Monday, June 8, 2009

Madison Park: a port no more

When my wife and I first moved to Madison Park early in this century, one of our neighbors welcomed us to “this destination community.” I asked what exactly he meant by the term, and he explained that Madison Park is a place people come to for a reason. No one drives through here just to get to somewhere else.

In this sense, the Park is different from most Seattle neighborhoods, and I’m certain that fact has shaped the character of our community. But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, for the first 70 or more years of Madison Park’s existence, it was actually a thoroughfare and access point for communities on the east side of the Lake. Kirkland, for example, was boosted in its early rise by the lifeline to Seattle provided by both passenger and vehicle ferries landing at Madison Park.

The above photo (click to enlarge) shows the dock as it looked in the first decade of the 1900s, one hundred years ago. At the dock is the ferry Lincoln, which was operated by the King County Ferry System. Madison Park itself initially developed as a link to the Eastside. The trail originally blazed by John McGilvra in the 1860s from downtown to his homestead here on the Lake (later Madison Street) became the primary route for settlers from communities across the water to get to Seattle to shop or to sell their produce and wares. As noted by local historian Alan J. Stein, many of the people who originally pioneered towns like Kirkland got their first glimpse of the Lake—and the possibilities beyond—from our beach. Madison Park thus became a vital commercial link, as well as a lakeside resort community.

Initially, the Madison Park dock was a steamer landing where several independent steamboat companies plied their trade. Our community grew up around the landing (which was next to McGilvra’s property) and eventually a trolley-car line was built on Madison to speed travelers on their trip to downtown. By the early 1900s, with the development of the eastside and the consequent increase in cross-lake traffic, King County decided to develop a vehicle-ferry system for Lake Washington. The ferry King County of Kent was the first of several King County ferries that operated until 1950 from the Madison Park dock at the foot of Madison. Another early ferry was the Washington (shown below), which handled the Kirkland-Madison Park run from 1908 through 1915.

This is the Madison Park ferry dock as it looked in the 1930s:

In coming months, I will be doing blog posts further exploring the history of the steamers and ferry boats operating from Madison Park, as well as an entry on the cable-car trolley line from the Park into downtown. History buffs stay tuned.

[Upper dock photo and photo of the Washington are courtesy of the Kirkland Heritage Society. Photo of the ferry dock in the 1930s is courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry, via the University of Washington on-line digital photo collection.]

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