Sherlock Holmes says, “The wheel turns; nothing is ever new.” Evidence number one: the First Hill streetcar. Its shiny, new set of wheels will soon turn again on the buried bones of the oldest streetcar on Capitol Hill.
If you’re well schooled on Capitol Hill history, you know these origin stories: David Denny began selling and leasing John Nagle‘s property along Broadway in 1880, and James Moore developed the Capitol Hill area near Volunteer Park after 1900. We’re going to talk about the period in between, a piece of early streetcar history that has not been chronicled.
A Ridge Too Far
You may remember our recent article about the Pine Street regrade. Pine Street was part of a “series of radiating regrades [which] carved down and filled in Seattle’s topography.” We all know that the Jackson and Dearborn regrades cut First Hill away from Beacon Hill, and that the Pike, Pine and Olive regrades made some space between First Hill and Capitol Hill. On the back side, the 12th Avenue regrade smoothed out the connection between First Hill and Second Hill (read the 12th Ave Re:Take). Call it 1901 to 1911.
Before all of that civil engineering madness Seattle was Pioneer Square, surrounded by mudflats to the south, a rise culminating in Denny Hill to the north, and a ridge running from Brooklyn (University Bridge) all the way south to Orilla (I-5/405 interchange). Some smart landowners who had visited San Francisco decided to put a cable car up and over First Hill and Second Hill, and down the back side to Lake Washington — the Lake Washington cable car on Yesler Way. 1887.
Next over the ridge was the Madison Street cable car, up over the peak of the hill and again all the way to Lake Washington. 1890.
Investors on James Street decided to try something different. They ran a very short cable car from Pioneer Square just up to Broadway. From there, several small streetcars headed to parks to the north (Broadway) and south (Beacon Hill) on the ridge, as well as out to beaches on Lake Washington (Madrona). They called the system the Union Trunk Line. It was paid for by Seattle investors for the growth of Seattle, and everything down to the wheels was built in Seattle. 1891.
First Car on James St. Line  (Courtesy Seattle Public Library, SHP 5131)
Speaking to its provenance, the University of Washington has a copy the photo that is undated. 1890 is the date on the Seattle Public Library’s torn but higher quality image. They’re only off by a year.
We’re looking at the cable car portion of UTL on James Street. Notice how the ground below it is a wide wood road, and not just rails? The cable ran below that, pulling the car up towards the powerhouse at Broadway.
The James cable was built from January to May 1891. A photo of this same car — #12 Spokane — just a few feet up the road with all of the same passengers in the same attire was printed in the October, 1891 edition of Street Railway Review. Definitely 1891.
Besides the streetcar, two buildings are visible in this scene at the intersection of James and Broadway.
Up on the right is the old powerhouse, which was destroyed in 1960 to create James Way, the curved connection between Broadway and 12th. You can step on over to Central District News to read an installment of CD Rewind about that. So we can skip that topic.
On the left is Castlemount, one of the few named homes in Seattle’s history. It was the first mansion on First Hill, in a peaceful setting that was pretty much ruined by the construction of the junction of Union Trunk Line’s branches. Paul Dorpat already covered the house and it’s owner, G. O. Haller in Now & Then Vol. 2, and has posted it to HistoryLink. So we can skip that topic, too.
James Street Powerhouse in 1960 (SMA, 63703)
The Broadway Branch
Let’s focus on Broadway.
We care about the north spur of the Union Trunk Line. Called the Broadway branch or Broadway line, it ran to City Park and the Masonic cemetery. You know them as Volunteer Park and Lake View Cemetery (discussed in this Re:Take). The streetcar ended at Lynn Street — then known as Havens — at the northern boundary of the City of Seattle.
Capitol Hill was hardly settled at all, and more than a decade away from being called “Capitol Hill.” In the 1890 directory, the Masonic cemetery is simply described as “East side Lake Union near north end Broadway.” And it was still half-wild, as the Street Railway Review illustrates:
A workman who, on 7th of August 1891, was building a small waiting station half way down the line, was chased by a bear that came out of the woods. (October, 1891 p443)
A 1954 Seattle Times article even related the tale that the conductors carried rifles to protect themselves from cougars.
Union Trunk Line had a vision to change that sylvan image. Today the city is building a separated bikeway on Broadway. UTL wanted something much more dramatic, a streetcar boulevard:
The Trunk Line company will not merely build a street railway along Broadway, but will improve that thoroughfare so as to make a splendid boulevard of it, and cause it to become the favorite drive of the city. [To the northern terminus,] the car tracks will occupy fourteen feet between the outside tracks [in the center of the street]. Beyond these… the company will plant shade trees on each side. Beyond these again will be [roadways] twenty-seven feet wide, with broad sidewalks bounding them on the outer side. (Seattle PI, 8/25/1890)
It’s not clear how much of the boulevard was actually built. But the article goes on to describe ornate brackets planned for the electric poles. You can see that they were actually installed: one of them is in the center of our picture, with “UTL” monogramm
ed on each side.
Although David Denny had been busy leasing and then selling John Nagle’s land along Broadway, there is little available evidence of any sort of community on Capitol Hill before the Union Trunk Line opened access.
I’ll Have My Name in Lights
James D. Lowman (Wikimedia)
There was a long list of men involved in the financing, construction and operation of the Union Trunk Line. Reviewing the Articles of Incorporation, the city franchise agreement, newspaper articles, and other sources reveals a confusing array which makes you wonder who was really running the show. The Street Railway Review helpfully focuses on the officers: E. F. Wittler, president; James D. Lowman, secretary and manager; Joseph F. McNaught, vp; R. R. Spencer, treasurer.
Lowman was a nephew of Henry Yesler, and managed his affairs after 1886. This included a large property north of Roy Street along Broadway. Lowman and Yesler are also listed along with McNaught and Leigh S. J. Hunt as the four men who wrote loans to the Union Trunk Line to subsidize the creation of the Broadway branch.
McNaught was a successful lawyer who was even more successful in real estate. Outside of his Seattle investments, he created the city of Anacortes and built and sold wheat farms on the Palouse.
Hunt was the owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and later got rich (again) with a literal gold mine in Korea. While living in Germany he decided to get involved in large-scale cotton farming in Egypt. He made headlines by falsely claiming that Booker T. Washington was going to help settle workers with a “back to Africa” campaign.
While we’re on the subject of restless men with kooky stories, it would be a shame to not mention Ernest Hussey. Hussey was a consulting engineer in Seattle, who took the job of General Superintendent of the Union Trunk Line in 1892 when Andrew Jackson moved on. Hussey was born in 1865 on his father’s merchant sailing ship off the mouth of the Saigon River in French Indochina. At the age of three he was shipwrecked with his father for six months in Brazil after their ship burned at sea. He spent his formative years in Yokohama, Japan and left for Boston a couple of years after the Satsuma Rebellion. In Massachusetts he apprenticed under several civil engineers, learning his trade on the job.
All of these men were Seattle pioneers™. Through their investment and efforts, Broadway steadily developed and grew. In 1893’s financial panic, though, many of them lost their Union Trunk Line holdings along with their fortunes. One of the men waiting to profit from their loss was Marcellus Harwood Young.
Young Man, ‘Cuz You’re In a New Town
M. H. Young visited Seattle in 1889, probably just after the Great Fire. He returned to Massachusetts and formed the New England Northwestern Investment Company. This poorly-understood corporation was formed by a group of Massachusetts men to make money in Seattle during the rebuilding and expansion after the Great Fire. Young moved from Boston in January of 1890 to manage it directly.
His name does not appear in any known document from the creation of the Union Trunk Line. Suddenly, though, in 1893 he became president, taking that spot from Wittler. One clue is a 1907 lawsuit, which described him as the holder of Henry Yesler’s loan to the Union Trunk Line, and explained that Lowman had sold much of Yesler’s real estate holdings under financial pressure. Possibly Young acquired other control of UTL and stepped in to lead the company during the financial collapse.
In 1899, UTL was one of the first companies to sell out to Seattle Electric Company. Jacob Furth methodically purchased every streetcar in Seattle for the national power and rail conglomerate Stone & Webster. UTL was one of only two SEC acquisitions to never enter bankruptcy, a testament to Young’s leadership.
Young stayed as one of the executives at SEC, and oversaw the rebuilding and partial dismantling of UTL. The rails were upgraded, and new cars put into service. SEC took advantage of the municipal regrade of Pike Street to run rails directly from downtown, up Pike and north on Broadway, alleviating the need for a transfer at the top of the James Cable. This discontinued streetcar service from James to Pike, commencing a century-long gap in rail connection between the two hills.
The city bought out SEC in 1919, and streetcars disappeared from Broadway entirely in 1940. But let’s save the Pike-Broadway streetcar story for another day.
Viking Ship Burial
When he first came to Seattle, Young lived on Second Hill at the corner of 17th and Spruce. In about 1894 he moved to Beacon Hill, at the corner of 13th S and Judkins. That’s now just south of PacMed.
His daughter Josephine Young married Thomas Fransioli in 1901. They lived in a couple of apartments and then built a house in the north Broadway neighborhood (now Harvard-Belmont) when their first child was born. The birth of their second, Thomas, Jr., spurred them to hire a nanny and maid. They were living every young mom and dad’s dream.
It got even better. In 1909, Grandfather Young gave up on Beacon Hill. Maybe he wanted to spend more time with his grand kids now that he was retired. Maybe his old house was inaccessible after the destruction of the ridge to Beacon Hill during the Dearborn and Jackson regrades. Whatever the cause, he built a mansion a block away from his daughter at Broadway and Prospect. It’s condominiums now. It’s also on page 146 of Classic Houses of Seattle, written by Seattle Central’s Caroline Swope.
Soon after moving to North Broadway Young crossed paths with Joseph Glasgow, a character from the very first CHS Re:Take, Hidden Stories of Love. In Bagley’s History of Seattle, the pinnacle of Glasgow’s career is described as the defense of one Peter Miller. Miller had been convicted of burglaries and murder in and around Seattle and Tacoma. Glasgow had all of the convictions overturned, arguing that Miller had confessed under duress.
One of the h
omes burgled was Young’s brand new mansion in June of 1909, during the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. It was the first of Miller’s crimes that resulted in conviction.
Sadly, M. H. Young did not live to see Miller convicted of the burglary for the second time. Young died in January, 1913, and Miller was reconvicted in September, 1913.
But Young died in marvelous fashion. Here was a man that led the Union Trunk Line for almost a decade, and himself lived on and commuted on the line for his entire time in Seattle. Even if he wasn’t involved in its construction, he was pivotal to its success. So it is poetic the way that Young died.
He spent the evening with his daughter Josephine Fransioli, playing cards at the home of his friend Howard Thomas at Broadway and Columbia. Around midnight they walked to Pike and boarded the streetcar for the ride home. He and Josephine chatted idly. Suddenly Young gasped and leaned back in his seat. He was dead almost immediately of a heart attack.
Addendum: He Did What?
M. H. Young is best remembered for coining the name of Beacon Hill. Supposedly. But, where’s the evidence? Here’s a typical citation on the Internet, from the city’s page for Beacon Hill Park:
M.H. Young, who developed a street car line to Beacon Hill in 1895, suggested the name for the hill–and thus the playground–after Beacon Hill in his native Boston, Massachusetts.
We already know the streetcar was built in 1891, not 1895. The quote comes straight from the usually-reliable Don Sherwood park history file, so I don’t blame the city. But did Young really name Beacon Hill?
Here’s what HistoryLink has to say:
Union Army veteran and real estate developer M. Harwood Young (1846-1913) named the hill in 1889 for Boston’s historic Beacon Hill and built a streetcar line connecting the neighborhood to downtown.
The Don Sherwood document listed is a source for the article. The only other trustworthy source is Clarence Bagley. In 1916’s History of Seattle, Bagley erroneously listed M. H. Young as one of the founders of the Union Trunk Line. Bagley said, “On November 10, 1891, the Union Trunk Line was organized by J. D. Lowman, M. H. Young, E. H. Wittler and associates.” The date is wrong. Wittler and Lowman along with a host of other important Seattle men funded, built and operated the Trunk Line. But, Young doesn’t enter the UTL paper trail until 1893. So we can’t trust Bagley. M. H. Young did not build a streetcar line connecting Beacon Hill to downtown. But did he really name Beacon Hill?
The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Beacon Hill Historic Context Statement puts it this way:
M. Harwood Young, a Union Army veteran and representative of New England and Northwest Investment Company of Boston, moved to the Beacon Hill area in 1889. Young came to Seattle as an investor with an interest in building Seattle’s streetcar system. Mr. Young gave Beacon Hill its name.
In his obituary in 1913, his family says he moved to Seattle in 1890. Various histories of Seattle say that he moved here in January, 1890. He didn’t move to Beacon Hill until about 1894. The name of the company he represented in Seattle was New England Northwestern Investment Company, not that variant. It’s strange that in a citation-heavy document, no source is listed for information about Young. This is extremely suspect. But did he name Beacon Hill?
You Have No Reason to Believe
There’s one possibility. NENIC could have owned a chunk of property on Beacon Hill, and subsidized the south extension on Broadway. But where is the evidence? Someone on Beacon Hill needs to stop freakin’ and figure out who really named Beacon Hill and why.
There should be an easy paper trail if it was Young. During 1889 or 1890 he would have needed to make a major marketing splash with a large real estate development. Otherwise, why would they put “Beacon Hill” on the front of the Union Trunk Line streetcars in 1891?
At least up here we have a healthy debate about the origin of Capitol Hill. We know it was Moore, we know he was talking about having the state capitol here, and only wonder if he was sincere about that. Down on Beacon Hill they settle for tacit acceptance of a hole-ridden story.
What is completely clear and certainly not up for debate is that the Union Trunk Line was pivotal in developing Broadway from Volunteer Park to First Hill — as well as developing north Beacon Hill and Madrona. In 1891 these far-flung pastures and woods were suddenly directly connected to the heart of the city.
It was the birth of the neighborhoods we know and love.
Special thanks to Richard Wilkens for sharing UTL documents. Also to the rest of the nascent Seattle Street Railway Historical Society (email firstname.lastname@example.org for meeting info). Thanks to Dotty Decoster for spotting the historic photo. And of course SPL and SMA.
In case you missed them, here are the last few Re:Takes on CHS:
- Why Capitol Hill’s Bauhaus block matters
- The Carroll, the girls, and the dirt — Naming an unnamed Capitol Hill alley
- Undermining the Republican Senator from Melrose
Local history expert Rob Ketcherside shares his vision of the past and present with his Re:Take series of works on CHS and other Seattle sites.