‘Queen City’: The friendliest town on the Puget Sound | Taking Stock

Jan 18, 2017

I grew up in Seattle. In grade school, during history, we were taught – indoctrinated might be a better word – that Seattle had grown to be the “Queen City of the Northwest” because of the “Seattle Spirit.” Vancouver seems to have disputed the “Queen City” title, and Portland just shrugged at the upstart, since Portland had been a good-sized city before Seattle was founded. And “Queen City of the Northwest” should not be confused with “Queen City of the West” – Cincinnati – which doesn’t seem very far west, but once was known by that name.

A significant part of the “Seattle Spirit” had to do with railroads. The first trans-continental railroad to reach the region, the Northern Pacific, chose Tacoma as its terminus instead of Seattle. Seattle was determined to build its own railroad to meet a trans-continental line.

Actually, Seattle ultimately built two railroads. The first was the Seattle and Walla Walla. That road never got to Walla Walla. It did get to Newcastle, Black Diamond and, ultimately, to Franklin. Franklin is now a ghost town; the Black Diamond Historical Society offers a tour of Franklin a couple of times a year. I recommend the tour. The tour starts in the old Black Diamond depot, now a museum, built by the Seattle and Walla Walla.

The second Seattle railroad was the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern (SLS&E). It reached a point about 4 miles east of North Bend. That is how eastern it got. You can still ride a train on the SLS&E right-of-way. The Northwest Railway Museum runs trains from Snoqualmie Falls to North Bend on summer weekends. The Snoqualmie depot was built by the SLS&E. Some of the tracks and a depot still exist in Issaquah, which was once called Gilman after one of the founders of the SLS&E. The Burke-Gilman Trail is named for two of the founders and follows the old railroad bed.

The point of that is that neither railroad built by the “Seattle Spirit” got very far. And, although many places like Tacoma, Everett, Olympia and Port Townsend waited for the railroad to get to them. Port Townsend is still waiting.

Seattle wasn’t unique in building railroads. Other cities built railroads when the big railroads passed them by. Even little Waterville built one. Seattle wasn’t unique in building two railroads, either. Bellingham once had hopes of becoming the major metropolis in Western Washington.

Bellingham built the “Bellingham Bay and British Columbia,” which did ultimately connect to a trans-continental railroad, albeit a Canadian one. Bellingham also built the “Fairhaven and Southern,” which connected to the SLS&E near Sedro-Woolley, and ultimately to the Northern Pacific. Bellingham also built an inter-urban to Mount Vernon, much like the Seattle-Everett and Seattle-Tacoma inter-urbans. Both Bellingham and Seattle became home to state universities. In spite of all its efforts, Bellingham wound up taking a place on a lower rung and Seattle dominated the region.

Seattle grew to be the dominant city of the region, but it may be questioned if “Seattle Spirit” and homegrown railroads had as much to do with that outcome as some choose to believe. Pioneering spirit wasn’t confined to one city, no matter how much that one city wanted to believe its own press clippings. In fact, it was probably the promotion and press clippings that were the deciding factor. I believe there is a message there.

Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.

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