AKA: Yesler's Cook House, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings; built works - public buildings - assembly halls

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1852-1853, demolished 1866

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Commercial Street
Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

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Grant in The Story of Seattle's Early Theatres noted the Yesler Cook House's location: "It was located on Commercial Street, now First Avenue South, between Washington and Mill streets.

Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler (1810-1892) came to the city from OH in 1852. He purchased a choice piece of Dr. David Swinson Maynard's (1808-1873) early land claim, on which he established a lumber mill, a residence and various other buildings to serve the mill. Yesler erected his Cook House in the winter of 1852-1853 to serve his mill employees. By the mid 1850's, it had become the settlement's most important multi-purpose building, the primary meeting place for events in the Puget Sound area, serving as a district court, town hall, jail, a county auditor and judge's office, military headquarters, storehouse, hotel, church and entertainment hall. Emily Inez Denny said of the cook house's many purposes: "'During the Indian war this building was the general rendezvous of the volunteers engaged in defending the thinly populated country against the depredations of the savages, and was also the resort of the navy officers on the same duty on the Sound. Judge Lander's office was held in one corner of the dining room; the auditor's office, for some time, was kept under the same roof, and, indeed, it may be said to have been used for more purposes than any other building on the Pacific coast. It was the general depository from which law and justice were dispensed throughout a large scope of surrounding country. It has, at different times, served for town hall, courthouse, jail, military headquarters, storehouse, hotel and church; If there was to be a public gathering of the settlers of any king and for any purpose, no one ever asked where the place of meeting was to be, for all knew it was to be at the cook house." (See Denny, Blazing the Way, p. 88-89.) King County's first sermon, first court case, and first election, all occurred here. Just after his arrival, Yesler became active in local politics and governance; in 1853, he became King County's first clerk, in 1869, the City of Seattle's first Mayor and in 1875-1876, a County Commissioner. He had a long, sometimes adversarial, relationship with King County Government, providing either the meeting spaces or land for county officials; payment was expected for the spaces, but was sometimes not forthcoming.

Pioneer Emily Inez Denny (1853-1918) in her book, Blazing the Way, described the cook house and its functions. She quoted an early newspaper article in the Puget Sound Weekly (07/30/1866), published at the time of the Yesler Cook House's demolition: "'There was nothing about this cook house very peculiar, except the interest with which old memories had invested it. It was simply a dingy-looking hewed log building, about twenty-five feet square, a little more than one story high, with a shed addition in the rear, and to strangers and newcomers was rather an eye-sore and nuisance in the place--standing as it did in the business part of town, among the more pretentious buildings of modern construction, like a quaint octagenarian, among a band of dandyish sprigs of young America.'" (See Emily Inez Denny, Blazing the Way; or, True stories, Songs and Sketches of Puget Sound and Other Pioneers, [Seattle, Rainier Printing Company, Incorporated, 1909], p. 87-89.) Theatre historian Howard F. Grant, noted that the cook house "...was located on Commercial Street, now First Avenue South, between Washington and Mill Streets." (See Howard F. Grant, The Story of Seattle's Early Theatres, [Seattle: University Book Store, 1934], p. 7.) In the early 1850s, the wife of the merchant Dexter Horton (1825-1904), Hannah Shoudy Horton (1828-1871), operated the cook house for Henry Yesler. Yesler's wife, Sarah Burgert Yesler (1822-1887), arrived in Seattle, WA, from OH in 1858, and she became the main cook presiding over Cook House activities. (An image of the cookhouse was included in "Yesler, Henry L. (1810-1892)," by Junius Rochester, written 10/07/1998, [revised by Walt Crowley, 2002],Accessed 06/03/2009.)

Demolished. Henry Yesler tore his first cook house down in 07/1866; the article in the the Puget Sound Weekly of 07/30/1866 reported that "its old smoky walls" had been "tumbled heedlessly in the street...." Grant wrote (p. 7): "The cook house was the last log building left standing in the business section, [Pioneer Square]...." (See Grant, The Story of Seattle's Early Theatres, p. 7.) A King County web site stated: "Through the 1850's, when no official King County government building existed, all government business was transacted in private homes or businesses. In 1865, Yesler tore this structure down to make way for a larger building." (See Administrative Services Section, Public Information Branch of the Department of Construction and Facility Management, King County, "The King County Courthouse: A History,"Accessed 01/13/2011 and 07/21/2009.) There is some variation about the demolition date of the cookhouse; the King County site indicated it to have been 1865. A plaque on the side of the Mutual Life Building in Pioneer Square provided by the Assistance League of Seattle, put the date as 1864. Grant, in The Story of Seattle's Early Theatres, (p. 7), set it as 1866. As Denny quoted an article published contemporaneously with the building's demolition on 07/30/1866, this seems to be the most reliable date.

PCAD id: 14066