Yesler

by Bo

Henry Yesler arrived in Seattle in 1852, looking for a place to set up a steam-powered sawmill. The downtown land claims had already been staked, but Carson Boren and David Maynard moved the boundaries of their claims north and south just far enough to allow for the construction of a mill on the waterfront and a road going east up the hill. The map below shows Yesler’s pipe-shaped claim, with the bowl of the pipe expanding east of Boren’s claim, in what is now the Central Area.

Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, Item No. 312

The road was called, appropriately, Mill Street. As Sophie Frye Bass explains, “Mill Street started right in being Mill Street. It could not help itself for Yesler’s mill was there.” Mill Street was renamed Yesler Avenue in 1888.

In addition to constructing and operating the city’s first sawmill, Yesler operated a cookhouse that served as the town’s event space, and built a larger hall at 1st and Cherry in the 1860s. He founded Seattle’s first water system, and served two terms as mayor, in 1874 and again in 1885. (A term only lasted one year in those days.) His wife, Sarah, helped found the Seattle Library Association, predecessor of the Seattle Public Library, and served as the first town librarian.

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