Smith’s (Smith) Cove: its namesake and new future park

Snapshot in Time

By
Monica Wooton
Magnolia Historical Society Board Member

Over 150 years ago…

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Dr. Henry Smith as he appeared in his later life. Now more the farmer than the gentleman.
Courtesy of Paul Dorpat

According to Magnolia: Memories & Milestones, Magnolia’s First Pioneer: Dr. Henry A. Smith was 22 when he went west. Demonstrating medical and common sense, Smith brought cholera medicine with him, knowing that the disease was prevalent on the wagon trains. To his credit, his instincts and humanitarianism is said to have saved many lives.

He was most likely not dreaming of bustling commerce, busy steam trains, active docks and lucrative worldwide trade which would all emanate from the place where he would eventually settle—the marshy southern shores of a place eventually named for him Smith’s (Smith) Cove in Magnolia. Medicine was his vocation, agriculture his avocation. He was originally headed for “California Gold Country” to utilize those skills and perhaps strike it rich there.

It was during the trip that some important information was passed on to Smith: “The Northern Pacific Railway announced plans to extend to the Puget Sound…”- a highly undeveloped part of the west. Smith did not miss the implication of the potential cash reality of railroads. He seemed to realize this railroad could bring with it great commerce and economic growth. Soon, this most compelling idea was the one that spurred him onward to Seattle.

Smith traveled from Portland to Puget Sound in a small canoe. Some accounts say a gruff friendly pioneer named L. M. Collins told Smith to pack his duds promising “in three day’s time I will land you in the Garden of Eden…” Along the harbor, Smith saw a bay flanked on both sides realizing it had good possibilities for trains and docks. There he staked a donation claim of 160 acres in 1852.

In 1862, Smith married Miss Mary Ann Genevieve Phelan, lived by Grand Boulevard (now West Dravus Street) and 15th Avenue West, established a medical practice and built an infirmary on the side of his home, grew plenty of fruits, vegetables and raising animals.He practiced medicine, farmed, and dealt in commerce, government work, and Republican politics. He was not one to seek the spotlight and worked quietly about his business: “No sir, I never dabbled in politics. It is true I represented King County five different times, and I was the first Superintendent of Schools King County ever had, but I never asked a man to vote for me in my life, and I never sought office. I didn’t like politics and I didn’t like to hold office, but Lord bless us when I found myself at Olympia. I did the best I could…” this account according to writings by his daughter Ione Smith.

As the Smiths prospered, Mary Phalen Smith gave birth to seven daughters and one son. They left Seattle buying and developing Smith Island to the north. He began a series of experiments to reclaim tidelands, as he had read they had done in Holland. Smith published articles on the subject. He also was a published writer whether it was poetry on the beauty of Puget Sound, his interpretation of the most famous Chief Sealth speech, or agricultural practices,. He left a plentiful collection of written work behind when he died—many under the pen name of Paul Garland.

More than 40 years after Smith staked his claim and bought up thousands of more acres in that area, the Seattle, Eastern, Lakeshore Railway Company did reach Seattle and settled in Smith Cove. The railroad and great shipping piers Smith subsequently envisioned became a reality. He sold 9,550 acres of this land for $75,000. Because of his wealth, Smith was the largest taxpayer in King County for years. He was named the first superintendent of schools. He served in the legislature and according to Bagley, “never sought office, never asked for a vote and was never defeated.”

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Famous photo of Smith Cove piers taken from Queen Anne Hill. The mammoth ships Minnesota and Dakota of the Great Northern Steamship Company are docked at Great Northern Piers 38 and 39 (later Piers 88 and 89). A Great Northern Railway train travels full steam ahead from Interbay toward the downtown Seattle waterfront. Photo appears to be a staged image to be used for publicity by J. J. Hill’s Great Northern Steamship Company.
Photo by Asahel Curtis. MOHAI, Joe Williamson Collection, Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, Seattle. Courtesy of John Cox. Circa 1906.

 

In 1880, Mary Phalen died. From then on, Smith took primary care of his children and according to Ione, found this to be a rewarding job. He fit in many hobbies, agricultural mainly, to round out his activities. His house was located at 2827 15th Avenue West. It eventually was sold in a dilapidated and abandoned state nearly 20 years after the Smiths resided there, in a tax sale, for a little more than $1,000.

The Smith house in the 1940's.


The Smith house around the early 1950’s.

The economic depression of 1893 devoured his large land holdings: his city block, island, buildings, and other property. What remained were 10 lots on Queen Anne Hill. He ended up living there. His last orchard, vegetable patch, and flower garden were there. He died in 1915, at age 85, allegedly of influenza. Ione wrote that he seemed to feel that he had not done all that he wanted to do with his life, quoting him as saying, “I would like to live a little longer, there is so much to be learned and I know so little.”

Now…

After many years and through a complicated set of negotiation and sales between the Port, City of Seattle and King County, two large parcels at Smith Cove under and south of the Magnolia Bridge, have been obtained for an expanded waterfront park. The first public meeting on the park design, where folks will be asked to participate in the process of gathering and refining specific park elements, will be held May 13, Wednesday at 7 pm at Magnolia Lutheran Church, 2414 31st Ave W.

Bruce Carter, Chair of Friends of Smith Cove Park (FoSCP), made up of eight members from Magnolia, Queen Anne and Uptown, says they are working hard to create:  “a signature park. That is a significant connector from Seattle’s Downtown waterfront to Ballard and Shilshole Bay focusing on salt-water and small boat activities as well as pedestrian and bicycle paths that connect with existing trails. The park will become a vibrant space utilizing Magnolia’s unique beautiful Smith Cove shoreline for all Seattleites.”

To that end, the committee has hired Berger Partnership, landscape architects to carry out an initial design vision based on actively gathering community input. Carter says, “Berger has experience with large significant shoreline projects of this kind and brings to the table an exciting preliminary understanding, vision and enthusiasm for the kind of park we hope to create with citizens.”

Funding for the park, $6 million according to Carter, has already been guaranteed through the Seattle Parks District levy passed by voters in 2014. In 2016, Seattle Parks is planning to begin building the Park.

 

More on Henry Smith
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Fort Lawton and the Historic District–Constant Controversy and Change

Snapshot in Time

By Monica Wooton, MHS Board Member
Mimi Sheridan, MHS Board Member

Then…

50 years ago – Just as the establishment of Fort Lawton took many years of tug-a-war among  various interests and individual wills, so did  the undoing of it when the property and buildings were  surplused in the 1960’s. This controversy pitted interests against each other about the creation of a Historic District. The proposal to preserve some of the original buildings and grounds was met with anguish by the Friends of Discovery Park and with joy by some city officials and citizens. This debate came on the heels of a long list of other debates regarding private and public interests wanting the land before and after it became Discovery Park.

Drawings of two views of the Fort Lawton Post Exchange and Gymnasium, which was completed in 1905 at a total cost of $20,700. This building, which still stands on the parade grounds, is on the  National Register of Historic Places. Historic American Buildings Survey, Fort Lawton Recording Project, Page 12. 1981.

Drawings of two views of the Fort Lawton Post
Exchange and Gymnasium, which was completed in
1905 at a total cost of $20,700. This building,
which still stands on the parade grounds, is on the
National Register of Historic Places. Historic
American Buildings Survey, Fort Lawton
Recording Project, Page 12. 1981.



The Friends became staunch and unwavering defenders of not allowing this park to become another Central or Stanley Park.  They continually referred  back to the Discovery Park Master Plan that prescribes  that the  park: “…should…provide… open space of quiet and tranquility…a sanctuary…[to] escape the turmoil of the City and enjoy the rejuvenation which quiet and solitude and an intimate contact with nature can bring.”

In 1975, a proposed golf course in the Park was put to a city vote. The Friends made a compelling case against it and citizens agreed. Shortly afterwards, the City proposed that the original Army buildings be preserved in a historic district.

The Friends again contended that to keep and use historic buildings would be a breach of the Park’s Master Plan. Many others wanted to preserve the buildings as a testament to its Colonial Revival architecture and the fort’s place in history. Still, others saw the buildings as a resource for more park opportunities and re-use.

Activist Bob Kildall stated: “It would be very difficult to carry out the master plan if parts of the property are cut up as islands earmarked for other uses…and, if various buildings are used in such a way as to attract larger amounts of traffic into the Park.” Some disagreed. One proposal was for a low-income district for artists who could use the buildings as homes and studios.

 A squad of troops marching past the Post Exchange and Gymnasium  on the Fort Lawton parade ground. These soldiers are wearing the  standard service uniform issued circa 1903. Photo by Asahel Curtis.  Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, Discovery Park Photographic  Archive, Photographer’s File #U-3, a portion of 14734. Circa 1909.


A squad of troops marching past the Post Exchange and Gymnasium
on the Fort Lawton parade ground. These soldiers are wearing the
standard service uniform issued circa 1903. Photo by Asahel Curtis.
Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, Discovery Park Photographic
Archive, Photographer’s File #U-3, a portion of 14734. Circa 1909.



There were more ideas, debates and rebuttals. On December 1, 1975, Herb Robinson on the editorial page of the Seattle Times, called it “the long running ‘battle of Fort Lawton’ an effort that began a decade ago.” Robinson further expressed that the fight was not yet over.

Plans were proposed, studies for re-use were called for. Preservationists wanted to keep and use 24 buildings.  In the meantime, one of the buildings proposed as an environmental learning center burned down under “possibly suspicious circumstances,” according to the Times on May 15, 1983.

The fight went on. On April 29, 1984 Robinson again weighed in:  “…deciding what place, if any, the ancient Fort Lawton buildings have in the Park’s future has been at an impasse for far too long. While the issue was simple enough, its resolution has been stymied by a variety of factors…government bureaucrats, historic preservationists, and park purists…the prolonged pulling and tugging…is typical in the public policy arena these days…too cumbersome, too expensive and too vulnerable to political manipulation…”

But, there was more to the story.  Federal law required that the Army consider impacts on historic buildings when turning over the property.  In 1980, the city had signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) requiring it to “take any action required to prevent further deterioration” of the historic buildings and to enact an ordinance to manage the historic district. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sued to enforce the agreement.  In February 1988, the Federal District Court halted demolition, finding that “irreparable harm would occur if demolition of the historic buildings proceeded and the MOA remained unfulfilled.  (Washington Trust for Historic Preservation v. City of Seattle, No. C87-1506C)

Council members continued to disagree. Councilmember Jim Street argued to save 6 buildings, without uses, while Councilmember Delores Sibonga wanted just 2 saved; but, with uses. On June 14, 1988, the City Council finally voted; and, in the words of a Times article of June 14, 1988: “six historic military buildings surrounding the Fort Lawton parade grounds will stand as empty-silent memorials to the old Army base.”

Now…

The historic buildings have been left to languish unused.  The World War II chapel (added to the district in 2005) needs refurbishing, new paint and landscaping. The other buildings have peeling paint and need repairs.  The recently surplused Officer’s Row and Non-Commissioned Officer’s houses are now also protected by local historic district status, the exteriors are being restored and will be sold to individual private owners, who will be in a homeowner’s association bound by city historic guidelines.

The Post Exchange and Gymnasium building remains today as one of the Fort Lawton Historic District buildings. Photo Monica Wooton 2000

The Post Exchange and Gymnasium building remains today as
one of the Fort Lawton Historic District buildings.
Photo Monica Wooton 2000

 

On Thursday, April 16, the Magnolia Historical Society will hold its Annual meeting with a presentation by historian and preservationist Mimi Sheridan on the history of the Fort and the Historic District. The meeting will be held at 7 PM in the Fireside Room at Magnolia Lutheran Church (2414 31st Avenue West).   THRIVE Communities will also speak about plans for the  privatization, rehabilitation and restoration of Officer’s Row and the Non-Commissioned Officer’s houses in the Historic District.  Sheridan did the excellent program on the history of the Magnolia Boulevard at last year’s annual meeting. This program is free to the public and refreshments will be served.

For more information on the meeting or to buy Magnolia’s award-winning history books which includes the history of the Fort and Discovery Park check out the links above.

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