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Alaskan Way Viaduct Legacy Part 1; Alki Point, Duwamish Head and Railroad Avenue

Upon my arrival in Seattle this past week I had some time to kill.  With that being the case, I decided to make my way north of SeaTac International Airport to Hamilton Viewpoint and Alki Beach both which are located at Duwanish Head.  Given the historic connections to the origin to the City of Seattle and the precursor route to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, I figured that a pretty view of downtown Seattle would be good as any place to start.   This is is the first part of a two part series regarding the history of the Alaskan Way Viaduct which is slated to be demolished in 2019.


Duwamish Head is the northern tip a peninsula west of downtown Seattle over the waters of Elliot Bay region of Puget Sound.  The area around Duwamish head is part of the Alki neighborhood of western Seattle which extends further west to Alki Point.  Alki Point and the Alki neighborhood were the genesis point for the city of Seattle having been settled in November of 1851 by the American Denny Party.  Originally the settlement was known as "New York Alki" but it was quickly abandoned for a much more suitable location east over Elliot Bay in what is now known as Pioneer Square in April of 1852.

Interestingly Duwanish Head played a major role in early road transportation in Seattle.  In 1887 the City of Seattle passed an ordinance which established the creation of Railroad Avenue.  Railroad Avenue was a planked roadway which began at near Duwanish Head roughly located where Florida Street is located today.  Railroad Avenue crossed the open waters of Elliot Bay where Harbor Island now sits to approximately Holgate Street.  Railroad Avenue continued north into downtown Seattle which since has largely become modern Alaskan Way.  Railroad Avenue was built with the purpose of accommodating all transportation needs from anything as large as railroads to as small as pedestrian traffic.  

Railroad Avenue in it's full scope can be seen crossing Elliot Bay near Duwanish Head eastward towards downtown Seattle on this 1901 map of the city.

1901 Map of Seattle

This 1890 Map of Seattle also shows Railroad Avenue crossing Elliot Bay in detail.

1890 Map of Seattle

Railroad Avenue can also be seen in far less detail crossing Elliot Bay on this 1891 map of the Puget Sound area.

1891 Map of Puget Sound

The Alki Point and Duwanish Head areas eventually became part of the city of West Seattle which was absorbed by the City of Seattle in 1907.  By 1909 Harbor Island was completed via dredged landfill and it appears that Railroad Avenue over Elliot Bay was likely removed.   On this 1919 map of the Puget Sound area Harbor Island appears but Railroad Avenue is not seen crossing it to downtown Seattle.

1919 Map of Puget Sound

Interestingly the idea of a successor to Railroad Avenue crossing Harbor Island appears to have been once in the works.  On the 1924 map of Seattle there is a proposed routing for the Florida Street Viaduct. 

1924 map of Seattle

From Alki Beach downtown Seattle can also be seen in full view.  Its interesting to compare my photo to a 1917 panoramic.   The only commonality in the structures comparing pictures with a 101 year time gap is that Smith Tower is present in both.


1917 Panoramic View of the Seattle Waterfront

Looking southward from Alki Beach Harbor Island can be seen.  Railroad Avenue would have crossed approximately where the northern tip of Harbor Island is in the photo.




For reference I used a historic series on the Alaskan Way Viaduct as a source to establish a time frame for when Railroad Avenue was created.  The web series is four parts and is worth a read to see the entire history of what led up to the Alaskan Way Viaduct.


The second part of this series can be found here:

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