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History of the Site


Yesler Swamp is an environmental treasure in the heart of a great city. Within a few yards of major streets and busy neighborhoods, it preserves rich wonders of wildlife—a beaver dam, eagles and herons, and 100 species of birds.

The story of Yesler Swamp opens windows on the city’s early history, a major pioneer, and the evolution of Seattle’s lakes and waterways. Now, the neighboring community has come together to preserve and protect this unique urban ecosystem and make it accessible to the public.

It was not always a swamp. It began as the hub of a sawmill and lumber business operated by Henry Yesler, two-time Seattle mayor and frontier entrepreneur. Yesler is among Seattle’s most famous pioneers, the one who built the famous “skid road.” Yesler Terrace, Yesler Way and other downtown Seattle landmarks are named for him.

If Yesler is best known for his enterprises in the city’s early center, he had other ambitious business interests. Around 1888, Henry Yesler’s company built a second lumber mill on the north shore of Union Bay. It was a little-settled spot on a stretch of original waterfront. Logs cut from the shores of Lake Washington were floated to Yesler’s mill run to be sawed into lumber. Yesler’s mill operations began the transformation of a thickly-forested waterfront, where Indians and camped and fished, to a dense urban neighborhood.

Before Yesler and a handful of other white settlers arrived, the fringes of Union Bay were heavily forested. Fir trees over 150 feet tall towered over the water’s edge. For hundreds and thousands of years, Yesler Swamp was covered with water. It was not a swamp, just a bend in Union Bay, the western arm of Lake Washington. Union Bay was shallow, only 16 or 17 feet at its deepest.[1] On its north shore lay a wild marsh where over the centuries, downed logs, plant debris and soil had created rich peat deposits one hundred feet deep.[2]

Over a century after Yesler’s mill burned and closed for the final time, a small group of neighbors began to look more carefully at the wetland that was almost on their doorstep. They found unexpected wonders.

University of Washington Professor Kern Ewing agreed to take the neighbors on a tour of the area—just east of the Union Bay Natural Area, and introduced them to the ecology of the swampy area known then as the “east basin.”[3]

On a winter afternoon, a small group followed Ewing through the swamp, slogging through brush and mud. One person’s foot got hopelessly stuck in the muck — to the amusement of everyone else.

But to their surprise, the visitors found a sanctuary of willows, red cedar, birds and water. Beaver lived in a home of sticks and mud by the water’s edge, great blue heron waded near the shoreline, songbirds fluttered in the underbrush and an eagle perched in the cottonwoods. Hidden below street level, the swamp was quiet and tranquil – with no cell phones, no traffic, no urban racket – only stillness.

Photo by Jean Colley

For generations, the builders of Seattle had looked upon swamps as nuisances – soggy, muddy obstacles in the way of progress. The best thing to do with a swamp, went the thinking, was to log the timber, haul in the earth movers and fill in the wet places. Build a house or a store or a skyscraper where trees and water had once stood. Destroy the swamps, not preserve them.

Fortunately, this swamp – the east basin – had been neglected. Nothing much had happened there since Yesler’s mill had burned down almost a century before. Maybe it wasn’t too late to save this swamp.

Experts agreed that the best way to protect the wildlife and open the swamp to the community was to define a pathway – an environmentally sensitive, accessible, all season trail and boardwalk.

One challenge was what to call the area. “East basin” didn’t have much of a ring to it. “Wetland” didn’t really describe this unique area, either. After all, the East Basin was a true swamp – more than just a wetland – and it had a history tied to the famous Seattle pioneer.

That is how the name “Yesler Swamp” came about. And here is the story of this unique urban wilderness.


“Union Bay in its natural state,” University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW 10003.

The Yesler Swamp story really begins over 15,000 years ago when the glaciers receded from the Northwest, leaving behind the great basin that is now Lake Washington. Union Bay was heavily forested with giant evergreens and thick underbrush. The earliest map and survey done in 1865 shows the shallow waters of Union Bay and the lake covering what is now Yesler Swamp.

One early observer reported the vegetation around the lake shore was “very luxuriant” and in some places “almost impenetrable”:

“The woods consist mostly of fir and cedar with a few deciduous trees. A dense undergrowth of brush grows almost every where [sic] unless the ground is worked every year. Amongst the brush may be found a large fern or braken [bracken] which fills nearly every available interstice. This braken grows to a height of eight or ten feet in many places and is often so dense as to make it very difficult to force a passage through it.”[4]

Yesler Creek flowed into Union Bay at Yesler Swamp. The creek ran through a marsh where Talaris now stands, then drained into the lake.[5] Although the lower reaches of Yesler Creek were later diverted, the low-lying channel where Yesler Creek once flowed can still be seen on the Talaris property and Yesler Creek is still shown on the map identifying Seattle’s streams and watersheds.


In the early days, a band of Duwamish Indians known as the hah-choo-AHBSH or “Lake People” lived in villages along the shores of Lake Washington. They moved about from season to season, canoeing through the waters and marshes of Union Bay. Their large canoes, carved from a single huge log of western red cedar, had gently up-curving bows and tapering, angled sterns.[6] A carved Salish canoe can be seen today at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle.

“Chudups John and others in a canoe on Lake Union, ca. 1885,” University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections SHS 2228.

The Lake People spoke Lushootseed, the Puget Sound Salish language. They are said to have buried their dead across from Yesler Swamp on Foster Island, which was known as “Stitici.”[7]A village not far from Yesler Swamp was one of their seasonal homes. An influential Duwamish group constructed their principal longhouse near what is now Talaris.[8]

The Duwamish who lived on Union Bay traveled to Lake Union along a portage called “Skhwacugwot” (“portage” in Lushootseed.) This is probably the route marked “Indian Trail” on an early Seattle map.

The small cove that is now Yesler Swamp, known as “ádeed,” was where the Lake People gathered to play “slahal,” a bone game. In the late 19th century, the site was set aside as a camping spot for the Indians. [9]

Food was plentiful on a seasonal basis around Yesler Swamp. In spring, the women foraged salmonberry shoots and bracken fern fiddleheads, while the men hunted deer or elk grazing on the nearby skunk cabbage grasslands.


White settlement around Yesler Swamp began in the middle of the 19th century. The US government completed its first survey mapping the shores of Lake Washington in 1856.[10]

As the 1856 map shows, in those days – before the Montlake Canal joined the waterways – Union Bay was connected to Lake Union only by the Indian trails:

Cadastral Survey, US Bureau of Land Management (Jan. 20, 1856) (edited)

The lake waters lapping over Yesler Swamp stretched east to the present day Surber Drive and north across NE 41st Street. Yesler Creek drained into a marshland where Talaris now is located. On the west, Union Bay came up to University Village and almost to Calvary Cemetery.The state of Washington later designated the waters of Yesler Swamp as Waterway No. 2.[11]

A primitive road was cut through the woods into the Union Bay area in late 1871.[12] On September 16, 1872, William H. Surber laid claim to a 165 acre tract of land on the north end of Union Bay, including what is now Yesler Swamp.[13] Surber, known as “Uncle Joe,” gave his name to Surber Drive, the eastern boundary of Yesler Swamp.

William Harvey Surber, n.d.,” MOHAI Photograph Collection No. 1957.1284.7.

Game was abundant in Joe Surber’s day, including deer, cougars, wildcats, and elk. Surber, who was famous as a hunter, killed five elk not far from Yesler Swamp. He also is credited with killing Seattle’s last cougar near his Union Bay homestead:

“It was by his hand that the last cougar slain in the vicinity of Seattle met its death. This event happened on his place on Union Bay in 1895. The dogs forced the beast to mount a fence, and Mr. Surber, wishing not to mar its pelt with a ball, killed it with a picket”.[14]

Surber built his homestead across from Yesler Swamp at NE 41st Street and Laurel Boulevard (now 38th Avenue NE). There he farmed and lived with his nieces, Clara and Alice Shelton.[15] Surber died on July 1, 1923, and is buried in Lake View Cemetery.[16]




In the late 1880’s, Henry Yesler and his company bought 23 acres of land on the western edge of Surber’s property.[17] There, near where the Center for Urban Horticulture stands today, Yesler built the saw mill on the north shore of Union Bay. This early map [18] shows Yesler’s property and the Seattle Ice Company, which occupied about half an acre next to Yesler’s mill:

Baist Map 1912

In Yesler’s day, the shores around Lake Washington were being rapidly logged to supply the demand for lumber for Seattle and for shipment down the coast to San Francisco. Laurelhurst was largely stripped of trees, most likely sawn into lumber at Yesler’s mill.

“Union Bay looking east from the UW campus ca. 1916,” University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections UWC 1856.

Yesler’s Mill was ideally situated to take advantage of the timber boom. Logs could be floated on giant rafts from the forests circling Lake Washington. By 1887, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad had reached the north shore of Union Bay, following the route that is now the Burke-Gilman trail.[19] In 1888, the railroad arrived at “Yesler Junction,” a depot behind present day University Village at 30th Avenue NE.[20]

“Lake Shore & Eastern Railway,” University of Washington Special Collections 5473

Soon after, a railroad spur connected the main line to Yesler’s mill along what is now Mary Gates Drive. An 1895 map shows the route of the railway and the spur to Yesler’s mill.[21]


“Montlake ditch, n.d.,” University of Washington Libraries Special Collection University of Washington, Special Collections UW 4291.

Timber reached Yesler’s saw mill by water, and finished lumber could be shipped to market by either rail or water. Competing sawmills on Lake Union and in Seattle were at a disadvantage here because before the Montlake cut was opened in 1916, logs had to be dragged to mills on Lake Union or Seattle across the narrow isthmus of land connecting the lakes.

The waters over Yesler Swamp served as a mill pond for storing logs. The 1904 map clearly shows the trestle and log booms stretching from the mill into Union Bay for loading lumber and logs.[22] Today when the lake is low, you can still see the ancient pilings from the trestle along the west side of Yesler Swamp.

Jim Thompson, who spent his boyhood in the area near Yesler Swamp, recalls how the logs were moved from the booms into the mill run:

“Be certain that you know how the logs were towed from the log boom where the apartments are now on the North side of Madison and then positioned in the mill run for the recut at the mill. These were 4-5 feet diameter and or larger and sometimes 100 ft ++ long thus they were very difficult to maneuver.“[23]

By 1892, the Yesler mill reportedly supported 36 employees who could cut “7,500 board feet of lumber every twelve hours.”[24]

Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat

Although he became a wealthy businessman and was twice elected mayor of Seattle, Yesler was engaged in constant litigation. In the 17 year period between 1872 and 1889, Yesler was involved in over 150 lawsuits in King County. In many of these court fights, Yesler was either trying to collect money or was being sued for money owed to his creditors. Toward the end of his life, Yesler was beset by dozensof collections, foreclosures, and liens again his property.[25]

The Pacific Northwest in the early 1890’s suffered a severe business depression. One writer in 1917 stated: “There was little demand for real estate and security values had decreased to an alarming extent.”[26] Today, we would say that Yesler’s property was “under water” with debt exceeding its value.

Eventually, Yesler’s nephew, James D. Lowman, was appointed trustee for Yesler’s affairs, and Lowman assumed control and management of Yesler’s property and businesses.

Yesler died on December 16, 1892, and – like Joe Surber – he was buried in Lake View Cemetery.[27]

Following his death, Lowman continued to manage the Yesler businesses. In 1895, the saw mill on Union Bay was destroyed when it burned “rather spectacularly.” After the fire, Yesler’s company constructed a shingle mill in its place, which operated until it too burned in the 1920’s.[28] Jim Thompson recalls, “The smoke from the sawdust piles was prevalent for many years after.”[29]

By 1925, Yesler’s company owned a little more than four acres out of the original 23 acres at the Union Bay site.[30]

In 1927, the University of Washington bought the land where was Yesler’s mill once stood.[31] Nothing was left of Henry Yesler’s businesses on Union Bay except for the community that still bears his name


In 1888, Yesler platted the Town of Yesler to provide housing for the mill workers. The town was laid out to the north of the mill and to the northwest of Yesler Swamp. The town extended from its south border on Front Street (now NE 41st Street) to Wilkes Street on the west (now approximately the western border of Talaris) and north to Railroad Street (now NE 45th Street).

Plat of Town of Yesler

Homes were built, and the Town of Yesler became a thriving community. Some of the original houses are still standing.

Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat










The Town of Yesler post office opened in 1890 with Theron W. Peck as the first postmaster. Peck distributed the mail for sawmill workers from a boarding house that he ran.[32] One lot in the Town of Yesler was also set aside in 1891 for a church.[33]

In 1892, Yesler School District No. 77 opened a one room schoolhouse for the children in the Town of Yesler.[34] Children from Laurelhurst also attended Yesler School, which they reached by walking west across Yesler Creek.[35]

Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat

In 1910, Seattle incorporated the Town of Yesler as part of the city.[36] Henry Yesler died before the town became a thriving community, but his legacy survives in the neighborhood still designated as the “Town of Yesler Addition.”[37]








Throughout Seattle’s early history, the pioneers dreamed of digging a canal to connect Lake Washington to the waters of Puget Sound. In the early days, the only route to Lake Union from Lake Washington was the narrow ditch through the isthmus of land between the two lakes. Timber logged on the shores of Lake Washington and the mountains to the east had to be hauled by hand or dragged by horsepower.

One of the many engineering challenges to building a canal between the lakes and Puget Sound was devising a way to lower Lake Washington to the level of Lake Union, allowing ships to pass from the fresh water lakes through a channel to the salt water.[38]

On September 1, 1911, after many years of debate and planning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a 75 foot ship canal that would extend from Lake Washington through Union Bay, to Lake Union and on to Puget Sound. A set of locks would permit the Corps of Engineers to control the level of Lake Washington and permit ships to pass into Puget Sound. The Cedar River was to be diverted into the southern end of Lake Washington to provide a constant flow of water through the locks.[39]

After four and a half years of construction, the ship canal was completed. On August 26, 1916, the Chittenden locks were closed, and the waters of Lake Washington gushed through the Montlake Cut into Lake Union on its way to Puget Sound.

“Cutting away the coffer dam at the Montlake Cut,” University of Washington, Special Collections UW2382

By October 1916, Lake Washington had dropped 8.8 feet. When the level of Lake Washington fell, the edges of Union Bay – including Yesler Swamp – were drained of water, leaving a fringe of cattail marsh. The last remnant of this original cattail marsh created in 1916 can be seen today in Yesler Swamp and in the unmanaged wildlife area to its west.[40]

Photo by Jean Colley

But the lowering of Lake Washington caused a problem for Yesler’s mill: the millpond where log booms were stored was left high and dry. To permit continued water access to Yesler’s mill, a channel or mill run was dredged. Jim Thompson remembers a mill run deep enough to accommodate a tugboat, stuffed with logs four to five feet in diameter and over 100 feet long.[41]Today the old mill run forms the lagoon in Yesler Swamp that is home to water fowl and great blue heron.


Yesler’s shingle mill continued to operate until the early 1920’s when it too burned, and the University of Washington bought the Yesler property.

By the 1920’s, the Laurelhurst neighborhood to the east of Yesler Swamp was developing rapidly. In June 1926, the estate of Joe Surber filed a plat for the Belvoir addition to the city of Seattle.[42]

Belvoir Addition Plat

Houses began to spring up on Belvoir Place overlooking Yesler Swamp. The point of land that juts into Yesler Swamp was reportedly nick-named “Psychology Point” because three psychologists made their homes on Belvoir Place.

The point was said to have “not only a delightful position but a lovely rare atmosphere.” Reportedly, two sisters who never spoke to one another – possibly Surber’s nieces – lived near the point for 25 years until their house burned to the ground. [43]

During this period, neighbors enjoyed Yesler Swamp for recreation. One of Laurelhurst’s longtime residents remembers playing in Yesler Swamp back in the 1930’s, filling jars with swamp water to catch frogs. Another older resident recalls when he was a young boy trapping muskrats and other “critters” to sell to the UW zoology department for fifty cents “if still alive. . . . If dead, no value.”[44]

To serve the growing neighborhood around Yesler Swamp, the city of Seattle began construction of a sewer system in the mid-1920’s. Sometime between 1926 and 1928, the city built the berm for Surber Drive.[45] (Prior to that time, there was a “Surber Avenue,” but the old maps (like the 1909 Baist map above) show that this was a different street, which was located to the east near present-day 40th Avenue NE, not the present-day Surber Drive, .[46])

To accommodate the growth of the neighborhood in the 1920’s, the new sewer system included a pumping station at the foot of Belvoir Place overlooking Yesler Swamp. A pipeline crossed Surber from one of the lots on the east side of Surber (3904 Belvoir Place) and emptied into a “ditch” in Yesler Swamp.[49] Today a pipe outlet – probably the descendent of this old ditch – is still visible on the east side of Yesler Swamp.

Seattle Side Sewer Card No. 5738-1.

What did the Surber Drive berm do to Yesler Swamp? We don’t know for sure, but we can make a good guess by looking at the present-day topography. Today, the difference in elevation between Surber Drive and the low part of Yesler Swamp is about 20 feet.[48]Before the berm, the waters of Yesler Swamp would likely have covered the area where homes now stand on the east side of Surber Drive.

Today, the gardens surrounding those houses are well below street level, almost as low as the bottom of Yesler Swamp. Water from their low-lying gardens still passes through an underground pipe (shown on the 1931 sewer map) and drains into Yesler Swamp. Before Surber Drive was built, the waters of Yesler Swamp most likely covered those lots.

The city later installed six hundred feet of 60-inch concrete underground pipe to carry outfall and overflow into Union Bay from the neighborhood north of N.E. 41st Street. The remains of a 48 inch concrete pipe still appear in Yesler Swamp. At one time, this old pipe most likely carried the waters of Yesler Creek across NE 41st Street into Union Bay.

What happened to Yesler Creek? Except for the low-lying wetland on the Talaris property, there is no sign of Yesler Creek at its natural outlet in Yesler Swamp. The upper reaches of Yesler Creek still run behind the Ronald McDonald house and can be seen along 39th Avenue NE and NE 60th street. Unfortunately, Yesler Creek was later diverted into a concrete culvert near the Children’s Hospital, and it no longer flows to Yesler Swamp.[50]

A few years ago, Jim Thompson told the story of what happened to Yesler Creek. In Jim’s words:

The creek flow[ed] from Big Rock in Wedgewood past the Ravenna School; piped under the 2 lane brick Sand Point road; then past Jimmie the Jap’s truck garden on the East side (now Laurelon Terrace which was owned by the Shibyamas) . . . into the swamp at the foot of NE 41st, (now Bruce McCaw’s children’s enterprise) where we had trap lines . . .and then piped under NE 41st into the Yesler Mill mill run – which is alongside of now Surber Drive.[51]

(Jim’s memory may be incorrect on one point here since Yesler Creek would have to flow uphill to get from Big Rock into the Yesler Creek drainage.)

Although development swallowed up the lands and waters around Yesler Swamp, the swamp itself was relatively undisturbed. In 1937, a channel was dredged in Yesler Swamp to provide a boat launching site. Jim Thompson remembers that his family kept an old, small sailboat in the lagoon.[52]

“Aerial view of the University Washington campus, Union Bay, and Laurelhurst, January 30, 1937,” University of Washington Libraries Special Collections UW 15656

A year later in 1938, “substantial new dredging” was carried out, perhaps to dewater the swampland.[53]The dredged lagoon – once a mill pond for Yesler’s mill – is plainly visible in aerial photographs. This dredged area probably survives today as the lagoon at the heart of Yesler Swamp.

Aerial view of the University of Washington campus, Union Bay, and Laurelhurst, June 21, 1938,” University of Washington Libraries Special Collections SEA 2334.


In 1946, to accommodate the large influx of soldiers returning from World War II and their families, the University built married student housing west of Yesler Swamp.[54]

Kroll’s Map c. 1946

The housing complex was known as Union Bay Village. The road behind Union Bay Village survives today in the remains of the circular asphalt drive south of the Center for Urban Horticulture. The upland portion of Yesler Swamp was planted in “victory gardens,” which, along with the housing, can be seen in a 1949 aerial view.

Martin Rodbell, a graduate student in the early 1950’s, recalls living in the married student quarters:

We lived in Union Bay Village, which was a bunch old Army barracks at the time, for $32 a month. We were all in the same boat, beginning to have families… We were all poor, but it was a great life.[55]

A short film showing married student life in Union Bay Village around 1948 is still available in the University archives.

Photo courtesy of Kern Ewing



By the early 1960’s, Union Bay Village was still used for student housing, but no sign of the “victory gardens.” The upland part of Yesler Swamp was simply described as “scrub.”[56]


In 1933, people began dumping trash in the Union Bay marsh. Later, the city began using the area as a garbage dump and landfill. The fill material was household garbage, rubbish, ashes, stumps, lumber and rubble. Some 11 million cubic yards of trash, including debris from the construction of the I-5 freeway, were deposited on the marsh.[57]

In the end, up to 40 feet (12.2 meters) of garbage and debris were dumped on the marsh.[58]

The idea was to “reclaim” the swamp land for building or other useful purposes. Walter L. Dunn, a professor of engineering at the University, conducted a study in 1966. He noted:

When the work of recovery by means of refuse began in 1933, the swamp generally had the consistency of thick sludge, much of it over 60 feet deep. It has been built into a usable part of the campus.[59]

“Bulldozer at Montlake Landfill, University of Washington, August 17, 1958,” University of Washington Libraries Special Collections UW19075

Rubbish was burned on the fill until 1954, when the practice was stopped due to citizen protests. Closure of the landfill was begun in 1965 and was completed in 1971.

Not everyone favored filling the swampland with garbage. In 1951, UW Professors Higman and Larrison published their evocative journal of their visits to the swamp, Union Bay: The Life of a City Marsh. They wrote:

It is a unique place, this marsh. Man, by building the ship canal, lowered the water of the bay until its margins became a series of exposed flats. Man is therefore responsible for the marsh. If the present trend continues, man, by continued filling, drainage, and building, will some day destroy it.[60]

Fortunately, the “useable part of the campus” — the part of the marsh that was filled in by rubbish for over 30 years — did not extend as far as the east basin.Yesler Swamp, once again, was spared.


Following closure of the landfill, the University began planning for the future of the area. Fortunately, the Washington legislature in 1971 enacted the Shoreline Management Act, whose purpose was both to preserve the natural character of the shorelines of our state as well as to increase public access to the shores.[61]

The University approved a master plan for the former landfill in 1974, designating the marshland around Yesler Swamp as “unmanaged wildlife.” The swamp at that time featured red alders, willow, a few cottonwoods and “thickets of Himalayan blackberry.”[62] In January 1978, the University decided to demolish Union Bay Village and move married student housing to other locations.[63] The natural area would instead be devoted to research and teaching. [64]

In 1993, the UW undertook a plan for the future of the Union Bay shoreline. A committee, which included Kern Ewing, was charged with preparing a management plan. The emphasis was on “the importance of preserving this freshwater wetland as a public heritage and . . . increasing concern on the part of the University faculty and students that this rare nearby habitat be available intact for future study and teaching.”[65]

The planners agreed that the entire landfill over the deep, spongy peat deposits of Union Bay was unsuitable for construction of buildings. Instead, the natural area should be reserved for teaching, wildlife habitat and recreation. A wetland study at the time characterized much of the area as “wetland.”[66] All of area encompassing Yesler Swamp was designated as open space.[67] Specifically, the marsh to the west of Yesler Swamp was designated as a Conservancy Preservation Shoreline area.[68]

The planners generally recommended removing invasive non-native plants and animals, adding native plants, maximizing biodiversity, and controlling human impacts.[69] The area would come to be known as the Union Bay Natural Area.


In 2000, for the first time, serious attention shifted to Yesler Swamp. In a series of Capstone Projects carried out by UW Restoration Ecology Network (U-REN), teams of students led by Kern Ewing and others began restoration of Yesler Swamp. The students dug out invasive blackberries and canary reed grass, planting willows and other native species to shade out the invaders, and mapped out a rough trail.

Students studied the history of restoration efforts in the natural area and the hydrology of the swamp, observing that the fluctuating lake water levels posed a challenge for constructing a permanent trail for access to the lagoon. They noted that when heavy rains fell, the trail was not navigable without rubber boots.

Taking into account the unusual hydrology of the area, in 2004 the students developed a detailed plan for a loop trail. The route forms the basis for the current loop trail design. Laura Davis, a member of the 2004 Capstone Team, later became a professional landscape designer and joined forces with Friends of Yesler Swamp to develop the current trail plan for Yesler Swamp.[70]

In 2010, Friends of Yesler Swamp, assisted by a grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Matching fund, retained SBA Landscape Associates to design an environmentally sensitive, all season trail and boardwalk to provide community access to Yesler Swamp. A professional design was prepared, and all environmental permits were obtained. The Department of Neighborhoods has promised additional funding to begin construction of the Yesler Swamp Trail.

Groups of environmental students at the UW continue to study the swamp and work towards its restoration. Friends of Yesler Swamp has partnered with U-REN students and hosts monthly work parties. Community members and students have devoted hundreds of hours to pulling ivy, chopping Himalayan blackberry, digging invasive grasses, and planting native species like willow and cedar.

Photo by Carol Arnold

At the same time, UW students and community groups like the Green Seattle Coalition are working to restore the headwaters of Yesler Creek.

Birders highly value Yesler Swamp for the variety of birds that inhabit the swamp. Over 100 species of birds have been spotted there, including Trumpeter swans and Barred Owl.

Friends of Yesler Swamp also sponsors popular children’s events to introduce kids to Yesler Swamp. Children have laughed with Swampy the Bear and learned the secrets of nature from experts in children’s education.

Photo by Jean Colley


Aldo Leopold, the famous author and master of environmental ethics has written:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively: the land. . . . A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.[71]

In its long history, Yesler Swamp has endured periods of use and abuse as a resource for the convenience of human beings. Today, the environmental community is working to change our relationship to this rare natural resource from that of “conqueror” to “citizens of this land-community.”


[1] U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (1904), University of Washington Libraries Map Collection at http://content.wsulibs.wsu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/maps/id/168/rec/1.

[2] Clement W. Hamilton, Kern Ewing, et al., “Management Plan for the Union Bay Shoreline and Natural Areas,” (1995). Dredging and construction over the years have degraded the area, but glimpses of the ancient marshland can still be seen.

[3] For a map showing the east basin, see Kern Ewing, “Union Bay Natural Area and Shoreline Guidelines,” Appendix A-5 (2010).

[4] O. B. French, “Descriptive Report Lake Washington,” U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (1902), 2-3.

[5] Baist Map (1912) at http://pauldorpat.com/rke/html/baist/index.html. Yesler Swamp is in Sections 15 and 16 of the Baist Map. See also, “Streams and Watersheds of Seattle,” (March 10, 1999) at http://www.seattle.gov/parks/environment/livinggreen/watersheds.jpg.

[6] “Duwamish Tribe: Lake John,” http://www.duwamishtribe.org/lakejohn.html, accessed Aug. 22, 2011.

[7] Jeff Switzer, “Duwamish Tribe seeks protection for Foster Island,” King County Journal (Feb. 20, 2005); “Duwamish Tribe: Lake John” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duwamish_tribe, accessed Aug. 22, 2011.

[8] Tom Dailey, “Coast Salish Villages of Puget Sound” at http://coastsalishmap.org/Village_Descriptions_Duwamish-Seattle.htm#26. Accessed Feb. 13, 2013. See also, Judith Thornton, “Waterway 1: Preserving a Village Green” (Rev. Aug. 2012), 25, citing Buerge, David, “Indians of Lake Washington,” Seattle Weekly, August 1-7, 1984.

[9] Coll Thrush, Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 2007), 252.

[10]USDI-OREGON Title and Survey Plat Viewer at http://www.blm.gov/or/landrecords/survey/yPlatView1_2.php?path=PWA&name=t250n040e_001.jpg.

[11] Baist Map (1912).

[12] HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Seattle Neighborhoods: Laurelhurst – Thumbnail History,” (by Junius Rochester, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=334. Accessed September 2, 2011.

[13] Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Record, Serial Patent at http://www/glorecrods.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?/accession. Accessed Jan. 27, 2012.

[14] Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle From the Earliest Settlement to the Present (Chicago: S.J.Clarke Publishing Co., 1916), III, 89. Accessed Jan. 20, 2012, at http://archive.org/details/historyofseattle03bagl.

[15] U.S. Census (1910); U.S. Census (1920).

[16] Carolyn Farnum, “William Harvey ‘Uncle Joe’ Surber,” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=31395528. Accessed January 19, 2012.

[17] King County Assessment Rolls, 25N-4E-15, Gov’t Lot 2 (1892).

[18] Baist Map (1912).

[19] Rochester.

[20] Paul Dorpat, “Yesler Junction, 1888.”

[21] “Guide Map of Seattle Showing Tide Lands to be Filled and Canal to be Constructed by the Seattle and Lake Washington Waterway Company” (1895), WSU Digital Collections, Early Washington Maps at G4284.S4 P53 1895.S4 at http://content.wsulibs.wsu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/maps/id/115/rec/1.

[22] U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (1904), University of Washington Libraries Map Collection at http://content.wsulibs.wsu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/maps/id/168/rec/1. An excellent photograph of the trestle over the water is reproduced in Christine Barrett, A History of Laurelhurst (Seattle: Laurelhurst Community Club, rev. 1989), 14. The same photo is available online at the Wedgewood history site at http://wedgwoodinseattlehistory.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-mill-at-town-of-yesler.jpg .

[23] Jim Thompson, “Big Rock Creek – i.e. Yesler Creek,” email to Jean Colley Jan. 2, 2010.

[24] “Yesler Creek History,” Feb. 14, 2013, quoting R.J. Larson, The Flora of Seattle in 1850 (2005), 169. At https://sites.google.com/site/restoreyeslercreek/yesler-creek-history. Accessed

[25] Washington State Archives – Digital Archives “King [County] Frontier Justice – Yesler, Henry,” http://www.digitalrchives.wa.gov.

[26] Herbert Hunt and Floyd C. Baylor, Washington: West of the Cascades (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1917) III. 7-8.

[28] Barrett, 13.

[29] Thompson.

[30] King County Assessment Rolls, 25N-4E-15 Lots 2, 3 (1925).

[31] King County Assessment Roll, Board of Regents, fee owner (Aug. 16, 1927).

[32] HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Laurelhurst beginnings: Yesler Post Office opens on January 21, 1890” (by Greg Lange) at http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=505. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.

[33] Rochester.

[34] “Bryant,” Building for Learning: Seattle Public Schools Histories, 1862-2000, http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/history%20book/bryant.pdf. Accessed Feb. 14, 2013.

[35] “Laurelhurst,” Building for Learning: Seattle Public Schools Histories, 1862-2000, at w.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental Content/history book/laurelhurst.pdf?sessionid=a9f5ee8f81a018b9f89f9e85f598c386. Accessed Feb. 14, 2013.

[36] Seattle Annexation Map at http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/annexations/Laurelhurst.htm. Accessed Feb. 14, 2013.

[37] For example, see the City Council Ordinance authorizing the paving of NE 45th Street “from the West margin of Town of Yesler Addition to 50th Avenue.”

[38] Lange.

[39] Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of Washington & Oregon (Berkeley: Univ. of Cal. Press, 2011), 128-29.

[40]Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture at Union Bay,” (Nov. 24, 1980), 26.

[41] Thompson.

[42] “Belvoir: An Addition to the City of Seattle,” (June 16, 1926).

[43] “Walk a Little Faster,” Seattle Times (Nov. 13, 1933).

[44] Thompson.

[45] Compare the 1926 Seattle zoning map, Plate 8, and the Jan. 28, 1928, side sewer card. The 1926 map shows no road where Surber Drive is now located, but Surber Drive is clearly located on the 1928 map.

[46] See, for example, Baist Map (1912).

[47] Belvoir Addition Side Sewer Card No. 5738-1 (March 31, 1931).Note that additions (in red and green ink) have been added later to the Mar. 31, 1931, map.

[48] Diane Brewster, Wetland Delineation/Reconnaissance Report, Figure 2 (Seattle, 2012) at http://yeslerswamptrail.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/yesler-swamp_wtld-rpt_final_6-14-11.pdf

[49] Belvoir Addition Side Sewer Card. This map appears above and is also available online at http://web1.seattle.gov/dpd/sidesewercardsv2/Images/SSC2001/FRONT/TN25/NORTH/MAP025/5738-1.JPG.

[51] Thompson.

[52] Thompson.

[53]Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture at Union Bay,” (Nov. 24, 1980, 42; Jones & Jones, “Master Plan: Union Bay Teaching/Research Arboretum ((1976), 2-3 at http://depts.washington.edu/uwbg/docs/Jones_JonesMasterPlan.pdf.

[54] Jones & Jones, 2.

[55] “The ‘G’ Man,” Part 3. Available at http://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/june96/rodbell3.html.

[56]Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture at Union Bay” (1980), 43.

[57] Walter L. Dunn, “Reclamation of Union Bay Swamp in Seattle,” The Trend in Engineering (April 1966), 8-9.

[58] Seattle-King County Dept. of Health et al., “Montlake Landfill Information Summary,” (January 1999), 10.

[59] Dunn, 8-9.

[60] Harry W. Higman and Earl J. Larrison, Union Bay: The Life of a City Marsh (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1951), 6. Available at http://ia700605.us.archive.org/2/items/unionbaylifeofci00higm/unionbaylifeofci00higm.pdf.

[61] RCW 90.58.020.

[62]Draft Environmental Impact Statement (1980), 71.

[63]Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Union Bay Village Rehabilitation/Replacement project, University of Washington Dept. of Facilities Planning and Construction,” (1980).

[64]Draft Environmental Impact Statement (1980), 33-34.

[65]Management Plan for the Union Bay Shoreline and Natural Areas,” 2nd ed.(1995), 1.

[66]Management Plan” (1995), Figure 11.

[67]Management Plan” (1995), 24.

[68]Management Plan” (1995), Figure 2.

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