The City Lends a Hand: Bridges and Roads

1894 petition
Petition, 1894
General File 991780, Seattle Municipal Archives

Seattle taxpayers petitioned for a canal between Lake Washington and Lake Union as early as the 1890s, arguing that a canal would reduce flooding further south.

When the Government Locks project (as the Lake Washington Ship Canal project was originally known) began years later, it was supported by federal funding. Parallel work was required by the City of Seattle to support increased traffic, both on land and on the water. This included included roads and bridges. With the growth of the areas north of the Ship Canal, the City worked to provide grading and re-grading, curbing, planking and re-planking, paving and re-paving, sewers, water mains and water services, fire protection, concrete and wooden walks, and drainage.

Regrade of Shilshole Avenue
Regrading Shilshole Avenue, June 26, 1914
Image 245, Seattle Municipal Archives

The construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal project raised the water level of Salmon Bay, previously a tidal inlet, by nine feet. City Engineer A.H. Dimock proposed using waste material from the canal dredging to fill in properties, particularly the sawmills, and bring them to elevation with the forthcoming canal. In a letter dated February 1912, Dimock proposed to "construct a bulkhead along the canal to be paid by assessment upon the property protected by the bulkhead." Dimock also proposed to have the fill deposited behind the bulkhead to help fill streets, but the contractor, Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging, did not deem that feasible. They stated, "material taken from the Waterway could not be made to stay in the narrow street fills at any reasonable cost; and further that we would subject to innumerable damage suits due to flooding property with water and dirt."

Latona Bridge
Latona drawbridge looking north from
Fuhman Avenue, July 26, 1919
Image 12669, Seattle Municipal Archives

In November 1912, Ordinance 30389 was passed establishing Local Improvement District (LID) #2601. This allowed the City to assess the property owners for the cost of the street grading and creation of the bulkhead. The bidding process for the work was opened by the City and twice there were no bids. Ultimately, the firm Holt & Jeffery bid on the project and were hired as the contractors for $186,477.40.

Fremont Bridge plans
Fremont Bridge plans, 1914
Image 165, Seattle Municipal Archives

Bridges and pedestrian footpaths spanned the narrow canal prior to the federal project. But with the much wider and deeper Ship Canal being cut, bridges would not only have to accommodate the passage of large boats but also dredging equipment. Local funds were needed, with municipal bonds as the primary funding mechanism. After a failed attempt in 1913, voters approved bonds for two bridges in 1914: the Ballard Bridge along 15th Avenue W. and the Fremont Bridge. A "simple trunnion bascule" bridge was approved for both as it had less complicated patents and was more economical, reliable, and efficient than other types. Construction began in 1915; the Ballard Bridge opened in 1916 and the Fremont Bridge in June 1917, three weeks before the formal dedication of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Montlake Bridge
Montlake Bridge, 1928
Image 3112, Seattle Municipal Archives

During the construction of the Fremont Bridge, the Latona Bridge was used. The Latona bridge was replaced by the University Bridge in 1919. The Montlake Bridge, originally a makeshift walkway, was opened in 1925 and is now a City of Seattle Designated Landmark.

The City also needed to provide water utilities to Fremont and Ballard. In 1913, funds were appropriated for a tunnel to carry water at Latona; work was completed in October 1916 for what was known as the Lake Union Tunnel. The engineers predicted "this structure will...probably be ample for the needs of the section lying north of the Lake Washington Canal for all time."

Court map
Bolcom Mills Inc., et al
vs City of Seattle, 1917
Volume 32, p. 10B, Law Department
Supreme Court Briefs (Record Series
4404-01), Seattle Municipal Archives

Leary Way was filled and planked in 1914 and Stone Way in 1915. The City engineers predicted that Stone Way would become "the great central artery of the city." After the opening of the Ship Canal, the engineers continued, the town of Renton would be "a great industrial center, as it will have a large area of level land, and will be provided with both rail and water connections and has several coal mines located at its very doors."

After completion of the Ship Canal, some pursued compensation in the courts for property flooded by the construction and affected by the grading of Shilshole and Leary. Additional property holders pursued adjustments to their assessments for sewer projects. Sawmills were among the property owners seeking compensation, including Bolcom and Stimson.


Seattle Engineering Department Annual Reports (Record Series 1802-G2), Seattle Municipal Archives

Seattle Engineering Department Unrecorded Subject Files (Record Series 2602-02), Folders 895-896, Seattle Municipal Archives

Law Department Supreme Court Briefs (Record Series 4404-01), Volume 32, Seattle Municipal Archives

Phelps, Myra L. Public Works in Seattle: A Narrative History, The Engineering Department, 1875-1975. Seattle, WA: Kingsport Press, 1978.

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.