Green Lake trolley, 1896

The Fremont Historical Society will be holding a historical walking tour of the Fremont area’s streetcar history on Thursday, July 22nd from 7PM to 8:30PM beginning in front of the old Car Barn on 34th and Phinney Ave. N. The Fremont Historical Society will also have a number of historic photographs on display for your viewing pleasure.

1933 Seattle Streetcar Map (click for larger versions)

For those unaware of Seattle’s streetcar past, the entire city of Seattle was once covered in various streetcar lines which helped settle many of the neighborhoods in which we live today. Like many cities, Seattle’s streetcar lines were replaced by the gasoline powered bus beginning in the 1940s.

Today, a few of the major routes remain electrified thanks to our fleet of Electric Trolley Buses, while many (if not all) of the others are now served more of less by our current diesel bus lines.

The Seattle Times has a chronological history of Seattle Streetcars.

Looking at a 1933 map of the Seattle Municipal Street Railway on the one-year anniversary of Link Light Rail, one can only imagine what our city would be like today if the system had not been shut down.

The Details

What: Fremont Streetcar History Tour
When: Thursday July 22 from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: In front of the old Car Barn at 34th & Phinney Ave N

It is a guided walking tour along N. 34th and north on Woodland Park Ave N. to N. 40th. Along the way we will tell you about the history of the streetcars in Fremont, why Fremont held a place of importance in Seattle’s history as a streetcar suburb, and about early residences and shops along the streetcar route.


5 Replies to “Fremont Streetcar History Walking Tour: Thursday, July 22nd”

  1. No Market Street, John Street, or Rainier Avenue streetcars in 1933, and nothing in Columbia City or Rainier Beach.

    It’s interesting that the Broadway-UW streetcar seems to turn east on Jefferson and then to Madrona, without going downtown, as if consolidating the 49-9-3-2. To go downtown you’d have to transfer. So there are precedents for crosstown routes.

  2. I attended the event yesterday. There were some thirty people. The leaders were three members of the Fremont Historical Society (sorry I’m bad with names). A Sound Transit person was going to be there but had to work at the last minute. I also met a guy who runs his own walking tours. This tour was previously given in 2008.

    We started at the Old Car Barn (a historic building, now Theo’s Chocolates). We went east on 34th past the Fremont and Aurora bridges, and north on Woodland Park Ave, with a detour to 36th. Fremont was Seattle’s streetcar hub in the 1880s-1910s. The Fremont bridge carried the Fremont streetcar, the Interurban to Everett, the Ballard streetcar, and the UW/Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition streetcar. (There was a plan to extend the Interurban to Bellingham and Olympia, but it was never finished.) The downtown Seattle terminal was at the Greyhound station, or slightly southwest of it.

    “Fremont” was originally a larger area that has been mentally truncated by the Ship Canal, Aurora Brige, and Ballard development. When the first streetcars were built, there was solid forest in South Lake Union and the Central District, and the Ship Canal was a creek called Ross Creek. The Fremont Bridge was one story lower. It was raised during the regrading frenzy throughout Seattle, which also cut a swath for 36th Street and another streetcar route. The first streetcars were horse-driven, then powered by DC current from downtown. DC was inadequate for the distance, so they built an electric substation in Fremont which allowed the one Fremont streetcar to expand into several.

    The land around Woodland Park was owned by Bob(?) Phinney. He built an amusement park there and a streetcar to it, to encourage people to build homes on his land. That was a common reason why streetcars were built. Of course, Phinney Avenue and Phinney Ridge are now named after him.

    You can still see signs of the streetcars and the small businesses along the routes. They were “mixed-use developments” with retail on the ground floor and housing above. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware stores. People would get off the streetcar and shop on their way home. Woodland Park Avenue used to be a commercial street but it’s now residential, so these two-story buildings have been converted into houses. The streets have not been resurfaced, so you can still see the faint lines where the tracks were covered over, or where the line turns in a parking lot. You can also see why some buildings are further from the street than expected, or why the street is so wide (as in 14th Ave NW), to make room for the former streetcar.

    There were two bridges which no longer exist. One was at 14th Ave NW, the other was from Stone Way to South Lake Union. The latter was a temporary bridge while the Fremont Bridge was being replaced. (The current Fremont Bridge is the third one.)

    Two anecdotes. First, when the first streetcar was built from downtown to Lake Washington, it was an all-day trip to go to the lake, spend a couple hours, and come back.

    Second, when the Aurora Bridge was built around 1940, 7% of Seattlites had cars. With a population of 200,000; that meant 14,000 drivers. One early adventurer drove across the bridge both ways and counted five other cars. It’s hard to believe they built a six-lane bridge and wide highway in that situation, but they were obviously expecting a big expansion of driving in the future.

    The streetcars were originally private, but the city took them over soon after, believing it should be a public service. But they stupidly passed an ordinance saying the fare would always be 5c and would never go up. This proved inadequate after inflation, and in 1940 the city asked Congress for a loan to keep the streetcars running. Congress was under the influence of automobile lobbyists at the time, so it refused. So the city dismantled the streetcar infrastructure, believing it had no other choice. (Why couldn’t it pass another ordinance raising the fare?)

    There are several historical societies in Seattle, including one in Wedgewood. Some people want to start one in Capitol Hill but haven’t been able to put it together. And somebody wants to start a Seattle streetcar historical society. These societies aren’t formal organizations, but just a group of neighbors that meet monthly and research old houses or landmarks they’re interested in.

    1. I went too, it was a great tour. Perhaps a Seattle Streetcar Historical Society could make a new Seattle Transit Museum on the Waterfront and run the restored Waterfront Streetcar, much like the F Market & Wharves is run in San Francisco?

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