Wood, William D. (1858-1917)

  • By Louis Fiset, Green Lake Park Alliance
  • Posted 5/30/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1169

William D. Wood, an attorney, land speculator, electric trolley line president, and Seattle mayor, was a conspicuous figure in the business and political life of Seattle for more than a quarter century. He was the key original developer of the Green Lake neighborhood. He served as mayor of Seattle from April 1896 to July 1897 when the Klondike Gold Rush supplied him with an opportunity more golden: providing steam passage from San Francisco and Seattle to Alaska.

Seattle's Green Lake

In less than two decades, from 1888 to 1902, a handful of business leaders with vision and capital transformed the dense stands of Douglas fir four-feet in diameter that grew down to Green Lake, into cleared hills and orderly houses occupied by more than 8,000 people. Thus the present-day (1999) Green Lake neighborhood of Seattle was created. W. D. Wood was one of those leaders. Wood bought up more than 600 acres of prime real estate around the Green Lake shore line, then platted and promoted his holdings to future homeowners, who sought more room for their growing families outside claustrophobic central Seattle.

Like most business leaders in Seattle before the turn of the century, William D. Wood migrated to the Northwest. He came from Marin County, California, arriving in 1882. Unlike more than 80 percent of his peers, he brought with him a completed college education, including degrees in teaching and law. A law career had lured him to Seattle, and in 1884 he was elected Probate Judge of King County. No doubt this position drew him into the inner circles of moneyed men in the region. Re-election eluded him, but with Seattle's rapid growth and easy access to raw land, he soon saw his future and fortune in real estate.

By 1887 Wood's law career was behind him and by 1889 he had become a full blown speculator in Green Lake real estate. His first major land acquisition was the 132 acre homestead of Erhard Seifried, located on the present-day (1999) site of the East Green Lake business community. (Siefried, known as "Green Lake John," was the first white settler to set foot in the area.) Following the German immigrant's departure, Wood and his wife, the former Emma Wallingford (1859-1949), daughter of another north end real estate speculator, moved into one of the existing log cabins on the property. They soon built a more comfortable residence.

Within a short time, Wood amassed a holding totaling 600 acres, much of it shoreline property, which he then platted for resale as 30 x 100 foot lots.

Extending the Rail Line

In the meantime, an enterprising dentist, Dr. E. C. Kilbourne (1856-1958), and his partners were developing their own 240 acre tract in what is now Fremont, and in doing so extended Seattle's new electric trolley line northward from downtown in order to draw people into the area. Fremont residents soon became some of Seattle's first commuters.

In 1891, Wood, salivating on the sidelines, convinced Kilbourne to extend the line to Green Lake. Together they organized the Green Lake Electric Railway, which Wood managed. The corporation laid 4.5 miles of rail along the eastern shoreline of the lake, linking the Consolidated Electric Line at Fremont with a 10-acre picnic grounds near the present-day (1999) Bathhouse Theater.

The "Choicest Suburb"

Now assured of the accessibility of his land holdings, Wood next organized the Green Lake Home Building & Guarantee Company, with capital of $300,000 and set about to hawk his lots, starting on May 5, 1891. "Green Lake will be Seattle's choicest suburb," Wood promised. Lots ranged from $100 to $300, and the terms were 10 percent down, balance in 30 monthly payments, no interest.

To stimulate early sales Wood offered 50 free lots, cleared and with a good view of the lake, to parties willing to build a home at once. Streets, he assured all who would come, were cleared, with all stumps taken out.

Buyers of single, double, and triple lots built or had built houses ranging in value from $750 to more than $2,500. Most construction was austere pioneer architecture. But on the hilly slopes of Wood's South Shore Addition, above the southeast shore of Green Lake, well-heeled Seattleites like land developer and Seattle school board president F. A. McDonald and businessman George Coryell built small mansions that survive today, near N 57th Street.

From Panic to Politics

The Panic of 1893, which came two years after the annexation of the Green Lake area to Seattle, caused development of the area to halt. The land developers fell into temporary hibernation.

Wood, by now well known among Seattle's business elite, found new life in politics. In April 1896, the City Council appointed him to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Frank Black, who with heart trouble found the job too stressful and resigned after a single month in office. Wood's life in municipal politics will most be remembered by the circumstances of his own resignation from the city's highest office.

Wood's Golden Opportunity

In the summer of 1897, Mayor Wood was attending the annual Christian Endeavorers convention in San Francisco when on July 17 the steamship Portland, with its Klondike ton of gold, docked in Seattle. Seeing an opportunity to ferry miners and freight from San Francisco and Seattle to the gold fields, Wood wired investor friends in Seattle. Immediately they formed a partnership called the Seattle and Yukon Trading Company. Before the end of July, the corporation chartered the steamship Humboldt and placed display ads in the Seattle and San Francisco dailies for the $300 passage to Dawson. Wood then wired Seattle to resign as mayor.

The Seattle business leader continued his Inland Passage transport business until 1901 when he sold out his interests. At that time the Woods left their Green Lake residence for a more spacious floor plan on Capitol Hill. Wood continued his business interests, forming a partnership to build the Central Building, and sold investment securities.

William Wood died at Seattle General Hospital on March 23, 1917, at the age of 59 of an intestinal ailment. He left his widow, Emma Wallingford Wood, a son, and an adopted daughter.


University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Washington State Biography Pamphlet file; Men of the Pacific Coast (San Francisco: Pacific Art Co., 1903), 479; UW Libraries, Special Collections, Struve Scrapbook, Vol. 1, p. 24.
Note: This essay was corrected on February 4, 2008.

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