Seattle fire album photograph collection, 1889

Overview of the Collection

Seattle fire album photograph collection
1889 (inclusive)
21 photographic prints (1 album)
Collection Number
An album of photographs documenting the aftermath of the 1889 Seattle Fire.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2065431929
Fax: 2065431931
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public.

The original album is not accessible due to preservation concerns. However, viewing copies of the photographs are available in the Special Collections division of the University of Washington Libraries, and selected photographs are available online in the University of Washington Libraries' digital collection entitled Seattle Photograph Collection.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was partially provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical BackgroundReturn to Top

The Great 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 Elliot 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. At about 6:30 p.m., the new Occidental Hotel at Yesler Avenue and James Street caught fire, and it became clear that 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 that were then south of King Street stopped the fire's spread south.

The burned areas were guarded and patrolled by members of the Washington National Guard from Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Townsend until June 11, 1889. After the guard left, however, thousands of scavengers and souvenir hunters began searching the ruins, causing one company to resume the 24-hour watch. The commander called for reserves from Vancouver in southern Washington Territory to relieve the exhausted 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 18th, the Seattle police swore in special policemen to take over for the National Guard.

By a month after the fire, many businesses had set up shop in temporary locations. Many erected 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 supplies that poured in from all over. The city of Seattle took several actions to prevent a recurrence: it 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 album contains photographs that document the downtown business district during the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, immediately after the fire and during the rebuilding. Included are images of tents and temporary structures.

Most of the photographs were probably taken by John Soule, although they differ in style from other Soule photographs located in the Special Collections division. "Photographs of the Seattle Fire" is written in decorative script on the front cover of the album. All of the photographs are of the same size and style except for numbers 9, 19, 20, and 21. Number 20 is one of the most famous photographs of the Seattle Fire and was taken by photographers Boyd and Braas (although this particular image may be a copy made by John Soule).

Other Descriptive InformationReturn to Top

"Front Street" and "Commercial Street" in Seattle are now known as First Avenue.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

View selections from this collection online in the University of Washington Libraries' Digital Initiatives Program collection entitled Seattle Photograph Collection.

Digital images of items 6, 12, 14, and 20 were not digitally scanned from this album. They were made from (identical) photographs that are included in the Prosch Seattle Views Photograph Albums, the Boyd and Braas Photograph Collection, and the Asahel Curtis Photograph Collection. These collections are also available in the Special Collections division of the University of Washington Libraries.

Restrictions on Use

Restrictions may exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact the Special Collections division of the University of Washington Libraries for details.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Processing Note

Processed by Joshua Daniel Franklin, 2005.


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

Warren, James R. The Day Seattle Burned: June 6, 1889. Seattle, Washington: J.R. Warren, 1989.

Related Materials

Additional photographs of the Seattle Fire of 1889 are available in the John P. Soule Seattle Fire Collection and the Photographs of the Seattle Fire Collection, Special Collections division, University of Washington Libraries.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


Seattle fire albumReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 June 1889
2 June 1889
3 June 1889
4 June 1889
5 June 1889
6 June 1889
7 June 1889
8 June 1889
9 June 1889
10 June 1889
11 June 1889
12 June 1889
13 June 1889
14 June 1889
15 June 1889
16 June 1889
People examining the ruins
Caption: "Colman Corner."
June 1889
18 June 1889
19 June 1889
20 June 1889
Goods piled on the Oregon Improvement Company dock
Caption: "Only dock left in Seattle."
June 1889

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Buildings, Temporary--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
  • Central business districts--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
  • Fires--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
  • Great Fire, Seattle, Wash., 1889--Photographs
  • Ruins--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)--Photographs

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Soule, John P (photographer)
    Corporate Names
    • Boyd & Braas Company (photographer)