April 13, 2009

Discovering Seattle's past through maps

Posted by: Karin Hoffman, Communications

150 years ago Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle was a lagoon and thought of as the best place to catch flounders. Early settlers quickly realized that flat, and dry land for that matter, was a limited resource. After 1853 Seattle’s early pioneers slowly started filling the lagoon with whatever they could find: sawdust from Yesler’s Mill, building remains from the Great Fire of 1889, gravel and garbage. These materials formed the foundation from which Seattle was born.

How do we know this? Through research using maps, illustrations, photographs, and written historical accounts, most of which are held in the public domain.

So what is the connection to the Burke? The Waterline’s Project! An interdisciplinary team, lead by Peter Lape, Burke curator of archaeology, Amir Sheikh, staff member on the Puget Sound River History Project, and Donald Fels, a researching artist have developed The Waterline’s Project to explore how Seattle’s landscape has changed over time. The Waterline’s Project is a fascinating way to explore the history of Seattle through maps.

The project website , which was recently posted on the Burke’s homepage, is just the first step in providing the public with a unique way of examining the history of Seattle. In addition to the new website the team is currently in the planning stage of creating outdoor exhibits, electronic broadcasts for handheld devices, and an installation of lines in Pioneer Square marking past shorelines.

Check it out!

Photo: Bird's eye view of the city of Seattle, Puget Sound, Washington Territory, 1878. A.L. Bancroft & Co., lithographersDrawn by E.S. GloverLibrary of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C