|In Your Midst
First Hill in 1905. A proud eminence, just far enough from the bustle and squalor of downtown Seattle to give the feeling of a peaceful retreat; with sweeping views of the Sound and the mountains to the west, Lake Union to the north and Mount Rainier to the south. A well-to-do neighborhood, with the mansions of the wealthy lining its (mostly unpaved) streets; with fine gardens, where spring flowers are beginning to show themselves in manicured beds. But as you clomp along the wooden sidewalks, you also see utilitarian vegetable patches, chicken coops, stables, and barns; and, every now and then, a vacant lot piled high with trash of every kind, from old wagons to broken furniture to kitchen garbage, a forbidden wonderland for neighborhood children but an eyesore for the distinguished property owners.
And they were distinguished indeed. The redoubtable Bishop O’Dea himself lived at 710 Terry Avenue. It was in his home that the Cathedral’s Building Committee met on Friday evenings throughout the early months of 1905, finalizing plans, evaluating bids, awarding contracts, and preparing for the work that would begin after Easter.
Just around the corner from the Bishop’s residence lived Charles and Emma Frye, in their brand-new mansion on Ninth and Columbia. Charles Frye, meatpacker and art connoisseur, was already building the collection that would become the Frye Art Museum.
James and Mary Lowman—he was a bookseller, printer, and industrialist—lived nearby at 820 Boren. Their elaborate home (these were not the days of architectural minimalism!) was full of mementos of their extraordinary travels—to wild Alaska and to Hawaii, to Europe (five times), to India, and to the Far East.
On the corner of Minor and James stood Castlemount, the oldest mansion on First Hill. It had been built for the celebrated Colonel Granville O. Haller, veteran of many wars, a fearsome, bearded personage in his Civil War uniform. He died in 1897, but his widow lived in the turreted old place until her death in 1910. Castlemount was also known as “The Ghost House”: perhaps the Colonel was thought to haunt the place; or perhaps the name referred to the remains of a native burial-ground discovered when the foundations of the house were laid.
Just across the street at the southeast corner of Minor and James was Carleton Cottage, the somewhat less pretentious home of Guy Phinney (who made his fortune in real estate) his wife Nellie, and their two boys, William and Arthur. William and Arthur must have been two of the luckiest boys in Seattle: they each had their own team of Shetland ponies, with their own little barn in the corner of the large yard. They would ride their ponies all over town, sometimes as far as Woodland Park.
Thomas and Salome Lippy lived close by, at Boren and James. In 1900, when they moved into the house, it had already had some distinguished owners, including Colonel Alden J. Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times. Thomas Lippy had been a humble gym teacher at the YMCA in Fargo, North Dakota, when a knee injury forced him to rethink his future. The Alaskan gold rush came along, and Lippy went with it. He got lucky, came back to Seattle with 1.5 million dollars, and promptly bought himself and Salome one of the finest houses in town.
There were equally distinguished people living on the north side of the Hill. One of Seattle’s grandest mansions, the Carkeek residence, stood on the southeast corner of Madison and Boren. Morgan and Emily Carkeek had hired a New York firm to design their home, which featured a grand tower from which the views must have been nothing short of sublime. Emily, like her husband, was born and raised in England, but fell in love with Seattle. It was she who established the Founders’ Day celebrations commemorating the arrival of the Denny Party on November 13, 1851; in 1914 she would found the Seattle Historical Society. Mrs. Carkeek also gave a series of “Renaissance Parties,” intended to instill a certain amount of class into this seemingly classless town. The unspoken intent was to persuade “capitalists newly arrived in Seattle who were of questionable character” to “keep their own side of the fence.” (Significantly, these ‘Renaissance’ affairs petered out after six months or so.)
One must wonder, though, how delighted Mrs. Carkeek was when the University Club took up quarters in what had been Mrs. Elizabeth Stacy’s residence, just across the street from the Carkeeks. Established in 1900, the Club’s membership was originally limited to 200; and until 1906, when a “Ladies’ Annex” was added, it was exclusive in more ways than one.
A city legend lived up the street from the Carkeeks. Judge Thomas Burke was one of Seattle’s most beloved citizens, praised for his “capacity for friendship, his gallant fighting spirit, his breadth of vision, his steadfastness of purpose, and his untiring devotion to the public welfare.” Those lucky enough to be invited to the Burke home at Madison and Boylston would surely have been shown into the extraordinary “museum room.” With a lofty ceiling 25 feet high, and a fireplace “big enough to roast an ox,” the room housed Judge Burke’s collection of Native American art and artifacts, a collection which he eventually donated to the University of Washington (and which can still be seen in the museum that bears his name).
Daniel Kelleher, one member of Bishop O’Dea’s Building Committee, lived at Spring and Minor. Another committee member, John B. Agen, had a mansion a bit further north, at Seneca and Boylston. Called “the father of the dairy industry in the Northwest,” Agen built condensed-milk plants all over Washington State, and even exported his wares to Asia, before selling his firm to the Carnation Company in 1916.
Agen’s close friend Arthur Dunn lived at 1121 Union. Dunn made his fortune in the cannery business, and sent his numerous children to the new Summit School, designed and built in 1904-5 by James Stephen (architect of St. Edward’s Chapel, the pro-Cathedral). A few years later, he would march the whole clan to the 9 o’clock Mass at the new St. James Cathedral, so regularly that their friends the Trimbles, who lived across the street, could say, “it must be almost nine; there goes Mr. Dunn herding his flock to church.”
First Hill was not entirely given over to the very rich, however. On the southeast corner of Madison and Terry lived Dora Ranke, a gracious German widow who took in respectable boarders in her huge, rambling house, where beer and pretzels and fresh rye bread were always ready on the sideboard.
Bishop O’Dea adopted his new neighborhood wholeheartedly, and throughout the thirty years he lived on First Hill he was frequently to be seen walking along in his stately manner, making the rounds of the Cathedral Parish. In his highly readable history of First Hill, Edward Dunn (son of Arthur) remembers a dispute with a good friend that “degenerated into a battle”:
“We were in mid-battle when we heard the soft Irish brogue: ‘Bohys, bohys. What’s the trouble? What’s going on?’ We looked up to see the formidable shape of Bishop O’Dea in his long black coat and the stovepipe derby affected by the senior clergy of those times. We broke off at that. ‘Now, now, you fellows get up and shake hands. You are both in the wrong with your name-calling. Come on, shake hands, make up, and forgive each other.’
“We complied rather shamefacedly. I was worried and embarrassed to be confronted by the bishop. Here was the most important man in the local hierarchy, and I was to appear before him in a couple of weeks for my confirmation”!
There is at least one thing that hasn’t changed in one hundred years: you never know who you might meet on the colorful streets of First Hill.
Continue on the walking tour of old First Hill.
|In our next issue, we will watch the
beginnings of the construction on the new Cathedral and follow Bishop
O'Dea all the way to Rome. This essay is deeply indebted to
the series "Early Day Mansions" by Margaret Pitcairn Strachan which
appeared in the Seattle Times in 1944 and 1945. For further reading...
Corinna Laughlin is the Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.
This article is the sixth in a series about the early days of St. James Cathedral...
No. 1: "The Priest, the Bishop, and the Great Northern Railway"
No. 2: "The Cathedral Fair"
No. 3: "Making Music in Seattle"
No. 4: "The Cathedral Builders"
No. 5: "The Founding of the Cathedral Parish"
No. 6: "Bishop O'Dea's Neighbors"
No. 7: "An Innocent Abroad: Bishop O'Dea Goes to Rome"
No. 8: "The Laying of the Cornerstone"
Other articles in the March 2005 issue:
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