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Carkeek Park History

Address: 950 NW Carkeek Park Rd. > directions
Environmental Learning Center: (206)684-0877

The "original" (1918 - 1926) Carkeek Park was on Pontiac Bay on Lake Washington. It was the gift of Mr. an Mrs. Morgan J. Carkeek, prominent builder and contractor in Seattle, Oregon and Victoria, BC. He was born in England, migrating to California in 1866 to invest in mining operations, transferring his interests to Port Townsend in 1870. He came to Seattle in 1875 as a building contractor, investing in Puget Sound Stone Yards and Builders Masonry. Mr. Carkeek built many of the major pioneer stone buildings: Pioneer Square area, Fort Lawton barracks, etc. He organized the first street railway in Seattle and developed a large farm on Duwamish River.

The 23.2 acre park on Pontiac Bay was an overnight camp facility. In 1926 the Federal government condemned all of "Sand Point" as the site for a Naval Air Station. As donor the park property, Mr. Carkeek offered to give his $25,000 - sale price towards the purchase of another park site. "North End" groups petitioned City Council for the acquisition of Piper's Canyon (A.W. Piper had homesteaded in the southwest portion of the ravine. Mr. Piper was a candy manufacturer; some of his family became active in city government.) The Park Board was vigorously opposed to this site, but the City Council proceeded and condemned Piper's Canyon for $100,000 plus Mr. Carkeek's $25,000.

A dusty county road existed, winding its way along the ravine, past the Piper homestead, across the railroad tracks to a sawmill on the beach that was replaced in the 1920's with The Whiz Co. fish trap which existed until 1932. On August 24, 1929 the jubilant community, led by Greenwood-Phinney Commercial Club, staged a huge dedication program to formally open Carkeek Park and honor its donor. It was staged at the entrance (which had been the cleared site of "some shacks"). Everything was hauled in for the affair; 25 picnic tables, a stove, tank trucks with drinking water, a platform for a 20-piece band, five playfield instructors plus 2 camels for the children to ride, and portable toilets. Even transportation was provided.

The first improvement was the development of vegetable gardens for Zoo animals. Pasturage was rented, the renter to provide fencing; two years later this type of permit was stopped, due to the risk involved in the increasing use of the park. But this usage occasioned another permit; a concession contract in 1931 and the demand for improvements was met with work projects: "unemployed" in 1931; CCC-WPA 1933-36 with assistance by the National Park Service, resulting in the construction of trails and a stove shelter (#2). The Civilian Conservation Corps had constructed camp buildings at the park entrance for training and work. These were removed in 1938, except one, retained for a resident caretaker commissioned as a Sheriff's Deputy. In 1942 the U.S. Army reactivated the camp site briefly as an encampment.
Upon protests of the Department, the Greenwood Sewer District won a condemnation award to establish a sewage treatment plant in the park in 1949; taken over by Metro in 1954. In 1953 funds from the 1948 bond fund were authorized to develop the loop road and pave it, construct the caretaker's residence and service building at the entrance, picnic area and stove shelter (#1) and a footbridge over the railroad. A large horse-riding academy/concession was planned produce revenue and reduce rowdyism but a tight city budget (in spite of donations from riding clubs and individuals) forced postponement. The Carkeek Garden Club donated rhododendrons for the new entrance.

On June 30, 1955, the Department formally dedicated the park - this time only a band concert hauled in. An archery field course was established in the Y-shaped raving northwest of the entrance, plus a target range at the entrance. The field course was suspended in 1963 as a safety measure; cost of fencing was prohibitive. In 1959 the Model Motors area was permitted with permanent improvements by the "Sky-Raiders" in 1963. The 1953 F.R. McAbee, Inc. donated property on N.W. 100th Place as an entrance to the park. But the city could not fulfill its obligation to buy the intervening ravine until Forward Thrust in 1972.

Plant life includes maple, alder, Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, ash, willow, madrona, cascere, Douglas fir, pine, spruce, sedges, cattails, and other flora common to the Pacific Northwest; it is predominantly a maple-alder successional stage. Of particular note are the huge Lady Ferns along the ravine between 105th and 110th.

(edited from the files of Don Sherwood, 1916-1981, Park Historian > View the Don Sherwood History Files)

Updated February 7, 2007
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