As we were wandering around an evening too nice to be inside we stumbled upon Pioneer Square – the heart of old Seattle and a place to experience Seattle’s early history. Turn-of-the-century street lamps line the square. An iron pergola built in 1909 looks more like artwork than the shelter it was originally designed to be. Neither of us were aware of the underground story until we saw a sign about tours.
After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, city leaders made a decision as part of their rebuilding plan to re-grade the streets higher than the original street level. Pioneer Square was originally built mostly on filled-in tidelands and flooded frequently. The higher street level also helped with the gravity-assisted flush toilets that funneled into Elliott Bay.
The city built retaining walls, eight feet or higher, on either side of the old streets using the naturally steep hillsides, filled in the space between the walls. They paved over the fill to effectively raise the streets, generally 12 feet higher than before, in some places nearly 30 feet, and making them higher than the old sidewalks that still ran alongside them.
Just a little piece of interesting local history.