Monday, April 2, 2012

Tracing Seattle History: Alki Roots

Monument marking where the Denny Party landed on Alki Beach in 1851.
A mere 150 years ago, present-day metropolitan Seattle was full of abundant old growth forests, long-gone marshes, and just a handful of European-American settlers.  My how things have changed around here.

Today my oldest sister has organized a field trip to visit sites integral to our family's, and Seattle's, history. While the weather is rain and chilly, on a sunny day this would be a fun trip for anyone with an interest in history. 

Called the birthplace of Seattle, the low-lying Alki Point area of West Seattle was where my great-great grandfather Hans Martin Hanson arrived in 1868 and settled, 17 years after the first group of settlers (the Denny Party) landed on Alki Beach. Of course when the Euro-Americans arrived, the area was already inhabited by the local Duwamish people, who had been here for thousands of years.

Although the Hanson family owned 320 acres that encompassed Alki Point for many years, alas, this prime real estate that today is packed with beachfront condos and pricey craftsman homes is no longer in the family.

Alki Point Lighthouse, past and present.
 We start at the Alki Point Lighthouse, which is not open to the public today. Too early in the season.  The historic lighthouse, built in 1913, sits at the westernmost point of West Seattle and the southern entrance to Elliott Bay.  Before the lighthouse was built, my great-great gramps and his family regularly put a lantern out on the point at night as a service to passing ships.

Next we stop in front of the oldest house in Seattle at 3045 64th Avenue SW, a few blocks from Alki Point and half a block from Alki Beach. You wouldn't know it by the exterior, however, because it has been renovated and is a nondescript private residence. Yea, my Hanson ancestors lived here early on too.

Before breaking for lunch at Cactus we walk around the monument pictured above, where the Denny Party landed on the beach on a dreary November day (just like today) in 1851.

Cactus is across the street from the beach and the site of the former Stockade Hotel, which was owned and run by my great-grandfather and grandmother in the early twentieth century. I'm sure the excellent Southwestern-style cuisine at Cactus is a far cry from what they served at the Stockade. Everything we order is wonderful, including my brother-in-law's huevos rancheros, the mushroom quesadilla my sister orders, and my Southwestern Caesar salad, sprinkled with black beans and corn and topped with grilled wild Mexican prawns. And the green chile biscuits truly melt in my mouth.

Cactus's goat cheese and mushroom quesadilla with guacamole

Our last stop is the Log House Museum a block inland, operated by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. They call the museum a local gem in West Seattle, and the building is indeed a beautifully restored 1904 log building surrounded by a Northwest native plant garden. Friendly museum manager Sarah Frederick tells us the building was a carriage house for the old Fir Lodge, which later operated as the Homestead Restaurant (now closed).

I really do feel briefly transported back to another time in this log structure so unlike most houses and buildings throughout Seattle today. There's an eclectic mix of memorabilia, including a Seafair pirate costume, a few priceless small baskets woven by  local tribal members, a replica of the vessel Dix that sank in Elliott Bay (Puget Sound's worst maritime disaster), some pieces from the Stockade Hotel, and more.  There are also many historical photographs and information for research purposes. And a cool little gift shop where I purchased a great T-shirt.

We continued on to other parts of the city, but this Alki segment was a nice little two-hour chunk of time that would be educational for kids as well.

How about you? Do you have any connections to Seattle's recent or historical past?

When You Go
Here's a map of the Alki Point area, with the museum indicated. The Log House Museum requests a small donation of $4. The Alki Point Lighthouse and tower is open on Saturdays and Sundays from June to August from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, call (206) 841-3519. Because traffic and parking can be difficult along the Alki waterfront on nice summer weekend days, I suggest taking your bicycle  or walking between these points rather than driving.

 Also of note:  Alki, commonly pronounced Alk-eye, was originally pronounced Alkee, which is Chinook for "bye and bye." The switch was made during the 1930s, but apparently the West Seattle schools are now teaching the correct pronunciation in local grade schools. Our family always used the original pronunciation.


Anne said...

Here is where the word “Alki” comes from. The landing party named their new settlement New York and almost immediately realized that it wasn’t going to happen soon….so they called it New York Alki (bye and bye).

I like the post! Great photos too.

Big sis

TC said...

Really interesting, very impressive Seattle lineage, right up there with the first folks! I like how you combined history with a little lunch review too!

martha said...

Seattle deserves credit for preserving her history. And you get kudos fcr combining her history with the family history.
And can you tell me is Elliot Bay named for one of our ancesotrs? Just curious.

Lindsey said...

Love that our fam has such close ties here. I would never want to be anywhere else :)

And man that lunch looks yummy. I have to admit that is what I looked at the most, heh heh.

Anne said...

Elliott Bay is not named after us, that was from the Bowman side and they came I think in the 1890s. However, Our Smith great-great grandfather, who came a year later in 1869 and did not settle at Alki, had a brother who had visited what is now Elliott Bay in 1825, long before the first white settlement. Per family legend he had a vision of a great metropolis springing up there.

Log House Museum said...

Great post Jill! So glad your family enjoyed their visit. One small correction though, the Log House Museum was the carriage house for the Fir Lodge (later known as the Alki Auto and Driving Club, now known as the Homestead Restaurant), not the Stockade Hotel.

jill said...

Thanks for the correction Sarah, I've revised the post accordingly!

martha said...

Thanks. Great-great grandfather Smith's brother (great-great-uncle perhaps?) was quite the visionary.
I always learn from this wonderful journal.
love, m

Greg Smith said...

Hi Jill HMH was also my great great grandfather. Nice post!

Phillip Hoffman said...

Jill: You might want to read my recently completed research paper on the final days of Alki in the hands of the Hanson-Olson families entitled "Game Today! At Alki Point Ball Grounds on the Alki History Project web site ( Your great great great great uncle (Edmund) and aunt (Daisy) have a staring roles. The research paper can be found at:

Other research papers are on the web at:

The paper "Navigate To The Town of Alki" at: might also be of interest to you in that it deals with the days after landing of the Lows and Terrys on Alki (1853) and the Charles Terry's abandonment of Alki in 1855.

jill said...

Phillip, thank you so much for the link and information! I've heard some family stories but not that many. What inspired you to do this research? Are we related too?