Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How The Name "Yesler Swamp" Came About

Inline image 1

The Friends of Yesler Swamp, located in Laurelhurst, has been publishing many interesting new posts on the history of Yesler Swamp, including historic photos, videos, source notes and more. 

The website says:
Most people know that Henry Yesler once ran a mill in downtown Seattle at the foot of what we now call Yesler way. But what does Yesler Swamp have to do with the famous Seattle pionner? Find out the answer to this and lots more.

Here is one of the excerpts from their Blog:


Yesler Swamp is an environmental treasure in the heart of a great city. Within a few yards of major streets and busy neighborhoods, it preserves rich wonders of wildlife—a beaver dam, eagles and herons, and 100 species of birds.
The story of Yesler Swamp opens windows on the city’s early history, a major pioneer, and the evolution of Seattle’s lakes and waterways. Now, the neighboring community has come together to preserve and protect this unique urban ecosystem and make it accessible to the public.
It was not always a swamp. It began as the hub of a sawmill and lumber business operated by Henry Yesler, two-time Seattle mayor and frontier entrepreneur. Yesler is among Seattle’s most famous pioneers, the one who built the famous “skid road.” Yesler Terrace, Yesler Way and other downtown Seattle landmarks are named for him.
If Yesler is best known for his enterprises in the city’s early center, he had other ambitious business interests. Around 1888, Henry Yesler’s company built a second lumber mill on the north shore of Union Bay. It was a little-settled spot on a stretch of original waterfront. Logs cut from the shores of Lake Washington were floated to Yesler’s mill run to be sawed into lumber. Yesler’s mill operations began the transformation of a thickly-forested waterfront, where Indians and camped and fished, to a dense urban neighborhood.
Before Yesler and a handful of other white settlers arrived, the fringes of Union Bay were heavily forested. Fir trees over 150 feet tall towered over the water’s edge. For hundreds and thousands of years, Yesler Swamp was covered with water. It was not a swamp, just a bend in Union Bay, the western arm of Lake Washington. Union Bay was shallow, only 16 or 17 feet at its deepest.[1] On its north shore lay a wild marsh where over the centuries, downed logs, plant debris and soil had created rich peat deposits one hundred feet deep.[2]
Over a century after Yesler’s mill burned and closed for the final time, a small group of neighbors began to look more carefully at the wetland that was almost on their doorstep. They found unexpected wonders.
University of Washington Professor Kern Ewing agreed to take the neighbors on a tour of the area—just east of the Union Bay Natural Area, and introduced them to the ecology of the swampy area known then as the “east basin.”[3]
On a winter afternoon, a small group followed Ewing through the swamp, slogging through brush and mud. One person’s foot got hopelessly stuck in the muck — to the amusement of everyone else.
But to their surprise, the visitors found a sanctuary of willows, red cedar, birds and water. Beaver lived in a home of sticks and mud by the water’s edge, great blue heron waded near the shoreline, songbirds fluttered in the underbrush and an eagle perched in the cottonwoods. Hidden below street level, the swamp was quiet and tranquil – with no cell phones, no traffic, no urban racket – only stillness.

Photo by Jean Colley
For generations, the builders of Seattle had looked upon swamps as nuisances – soggy, muddy obstacles in the way of progress. The best thing to do with a swamp, went the thinking, was to log the timber, haul in the earth movers and fill in the wet places. Build a house or a store or a skyscraper where trees and water had once stood. Destroy the swamps, not preserve them.
Fortunately, this swamp – the east basin – had been neglected. Nothing much had happened there since Yesler’s mill had burned down almost a century before. Maybe it wasn’t too late to save this swamp.
Experts agreed that the best way to protect the wildlife and open the swamp to the community was to define a pathway – an environmentally sensitive, accessible, all season trail and boardwalk.
One challenge was what to call the area. “East basin” didn’t have much of a ring to it. “Wetland” didn’t really describe this unique area, either. After all, the East Basin was a true swamp – more than just a wetland – and it had a history tied to the famous Seattle pioneer.

No comments: