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CHS History | Where Capitol Hill’s capitol would have been

(Image: Seattle Municipal Archives)

Did the folks who began the church that is now Prospect Congregational United Church of Christ know that the property they bought was part of the site of the proposed state capitol?

The chapel originally faced E. Prospect on a lot that is now on the southeast corner of E. Prospect and 20th Ave E. The current church building, built in 1924, faces 20th Ave E., although the address remains 1919 E Prospect.

The site of the proposed capitol was a single large block, bounded to the north by E. Prospect, to the south by E. Helen, to the east by 21st Ave E. and to the west by 19th Ave E.

Twentieth Avenue did not exist. It seems an odd choice, but it is documented by a map reproduced in the Jacqueline B. Williams book The Hill with a Future, and the block is also shown on the 1905 Sanborn Insurance map of Seattle. The maps show E. Helen going through to 19th between Prospect and Aloha Streets and a jog in Prospect that is not there today. House lots are mapped for the entire first Capitol Hill Addition along east-west streets with alleys going that direction as well. That didn’t happen. When houses were actually built, they were oriented along the north-south streets, just as the other blocks were surrounding the Capitol Hill Addition.

It is hard to know if James A. Moore, the intrepid developer who bought the property that was to become what he named “Capitol Hill”, seriously thought he could entice the state capitol to Seattle.

According to Williams, “Moore persuaded state Representative William H. Lewis, from King County, to introduce a bill in Olympia ‘providing for the appointment of a committee to consider the offer of a site and capitol building in Seattle’ .”

A newspaper article of March 4, 1901, also quoted in Ms. Williams’ book, notes that Moore was offering to donate not only the site in the Capitol Hill addition but also a $250,000 building.

This may not have been an entirely far-fetched idea at the time, since the building of the capitol in Olympia ran into snags and the actual building didn’t open until 1905.

On the other hand, even suggesting the possibility of having the capitol on Seattle’s “Capitol Hill” might have been a kind of promotion Moore wanted for the new development.

Curious, though, that the site wasn’t actually a high point. The high ridge is roughly along 18th Ave E. One goes down, eastward, to 19th Ave and then it is rather flat until one reaches the church corner at 20th Ave, and up again, but not so high, between 20th and 21st Avenues. Both St. Joseph’s Church and Holy Names Academy, just south of E. Aloha, take advantage of the heights at 18th and 21st respectively, and the tower at St. Joseph and the dome at Holy Names are landmarks to all of us in the area. Since the sites for both these landmark buildings were also in the first Capitol hill addition, it seems odd that the proposed capitol would have been on a lower site with a less commanding view.

A name, not a Capitol
The capitol in Capitol Hill never happened, but the name certainly stuck. Sometimes it is hard to remember how to spell Capitol Hill, and an easy way is to think of the state capitol that never came to Seattle after all.

Referring to a map today, the configuration of the streets and blocks allowing for the proposed capitol site is long since gone, but looking at a 1905 Sandborn Fire Insurance map shows how the street grid was manipulated to include the site. (E. Helen Street went through, E. Prospect Street was disconnected and offset, and 20th Ave did not go through. Proposed orientations for houses were shifted as well.)

So, if you take a walk and happen to stand on the northern half of the 900 blocks on the east side of 19th Ave E, 20th Ave E, or the west side of 21st Ave E., you are walking on the site of the proposed capitol in Capitol Hill.  Enjoy your visit.

This essay was created by historian and writer Dotty DeCoster. It was first posted to CHS in 2009. We remembered Dotty here on CHS after her passing in 2015.


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2 thoughts on “CHS History | Where Capitol Hill’s capitol would have been

  1. I’ve always wondered about this so thanks for the info! I used to live in an apartment building on the corner of Federal Ave. E. and E. Republican, and was told that the streets were given those names because that corner was the intended site for the state capitol. It sounded like a good story but I never quite believed it. And I was right!

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