This Week Then: How Seattle's UW Campus Took Shape

Plus: Shelton, Blaine and Hoquiam turn 129
| Updated: May 16, 2019

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Campus Sights

In 1895 the University of Washington moved from downtown Seattle to its present location, which at the time was heavily forested and undeveloped. The campus took root on the northern portion of the property, but as the university grew its regents sought ways to develop the rest of the grounds without breaking the school's budget. They found their golden opportunity when Seattle began making plans to host a world's fair.

UW supporters like Professor Edmond Meany advocated using the property for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, which would clear and grade the forested acreage for future use and provide the university with new buildings once the fair ended. The regents agreed, and on May 17, 1907 they approved John C. Olmsted's plan for the grounds.

Olmsted had arrived in Seattle four years earlier to design city parks, and the A-Y-P project meshed perfectly with his master plan for expansive parks and boulevards throughout the city. With only two years before the fair's opening there was plenty of grading, landscaping, and building construction to be completed.

The A-Y-P was a huge success, as was Olmsted's layout for it. On May 18, 1915, the UW regents approved a new plan, created by architect Carl F. Gould, who built upon Olmsted's legacy and added important elements of his own. The campus has seen many changes since then, but the Olmsted "footprint" can still be seen today, more than a century later.

Whaling Rights

In May, 1792, Mexican and Spanish settlers completed the first permanent European settlement in present-day Washington at Neah Bay near the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. But their stay was brief, as later that year British Captain George Vancouver arrived to enforce the terms of the Nootka Convention, which was signed two years earlier and required Spain to abandon its exclusive claims to the region.

Long before first contact, Neah Bay was the ancestral home of the Makah Indians, who had lived and hunted whales there for thousands of years. In 1855, nine years after the Treaty of Oregon secured the far Northwest as American territory, leaders of the Makah tribe signed a treaty that they believed would preserve their tradition of whaling. Exercising their right to hunt whales turned out to be harder than actually catching one, which after a hiatus of more than 70 years, tribal whalers finally did on May 17, 1999.


Sailing on In

On May 16, 1864, a ship carrying 11 young women arrived in Seattle from New England under the escort of Asa Shinn Mercer. This first of two contingents, the Mercer Girls had an instant impact on Seattle's mostly male frontier culture, provided the town's first public-school teacher, and would later inspire the TV series Here Come the BridesAsa Mercer is remembered these days, appropriately enough, with a Seattle middle school named in his honor.

Saving the Gin

On May 20, 1885, most of Whatcom's business district was destroyed by fire, but local tipplers were able to save much of the town's liquor supply. And on May 20, 1958, a massive fire destroyed the Seattle Cedar Manufacturing plant in Ballard, carrying five-foot-long pieces of burning lumber up to two miles away.

Cities Begin

Cities celebrating birthdays this week include Shelton, Blaine, and Hoquiam which incorporated in 1890 on May 17, May 20, and May 21, respectively. One year later, Anacortes incorporated on May 19, 1891, and Arlington became a city on May 20, 1903.

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