December 12, 2011

The Waterlines Project Exhibit at Milepost 31

Last week, the Washington State Department of Transportation opened Milepost 31 (MP31), a new public information center in the heart of Pioneer Square. This center was championed by a group of neighborhood and historic preservation organizations brought together as part of the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires that states work to offset potential construction effects in historic places like Pioneer Square.

MP31 highlights the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement process and the history of Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood. Several organizations, including the Burke Museum, History Link, the Tulalip Tribes, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, and the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe contributed to the exhibit.

MP31 provides a unique opportunity for visitors to see how geology, archaeology, current events, and cultural heritage inform the history of Puget Sound and the future of our city.

While WSDOT conducts environmental and cultural research to comply with federal and state laws for every major construction project, MP31 represents an unprecedented effort to share this invaluable information and engage local Native communities and the general public in our shared heritage.

The Burke Museum’s Waterlines Project team curated the “Moving Land” section of MP31. Our Waterlines team has been working together for almost 8 years and is led by Burke Curator of Archaeology Dr. Peter Lape, Puget Sound River History Project staff member Amir Sheikh and research artist Donald Fels. The team explores Seattle’s history by examining the natural and human impacts on the city’s shorelines, and works to apply this knowledge to urban development decisions today.

As you walk through “Moving Land,” large columns containing soil layers from test drillings envelop you in the space. These columns literally share the history beneath your feet from a layer of peat of a long buried tidal lagoon under present-day Occidental Park to the sawdust from Yesler’s Mill that filled it. Also under your feet is an eye-catching floor map allows you to trace the history of Seattle’s changing shoreline.

Moving Land highlights monumental moments in Seattle’s development, from the Denny Regrade to a severe earthquake that occurred 1,100 years ago and still lives on in local Native American stories.

A video follows the histories of people and communities on Seattle’s transforming shores from the Native village site of Djidjila'letch to the heart of the metropolis we know today.

Over the past week, there has been a lot of public discussion about MP31. The center brings up concerns about tax dollars and the issue of the Viaduct replacement. But it also provides an opportunity for the Burke Museum and our collaborators to share our work with the community outside the museum’s walls and foster public discussion that helps us learn from the past and plan for the future.