Queen Anne Hill Tour

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 7/01/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7057

Queen Anne Hill towers some 450 feet above Elliott Bay and Lake Union and is the tallest of Seattle's fabled "seven hills." Queen Anne takes its name from the ornate style of the large Victorian homes that began appearing on its slopes in the 1890s. Many of these still survive, along with later structures of historical and architectural interest, and Queen Anne affords some of the most dramatic vistas in Seattle.

This tour was prepared by HistoryLink with funding from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, July 2001, and is intended for personal use only. Copyright 2001, City of Seattle. All rights reserved.


Seattle pioneers David and Louisa Denny filed the first claims on the hill's southern slope in 1853. Today's Seattle Center now occupies much of their original homestead, where Louisa once raised sweetbriar roses. Native Americans of the Duwamish tribe used this open area to net ducks flying between Lake Union and Elliot Bay.

The Dennys were followed by other settlers, including Dr. Henry Smith -- famous for his account of a Chief Seattle speech and the eponym of Smith Cove - and Thomas Mercer, whose claim was north of the current Mercer Street. Early claims were also filed by E. C. Carr and by George Kinnear, who staked out the Hill's western slope.

Development lagged until the 1880s, when the arrival of the transcontinental railroad spurred a dramatic jump in Seattle's population and wealth. With its refreshing breezes -- high above the noise and stench of the harbor -- and sweeping views, the hill became a magnet for the growing city's wealthier citizens.

But for all of its appeal, Queen Anne Hill had one drawback: steep grades up its slopes. These daunting grades challenged horses and pedestrians alike, but a new technology borrowed from San Francisco provided a welcome lift.

The first cable car line was established in 1890, and the Hill's development quickly took off. Because many of the new residents were teetotalers, locals dubbed the neighborhood Temperance Hill. As more and more mansions were built in the ornate, gingerbread "Queen Anne" style of the 1890s, the hill earned its permanent name.

In 1900, Queen Anne Avenue's cable cars were replaced with electric streetcars. An underground system of weights and cables was installed to help these heavy vehicles up and down the 18 percent grade, which is why older residents still refer to the street as "The Counterbalance."

Landscape planner John C. Olmsted immediately recognized Queen Anne Hill's assets as he began laying out Seattle's park and boulevard system in 1903. He and later planners proposed a scenic boulevard to ring its summit, but only the western portion was realized. The advent of radio, television, and other electronic communications established a new role for Queen Anne Hill, which soon sprouted a spiky Mohawk of broadcast and microwave antennas.

Although it has seen its share of newer apartment and condominium development, Queen Anne Hill retains the feel of an older neighborhood, and its finest views are still unobstructed.

Navigating Queen Anne Hill can challenge the most experienced native driver, but it is a great place to get lost in. For this tour, we have treated landmarks and other points of interest in clusters rather than sequentially, starting with the hill's southern base and working north.

(Note that east of Queen Anne Avenue N, east-west streets do not include a compass notation while north-south avenues are labeled "N." West of Queen Anne Avenue N, both streets and avenues are denoted "W.")

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