John P. Soule Seattle Fire Collection, 1889  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Soule, John P
John P. Soule Seattle Fire Collection
1889 (inclusive)
51 photographic prints in 2 albums and 23 modern prints (1 box)
23 glass plate negatives (1 box)
Collection Number
Photographs of the aftermath of the Seattle Fire of 1889.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Access Restrictions

Access Restricted: permission of curator required. Contact Special Collections for more information.

Additional Reference Guides

Additional photographs of the Seattle Fire are described in the Guide to the Seattle Fire Album and the Guide to the Seattle Fire Photograph Collection .


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

John P. Soule was born on October 16, 1828 in Phillips, Maine. He was first listed in the Boston city directory as a "photographist" in 1859. John's younger brother William Stinson Soule (1836-1908) was also a photographer and reported his occupation on his 1861 enlistment in the 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. In 1866, John Soule's listing in the Boston city directory changed to "photograph publisher," though he continued taking photographs as well, including stereographs of the Boston Fire of 1872. John Soule published some of Will's images sent from his posts as a clerk at Fort Dodge, Kansas, and later as official photographer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Will returned east in 1875, eventually joining John's business in Boston. In 1882, John sold his part of the Soule Photography Company to Will and left Boston. In 1883 he travelled throughout the West photographing in Colorado and Utah along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and in Salt Lake City.

In 1888 John Soule moved to Seattle, and the 1889 Polk's Seattle city directory lists his trade as photographer. Soule took photographs of the ruins of the Seattle Fire of 1889 and the rebuilding thereafter, and published and sold them. He continued to live in Seattle and occasionally take photographs of the growing city until his death in 1904.

Historical BackgroundReturn to Top

The Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, began a little after 2 p.m. in Clairmont's woodworking shop at Madison Avenue and Front Street (now First Avenue), and quickly expanded to the adjacent Denny Block building. At the time Seattle's water system had limited capacity, and the volunteer fire department found the water pressure insufficient for fighting the fire. By 4 p.m. a four-block area was in flames. The fire, driven by wind from the northwest, continued to spread. Only Elliott Bay on the west and vacant lots on the north and east contained the fire until a bucket brigade saved the Boston Block at Second and Columbia. About 6:30 p.m. the new Occidental Hotel at Yesler Avenue and James Street caught fire, and it became clear the flames would spread to the wooden frame buildings south of Yesler. On the east, citizens used wet blankets, mops, and buckets to save the King County Courthouse and Henry Yesler's home along Third Avenue. During the evening, however, all of Seattle south of Yesler Avenue and west of Fourth Street burned except for the Oregon Improvement Company dock. The tideflats south of King Street stopped the fire's spread south.

The burned areas were guarded and patrolled by a militia of members of the Washington National Guard from Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Townsend until June 11, 1889. After they dispirsed, however, thousands of scavengers and souvenir hunters began searching the ruins, so one company resumed the 24-hour watch. The commander called for reserves from Vancouver in southern Washington Territory to relieve the exhaused militia, and Company H of the First Regiment arrived on June 15. Martial law was never in effect, and the National Guard turned looters over to the regular civil courts. On June 18, the Seattle police swore in special policemen to take over from the National Guard.

By a month after the fire many businesses had set up shop in temporary locations. Many set up canvas tents where their buildings had stood. Some had time to save equipment and merchandise during the spread of the fire, and others restocked from shipments and relief that poured in from all over. To prevent another fire, the city of Seattle purchased the formerly private water company and improved water pressure and pipes, decreed that all new buildings in the business district had to be made of stone or brick, and established a professional fire department.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists of photographs taken by John P. Soule of the aftermath of the Seattle Fire. The photographs document downtown Seattle during the summer of 1889 immediately after the fire, including the ruins of the Occidental Hotel, Yesler-Leary Building, and Dexter Horton Bank; and thirty days after the fire, including temporary businesses along Second Street "Front Street" and "Commercial Street" are now known as First Avenue.

Other Descriptive InformationReturn to Top

This collection demonstrates issues in determining the original source of photographs that exist in multiple places. This finding aid describes three generations of prints of John P. Soule's photographs of the aftermath of the Seattle Fire. Each set of images is identical to the others, yet all have come from different sources and have been attributed to different photographers. The Widden Album includes the earliest prints, which are clearly made by John Soule yet have been attributed (through a modern, handwritten note) to a different photographer (who was most likely a collector). The John Soule "Seattle After the Great Fire Album of June 6, 1899" was created as a souvenir after the fire, by Soule himself, to sell. Finally, modern prints have been made from Soule's original glass plate negatives. These negatives were altered by the photographer McManus in 1912, making it appear that he had created them, and were later acquired by the photographer Lawrence Lindsley. The existence of the albums makes it clear that the glass plate negatives were truly created by Soule, yet the alterations made by McManus would otherwise make this difficult to determine.

Since Soule's photographs were popular, copies of his originals also exist in other collections such as the Prosch Seattle Views Album #2 and the Asahel Curtis Collection. When digital photographs are linked in the inventory below, they are from scans of copies from these two collections.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Restrictions might exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact the repository for details.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Widden album donated by Patricia Widden; received 1989. Donated in memory of Harriet J. Doheny.

Soule Album was originally part of the Conover Collection. Moved from PHColl25.

Glass plate negatives were originally part of the Lindsley Collection. Moved from PHColl25.

Processing Note

Processed by Joshua Daniel Franklin, 2005, and Solveig Ekenes, 2006.


"John P. Soule Dies Suddenly at Home." Seattle Post-Intelligencer , November 28, 1904.

McDonald, Rober T, "Business District of City Destroyed by Flames in 1889." Seattle Times , June 6, 1948.

Nye, Wilbur Sturtevant, "William S. Soule" in Plains Indian raiders, vii-xiv. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968).

Warren, James RThe Day Seattle Burned: June 6, 1889(Seattle, Washington: J. R. Warren, 1989).

Related Materials

The online versions of the Prosch Seattle Views Album and the Asahel Curtis Collection contain many of Soule's photographs in digital format.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Fires--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
  • Great Fire, Seattle, Wash., 1889--Photographs
  • Temporary Buildings--Washington (State)--Seattle--1880-1890-- Photographs
  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)