Now & Then -- Villard's Grand Occasion

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2561

This essay contains Seattle historian and photographer Paul Dorpat's Now & Then photographs and reflections on the visit of Northern Pacific Railroad president Henry Villard to Seattle on September 14, 1883, with an entourage of governors, senators, and railroaders.

Villard's Grand Occasion

On September 14, 1883, Northern Pacific Railroad president Henry Villard and an entourage of governors, senators, and railroaders came to town not by rail but aboard the steamship Queen of the Pacific. Seattle was ready.

"Seattle citizens made extraordinary preparations for the reception," historian Thomas Prosch later wrote. They thoroughly cleaned the streets and adorned them for miles with arches (like the one in the photo), evergreen trees, bunting, and "appropriate emblems and sentiments."

A week before, in Montana, Villard had driven a golden spike to mark the place where laborers had finally joined the eastern and western tracks of the nation's second transcontinental railroad. In the days that followed "every considerable place" along the new line, including Portland and Tacoma, erected arches and marched the Villard party beneath them.

The Villard arch in the historical photograph straddled Commercial Street (now 1st Avenue South) at Mill Street (now Yesler Way). Seattleites constructed it on the enthused faith that Villard would soon bring his promised railroad into the Queen City. At the time the Northern Pacific only reached as far as the "City of Destiny," as Tacoma called itself.

But Henry Villard soon lost control of the Northern Pacific to powers who favored Tacoma as the Puget Sound terminus. Seattle waited for years for what it was joyfully expecting very soon in September, 1883.


Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now & Then Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Press, 1988), Story 4.

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