Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Some Interesting History Of Laurelhurst's "Town Of Yesler"

The Friends of Yesler Swamp, located in Laurelhurst, has published a variety of posts regarding the history of Yesler Swamp, including history of the area from settlement, sawmill, town of Yesler, 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 pioneer? Find out the answer to this and lots more.
Here is one of the excerpts from their Blog about Henry Yesler, for whom the "Town Of Yesler" is named in Laurelhurst. Yesler built a sawmill poised in an advantageous location near where the Center of Urban Horticulture is today, to take advantage of the timber boom.  


In the late 1880’s, Henry Yesler and his company bought 23 acres of land on the western edge of Surber’s property.[17] There, near where the Center for Urban Horticulture stands today, Yesler built the saw mill on the north shore of Union Bay. This early map [18] shows Yesler’s property and the Seattle Ice Company, which occupied about half an acre next to Yesler’s mill:

Baist Map 1912
In Yesler’s day, the shores around Lake Washington were being rapidly logged to supply the demand for lumber for Seattle and for shipment down the coast to San Francisco. Laurelhurst was largely stripped of trees, most likely sawn into lumber at Yesler’s mill.

“Union Bay looking east from the UW campus ca. 1916,” University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections UWC 1856.
Yesler’s Mill was ideally situated to take advantage of the timber boom. Logs could be floated on giant rafts from the forests circling Lake Washington. By 1887, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad had reached the north shore of Union Bay, following the route that is now the Burke-Gilman trail.[19] In 1888, the railroad arrived at “Yesler Junction,” a depot behind present day University Village at 30th Avenue NE.[20]

“Lake Shore & Eastern Railway,” University of Washington Special Collections 5473
Soon after, a railroad spur connected the main line to Yesler’s mill along what is now Mary Gates Drive. An 1895 map shows the route of the railway and the spur to Yesler’s mill.[21]

“Montlake ditch, n.d.,” University of Washington Libraries Special Collection University of Washington, Special Collections UW 4291.
Timber reached Yesler’s saw mill by water, and finished lumber could be shipped to market by either rail or water. Competing sawmills on Lake Union and in Seattle were at a disadvantage here because before the Montlake cut was opened in 1916, logs had to be dragged to mills on Lake Union or Seattle across the narrow isthmus of land connecting the lakes.
The waters over Yesler Swamp served as a mill pond for storing logs. The 1904 map clearly shows the trestle and log booms stretching from the mill into Union Bay for loading lumber and logs.[22] Today when the lake is low, you can still see the ancient pilings from the trestle along the west side of Yesler Swamp.
Jim Thompson, who spent his boyhood in the area near Yesler Swamp, recalls how the logs were moved from the booms into the mill run:
“Be certain that you know how the logs were towed from the log boom where the apartments are now on the North side of Madison and then positioned in the mill run for the recut at the mill. These were 4-5 feet diameter and or larger and sometimes 100 ft ++ long thus they were very difficult to maneuver.“[23]
By 1892, the Yesler mill reportedly supported 36 employees who could cut “7,500 board feet of lumber every twelve hours.”[24]

Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat

Although he became a wealthy businessman and was twice elected mayor of Seattle, Yesler was engaged in constant litigation. In the 17 year period between 1872 and 1889, Yesler was involved in over 150 lawsuits in King County. In many of these court fights, Yesler was either trying to collect money or was being sued for money owed to his creditors. Toward the end of his life, Yesler was beset by dozens of collections, foreclosures, and liens again his property.[25]
The Pacific Northwest in the early 1890’s suffered a severe business depression. One writer in 1917 stated: “There was little demand for real estate and security values had decreased to an alarming extent.”[26] Today, we would say that Yesler’s property was “under water” with debt exceeding its value.

Eventually, Yesler’s nephew, James D. Lowman, was appointed trustee for Yesler’s affairs, and Lowman assumed control and management of Yesler’s property and businesses.
Yesler died on December 16, 1892, and – like Joe Surber – he was buried in Lake View Cemetery.[27]

Following his death, Lowman continued to manage the Yesler businesses. In 1895, the saw mill on Union Bay was destroyed when it burned “rather spectacularly.” After the fire, Yesler’s company constructed a shingle mill in its place, which operated until it too burned in the 1920’s.[28] Jim Thompson recalls, “The smoke from the sawdust piles was prevalent for many years after.”[29]

By 1925, Yesler’s company owned a little more than four acres out of the original 23 acres at the Union Bay site.[30]

In 1927, the University of Washington bought the land where was Yesler’s mill once stood.[31] Nothing was left of Henry Yesler’s businesses on Union Bay except for the community that still bears his name.

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