Welcome to History Fridays, featuring Ravenna Park!

One of the biggest requests I get for content on the Ravenna Blog is for history. Unfortunately, writing essays on local history is a bit out of my skill set, but finding other people who do it well is not!

One of the newest members of the Seattle Times Local News Partnership is HistoryLink.org. One of their staff historians, Alan Stein, clued me in last month to a brand new essay on Ravenna Park by Peter Blecha (freelance writer, author, historian, and musician). I asked if I could put the essay up here, on the Ravenna Blog, and the rest is history. (Ha ha.)

This new essay on Ravenna Park is a LONG one. I’ve “serialized” it into a 12-week series, with each new section being posted on Fridays. (However, if you’d like to spoil the suspense, the whole essay with accompanying pictures is available here.)

Welcome to History Fridays!


Ravenna Park (Seattle)

Ravenna Park, one of Seattle’s oldest, was among the few areas that escaped the logger’s axe in the late 1800s and thus preserved stunning examples of giant old-growth Douglas Firs. Centered around a steep moss- and fern-covered ravine just north of the University District, the park opened in 1887 as a privately operated destination called Ravenna Springs Park. It featured nature trails and mineral springs touted for their supposed healthful qualities. Over the following decades, owners William and Louise Beck (1860-1928) promoted the park under various names including Big Tree Park, Twin Maples Lane, Ravenna Natural Park, and finally Ravenna Park. Seattle bought the park in 1911, and subsequently lowered the lake that fed its stream and cut down many magnificent trees. Today Ravenna Park and the adjacent Cowen Park are city parks. A community group, Ravenna Creek Alliance, works to protect and restore it.

The Ravine

The deep history of Ravenna Park is directly tied to that of the nearby Green Lake Park — with the lake being a physical vestige of the Vashon Ice Glacial Sheet of 50,000 year ago. Green Lake had an outflow creek that meandered southeastward (along the path of today’s Ravenna Boulevard) through an increasingly steep and heavily wooded one-half-mile-long ravine and down into what is today called Union Bay (on Lake Washington). The western shore of that bay was the site of one Native American village and just northeast of the ravine (at the mouth of Thornton Creek) was another, so it may be presumed that the cutthroat trout and Coho salmon runs in the Green Lake (Ravenna) Creek were well known to those Indians. They also likely took note of the sulfuric mineral springs — natural features that would later be touted for having healing properties.

When Seattle’s first pioneer settlers — chief among them the Denny party — began making the land claims that would soon comprise the new village of Seattle, they mainly grabbed real estate along the central waterfront on Elliott Bay. It would take some time and the arrival of additional settlers before anyone made claims near the ravine. As logging operations progressed farther into the town’s surrounding forests, fields and hills all around were denuded of their bountiful stands of old-growth Douglas Fir, and giant alders, cedars, and willow trees. But not so, the ravine: Its steep canyon topography made the task far too difficult and its huge trees and massive ferns were spared that fate.

Next week: Ravenna Springs Park


This essay, “Ravenna Park (Seattle)“, appears here thanks to HistoryLink.org and author Peter Blecha, under a Creative Commons license.

W. W. Beck, Ravenna Park — ‘Im Walde,’ (1903), Peter Blecha collection, Seattle; W. W. Beck, Ravenna Park — ‘Im Walde,’ 16-page postcard booklet, undated, in Peter Blecha collection; W. W. Beck, Ravenna Park (ca. 1909), Peter Blecha collection; “Ravenna Park Guide,” brochure, 1909, Peter Blecha collection; “Ravenna Or Big Tree Park: It is Famous = “Nature’s Exposition,” postcard, 1909, Peter Blecha collection; Harvey Manning, Winter Walks and Hikes (Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2002), 42; Betty McDonald, Anybody Can Do Anything (Philadelphia / New York: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1950), 129-130; Paula Becker, “Time Traveling The Roosevelt District With Betty Macdonald,” Seattlepress.com website accessed July 13, 2010 (http://seattlepress.com/article-9455.html); “One of Ravenna’s Giant Trees Christened ‘Paderewski,'” Interlaken, February 8, 1908, p. 1; Sophie Frye Bass, When Seattle Was A Village (Seattle: Lowman & Hanford Co., 1947), 106-108:  David Buerge, “Indian Lake Washington,” Seattle Weekly, August 1-7, 1984; Seattle Polk City Directory (1901-1934); Directory of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Washington D.C.: Memorial Continental Hall, 1911), 1340; “Mrs. L. C. Beck Funeral To Be Held Today: Woman Widely Known In Musical and Club Circles Is Mourned By Seattle Friends,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 9, 1928, p. 13; Kate C. Duncan 1001 Curious Things: Tales from Ye Olde Curiosity Shop (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 73-78; Andrea Casadio, email to Peter Blecha, January 30, 2008; “No Finer Site: The University of Washington’s Early Years On Union Bay,” Web exhibition, University of Washington Libraries website accessed August 19, 2010 (http://lib.washington.edu/exhibits/site/); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Seattle’s Ravenna Park Bridge is constructed in 1913” (by Priscilla Long), and “WPA builds Cowen Park Bridge in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood in 1936” (by Priscilla Long), and “John Olmsted arrives in Seattle to design city parks on April 30, 1903” (by David Williams and Walt Crowley), and “David Thomas Denny (1832-1903)” (by David Wilma), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed August 1, 2010); Esther Campbell, Bagpipes in the Woodwind Section (Seattle: Seattle Symphony Women’s Association, 1978), 9; William Arnold, “The Great Mystery of Ravenna Park,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Northwest Today section, December 17, 1972, pp. 8-9; Steve Cronin, “Ravenna Park’s Famous Trees Vanished Furtively,” UW Daily, May 25, 1977, p. 3;  James Bush, “Remembering William W. Beck: The Father of Ravenna Park,” The Seattle Sun, August 2003, The Seattle Sun website accessed August 25, 2010 (http://parkprojects.com/2003news/0308aug/hisbeck.html); Mary R. Watson, travel diary (handwritten), 1910, portion accessed on eBay, December 2006, copy in possession of Peter Blecha; Russ Hanbey, “1916 Seattle was a Hotbed of Sin When 2 Officers Were Killed,” The Seattle Times, February 6, 2010 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com); and Peter Blecha archives.