History of Seattle Municipal Railway's Division C, the streetcar line that once connected Burien with White Center and Seattle.
July 17, 2005
White Center Remembers pp 1-9

Logging and development history.


Puget Sound is rich with stories of primeval forests and those that came to settle during the late 1800's. White Center was no exception (see map 1). On October 10, 1870, the Soloman family, one of White Center's earliest settlers, purchased 319 acres from the U.S. Government which includes a substantial portion of present day
White Center and North Burien.

The Soloman family settled near S.W. 128th Street and Ambaum Boulevard, which is today called Mayfair and Hermes depression (see map 2, no. 1). Soloman attempted to drain this low area believing that the swamp would provide rich bottom land for farming. However, after digging a 250 foot tunnel with no success at draining the impervious glacial formation below the surface, Soloman gave up in desperation selling the land to others. Some of the early buyers included the Hazelton and Ambaum families. While farming was not an immediate success on the White Center Plateau, logging did provide one of the first sources of cash income. The Carr and Hood logging operation began in 1887 on land owned by the Kakeldies on Seola Beach and up what is now known as Seola Beach Drive (see map 2, no. 2). Sam Carr and Tom Hood spent about four years at this location and then moved to Salmon Creek for a year. However, because the ravine was so steep and wet, they purchased acreage higher on the plateau in the vicinity of Oak Park (see map 2, no. 3) which they logged and subdivided.

Clarence Gresset (a local historian) states that the Carr and Hood enterprise brought in the first payrolls to White Center. Starting at a dollar a day, including room and board, the scale gradually increased to as high as three and a half dollars a day for special categories — these were 12 hour days or as long as there was daylight.

Once logging operations had opened up roads on the plateau, small saw and shingle mills became feasible. Gottlieb Green's mill, located near Greens pond at S.W, 102nd Street & 8th Avenue S.W., (see map 2, no. 4), began operations in 1888, employing six men to cut about 20,000 board feet per day. While this was the first mill in the area, others that came later included one at Hicklins Lake, (map 2, no. 5), and one at 17th S.W. and S.W. 112th Street.

While these mills were content with cutting smaller logs because the lumber was unpianed and could only be utilized within the community, the coming of railroads to the area opened up new stands of timber. In 1905, the Washington Timber and Logging Company ran a railroad up from Seola Beach to a round house at 28th S.W. and Roxbury (see map 2, no, 6). Another line ran from Highland Park to Greendale and on to Hicks Lake.

As the timber was cut down, the land was subdivided and early settlers picked up 5, 10, and 20 acre parcels. Some of these families (see maps 2 and 3), included the Odays (1892—no. 7); McCarthys (circa 1900—no. 8); Babcocks (no. 9); Metzlers (no. 10); Hazeltons (no. 11); Ambaums (no. 12); Cooksons (no. 13); Steplers (no. 14); Zooks and many others. Many of these farms were in turn later subdivided in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. Some homes were even replaced by other uses such as the Hamilton Carr home (see map 3, no. 15), near the former site of an early White Center Fire Station and the present site of the Washington Mutual savings Bank.

Those families were totally dependent upon the current mode of transportation. While regular steamship service began along Puget Sound beaches in 1886, it did not adequately serve the White Center PIateau. Consequentely, before the turn of the century, the first road to White Center was forced up the hill from Cloverdale Street in South Park (see map 2, no. 16). It meandered along is now Myers Way until it reached Fourth Avenue S.W., just south of S.W. 107th Street. The road then continued around the north side of Hicklins Lake passing Greens Pond and saw mill somewhat to the north until it had reached S.W. 112th Street near the O'Day home of 1892. A traveler then would proceed west along S.W. 112th to Seola Beach Drive and then southwest to Seola Beach and the Sound.

According to Doctor Benshoof, one of White Center's early doctors, the road to White Center in 1905 from South Park was difficult and the grade up the First Avenue Hill to what is today Myers Way, was so steep that iIt was extremely time consuming for a horse and buggy to make it up the hill.
Thelma Seeley, Dr. Benshoof's eldest daughter, recalls that this road was later surfaced with heavy timbers that roughly dressed with one face finished flat, and called a "puncheon road."

NAMED AFTER SARAH AND LEONARD F. HICKLIN, who came in 1889, Lake Hicks was loaded in the early days with a breed of fish called ‘stickel backs." A later planting of bass proved to be most effective for the early day fishermen.

Without adequate transportation, growth would not have been possible. However, White Center in the next few years would experience considerable growth because of improved transportation facilities to the area.

WHITE CENTER: 1910 TO 1976

While many settlers continued to utilize abandoned logging roads, Ambaum Way (see map 2, no. 17), was pushed through to Burien in 1910. This road was an unending river of mud through a very solid forest corridor of fir trees. Ambaum was first surfaced in 1921 as far as S. W. 112th and eventually widened to four lanes in the 1950s.
However, the first major inducement to the development and growth of White Center came on June 30, 1 912, with inauguration of the Highland Park and Lake Burien Railway (see map 2, no. 18). From the Spokane Street tussle, the street car line followed West Marginal Way to about the 5200 block where it swung southwest up a long grade to the top of Dumar Hill or Holden Street. At the top of the hill, a derail switch was installed to remind the motorman to check his brakes before descending the hill.

From there it followed 9th to Henderson Street where it turned to 16th S.W. After making the turn, it continued south through White Center to 107th, where it turned west to 12th S.W. and made a wide sweep around the Mount View School. Then it went south again to 116th where a siding and "meet-um-station" was located in of front the Laugerquist place. At 120th the tracks made a semi-circle around Salmon Creek and then along Ambaum, to Seahurst and Lake Burien.

With the development of a street car line, the isolation of White Center was at an end. The trip to Seattle was cut by two hours and businesses began to spring up to support the rapidly increasing population.

While the first identifiable business or store was the Oak Park Grocery established in 1908 on the west side of 16th south of 107th (see map 2, no. 19), several stores developed a few years later near Roxbury and 16th. The second store in the area was built on West Barton Street at 16th Avenue S.W. Later, the White Center Mercantile was moved to 16th Avenue S.W. and West Roxbury Street, close to the center of the present business district. The first building erected in the present White Center business core area was constructed on the corner of 16th Avenue S.W. and W. Roxbury in 1915. This was the building that was to house the glamour of hollywood at least for several years. While this building originally was used as a theater and drug store, the building today is the Apothecary House.

During World War I, a large number of people came into the present day White Center area as the general population of Seattle increased. White Center was close to the shipyards and the early industrial plants in the Duwamish Basin. In addition, there were no restrictions on building, particularly in the country, and there was an abundance of vacant land, As one early settler stated . . . "We all came out to White Center and ‘shacked it' in the early days."

"This, however, was one of our major problems," according to Jessie Neiswender, the Mt. View School principal for 27 years. "The Mt. View district had the lowest property evaluation in the country. Initially, there was very little business and virtually no industry. A lot in some areas of White Center could be purchased very cheaply with no building restrictions. Families, usually would have no water or sewer system. Consequently, they would dig a well for water and another hole next to it for sewage."

One individual, however, decided to help alleviate the need for a water system. Sam Metzler developed the Mount View water system which allowed every prime user to lay their own line as well as to sublet a portion of that line for another's use.

{Oak Park Grocery circa 1908}

{9617 16th Ave SW circa 1920}

Sam Metzler also was instrumental in building the Mt. View School. Metzler along with Jacob Ambaum, Hiram Green, George White and others were primary developers of the Highland Park/Lake Burien Street Car tine.

With a water system, a school, a street car line and the development of a road system, the residential and business community began to grow much faster.

By the mid 1920's, the community had become more stabilized and there were more permanent businesses built, such as the triangle building located on the Seattle side of Roxbury. A second floor was added at a later time by Mr. Hiram Green who lost the toss of a coin to Mr. George White for the naming of White Center in the summer of 1918.
Mr. White had purchased considerable land in the White Center business district and was engaged in the real estate business. An early advertisement read "White Center ... This beautiful townsite now on the market. Watch it grow. 240 large and beautiful lots with large alleys. Just the price for investment; for a home. Timber furnished. To be repaid in installments. Special inducement to home builders ...prices range from $300 to $500. Easy terms. Office on grounds ... George W. H. White."

Like most northwest communities during this period, White Center had its hayday as well as its problems. While the depression limited the earlier growth that had occurred, it created the need for community cooperation. Many people were without jobs and survival was paramount in everyone's minds. At one point during the depression, the Safeway store on the corner of Roxbury and 16th was ransacked in order to feed a number of starving families.

Many in the community felt that it was necessary to establish some kind of political clout in the state legislature in order to help many in the community to survive the depression. Consequently, an individual by the name of Jack Bond was elected to the State Legislature.

However, according to Dr. Secker, a trip to Olympia to lobby for a school bill by Dr. Secker, Joe Walter and Jessie Neiswender indicated some impropriety. "When we arrived in Olympia," according to Secker, "we found Jack Bond down on the floor shooting craps for $5 a throw. We also found the walls of his room lined with booze."

While the depression held both pleasant and unpleasant memories for many in White Center, the second world war brought many changes to White Center. The war had broken up many families and G.l.'s coming out of the service were out of work. Parents separated by the war years found that they had grown apart and many of the youth struck out at the world in protest with the White Center area being the recipient.

In an attempt to solve this social problem, John Stepich first came to White Center in April 1946 as Park Superintendent for the King County Park Department. Stepich had served as athletic officer at Ft. Lewis Washington during World War II.

At that time, the park office was located next to the White Center Fieldhouse. "The second world war had...

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at July 17, 2005 4:41 PM
Lost Seattle
Check out my book Lost Seattle for more explorations of history and urbanism.
These pages are an archive. For my new content, visit ba-kground.com.
Copyright Rob Ketcherside; contact roket swirly gwu.edu