Category Archives: Mercer Island History

Old map of Mercer Island plots

If you’re slightly obsessed with Mercer Island history, as I am, you’ll want to check out this map from 1890.


I came across it again on the David Rumsey map collection, which has a number of old Northwest maps. You can zoom to many interesting features. Let’s start in North Island:


Mercerdale was the first neighborhood settled in Mercer Island. Here you can see it labeled “East Seattle,” with the large red square labeled “Caulkins Addition.” Thompson Ave, which I believe is now SE 24th St, is at the top of the main subdivision.


Mid Island

Mid Island was the next subdivision. The yellow is an area around the current library. It seems no coincidence that the subdivisions are about the size of our current parks: Island Crest and the three squares of Pioneer Park.


The Ferries

Ah, the ferries, always an interesting aspect of early Mercer Island life. Of course this was pre-bridge, so the Island must have felt much more remote then. This zoom shows the three ferries coming to Mercer Island: two to the landing dock just north of the Roanoke Inn, from Leschi and Bellevue, and a second ferry from Leschi straight into Mercerdale.


Fascinating. Check out the map on the Rumsey site, and go ahead and buy one if you’re so moved. And if you come across any other good maps or Mercer Island history, let me know.

Announcing Mercer Island-Seward Park Bridge

Ok, I’m late on this story. About 80 years late. The Seattle Municipal Archives just put up a photo of a proposed bridge to Seward Park back in 1927:

Looks like it was going to come in right around 50th St. Apparently they were investigating a tunnel at about the same time.

Either one of those sure would have changed the character of mid-Island. West Mercer would probably be a much more major thoroughfare if this had happened. I’ve got no info on why it didn’t.

Bonus Link

A new post on the Mercer Island School District blog profiles Lakeridge 2nd-grade teacher Polly Giovanelli. The blog typically does great short profiles like this, great for parents and others interested in the MISD.

On the Development of Mercer Island

Interesting perspective on the development of Mercer Island housing styles from the Greater Seattle Homes blog:

The first floating bridge to provide a real path to the eastside was built across Lake Washington in 1940, about where I-90 is today, and development of Mercer Island and Bellevue commenced. From a housing point of view, most of the housing on the Seattle side of Lake Washington is at least 50 years old, built in the styles of those times, usually with nice formal rooms like living room and dining room, tending toward pretty utilitarian kitchens and baths, and often with a basement – usually finished out and incorporated into the living space by now.

Map for showing the housing development waves for the Greater Seattle area
Development on Mercer Island and Bellevue, including Medina and Clyde Hill, and Kirkland proceeded pretty rapidly during the 50’s and 60’s, and the typical housing style was a rambler, or a ‘daylight rambler’ on a hillside, and basements were uncommon in that era.

Housing styles changed rapidly in the 70’s with the popularity of natural wood (usually cedar), exposed beams, and big windows – perhaps influenced by the spectacular house in the great 1959 thriller film North by Northwest with Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.

The other major housing style to emerge on the eastside in the 70’s was the tri-level, a new design with the entry at mid-level, and living spaces either a half-flight up or a half flight down. Another common design during this period was the tri-level, a very livable and still popular design for sloping lots.

North by Northwest house image credit:

Walk Mercer Island

If you want to get to know the Island better, get the book Walk Mercer Island. You’ll find yourself at places you didn’t know existed. For example, did you know that there’s a suspension bridge here?

Apparently a very dangerous one:

I went on a few of the walks while I was on maternity leave with baby blogger. Most include a nice mix of scenery, points of interest and local history. Check the book website for more details.

Kris Kelsay, the author, is a Mercer Island resident. She says:
Recently, I’ve been puzzled when my hard-core walking and running friends didn’t know about the trails and cut-thrus in their own backyard. Then I realized they have become much harder to find. There is no guide available and many of the path signs have disappeared or been hidden with strategically placed landscaping or a potted plant; and some have simply become inaccessible, period.

There’s also views of Rainier, sunken forests, and hidden trails but I’ll let you find those walks. Definitely a book worth getting.

Photos of Early Mercer Island

Just stumbled across some great photos of Mercer Island in the early 1900’s:

“These photos are taken from an old family photo album, which I found at an estate sale in Bellevue, Washington many years ago. My husband grew up on Mercer Island, and we have found the photos of the island particularly interesting.”

Struggling with an addiction to local history as I do, seeing these photos made me feel lightheaded and woozy. I had to sit down for a minute.

Thanks very much to Denise, the website author, who carefully put the entire album online. I love the Internet.

Bonus Link

If you’ve got a hankering to binge on more, check out the Vintage Seattle blog. It’s a 120-proof local history microbrew of  guilty pleasure.

We Won’t Be at the Roanoke (But You Should Go)

Thanks to intrepid Mercer Island historian Phil Flash, there’s a new sign commemorating Roanoke Landing:

Photo courtesy The Reporter.

You can get a beer at The Roanoke Inn afterwards. But my husband and I won’t be there: since the arrival of baby blogger, we can’t go. This is a product of Washington State Liquor Control policy, which says minors can’t be in bar areas.

Turns out the whole Roanoke is defined as a bar area, which we discovered after walking in Luther Burbank park last fall and stopping by for a beer, where the waitress regretfully told us that they could lose their license if we sat at a booth. This also applies to every happy hour in the city, where we used to go occasionally for great deals on food.

To me it’s a parental responsibility issue. We’re not talking about serving alcohol to minors, just allowing them to be in some very normal places with their parents. We need to teach our kids about responsible alcohol use. If they state wants to do it for us they should tell us we can’t have wine with dinner now and then at home. Anyway, we still love the Roanoke, and we’ll resume stopping by once in a while– in about 21 years.

“Folks could be seen running down to the dock in various stages of undress, scrambling to not miss their transport.”

Just back from vacation I saw one of the single coolest comments that’s ever been left on this blog. Back in January, Dan left a comment saying he and a buddy just dived at the sunken Ferry Dawn in Lake Washington. This August he came through with a short video of the dive on his site DCS films:

It’s four+ minutes of a piece of Mercer Island history, with somewhat ghostly images of drowned windows and circling divers. Definitely worth a watch.

The DSC site also has some great old images and reminisces of the Ferry Dawn, including the quote at the title of this post:

“The fare for a ride on the impressive little steamer was 25 cents a round trip, but steady commuters could purchase a ten trip ticket for 1 dollar. Students got 20 trips for 1 dollar! Commuters and students alike would do whatever it took to catch the early boat. At times, folks could be seen running down to the dock in various stages of undress, scrambling to not miss their transport. “

Dan, thanks for diving and filming the dive! Those of us who are unhealthily addicted to local history owe you one. Be sure to let us know when you post more videos.

Steamboats of Lake Washington

It’s been a while since we had a history post. But recently I came across an article on the steamboats of Lake Washington that brought up the subject, together with a couple of unanswered questions.

To set the stage here’s a photo of a steamboat. Strangely, searching Flickr for photos of working steamboats doesn’t work well. Technology epoch mismatch, I suspect. But the Smithsonian delivers:

A while back we examined the disasters of the Ferry Dawn, a plucky ferry that served Mercer Islanders going to and from Leschi.  The Ferry Dawn was once hit by a seaplane and twice sank, the second time apparently the last time as Dawn still sits submerged off the coast of Mercer Island.

These steamboats started in the 1870s, predating the Dawn. Per Wikipedia:

  • Atlanta left Leschi Park six times daily for points around Mercer Island.”
  • Cyrene left Leschi Park eleven times daily for East Seattle and points on the west side of Mercer Island.”

Which points would it go to, back in the 1800’s? Well, certainly the C.C. Calkins Hotel, a fancy hotel that burned to the ground in 1908 (there’s a photo in the South Island QFC.) But where else? For a guide we can refer to a map showing the age of Mercer Island homes, and then speculate wildly:

  • “Points on the west side of Mercer Island” must have certainly included some areas in Mercerdale, the oldest area on Mercer Island.
  • To some older homes on the east side of Mercer Island, nearest Bellevue?
  • Hunting and fishing resorts or grounds on the south side of the Island, perhaps– we know this was a popular hunting spot.

Any other thoughts? Anyone got an old photo of a Lake Washington steamboat? Any old stories?

Ralph Andersen on Mercer Island

We’ve talked Miller-Hull and Steinbruek, now let’s talk about another great Northwestern architect: Ralph Andersen. There are four of Ralph’s homes for sale on the Island– we can use the listing photos to look inside.

Island Crest Way

A small Ralph Andersen home built in 1983. It’s not much to look at on the outside but it’s got a gorgeous interior with great views.


Ralph Andersen loved those big windows. So do I.


Nice open floorplan. Sweet views.

And it’s the least expensive of these homes, at $945k.

Island Point

This home still has the Ralph Andersen bones, but when the agent says it’s been “updated for today’s lifestyle” it’s true. It seems to have lost a bit of character in the remodel, but you can still see classic Andersen touches: the vaulted ceiling, tall windows in the door, and generous windows. And it’s pricey- $2.6 million.


Remodeled, but the door and hanging lamp give it away.

81st Ave

Classic Ralph Andersen exterior. He really knew how to make a house work with its surroundings. Bad photos on this one, so we can’t see much inside, but we can see it’s going for $1.95 million. For that money, I’d take better pictures.


I can almost hear the birds and the window washers singing.


This 1964 mid-Island home by Ralph Andersen sold last year.


Angles, large entryway, garden. Classic Andersen.


Windows & cedar.

Lindley Rd

This one, a 1963 Ralph Andersen on a large lot, is all Northwest.


Geometric, but not harsh.

Not updated too much. It’s like a Ralph Andersen textbook.


Spacious entryways with arches and stone.


High vaulted cielings, open spaces, & cedar.


Dramatic staircase. And that lantern again!

We’re lucky to have some great design on the Island. The McMansions are attacking, but they haven’t won yet.

Mercer Island Gas– More Info, But Still High

The Big Picture blog, one of the best blogs on the economy, writes that gas is down to $1.75 per gallon nationally.Gasbuddy provides a nice heatmap of national gas prices. Here’s Puget Sound,weighing in at above the national average:

Strange that in gasbuddy’s chart, Mercer Island is among the cheaper areas. It usually seems to be among the most expensive to me- am I wrong?


The question is, why are our prices higher than average? Mike Cero, commenting on an earlier post about gas prices, altered us to a study by Attorney General Rob McKenna on Washington state’s investigation into gas prices. According to Mike,

“The investigation, which included an in-depth analysis of factors influencing prices at the pump, found variations across Washington communities are due to the cost of obtaining and transporting fuel to stations and local competition – not illegal price manipulation. Increasing worldwide demand for oil and an inability for regional refineries to meet local supply demands are the primary contributors to erratically climbing prices, experts added.”

If you ever start a blog, make sure you get smart commenters. It makes your job much easier. Anyway, it sounds like price fixing has been ruled out but we’re still stuck with expensive gas.

Bonus Mercer Island History Riff

And not because it’s relevant to the discussion of gas prices, but just because I love Mercer Island history and it’s a great read, I’m going to copy most of Mike’s second comment here:

I would like to comment about the passing of an era occurring at Pete’s station. Pete’s converting to the newer more efficient and thereby more competitive swipe and pump service pumps. Call me nostalgic, but I enjoyed the personal interaction of manually processing the credit card. I took a little pleasure at the inconvenience of having to find Jeff or Brian under a car to ask them to “please reset the pumps so I can spend my money.” Fueling at Pete’s station had a soothing effect of slowing the days pace. About half the time, someone would walk out and watch as I pump. Doesn’t take an MBA to see this inefficiency, but I will miss the Rockwellian experience of talking about the weather and complaining about gas prices while watching the numbers click on the dial. – Mike Cero