Seattle Early History

Seattle Early History

The Denny party’s original site was an unfinished cabin located at Alki Point, in what is now West Seattle. The Collins party settlement was improved with permanent structures and they began selling produce and meat. In April of 1852, Arthur A. Denny abandoned the original site at Alki in favor of a better protected area on Elliott Bay that is now part of downtown Seattle. Since they had no engineers or city planners in the group, they failed to consider the tides of the Puget Sound, and the city would regularly flood.

Seattle circa 1850’s
Arthur A. Denny party

Great Seattle Fire, June 6, 1889

Cabinetmaker Jonathan Edward Black, an employee in Victor Clairmont’s woodworking shop, left glue heating over a fire. The glue boiled over and caught fire, then spread to the floor which was covered in oil and wood. John disastrously tried to put out the oil fire with water.

Dense black smoke made it impossible for the firemen to trace the source of the fire. Coincidentally, the fire chief was out of town that day, and the all-volunteer fire department ran too many firehoses at once, causing the water pressure to drop completely.

During the fire, the Dietz & Mayer Liquor Store violently exploded, causing the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Opera House Saloon to engulf in flames. The massive amount of alcohol fed the blaze and soon the entire block from Madison to Marion was on fire.

The fire blazed until 3 am, destroying everything in its path. After the damage was done, over twenty five city blocks were destroyed. The losses were estimated to be over eight million dollars, and almost all of downtown Seattle was obliterated.

After the Seattle Fire, city officials decided to build a man-made hill over the old city, creating a new downtown core above the old one. This decision was based on a desire to alleviate the flooding caused by the tides. During the construction, business owners kept their doors open under the hill and, for a time, there were two cities in downtown Seattle: the upper downtown core and the Seattle Underground.

Great Seattle Fire of 1889

The Seattle Underground

Rickety ladders were set up to transport people into the underground area, causing some people to tragically fall to their deaths. The Underground stayed open to the public until 1907 when an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague hit the city. Since the Underground was filled with rats and vermin, fear of the plague motivated the city leaders to officially close the Underground off to the public. Despite the mandate, criminals and prostitutes set up shop in the dark tunnels, and the Seattle Underground became a bastion of criminal activity.


In 1965, newspaper reporter Bill Speidel started a campaign to preserve Pioneer Square and partially restored the Seattle Underground. He soon started giving tours of the Seattle Underground, and “Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour” was born. The popular tourist activity continues to this day.

By 1932, the Seattle criminal element was running the Seattle Underground. The close proximity to the docks made the area perfect for bootleggers and illegal smuggling. Speakeasies, opium dens, and brothels also thrived.

This is the setting for Tales of the Queen City!!