History Friday, Part 10: Drying It Up and Cutting It Down

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

[If you’re new to the series, you can start with Part 1 here.]

Drying It Up and Cutting It Down

In 1913 — a mere two years after the City had taken custody of Ravenna Park and decimated its central creek — city mismanagement of it took another turn for the worse. That was the year that some members of the Seattle branch of the Federation of Women’s Clubs noticed that the beloved Roosevelt Tree was gone. In its place was a fresh three-foot-high stump. Alarmed, they notified Seattle Parks Superintendent J. W. Thompson, who glibly responded that it had been rotten and was removed as a “threat to public safety” (Arnold). A bit of investigating later revealed that Thompson himself had profited through the sale of “The Big Stick” as 63 cords of firewood.

Riled up, the women contacted the dean of the University of Washington’s College of Forestry, Hugo Winkenwerder, who explored the ravine and discovered that several large trees had been cut down — and that the remaining giants were perfectly healthy. The Parks Department responded with a promise to do no further logging. Yet the sawing continued and so, too, did the hue and cry from concerned citizens.

Thompson was eventually forced out due to “abuse of equipment, abuse of personnel, abuse of funds, intoxication and unauthorized sale of department property” (Arnold). But the cutting did not stop. In 1926 the City — ostensibly concerned about safety issues — signed a contract to have more trees cut. William Beck insisted in particular that Paderewski, Robert E. Lee, and McDowell should be vigilantly protected. Seattle Parks Department engineer L. Glenn Hall tried to allay fears claiming that only dead or dying trees would face saw-blades and axes. In addition he offered to try and not thin the park grounds out too much by leaving 20-feet tall stumps. Sadly, such promises were hollow and within a few years all the old-growth giants were gone.

Strangely as time passed and memories faded, the plight of those trees became clouded. When the topic arose people offered varying reasons why the trees had disappeared. Even Sophie Frye Bass, looking back, wrote in 1947 that “As Seattle grew, the park was surrounded by homes with chimneys that poured forth smoke which caused the big trees to deteriorate. Fir trees resent civilization. They had to be cut down” (Bass).

Next week: Literature, Culture, Comic Books



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.