattle and how they helped further its diversity. A secondary goal is to highlight the use of natural resources and how that shaped the city’s development. These include Seattle’s first export, logs; its second major export and one often overlooked as central to Seattle’s economic development, coal quarried on the east side of Lake Washington; and finally, gold from the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, which helped bring Seattle out of the nationwide economic panic of 1893.

One of the challenges of telling and showing the history of Pioneer Square is that many of the buildings and landmarks associated with a particular group or event have been destroyed. This is not surprising considering the long history of the area and how it reflects the constant changing nature of Seattle. In that light, this tour takes you to a variety of locations where you can learn about the history of the diverse groups that have called this place a home. At these stops where the building or structure associated with the history is no longer here, we use the phrase “Former location of.”

Learn More about Pioneer Square at HistoryLink.org

Steps: 2,345
Time: 2h 15m
Light Rail: Pioneer Square Station
Bus: King County Metro Trip Planner
Bus: Route 18
:

Tour Stops

1

Sdzidzilalitch (Little Crossing-Over Place)

Foot of Yesler Way at Alaskan Way S

Archaeological evidence shows that people have inhabited the Puget Sound region for at least 12,500 years. In the Seattle area, the ancestors of today’s Duwamish, Suquamish, and Muckleshoot tribal members established a winter village called Sdzidzilalitch (Little Crossing-Over Place) at...

You are standing at one of the baseline points of Seattle. Look at the corner of the Pioneer Building, where you can see the following words and numbers carved into the granite. “City Datum: Elev. -18.79” This refers to what...

3

St. Charles Hotel

81 S Washington St

Pioneer Square has a long history of hotels, beginning in 1853 with the Felker House at 1st Avenue South and Main Street. By the mid 1890s, more than 60 dotted the landscape, with most catering to long-term residents, a typical...

4

Former location of Carollton Hotel

217 Occidental Avenue S

Japanese immigration to Seattle started in the 1880s following the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigration. By 1890, 300 or so Japanese (the first generation were called Issei, their children Nisei) lived in the city; the population reached...

5

Former location of Free Speech Corner

S Washington Street and Occidental Avenue S

During the first decades of the 1900s, the corner of Occidental and Washington was ground central for radicalism in Seattle. The so-called Free Speech Corner attracted radicals, workers rights organizations, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Socialist Party, and...

6

Former location of Double Header Bar

407 2nd Avenue Extension S

As with many marginalized populations, gay Seattle found a haven in Pioneer Square. According to Julian Barr’s Pioneer Square and the Making of Queer Seattle, the corner was a “carnival for the queer community” for both men and women. To...

7

Former location of Wa Chong Company store

Northeast corner of 2nd Avenue Extension S and S Washington Street

Seattle’s first Chinese settler, Chun Ching Hock, arrived from San Francisco in 1863. He initially found a job at the Yesler Mill cookhouse but had bigger ambitions. By 1868, Chun had saved enough money to open the Wa Chong Company...

One of Seattle’s most infamous early female entrepreneurs was brothel madame Lou Graham. Born Dorothea Ohben in Germany, in 1857, Graham arrived in Seattle in 1888 and a year later opened one of the first post Great Fire of Seattle...

9

Former location of Filipino Cannery Union

Southwest corner 2nd Avenue S and S Main Street

Filipinos comprise the second largest group of Asian descent in the Seattle area. The first wave to arrive came under the auspices of the 1903 Pensionados Act, legislation developed after the Spanish-American War in 1898, when the Philippines became an...

On July 17, 1897, the steamship Portland arrived in Seattle from Alaska with 68 miners and a cargo of “more than a ton of solid gold” from the banks of the Klondike River in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Its arrival triggered...

11

Schwabacher Building

401 1st Avenue S

Many photos of the post-Gold Rush growth in Seattle feature two businesses linked by religion, specifically by their Jewish owners. Perhaps the best known was Cooper & Levy, a retail and mail-order grocery, hardware, and woodenware business, started in 1892...

12

Former location of Coal Bunkers

Marker on west side of Alaskan Way at S King Street

Most of the towns that started around Puget Sound in the last half of the nineteenth century depended on logging as their major source of income. Seattle was like this, too, until the 1870s, when coal supplanted wood. The coal...

13

Former location of Oregon Improvement Dock

S Main Street and Alaskan Way

Like many people with non-European backgrounds, Chinese immigrants in Seattle experienced persistent racism. This often led to workers being paid less than white laborers, who viewed the Chinese as unfair competitors. An initial result of this prejudice — a nationwide...

14

Former location of Ballast Island

Marker on west side of Alaskan Way at S Washington Street

In the decades around the turn of the twentieth century, ships that arrived in Seattle often carried ballast for stability. Upon arrival they would exchange the ballast for goods they acquired. One of the main places ships dumped their ballast...

15

Former location of Yesler Mill

Western Avenue and Yesler Way

When Seattle’s first settlers arrived in November 1851 and landed at what they named Alki Point, their first “jobs” were cutting trees. In less than a month, they cut and hauled 256 pilings of wood, each about 50 feet long....

In 1852, African-born sailor Manuel Lopes arrived in Seattle from New England and became the fledgling settlement’s first black resident. He brought his barber’s chair with him around Cape Horn and soon opened a barbershop on what is now 1st...

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