History of Ballard
Ballard: An Important Part of Washington’s History
Though incorporated into the City of Seattle in 1907, Ballard continues to maintain its small town qualities and sense of independence. Located in an area bordered by both Puget Sound and Salmon Bay, water was and continues to be an important part of the community.
Tucked back from the sound, Salmon Bay provided a safe haven during winter months for Ballard’s first inhabitants, the Shilshole tribe. Numbering over 1,000 at their peak, our local waters provided an abundance of salmon and clams for drying.
Ballard’s first English settler, Ira Utter, arrived in 1853 to homestead his 820 acres. Soon, others followed to farm and log the heavily forested hills. Like other pioneer towns, without roadways and rail lines, travel by water was the easiest and quickest mode, especially when transporting timber.
In 1890, with Ballard’s incorporation as a city, it became the third largest city in the newly formed state of Washington, with 1,636 residents.
Ballard’s lucrative lumber industry began, with the building of the Sinclair mill on Salmon Bay in 1880. Water access was essential to timber companies and others followed. By 1895, Ballard was given the title “Shingle Capital of the World,” producing more shingles than any other town in Washington. Millwork from Ballard helped rebuild Seattle after the Great Fire of 1889. Machine shops, metal foundries and many other small manufacturers also established themselves along the shoreline.
By that time, Ballard’s population had grown to 10,000 and fishing also became a major industry. As the demand for salmon grew, fisherman, especially those from Scandinavia, were attracted to the area. Arriving as part of the great wave of immigration from 1880 to 1920, Ballard’s scenic surroundings reminded them of their homeland.
Boat building was also an important industry, the success of which began with the wooden vessels crafted largely by Scandinavians. In addition to fishing vessels, small yards built cannery boats and tugs for use in the milling industry.
By 1905, pressure to consolidate with the City of Seattle had grown strong. Ballard needed to secure an adequate water supply for its growing population. Seattle was eager to acquire the prosperous mill town that blocked expansion to the north. City officials used their water source as a bargaining chip and on November 6, 1906, Ballard could hold out no longer. Annexation was approved by a close vote of 996 in favor to 874 opposed.
In 1916, after years of planning and construction, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks were completed. The new waterway linked Puget Sound with a vast inland harbor composed of Salmon Bay, Lake Union and Lake Washington. In the years following WWI, Ballard’s shoreline reached its high point of development with a strategic position on the Salmon Bay waterway.
After annexation, there was talk of changing the name Ballard to Northwest Seattle. With the completion of the ship canal, some wanted to call the area Canal Station. Neither happened and happily, Ballard continues to hold on to its name and its identity.
No longer is the population heavily Scandinavian, but our hardworking ancestors built much of the cohesiveness Ballard enjoys today. The water levels have changed and the lumber mills are gone. Old factories have gotten face-lifts and new purpose. The fishing industry struggles with new regulations and constraints, yet evolves.
Today in the metropolitan area of Seattle, Ballard continues to be the center of a unique combination of manufacturing and commercial fishing industries and recreational boating. We also boast a vibrant commercial district with unique shops, restaurants and music venues. But the water is always there. Whether its waiting while the bridge opens to let a ship through, watching a sailboat race off Shilshole, or enjoying a delicious salmon dinner, water is always a part of life in Ballard. And Ballad continues to celebrate its maritime connections.