Stunning 19th Century Photos from Kirkland Heritage Society Provide a Look to the Past

There have been only two photos of Peter Kirk known by Kirkland historians, both formal portraits. This image came as a welcome surprise to KHS, it is a candid shot of Peter Kirk, left, in the pith helmet, with Walter Williams. Note Kirk’s lunch bucket. His sack suit, stand up wing tip collar and four in hand large knot tie were cutting edge men’s fashion in 1890.

By Matthew McCauley

The Kirkland Heritage Society’s vast photo collection recently got a huge boost, thanks to 36 nearly 130-year-old glass plate negatives which provide new glimpses of Kirkland’s transformation from a thickly wooded collection of 80-160 acre homestead ranches into what was to have been a company-owned steel mill town, an envisaged “Pittsburg of the Pacific”.

Viewed east, the Moss Bay Iron and Steel Company of America (Later the Great Western Iron and Steel Company) works was located on Rose Hill just east of Costco, about where its overflow parking lot stands today. The planked road was 7th Avenue, then called Piccadilly, which ran from the mill to Market Street. The man camera left is unidentified, the man on the right is believed to be Peter Kirk’s right hand man, corporation secretary Walter Williams, an Englishman who had worked for Kirk and his brothers in England and emigrated with his wife and children to the US with Kirk. Williams owned acreage he named Glandwr, the land on Juanita Bay around Rose Point, the site of today’s Juanita Bay Park.
The long structure at left behind the mill buildings was a 350-foot long bunker, intended to store iron ore, coal and lime, the raw materials need to create steel. A rail spur is seen on trestle bents at far right, the tracks ran across the top of the bunker and ore cars were to have dumped their loads down into it.
The building behind the men with the three large open doors had three sections, left was the pattern shop, the center was a blacksmith shop, and the right was the machine shop. The north-south oriented building behind those with mostly just the roof visible was the foundry.
The skunk cabbage on both sides of Piccadilly suggests the photo was taken in the Spring or Summer of 1890.

KHS’s Past President Loita Hawkinson, who has acted as its collections chair and the unofficial historian since the early-1990’s, said that the negatives were taken by Houghton pioneer and early photography hobbyist Harry D. French, who also kept journals in the 1870-80’s, now also in the KHS collection.

A closer look at the bunker, the man and dog are unidentified. To give a sense of scale for the structure, in front of the bunker there is a man shoveling and another man walking, at about center and center-right–to the right of the ladder.

“The French family were wonderful people.  They were examples of the times.  They had four children, three who died as young children.  Harry was the oldest. Both Harry and his father Foster wrote of their daily lives in both Maine and Houghton.  They are a primary source for the Houghton area.  Foster stopped writing when they moved to the Washington Territory.  Sadly, Harry stopped writing when Peter Kirk came.    Thankfully he bought a camera and took photographs.  Each box had 12 negatives 5 by 8 negatives.  There are 3 boxes and 36 negatives.  He knew how to use that camera.   Three generations are buried in the Kirkland Cemetery”.

A closer look at the bunker, the man and dog are unidentified. To give a sense of scale for the structure, in front of the bunker there is a man shoveling and another man walking, at about center and center-right–to the right of the ladder.

Prior to the advent of plastic film photographers used glass plates to make negatives. Hobby photographers like French were rare. Hawkinson says the same wooden camera French used to capture these images is in KHS’s collection, thanks to his only grandson, Dave Davis, who has donated numerous French family heirlooms to KHS.

Kirkland namesake Peter Kirk, an English steel manufacturer, visited the US in 1886 and 1887 looking for a suitable location for his planned mill and company town. He sought to make steel rails, then in great demand as railroad construction was at a feverish pitch. Tacoma, the North Bend area and Cle Elum were all considered, but S.J. “Leigh” Hunt, the flamboyant young publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, promised Kirk that a new canal connecting Lake Washington to Puget Sound was coming soon, along with a critical north to south railroad line along the lake’s eastern shore that would bring raw materials—iron ore, coking coal and lime—to the mill. In 1888 Hunt persuaded Kirk to locate the new enterprise on the lake’s east shore, then inhabited by only a handful of hardscrabble pioneer homesteaders. The well-connected Hunt sold the idea first to prominent local and later to national investors, from Seattle founder Arthur Denny to legendary tycoons John D. Rockefeller and Joshua Montgomery Sears, then among the wealthiest men in the US. They formed two corporations, the Kirkland Land and Improvement Company, which would build the company town, and the Moss Bay Iron and Steel Company of America. (In 1890 the steel company was reincorporated as the Great Western Iron and Steel Company).

Viewed northwest, Forbes Lake is in the background. The building near the lake in the center with the two stacks is a sawmill, believed to have been operated by Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler. Stacks of drying lumber are seen in the foreground. At left, the bunker is seen under construction. The sawmill supplied the lumber used to construct the steel mill buildings and the homes being built to the west, in Kirkland proper.

In 1888 the land company erected a small two story brick office building at what would soon be the foot of Market Street. The company’s corps of engineers had over 2000 men out chopping, blasting and burning away the thick forest and brush that covered today’s Market, Norkirk, Moss Bay, Highlands and North Rose Hill neighborhoods. As the land was cleared the corps shifted into grading and surfacing the streets and sidewalks with wooden planks. Up on the south side of Forbes Lake, near today’s Costco, a brick works, a busy saw mill and the steel complex started taking shape, along with rail spurs running down from the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern’s Railroad’s main line at Woodinville (Not to be confused with the Cross Kirkland Corridor, opened in 1904. The 1890 rail grade is now Slater Avenue).

View from a fresh railroad cut located about where today’s NE 85th Street runs, looking north, down into the mill site with Forbes Lake beyond. At far right the mill’s pattern and blacksmith shops are visible. The planked road running east-west through the center of the photo is today’s 7th Avenue, then called Piccadilly. At far left, off by itself about 1100-feet from the mill structures is the company’s brickworks, about where I-405 is located today.
The small dwelling seen at the northern edge of Forbes Lake may have been built by Dorr Forbes, the Juanita pioneer for whom the lake was named. Forbes’ 80-acre homestead claim was located at the north and east sides of the lake–he sold it all to the steel company and relocated to the area near today’s Juanita Beach Park, where the house the family built in 1905 still stands on the park grounds.

Most of Kirkland’s pioneers sold all or some of their land to Hunt for the steel venture. Many, like Harry French and his neighbor Ed Church, put their own fortunes on the line by investing in the enterprise, either by stock purchase or through land speculation and improvements. The brick Masonic Lodge Building, located at 702 Market Street at 7th Avenue, was built by Church and French in 1890-91, at the cost of $12,000, then a substantial sum for men of average means. Kirkland quickly became a boom town and land speculators bought up and platted more tracts from the homesteaders.

This second candid shot of Peter Kirk, left, holding the oar, and his wife, Mary Ann, along with three of their children and two unknown men was taken on San Juan Island, where the Kirk’s owned a waterfront home called Deer Lodge. He owned an expensive lever action deer rifle and seems to have enjoyed salmon fishing as well!

A series of national and local events brought it all to a halt in 1892. The Panic of 1893 national depression sealed Kirkland’s fate. Most of the boom activity fizzled and the few holdouts and original pioneers struggled to get by during the financial hard times that lasted into the 20th century.

This shot of Moss Bay views to the north. The Kirkland Land and Improvement Company crews are clearing what is now the Market and Norkirk neighborhoods. The smoke is from fires set to burn away the underbrush and fallen logs that were not used for lumber. The building on the water at far left with the smokestack is a sawmill. The wharf and warehouse are at the foot of today’s Market Street, which had not yet been cut when this phto was taken, and the two story brick building was built in 1888, the first structure constructed, it served as the company’s office and stood on the corner of Market and Central until the middle of the 20th century. Kirk’s personal residence is at left, on today’s Waverly Way. It is the large house on the bluff, the first one to the right of the sawmill.

Up to this point there was little photographic record of the early boom period, so French’s negatives have done much to answer longstanding questions about that era, but they have also created new questions.

This shot was quite an exciting find, here we look to the north to see Market Street being cut through, graded and surfaced with wooden planks!
The house and barn in the background and the orchard immediately east of Market Street had belonged to Andrew Nelson, the original homesteader who owned what is now the Market Neighborhood, who sold his entire claim to Kirk’s associate S.J. “Leigh” Hunt, who transferred title to the Kirkland Land and Improvement Company. The brick structure at the right was the previously mentioned company offices, for decades known by Kirklanders simply as the “Bank Building”. It was built in 1888 and over the years served as a bank and telephone company office and the first meeting place for the Kirkland Town Council, after incorporation in 1905.

In addition to the invaluable new glimpses of the townsite development, Hawkinson says that French took candid photos of Kirk and his family. She said that there were previously only two known photos of Peter, both formal portraits, and just one of image Mary, seen later in life. French captured several charming candid shots of Peter and Mary Kirk, giving us an exciting new look into the life and times of Kirkland’s namesake.

The view south at Moss Bay from about where Heritage Hall stands today. This was prior to Market Street being cut through, obviously. The lake was about nine feet deeper then, so the wharf to the right of the Bank Building would be about where the Marina Park gazebo is located today. The barn and farm structures at the left would soon be demolished, they had belonged to homesteader Andrew Nelson.
The steamboat is the “Kirkland”, it was owned by the Jackson Street Cable Railway and based out of Leschi. Kirk associate and Post-Intelligencer newspaper owner , S.J. “Leigh” Hunt was also a principal in that company as well the Lake Washington Belt Line Company, which planned to build a railroad along the eastern shore of Lake Washington, running from today’s Tukwila to Woodinville.

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