This Week Then: Looking Back on Tacoma's Early Days

Plus: Seattle's annexation spree of 1907
| Updated: March 28, 2019

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Tacoma's Early Days

April 1 marks two important dates in the early history of Tacoma. The first occurred on April 1, 1852, when Nicolas Delin began building a sawmill at the head of Commencement Bay. The bay had been named nearly 11 years earlier, just after Lt. Charles Wilkes "commenced" his survey of Puget Sound. Within a year Delin was shipping lumber to California, and a small community had grown up around his operation. It might have had the potential to blossom into a city, but all the new settlers fled during the Indian War of 1855-1856 and never returned.

In 1864, as if a reset button was pressed, Tacoma's history began again when Job Carr arrived during a fishing expedition on Christmas Day. From the water, Carr spotted a small lagoon fed by two creeks, and shouted "Eureka! Eureka!" He moved onto his claim with a yellow cat named Tom, hoping to build the city of Eureka, and he began with the construction of his own cabin, seen above.

Carr's vision would not be realized until the arrival of developer Morton Matthew McCarver on April 1, 1868. After seeing the sheltered bay with its majestic view of a mountain known in the Salish language as Tahoma, McCarver purchased most of Carr's land and invited other investors to file claims nearby. He named his project Tacoma City, and within five years the Northern Pacific Railroad was persuaded to choose Commencement Bay as its western terminus, one-upping the fledgling city of Seattle in the process. But the railroad decided to found its own city on the bay, called New Tacoma, and it was not until 1884 that the state legislature merged the two into one. It has been simply Tacoma ever since.

Seattle's Transit Ways

When Seattle's first electric streetcars started regular service on March 31, 1889, they were an immediate success. By 1900 control of the city's street railways was consolidated by a single cartel, alarming local progressives and spurring the creation of City Light, which became a city department on April 1, 1910. Seattle took over ownership of the streetcar system nine years later to the day, but the deal proved a fool's bargain once people found out that Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson had paid a grossly inflated price of $15 million and accepted financially disastrous terms.

The system was scrapped in 1941 despite the expressed wishes of the electorate, but in any case the auto age was ascendant. On April 1, 1957, the Washington State Highway Department established an office for clearing the route of the Seattle Freeway, known today as Interstate 5. The highway was completed between Everett and Tacoma 10 years later, despite the objections of some Seattleites to the drastic changes made to their neighborhoods.


Late Annexation

In 1907 Seattle went on an annexation spree, gathering up such areas as Southeast SeattleRavennaSouth ParkColumbia CityBallard, and West Seattle. One noticeable holdout was Georgetown, which feared losing its saloons and brewery due to Seattle's dry laws. But the municipality struggled with the costs of public services, and eventually became part of the big city to the north on March 29, 1910.

Art Dedication

On March 29, 1925, a memorial to President Warren G. Harding was dedicated in Seattle's Woodland Park. Sculptural elements of the memorial were created by sculptor Alice Robertson Carr, but by the 1970s, the monument had fallen into disrepair. The concrete bandstand and its bas-relief sculptures were broken up and used for fill in the zoo's new African Savanna exhibit.

Forced Relocation

On March 30, 1942, Bainbridge Island's Japanese American residents became the first in the nation to be incarcerated under Executive Order 9066. The internment soon uprooted thousands more Washington residents from Seattle, the Yakima ValleySpokane, the San Juan Islands, and elsewhere around the state.

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