Historian in Residence Ms. Christy
Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

The Great Seattle Fire

The Great Seattle FireOn June 6, 1889, a young Swedish man was working in a carpentry shop at what is today 1st and Madison. He put on some glue to boil and, when it boiled over, he tried to put out the resulting fire by throwing water on it. Instead, that fire flamed up and burned all day -- eventually destroying 33 blocks of Seattle. (Click here to see pictures of the city on fire.) Photographers had taken pictures June 5 and then on June 6 of that part of Seattle. Thanks to them, we can see easily how much destruction came from that one little glue pot. (You can see that little glue pot, much the worse for wear, at the Museum of History and Industry.)

Amazingly, no one died in the blaze. Many homes and businesses and wharves were lost. But it didn't take long for the city of Seattle to pick itself up and build the city better than it had been. Immediately, stores went back to business, operating from tents until they could rebuild. Instead of building in wood, they built in brick and concrete. And, instead of building on the tidal flats, where much of downtown Seattle had been, they raised the city up and out of the stinking tidal mud.

Hazards of raising the city while continuing to do business

(Many stores continued to do business one level down from the new city streets. This underground shopping mall is celebrated in Pioneer Square's wonderful Underground Seattle Tour.)

What emerged was a bigger, better city, one that was ready for the Yukon Gold Rush, Washington Statehood and much, much more.

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Historian in Residence © 2009 Mary Anne Christy