I dug a bit in Archive.org’s Wayback Machine and was surprised to find that CHS started in January 2006 as a Blogspot. That first recording captured a microcosm of Justin’s neighborhood writing: a hair salon review, a couple of restaurant reviews, a warning of an upcoming moth spray, and a lamentation on the loss of an old, dependable haunt. As you know, this was a formula that he looped through a few hundred thousand times over the next 11 years.
While Justin was developing CHS from a hobby blog into a life-sucking addiction, geologist David B. Williams was basking in the afterglow of the publication of his first book about Seattle: 2005’s The Street-Smart Naturalist.
One reader of the book let it all hang out in a brief Seattle Public Library review of Street-Smart Naturalist: “Everyone in Seattle should read this engaging and insightful book about how nature and the wild still exist within city limits, and that we are part of it.”
I second the recommendation, but I’ll strip away the book jacket and show you the salient bits. Capitol Hill made two appearances in Street-Smart Naturalist. First was a short piece about the several hundred year-old Garry oak tree at Oak Manor on Belmont Ave and Belmont Place. Then in the chapter The Hills Williams rightly questioned whether it’s appropriate to call the long form of Capitol Hill a hill at all.
“I want[ed] to see evidence of the great sheet of ice that covered the Seattle area between 15,000 and 13,650 years ago, the last of at least six periods of glaciation over the last two million years… I have, indeed, been misled as a youth, mostly because from a physiographic point of view the term hill is an overstatement for some of the fabled septet [of Seattle’s hills]… [Seattle is a] rasping path of the glacier… trending like a needle on the compass. I could now see that Renton [Hill, aka Second or Cherry Hill] connects with Capitol Hill… and that if not for Thomson’s gouging at Dearborn, Beacon would connect with First, too.” (Street-Smart Naturalist pp 142, 152.)
Really Capitol Hill is part of a ridge cut off on the north by Lake Union at the University Bridge and on the south by the Duwamish at the south end of Boeing Field. That’s shocking the first time you realize it. In this cloud-based, digital world of massive multi-players it’s very surprising to discover that physical movement in your city is forced into north-south patterns by geologic activity thousands of years ago.Like Justin’s calling-card articles on new places to eat, drink and shop, David Williams has gone back to the well many times and has repeatedly used the natural world to explain our built city. He’s done it in articles on his own website geologywriter.com, during talks, on walking tours, and in several books: 2009’s Stories in Stone, 2015’s Too High & Too Steep and this year both Waterway and Seattle Walks.
The 13th walk in Seattle Walks covers an array of landmarks on Capitol Hill. Williams’ walk starts at Louisa Boren Park. As we stood at the cliff edge over Interlaken Park looking out to Portage Bay, Lake Washington and the Eastside my son asked me, “Why is there a hole here?… It’s like the Earth just made its own pit.” I proceeded to launch into a lengthy, animated explanation of the Cordilleran ice sheet, the Puget lobe, and glaciation. After you’ve read a bit of David Williams I guarantee you’ll be doing this too.
Our walk intro
Louisa Boren Park wasn’t our starting point, though. Since it’s a loop, you can join Williams’ walk from which ever angle you’re coming. We approached up 10th from Capitol Hill Station.
Heading up to Roy Street, we read the chapter introduction out loud as we walked. Towards the end David Williams dwelled on the origins of our neighborhood’s name. This included a great, deadpan, inside joke:
“The name could have originated with a neighborhood bearing the same name in Denver, where Moore’s wife had lived, or perhaps Moore had oped to site the state capitol building on his hill. Historian Jacqueline B. Williams, however, notes in The Hill with a Future: Seattle’s Capitol Hill 1900-1946 that there was little chance of the latter happening.” (page 171)
I got the snickers when I read that. Ignore the naming stuff and focus on the source. “Historian Jacqueline B. Williams”… Granted, Jacqueline B. Williams has written the only book about Capitol Hill history, and she’s a great historian and she’s correct. But he could have also written “My mom, however, notes…” David Williams grew up right here near the walk. He’s one of us.
Starting the loop
Our first stop was #11, a pair of Fred Anhalt apartments at 10th and Roy. After you’re done with the walk you can check out this map of all of Anhalt’s work by former CHS contributor Jason. One building on the map has been overhauled since that 2012 article, so make time on a future walk to get over to 16th to see it.A detour — at least temporarily — is necessary just after the apartments because of the closure of the path next to Lowell Elementary School. We went south and that worked out well.
From the east side of Lowell to Volunteer Park was the most surprising part of the self-guided tour for me. Apparently I’ve never walked through Millionaire’s Row (stop #12), or taken a long look at the home of Eugenia Moore (#13), the woman who gave Capitol Hill its name. (Her husband James A. Moore of course lived there too.) The hitching posts and stepping stones were fun interactive pieces of history to learn about with my son.
We came to the end of the walk, passing through Volunteer Park and arriving at stop #16 on 15th. At that point we were a bit chilled and I remembered a line from The Street-Smart Naturalist: “One benefit of urban natural history is the proximity to good food and drink.” At Volunteer Park Cafe we shared a ham and brie sandwich and piece of cake and I had a warm cup of coffee.
Finishing the circle
We resumed the walk and headed to Louisa Boren Park, where we began the official start. The walk headed up around the top of Lake View, down 10th to Highland and then down into Harvard/Belmont.
By the time we returned to Broadway and Roy we passed by or through eleven unique landmarks — almost a third of the city landmarks in Capitol Hill. We also walked through a good chunk of the Harvard/Belmont Historic District and saw the Garry oak that I first read about in The Street-Smart Naturalist.
Just after pointing out Oak Manor Apartments Williams included a “Curbology” box describing the granite curbs on Belmont. Go check those out soon, because an upcoming SDOT pedestrian safety project will reduce their length a bit.
Whether you’re a newcomer or you’ve been around the block a few times, you should check out Seattle Walks. David Williams’ naturalist perspective and landmark-rich route on Capitol Hill provide a fun half-day walk (adding in cafe, bar or playground stops) through the quiet end of our neighborhood.
Personally I found it to be a great primer for my Capitol Hill Historical Society team’s project. We hope to add interpretive historical markers on all of our neighborhood’s landmarks. There are more than enough for a sequel to Seattle Walks to have another one or two Capitol Hill walks.
This is Rob Ketcherside’s 50th history article for CHS over the last five and a half years. He is a co-founder of the new Capitol Hill Historical Society. Check their website for monthly meeting times and locations.