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Columbia City
History of the Columbia City Landmark District

Both Columbia City and its neighbor, Seattle, first boomed as mill towns. But, while Seattle became dominant in the region, Columbia City was annexed by its larger neighbor just fourteen years after its incorporation. Nonetheless, Columbia City maintained its identity and remains a distinct and historic part of Seattle.

From the time of its incorporation in 1893 until its annexation by Seattle in 1907, Columbia City prospered from logging and the railroad. The Seattle, Renton, and Southern Railway stretched the seven miles from Seattle to Columbia City in 1890, establishing a profitable two-way freight business. Columbia City shipped surplus lumber to a Seattle that was rebuilding after the 1889 fire and Columbia City needed the finished goods Seattle could provide. Much of Columbia City's lumber, as well as goods from Seattle, went into its own buildings and lakeshore summer residences.

Columbia City's growth increased when C. D. Hillman used the railway to hasten real estate sales. From 1900 to 1907, Seattle and the surrounding areas grew rapidly and brought good economic times to Columbia City. Many new buildings were built along Rainier Avenue South, most of which still stand.

These buildings had stores on the ground floor and a meeting hall or dance floor upstairs. The rent supplied by the meetings, dances, and occasional apartments made construction of many of the buildings possible. As the forests around Columbia City fell under the loggers' axes, the people of Columbia City made plans to drain Wetmore Slough and make the town into a seaport as part of the 1917 Lake Washington Ship Canal development farther north. The port never developed, and the slough was filled by 1920.

With money donated by Andrew Carnegie, a branch public library was built in 1914 above a ravine deeded to the City in 1892 as a park. Although the ravine's creek now flows through sewer lines, the park remains, providing Columbia City with its "village green."

Although community concern for safety resulted in the removal in 1936 of the railway from the center of Rainier Avenue South, Columbia City continued to grow along with Seattle.


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