CHS Re:Take | Electric cars to Capitol Hill, 1901 — waiting just a little longer for the FH Streetcar

Looking south on 15th Ave East from Mercer Street. Old photo from Washington State Archives, Metro collection, LS0018.

Looking south on 15th Ave East from Mercer Street. Old photo from Washington State Archives, Metro collection, LS0018. I think it’s 1913.

Last month I threw down the gauntlet: a new chapter in the history of neighborhood streetcar service each month until the First Hill streetcar opens. This is month number two. Will we make it to three?

This month, we’re looking at a legit Capitol Hill streetcar: the destination placard actually says Capitol Hill on it. This line to James Moore’s new neighborhood opened on November 17, 1901. There was service on Broadway a decade earlier (read the Re:Take about it here), but Capitol Hill didn’t exist yet (read the Re:Take about it here) and it was one of many independently operated routes in the city. In 1899 and 1900 Seattle Electric Company took control of almost every line, and the Capitol Hill line became one of their first newly constructed streetcars.

Moore described service in a big advertisement before opening day, “The new line opens tomorrow morning for the special accommodation of the best residence district in Seattle”. Initially it started at the bottom of Second Avenue and traveled up to Pike Street, then on Pike to Fifteenth, and Fifteenth to Volunteer Park (then City Park). Cars ran every 12 minutes each way, only taking a break from just after midnight to 6 a.m. Later the cars were switched to Pine Street, the same route that Metro’s #10 trolley bus takes today.

My notes say that the archive has this photo dated as 1923, but I’m going to assume I failed to transcribe that correctly. It matches photos taken in 1913 of other parts of the SEC system. And look at those horses and that rickety car. They don’t say 1923 to me. 1913 isn’t too late for a scene like this.

1913 also isn’t too early. The Fredonia Apartments — home to Canterbury Ale House — dates from 1907. Also per the oracle of Seattle streetcar history, Seattle’s Street Railway Era, streetcar #286 which appears here was purchased in 1907 from the St. Louis Car Company. (Side note: I found the records of the company at Washington University in STL. There are folders with records of six purchases by SEC and later Seattle Muni Railway. Anyone want to sponsor the next Re:Take and pay to get these scanned, and for photo publication online?)

Moreover, the block is completely built out. Of the next three maps — 1905, 1908, 1912 — it is closest to 1912.

15th Ave E from Republican to Mercer, from the 1904 Sanborn fire insurance map.

15th Ave E from Republican to Mercer, from the 1904 Sanborn fire insurance map.

15th Ave E from Republican to Mercer, from the 1905 Baist fire insurance map.

15th Ave E from Republican to Mercer, from the 1905 Baist fire insurance map. The red square is drawn in to show where the Fredonia was constructed in 1907, replacing an earlier house.

15th Ave E from Republican to Mercer, from the 1912 Baist fire insurance map.

15th Ave E from Republican to Mercer, from the 1912 Baist fire insurance map. Every lot is filled along 15th, which is what our photo looks like.

In the distance, just left of the streetcar is a white commercial building. It’s not present on the 1905 map. By 1913 it was home to Capitol Hill’s branch of Seattle’s high-end grocer Augustine & Kyer. (This building and the grocer were profiled in a Re:Take back at the start of the year.)

The only building that remains from the 1913 photo is the Fredonia. But tucked around the corner out of site is 524 15th Ave E, already present in the 1904 map.

522/524 15th Ave East, which seems to be a bit older than the 1905 date in its property record file. Currently home to restaurant The Patio (Photo Rob Ketcherside)

Those two buildings are all that remain from the hundred-year-ago scene. Of course the streetcar is another of the things that are gone. In August of 1940, the line was scrapped and replaced with “trackless trolley” buses. For just over a month, motor coaches were used while the tracks were demolished and trolley buses put in place. For 75 years since then, trolley buses have carried passengers from Volunteer Park to downtown Seattle.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

6 thoughts on “CHS Re:Take | Electric cars to Capitol Hill, 1901 — waiting just a little longer for the FH Streetcar

    • There are definitely photos of people who showed up to remember the last day of service of various lines. The papers were filled with fond thoughts and sad outlooks by riders and drivers.

      I can’t think of any photos of people celebrating as in “thank goodness they’re gone”.