Thursday, March 18, 2010

We could be living in Monroe Park

If you were paying attention earlier this week and cared to do so, you could have celebrated the 259th anniversary of the birth of James Madison, fourth President of the United States, born on March 16, 1751. It’s unlikely that many of us regularly reflect (if ever) on the fact that Madison Park was named—at least indirectly—for the Father of the Constitution. Though our connection with the President is a fact, it certainly didn’t have to be that way. We could just as easily be living in a lovely lakeside community named for the author of the Monroe Doctrine. Here’s the story of why this is Madison Park.

As all the histories of the area confirm, Judge John J. McGilvra (that’s him below) built the first homestead in what is now Madison Park. In 1864, during the Civil War, McGilvra either built or substantially improved a road from downtown Seattle to his 420-acre estate on the Lake, which he called Laurel Shade. According to McGilvra’s biography on Wikipedia, the road was known then as the Lake Washington wagon road, and from the beginning it was the only direct route from the salt water of Elliott Bay to the fresh water of the Lake. That’s still the case today.

But it’s not true, although many website histories make the claim, that McGilvra named the road that he had built “Madison Street.” The naming was actually done by Arthur Denny, a City founder and its first surveyor. According to photographer and historian Paul Dorpat, author of the “Seattle Then and Now” series, Denny needed another “M” street after having already named a Seattle street for his brother “Marion.” As longtime Seattleites know, the convention for remembering downtown East-West street names is the mnemonic “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.”

This method for remembering the order came later, certainly. The naming came first; and it was Denny’s idea to pair Seattle’s streets by the first letter of their names: Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion…” But then what? After naming these first five, Denny needed another “M” in order to keep the alliteration going. He had already used one president, Jefferson, for a street name. Why not another? Two possibilities existed at that time: Presidents Monroe and Madison.

Dorpat says that the answer was “obvious.” But I don’t see why. There is a SW Monroe Street in Seattle, but that clearly came along much later (it is far south of downtown). Denny could have easily chosen Monroe. But for whatever reason, Madison it was. And Denny was able to go from there to complete the string: Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike and Pine.

About sixteen years after the building of the road, McGilvra deeded about 24 acres for a park at the end of the road. In early pictures, the park is captioned “Madison Street Park,” and that was apparently how the Park got its name: the park at the end of Madison Street. Eventually it became simply Madison Park, and the growing community that surrounded it became the Madison Park neighborhood.

So that’s the story of why we’re not living in Monroe Park. Now you know.

[John J. McGilvra picture courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry, middle picture of Laurel Shade courtesty of the University of Washington Libraries collection, lower picture of Madison Street in 1932 courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives. Compare to the 1939 picture posted earlier on this blog.]

1 comment:

  1. Bryan, Great photos and story about Madison not Monroe Park. I think the 1939 photo was taken at the intersection of 42nd Ave. E. and E. Madison Street, looking up the hill, southwest, toward Broadmoor. The Texaco logo sign is where a gas station was located until sometime in the 70's, across 41st Ave. E. from Bert's. The 1932 photo looks like it was taken from the bridge that connected Madison Valley with Lake Washington Boulevard. The view is looking up Madison hill, northeast, on the west side of Broadmoor. The billboards are located where the cleaners is now. Washington Park Field is to the left (north) of the photo. The bridge may have been been removed by then and converted into a permanent street but obviously the street car was still in use which just raises more questions. Good job.


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