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Denny Park with walking path

Brought to you by HistoryLink.

The Pike Place Market and the Museum of History and Industry are two landmark institutions in Seattle. Between them lies one of the city’s most altered landscapes, where over a period of 33 years, workers removed about 11 million cubic yards of earth and regraded Denny Hill from a double-humped hill to a flat cityscape ready to become Seattle’s new business district. Relatively undeveloped, at least compared to Seattle’s retail and business district to the south, this area, which includes parts of Belltown, the Denny Regrade, and South Lake Union, has experienced rapid change in the past 15 years.

The goal of this walk is to share some of the history of this landscape, which the Duwamish people have called home for thousands of years. They took advantage of the terrain, using a ravine as a transportation corridor between the water and a village site to the east. The first settlers to stake a claim were the family of William and Sarah Bell, who had arrived in 1851. They left in 1856 but returned in 1870. (The street names come from their daughters Virginia and Olive, and her husband Stewart.)

During the early 1900s, the area’s proximity to Seattle’s business district made it a good location for establishments such as stables and benevolent institution for seamen. Despite the optimism of the regraders, relatively few businesses — film distributors, car dealers, residential hotels, and motels — took advantage of the cleared land until the 1990s and the dotcom boom. And, then Amazon made South Lake Union its headquarters beginning in the 2010s.

As has happened across Seattle, particularly those areas close to downtown, many of the buildings and structures have been destroyed or heavily altered. This walk shares some of those locations, including taking a few dives deep into the past, and tries to keep alive those stories, which helped shape the neighborhood and city. – by David B. Williams