The Seattle waterfront was once home to Coast Salish tribes who used the land to fish, hunt and gather shellfish. But after European settlers set up shop, changes began to set in. Even today, the Seattle waterfront continues to develop and evolve — hang on for a journey back in time from its early days to the present.
Seattle waterfront, ca. 1878
European settlers first set foot in what is now Seattle in 1792, but it took 60 years for a sawmill and wharf to be built in the area. Maritime trade was a huge industry for the city even in those days, and according to HistoryLink, by 1911 King County residents had voted to create the Port of Seattle.
Seattle waterfront fire station with fireboats Snoqualmie and Duwamish, 1910
Port of Seattle, 1914
In 1910, the Grand Trunk Pacific dock at the Port of Seattle was the largest wooden pier in North America. Three years later, in 1914, it was burnt to a crisp — though it was rebuilt, the new structure lacked the grand tower that the first had.
Shacks on the tide flats, 1915
As Seattle continued to develop, some people set up shacks on the tide flats.
Wrecked trestle at Railroad Avenue and Broad Street, 1923
There wasn’t much action on the Seattle waterfront during the 1920s due to the shipping slump after World War I and during the Great Depression. Builders wrecked this trestle at Railroad Avenue, but didn’t have the money to fix it.
Railroad Avenue, 1934
In the mid-1930s, thanks to federal aid, the city replaced the wooden Railroad Avenue with a seawall and Alaskan Way.
Seattle waterfront near Pike Street, 1935
Ship loading at Pier 39, ca. 1946
During World War II, the central waterfront piers at the Port of Seattle were given numbers when the federal government imposed a uniform system in order to better manage shipments.
Seattle waterfront and skyline, 1952
According to HistoryLink, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct was built in the early 1950s to divert Highway 99 traffic from downtown streets; it also walled the harbor off from the city. Meanwhile, port activity stagnated as Seattle’s outdated facilities failed to accommodate changing shipping technology.
Aerial of Seattle waterfront, ca. 1960
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In the early 1960s, the vast Pier 46 and similar facilities on Harbor Island and along the Duwamish Waterway were constructed. The famous Edgewater Hotel was also built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The Beatles stayed there and helped put the Seattle waterfront on the map.
Dining on the Seattle waterfront, ca. 1970
Recreational development of the Seattle waterfront began in the 1970s. The city converted old pier sheds into shops and restaurants, and also rehabilitated Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market. Myrtle Edwards Park, Waterfront Park and the Seattle Aquarium were all built, making the Seattle waterfront an iconic destination.
Aerial of Seattle waterfront, ca. 1972
Seattle waterfront streetcar, 1982
By the 1980s, the Seattle waterfront was buzzing with recreation and industry. In 1982, a streetcar line was created to link the city’s abundant historical and waterfront attractions.
Harbor Island and Duwamish Waterway, ca. 1980
A new urban design for the Seattle waterfront advanced in the mid-1990s with the construction of the Port of Seattle’s modern headquarters at Pier 69 and the opening of the Bell Street Pier complex. The complex began serving Alaska-bound cruise ships in the spring of 2000.
Seattle waterfront, 2001
Development continues on the Seattle waterfront — there’s now a giant ferris wheel and a new park is in the works. Who knows what’s next!