Historic Ballard

May 29, 2022, was the 115th anniversary of Ballard being annexed to the City of Seattle. The reason for annexing has a complicated history, which I will outline below. To celebrate Ballard’s history prior to annexation, and how far we have come in the last 115 years, I wanted to share some fun, historic facts about Ballard. Which means if you’re a history buff like me, then this is the post for you!

Prior to annexation, in 1902, the City of Ballard made a deal with the City of Seattle to use their water sources. Legend has it that in 1907, someone threw a dead horse in the Ballard’s reservoir, ruining their water resources. Seattle would only supply water to the City of Ballard in exchange for annexation [1]. Some say this story is impossible, as Ballard likely didn’t even have a reservoir at the time. HistoryLink does note the reservoir was in fact located at 72nd and 24th and an analysis of the water quality did indicate that it contained a large amount of decomposing organic matter, which meant it was non-potable for Ballard residents [2].

While annexation into Seattle 115 years ago comes with mixed emotions, I am excited that today in 2022, Ballard is expanding its influence. Most recently we have expanded our influence south of the ship canal with the newly formed semi-professional soccer team Ballard FC whose home field is in Interbay.

From the Seattle Archives:

First settled in the 1850s, Ballard grew quickly through the last half of the 19th century. After it became known that the Great Northern Railroad would route its trains into Seattle from the north, the town’s land was platted, and real estate boomed. Boasting being “the shingle capital of the world,” the Ballard’s timber and fishing jobs drew many new residents, including many immigrants from Scandinavia.

As it grew, the town built a post office in 1889, a city hall in 1899, and a Carnegie library in 1904. The first bridge over Salmon Bay was completed in 1889, allowing for improved commerce and communications with Seattle. Streetcars and ferries were also operational by the 1890s, and an amusement park at Golden Gardens brought pleasure seekers out to the Ballard beach.[3]

Photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) 

When the town incorporated in 1890, it had 1,636 residents. By 1900, its 4,568 residents made it the seventh largest city in Washington, and the population continued to boom, growing to 17,000 by the time of annexation in 1907. Growth was quickly overwhelming the city’s ability to provide services, and a safe water supply was a continuing problem. In 1902, Ballard made an agreement with Seattle to tap into its water system and was using more than 5 million gallons a year. This expenditure was adding to the city’s debt, and many citizens believed that the city was becoming unable to sustain itself.

More than the other annexed cities, Ballard was divided on the issue of merging with Seattle. Indeed, during the first annexation vote in 1905, the citizens decided to remain independent. However, enough minds were changed 15 months later that annexation won out on the second vote.

To learn more about old Ballard, and to see how far it has come, the City of Seattle has some archive information you can access here: https://www.seattle.gov/cityarchives/exhibits-and-education/online-exhibits/annexed-cities/ballard

University of Washington Libra, Special Collections, A. Curtis 00881

The decision to join the City of Seattle was met with resistance from many Ballardites, even with the lack of access to clean water.  On the day of the annexation, City Hall was draped in black crepe and the flag flown at half-mast on the official annexation day. The original Ballard City Hall was located at the north end of Ballard Avenue, and the original bell still stands today.

Ballard has a long and vibrant history that is unique to the rest of Seattle, with strong Scandinavian roots and a gritty attitude. Another Ballard urban legend suggests that the number of business licenses granted to saloons was directly related to the number of churches in the area in the early 1900s. [4]

If you’re interested in learning more about Ballard prior to annexation, here are census documents from 1890. Transcripts are also available if you’d like to take a deep dive into the documents.

Ferry Service to Ballard

Photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) 

Ballard was such a large city, that we had our own dock for the Mosquito Fleets [5] that were ubiquitous in Puget Sound during this era. Above is a picture of the ferry landing in Ballard. Below is what the Ballard ferry dock looked like over 100 years ago, compared with today.

Photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) 

Official Annexation Treaty

This page links to searchable City of Ballard ordinance titles and descriptions of other municipal government. On this page, you will find Ballard City Council minutes from over 100 years ago, Local Improvement District files, Warrants and Demands, and more! If you’re a Ballard history buff like me, there is a lot of interesting tidbits you can find while combing through these historical documents.

Ballard Curfew

Earlier in May, the City of Seattle highlighted the story of when the Ballard City Council enacted a city-wide curfew and vetoed the mayor’s vote in the process. “In a letter dated February 4, 1896, Ballard mayor George G. Startup explained his reasons for vetoing an ordinance recently passed by the Ballard City Council. Referred to as the Curfew Ordinance, the measure made it a misdemeanor for boys and girls under sixteen years old “to be on the streets, alleys, or public grounds of the City of Ballard” after 9 pm during the months of April through August, and after 8 pm the rest of the year. Exceptions were made if they were with a parent or guardian or had written permission. Children found in violation could be fined up to five dollars or jailed for up to two days. The town marshal was to ring the fire bell each night to signal the start of curfew.” The mayor vetoed this bill because he was concerned about the effects it may have on youth well-being in Ballard, however the city council pushed forward with the curfew. For the full story, https://www.seattle.gov/…/exhibits…/find-of-the-month

Golden Gardens circa 1910

Golden Gardens is a favorite for Ballardites, and for folks from all over Seattle. In this picture, taken in 1910, you see a group of men holding a Sea Serpent that washed ashore [6]. Sea Serpents appear frequently in Nordic folklore, and there have been claims that this picture is a fake and that the “Serpent” is in fact, a tree trunk.

Either way, this picture has become folklore on its own and Sea Serpents have become an unofficial Ballard trademark, https://www.myballard.com/2008/02/27/shilsholes-missing-sea-serpent/.

D6 Office in the Heart of Ballard

I chose to be sworn into office here at the former Ballard City Hall and I have an office in Ballard today because it is important to me that D6 residents don’t have to go out of their way to have their voice heard at Seattle City Hall.

My D6 District Office is at the Customer Service Center at the Ballard Branch Library just two blocks north of the old Ballard City Hall. I meet with D6 Residents every week during office hours and when you see me at the office please stop and say, “Hi”.

Other Annexed Cities

Seattle experienced a growth spurt from 1905 to 1910, with eight small cities being annexed into Seattle. Like Ballard, many of these small towns were also experiencing water quality or infrastructure issues which is why they joined, and it nearly doubled the physical size of the city. It also added a vibrancy to the city, with these eight small cities having their own distinct character.

If you’d like to read more about other cities annexed by Seattle, you can do so here: Annexed Cities – CityArchives | seattle.gov .