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 DECADES OF THE 1920’S AND 1930’s – THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND YESLER SWAMPYesler’s shingle mill continued to operate until the early 1920’s when it too burned, and the University of Washington bought the Yesler property.
By the 1920’s, the Laurelhurst neighborhood to the east of Yesler Swamp was developing rapidly. In June 1926, the estate of Joe Surber filed a plat for the Belvoir addition to the city of Seattle.
Houses began to spring up on Belvoir Place overlooking Yesler Swamp. The point of land that juts into Yesler Swamp was reportedly nick-named “Psychology Point” because three psychologists made their homes on Belvoir Place.
The point was said to have “not only a delightful position but a lovely rare atmosphere.” Reportedly, two sisters who never spoke to one another – possibly Surber’s nieces – lived near the point for 25 years until their house burned to the ground. 
During this period, neighbors enjoyed Yesler Swamp for recreation. One of Laurelhurst’s longtime residents remembers playing in Yesler Swamp back in the 1930’s, filling jars with swamp water to catch frogs. Another older resident recalls when he was a young boy trapping muskrats and other “critters” to sell to the UW zoology department for fifty cents “if still alive. . . . If dead, no value.”
To serve the growing neighborhood around Yesler Swamp, the city of Seattle began construction of a sewer system in the mid-1920’s. Sometime between 1926 and 1928, the city built the berm for Surber Drive. (Prior to that time, there was a “Surber Avenue,” but the old maps (like the 1909 Baist map above) show that this was a different street, which was located to the east near present-day 40th Avenue NE, not the present-day Surber Drive, .)
To accommodate the growth of the neighborhood in the 1920’s, the new sewer system included a pumping station at the foot of Belvoir Place overlooking Yesler Swamp. A pipeline crossed Surber from one of the lots on the east side of Surber (3904 Belvoir Place) and emptied into a “ditch” in Yesler Swamp. Today a pipe outlet – probably the descendent of this old ditch – is still visible on the east side of Yesler Swamp.
What did the Surber Drive berm do to Yesler Swamp? We don’t know for sure, but we can make a good guess by looking at the present-day topography. Today, the difference in elevation between Surber Drive and the low part of Yesler Swamp is about 20 feet.Before the berm, the waters of Yesler Swamp would likely have covered the area where homes now stand on the east side of Surber Drive.
Today, the gardens surrounding those houses are well below street level, almost as low as the bottom of Yesler Swamp. Water from their low-lying gardens still passes through an underground pipe (shown on the 1931 sewer map) and drains into Yesler Swamp. Before Surber Drive was built, the waters of Yesler Swamp most likely covered those lots.
The city later installed six hundred feet of 60-inch concrete underground pipe to carry outfall and overflow into Union Bay from the neighborhood north of N.E. 41st Street. The remains of a 48 inch concrete pipe still appear in Yesler Swamp. At one time, this old pipe most likely carried the waters of Yesler Creek across NE 41st Street into Union Bay.
What happened to Yesler Creek? Except for the low-lying wetland on the Talaris property, there is no sign of Yesler Creek at its natural outlet in Yesler Swamp. The upper reaches of Yesler Creek still run behind the Ronald McDonald house and can be seen along 39th Avenue NE and NE 60th street. Unfortunately, Yesler Creek was later diverted into a concrete culvert near the Children’s Hospital, and it no longer flows to Yesler Swamp.
The creek flow[ed] from Big Rock in Wedgewood past the Ravenna School; piped under the 2 lane brick Sand Point road; then past Jimmie the Jap’s truck garden on the East side (now Laurelon Terrace which was owned by the Shibyamas) . . . into the swamp at the foot of NE 41st, (now Bruce McCaw’s children’s enterprise) where we had trap lines . . .and then piped under NE 41st into the Yesler Mill mill run – which is alongside of now Surber Drive.
Although development swallowed up the lands and waters around Yesler Swamp, the swamp itself was relatively undisturbed. In 1937, a channel was dredged in Yesler Swamp to provide a boat launching site. Jim Thompson remembers that his family kept an old, small sailboat in the lagoon.
A year later in 1938, “substantial new dredging” was carried out, perhaps to dewater the swampland.The dredged lagoon – once a mill pond for Yesler’s mill – is plainly visible in aerial photographs. This dredged area probably survives today as the lagoon at the heart of Yesler Swamp.