AKA: Yesler, Henry L. and Minnie, House, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA; Seattle Public Library, Main Library, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Boone and Meeker, Architects (firm); William Ely Boone (architect); George Cook Meeker (architect)

Dates: constructed 1883-1884, demolished 1901

3 stories

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516 3rd Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98104

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The grand Queen Anne Style house owned by Euro-American pioneer Henry L. Yesler occupied an entire block of property and, after his death, became used as Seattle's City Library for a brief period, c. 1899-1901. The property came to be owned by King County and was the site of its new courthouse, erected incrementally between 1914 and 1931.

Building History

Seattle architects William E. Boone (1830-1921) and George L. Meeker designed this ornate dwelling for the pioneer proprietor of Seattle's first steam-driven lumber mill, Henry L. Yesler (1810-1892). The mill was located on Elliott Bay frontage previously owned by David S. "Doc" Maynard (1822-1899) and Carson Boren (c. 1824-1912); they sold Yesler 320 acres on which to start his formative timber business. Yesler became the President of the Yesler Wood, Coal and Lumber Company, and one of Seattle's wealthiest citizens; he built this large and opulent mansion to broadcast and commemorate his own pioneering success. Yesler's first wife, Sarah (1822-1887), lived briefly in the new dwelling, dying about three years after construction concluded.

Yesler remarried at age 80, to a young cousin, a seamstress, Minnie Gagle Yesler (born c. 1867), 57 years his junior. The lumberman died in his residence on 12/16/1892, and Minnie stayed on until about 1898. The Yesler Estate, Incorporated, donated the property to the City of Seattle to serve as the main Public Library between 1899-1901. The Seattle Public Library had previously occupied space in the Rialto Building.

Building Notes

This very large, late Victorian house had a full menu of late Victorian details: picturesque massing, complex roof lines, varied cladding materials, polychromed shingles, diverse fenestration, sculpted chimneys, wall and gable dormers, turrets, spindle work, and a wrap-around front porch. The elevated porch encircled much of the first floor providing a sheltered space from which to view occurrences in Pioneer Square.

The Yesler House contained 40 rooms and covered an entire city block, framed by 3rd Avenue, 4th Avenue, James Street and Jefferson Street. Its front dimension measured 80 feet by 120 feet.


When the building functioned as the Seattle Public Library, it burned on 01/02/1901. The fire which began at about 12:30 a.m., rapidly destroyed about 25,000 books. (See "To Tear Down the Ruins," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 02/20/1901, p. 6.) Only 2,000 children's items and 5,000 circulating books remained. The surviving collection was stored temporarily in Yesler's barn. Following news of the fire, library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) decided to donate $200,000 for the construction of a new main library and $20,000 for interior furnishings. (A year earlier, Carnegie had denied a request for funds, reasoning that the city was an ephemeral boom town. In his deals with local governments, Carnegie required that they donate the land and contribute a yearly maintenance fund before he would give any funds for capital works. The city obtained a lot at 1000 4th Avenue and requisitioned $50,000 per year for upkeep.) (See Priscilla Long, HistoryLink.org, "Seattle Public Library housed in Yesler mansion burns down on January 1, 1901," published 01/01/2000, accessed 10/03/2012.)

Architect Augustus Gould (1872-1922) created a modern, corporate-type skyscraper to house the King County Courthouse #3, which was erected on the former Yesler House site between 1914-1916. At the entrance of the courthouse, a bronze tablet honored Yesler and noted the location of his second house. Following the 1901 fire, the Coliseum Theatre #1 was built on the site in 1903; this lasted only about 13 years.

PCAD id: 5583