Until 1907 when it was annexed to Seattle, Ballard was its own separate city. Ballard had its own city government, City Hall and Mayor. Bordered by Puget Sound, Shilshole Bay and Salmon Bay, Ballard was originally home to fishermen, mill workers and boat builders — many of whom emigrated from Scandinavia. Today, Ballard’s Fishermen’s Terminal, Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, Shilshole Marina and Golden Gardens Park attract tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Ole Shillestad house, 1880


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

Before the construction of the Ballard Locks, a man named Ole Shilstad built a house on the south side of Salmon Bay. Around 1875, Ole Shillestad emigrated from Norway to the United States with his wife and three children, settling in Seattle as one of the earliest pioneers. He was skilled at woodworking and built the house on a huge piece of land. Eventually, he sold some of the land to the army for Fort Lawton and some he sold to build the Chittenden Locks. The house was reportedly moved when the locks were built and the water level rose enough that the original apple orchard was harvested from a rowboat.

Ballard Locks under construction, 1913


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

In April 1906, Hiram Chittenden became the head of the Seattle District of the Army Corps and began to study what is now the Lake Washington ship canal. He devised a plan to build a masonry lock at the mouth of Salmon Bay, sometimes known as the Narrows, and recommended construction of two locks there — one for smaller vessels and one for larger ships with a second set of gates to accommodate midsize vessels without having to fill the entire large lock.

Ballard Locks, 1917


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

The grand opening celebration for the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Locks was finally held on July 4, 1917. A parade of more than 200 boats sailed through the cuts and Lake Union into Lake Washington.

Aerial of Ballard Locks, 1963


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

Once in the lock, the water level drops as much as 26 feet to bring the boats even with Puget Sound. The fresh water is exchanged with salt water. The locks have also become a critical link for Seattle’s famous salmon and steelhead heading upstream to spawn. A fish ladder with 21 steps or “weirs” allows spawning fish to climb to the freshwater side. Young fish, or “smolts” then return down through the locks out to Puget Sound.

Salmon Bay Terminal, 1936


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

The Port of Seattle’s Salmon Bay Terminal was designed as a home port for a large portion of the Puget Sound fishing fleet. Commercial fishing is a very dangerous profession. At the center of Fishermen’s Terminal, more than 670 names are inscribed on the Fishermen’s Memorial to commemorate locals who have lost their lives while commercial fishing since 1900.

Seattle Cedar Lumber Company Mill in Ballard, 1915


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

After Henry Yesler’s Mill was burned in the 1889 Seattle fire, the area’s timber industry moved north into Ballard. Ballard’s lumber mills provided hundreds of jobs, and the Stimson Mill was one of the town’s largest.

Ballard Bridge under construction, 1916


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

In 1917 construction of the Ballard Bridge (designed by A.H. Dimock) was completed, with wooden bridge approach structures.

Ballard Bridge south approach under construction, 1939


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

In 1939 the wooden bridge approaches were completely replaced with concrete and steel. A fascinating film made during that reconstruction can be seen here.  

Opening of Municipal Street Railway on Ballard Bridge, 1918


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

The establishment of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad service to and from Seattle proper in 1888, which occurred in conjunction with the platting and promotion of Gilman Park by the West Coast Improvement Company, triggered the initial era of industrial development along Salmon Bay and commercial development along the adjacent Ballard Avenue. By the late 1890s, Ballard Avenue was lined with a distinct collection of wood-frame commercial buildings, workingmen’s hotels and lodgings, single-family residences as well as several masonry and stone commercial buildings.

View southwest on Ballard Ave Northwest with Hattie’s Hat, Silver Spot Tavern, and Ballard Hardware, July 1976


Photo: Seattle Public Library

Ballard Avenue continued to thrive through the years. Since 1904, the space occupied by Hattie’s Hat has been an operating saloon of some sort. The bar/restaurant has remained a hot spot in the Ballard neighborhood for over 100 years.

Ballard Locks and Shilshole Bay, 1990


Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

According to Ballard Historical Society, in the 1990s the concept of creating Urban Villages throughout Seattle was implemented to concentrate growth near commercial districts and prevent sprawl. Because Ballard is an attractive place to live relatively close to downtown Seattle, by 2015 Ballard had exceeded predicted population growth by over 300 percent. Houses in the up-zoned residential area designated as the Urban Village core are being replaced by new apartment buildings and townhouses at a rapid rate “with little regard to their historic context.”

You can learn more about Ballard historical preservation and take a tour with the Ballard Historical Society here.

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