Because of the work that my pal Jen Ott and I have done on our book about the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Locks, I have been helping to update a few essays on HistoryLink.org. Here are summaries of the ones that were posted today.
Essay 1 – The Lake Washington Ship Canal’s opening was celebrated on July 4, 1917, exactly 63 years after Seattle pioneer Thomas Mercer (1813-1898) first proposed the idea of connecting the saltwater of Puget Sound to the freshwater of Lake Washington via Lake Union. For five decades following Mercer’s suggestion, local citizens, business leaders, government officials, military officers, and entrepreneurs discussed where to build the connection and how to pay for it. Finally, after Hiram M. Chittenden (1858-1917) took charge of the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers in 1906, plans were made and federal funding obtained. The ship canal Chittenden designed consisted of two cuts, the Fremont Cut between Salmon Bay and Lake Union and the Montlake Cut between Lake Union and Lake Washington, and a set of locks at the west end of Salmon Bay. The canal’s construction lowered the water level of Lake Washington by nine feet and raised that of Salmon Bay behind the locks, changing it from a tidal inlet to a freshwater reservoir.
Essay 2 – On July 4, 1917, the SS Roosevelt passed through the Government Locks in Ballard, kicking off celebrations to dedicate the locks and Lake Washington Ship Canal, which had been open since mid-1916. The ship paused at the locks for dignitaries to make speeches that highlighted the importance of the great day. Additional speeches followed at the Fremont Bridge and then the Roosevelt led more than 200 boats on a grand parade through the Montlake Cut and down Lake Washington to Leschi Park in Southeast Seattle. One newspaper estimated that half of Seattle’s population lines the shores for the festivities.
Essay 3 – Sometime in the 1860s, Harvey L. Pike (ca. 1842-1897) began work on cutting a channel between Union Bay on Lake Washington and Portage Bay on Lake Union. Pike did not progress very far and soon abandoned his work but not the idea of canal. In 1869, Pike filed a plat of the isthmus between the two lakes, on which he would include space for a 200-foot-wide canal connecting the lakes. Like his earlier attempted connection, this was little more than a dream as Pike did no work on what he called the Union Canal. However, Pike’s goal was ultimately realized. The Montlake Cut — one segment of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal linking the freshwater lake to the saltwater of Puget Sound — was dug across the isthmus near where Pike started digging half a century earlier.