Historical Photos Show What Old Seattle Looked Like in the 1870s

Seattle's history is a fascinating journey that takes us back to the 1870s, a crucial period in the city's development. In this article, we'll explore what Seattle was like during this decade through historical photos.

These images offer an authentic and serene view of Seattle's past, showing the city's evolution in various aspects.

During the 1870s, Seattle's economy was inextricably linked to its geographic location. Located on Puget Sound, the city emerged as a center of trade and commerce.

One of the defining economic drivers of this era was the lumber industry. The coast was dotted with lumber mills, and the seemingly endless forests of the Pacific Northwest provided a steady supply of lumber.

The development of infrastructure in Seattle during the 1870s was a reflection of its growth. The construction of bridges, in particular, marked an important milestone in the city's transportation system.

These bridges improved connectivity and accessibility, making movement of people and goods easier. Pioneer Square, a historic district that is still preserved today, began to take shape during this era.

Seattle was a free and often relatively lawless city during this era.
Although it boasted newspapers and telephones, lynch law was often prevalent (at least four deaths resulted from lynching in 1882), schools barely operated, and indoor plumbing was a rare novelty.

In the low-lying mudflats where most of the city was built, sewage was almost as likely to come in with the tide as it was to be washed away. There were so many potholes on the roads that at least one person died due to drowning.
Chinese laborers were instrumental in the first attempt in 1883 to dig the Montlake Cut to connect Lake Union's Portage Bay to Lake Washington's Union Bay.
In 1885–1886, whites – sometimes in concert with Indians – expelled Chinese residents from Seattle, Tacoma, and other northwestern cities, complaining of excessive cheap labor competition.

In an era when Washington Territory was (briefly) one of the first parts of the US to allow women's suffrage, women played a key role in "civilizing" Seattle.

The first bathtub with plumbing was in 1870. In the 1880s, Seattle got its first streetcar and cable car, ferry service, a YMCA gymnasium and the exclusive Rainier Club, and passed an ordinance requiring all new residences to have attached sewer lines. It also began to develop a road system.
The early Seattle era ended spectacularly with the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889. The fire, which started from a glue pot, burned 29 city blocks (almost entirely wooden buildings; about 10 brick buildings also burned).
It destroyed almost the entire business district, all rail terminals, and all but four ferries.

Such large fires were common in Washington that summer: downtown Ellensburg was destroyed by fire on July 4 and downtown Spokane burned on August 4.
Thanks to credits arranged by Jacob Firth, Seattle rebuilt from the ashes with astonishing speed. A new zoning code resulted in brick and stone buildings instead of wood in the city.

In a single year after the fire, the city's population increased from 25,000 to 40,000, largely due to the sudden influx of construction work.

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