Digging Up the Past: Magnolia’s Old and Brand New Archeological Finds

Snapshot in Time

By Monica Wooton
Interim President Magnolia Historical Society

Then: 23 years ago – According to Dale Forbus Hogle in the book Magnolia: Making More Memories, in her chapter “The West Point Dig: A Legacy”: “Today’s peaceful appearance and seemingly unchanged shape of the sand spit we call West Point was not always so. Steep bluffs and narrow fjord-like passages left by melting Ice Age glaciers afforded no beaches. Condors soared overhead. Sea and land were racked by furious winds, earthquakes, landslides, and tidal waves. The sea rose and fell. Then, about 5,000 years ago, the sea level stabilized and a beach was formed.

“The beach offered shellfish in abundance. The sea was filled with marine life of great variety. The uplands above the cliffs that bordered the beach teemed with wildlife. Douglas fir, red cedar, hemlock, and alder rose high above the beach, sheltering birds and mammals. Oceanspray, huckleberry, blackberry, and fern grew thickly under the trees. The stage was set for human habitation. Over 4,000 years ago, humans began to inhabit this idyllic location below the cliffs.”

Forbus Hogle then outlines in great and interesting detail the archeological dig that occurred on Magnolia as a result of an accidental discovery during the expansion of the West Point treatment plant in 1992: “West Point’s archaeological site was a landmark discovery. Cultural material was identified in 17 locations throughout the Metro project area at elevations between 2.8 meters below and 2.07 meters above sea level. No other site in middle or south Puget Sound had yielded such old material…For archaeologists, it was an exciting event.”

Leonard Forsman, right, a young man at the time (and, in later years to become the Chief of the Suquamish tribe) and a fellow worker examining a section of the 1992 dig site at West Point. Courtesy of King County. Collection held in trust at the Burke Museum, Seattle. 1992.

Leonard Forsman, right, a young man at the time (and, in later years to become the Chief of the Suquamish tribe) and a fellow worker examining a section of the 1992 dig site at West Point.
Courtesy of King County.
Collection held in trust at the Burke Museum, Seattle. 1992.

This dig which uncovered prehistoric finds established that Native People’s had hunted and gathered seasonally establishing a timeline of occupancy and record of artifacts of a living style of Native People 4000 years ago at on Magnolia’s West Point beach…Original artifacts are now in the permanent collection of the Burke. The news of this landmark find spread in the academic field and it was considered the dig of the decade. Subsequently, teaching kits were made for use at the Burke and Discovery Park so the public could learn the facts of this astonishing find. The Burke also has created an educational, award-winning website at www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/westpoint/ that tells the story of West Point’s archaeology.

According to Forbus Hogle: “The enormity and variety of material collected during the archaeological excavations included 8,000 pieces of fire modified rock weighing a total of 1.2 metric tons; 27 decorated artifacts comprised of labrets (lip plugs), bracelet fragments, pendants, a blanket pin, gaming pieces, and beads of ground stone, wood, and shell; and 121 bone and antler artifacts, with adzes, awls, bipoints, chisels, fleshers, needles, a net gauge, and rodent incisors representing numerous activities.”

Crew members are sluicing extraneous material to expose artifacts. Stacked boxes with varying sizes of mesh sort artifacts. Courtesy of King County. Collection held in trust at the Burke Museum, Seattle. 1992.

Crew members are sluicing extraneous material to expose artifacts. Stacked boxes with varying sizes of mesh sort artifacts.
Courtesy of King County.
Collection held in trust at the Burke Museum, Seattle. 1992.


Now: It is little known that on August 8, 2014 there was a new archeological historic find on Magnolia of an early 20th century shanty town called Finntown at Smith Cove, the area first settled by Magnolia’s first Euro pioneer Dr. Henry Smith. This is one of a few temporary housing sites that sprung up during Depression times. There seems to have been several of these small communities scattered near Magnolia, mainly in Interbay, according to Mimi Sheridan, local historian. Excavation on Magnolia at Smith Cove is being done by King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) as part of installing a waste water overflow system.

In a news release done especially for this article by King County WTD, we learned :

  • “The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) required WTD to identify and assess potential effects of the project on any historic resources and archaeological sites. The NHPA is a federal law outlining responsibilities for governments to preserve our nation’s heritage.
  • “Upon discovery of the historic site, WTD worked with Ecology, DAHP, and tribes to developing plans to determine the boundaries of the site and recover the artifacts.  Between August 12 and August 15, Environmental Science Associates (ESA) conducted field work to determine the boundaries of the historical site and recover the artifacts.  Artifact recovery continued into early September.
  • “Two types of artifacts recovered indicate a Native American presence: a chisel or wedge, constructed from the femur of a large animal; pieces of historic glass that appear to have been intentionally flaked (creating small glass tools).
  • “The site appears to be the remains of a multi-ethnic, transient, low-income neighborhood located on the tide flats of Smith Cove, circa 1920-1930s. Over 2,400 artifacts were recovered from the site and inventoried by ESA staff, including a large number of alcohol and other beverage bottles from this Prohibition-era site.
  • “Other artifacts suggest the presence of Japanese, Chinese, and Euro-Americans. Notable artifacts include a Chinese coin from the Qing (Ch’ing ) Dynasty, dating between 1644 and 1911; a toy fork, suggesting the presence of children; and a Nippon beer bottle, manufactured between 1921 and 1933.”

The dig is not yet complete, there is still excavation going on at 32nd Avenue West that, according Monica Van der Vieren, the project manager for King County WTD on this project, could potentially uncover more historic artifacts or even some prehistoric finds evidencing Native People in that area possibly because of the existence of the fresh water source Wolf(e) Creek being there.

There will be an official archeological report. Artifacts need to go through a long process of verification and then eventual assessing to the Burke Museum. According to Van der Vieren, there will be a community meeting about the dig and the findings sometime in the future.

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

Snapshot in Time

Monica Wooton
Magnolia Historical Society Board Member

Over 150 years ago…


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.”


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.”


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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