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Walking Seattle’s Streets A Hundred Years Ago

Birds eye view map of Seattle from 1925, spanning from the Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains

Seattle birdseye view of portion of city and vicinity.” Edwin C. Poland and Kroll Map Company, 1925. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

Let’s journey back a hundred years in time to the downtown streets of Seattle, Washington. On a clear day, you can see the Olympic Mountains from the fish markets along Railroad Avenue. Eddie Carlson, who will one day bring the 1962 World’s Fair – and the Space Needle – to Seattle, is now just a boy of eleven years old.  Between 10:00-11:30am on a fair-weather day, 370 pedestrians walk down Westlake Avenue, the future site of Westlake Center…

We can easily visualize the hustle and bustle (or lack thereof) on each downtown block  thanks to this foot traffic map created by Seattle’s Kroll Map Company in 1922. Created for the Building Owners and Managers’ Association of Seattle, the map was produced through a manual count of pedestrians on April 26, 1922.

Map showing foot traffic on downtown Seattle streets, 1922

Foot traffic in Seattle, Washington, Wednesday, April 26th, 1922.” Kroll Map Company, 1922. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

The pedestrian foot traffic map centers on downtown Seattle, from Sixth Avenue and Western Avenue on the eastern and western boundaries, to Pine Street and Yesler Way on the north and south. A close-up of Kroll Map Company’s Seattle Birdeye View Map, produced just a few years later in 1925, gives us a better look at what was happening in that area at the time:

Birdeye view of downtown Seattle, showing the docks and downtown buildings

Detail of “Seattle birdseye view of portion of city and vicinity.” Edwin C. Poland and Kroll Map Company, 1925. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

Pike’s Place Market is marked on the map as Public Market, now over a decade into its young life. Large buildings are starting to form the downtown skyline, including the LC Smith Building (now known as the Smith Tower), which at the time of this map, was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Legend of the traffic count map shows how each time count was positioned on the map

Detail of “Foot traffic in Seattle, Washington, Wednesday, April 26th, 1922.” Kroll Map Company, 1922. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

In order to create the foot traffic map, four separate counts were taken from the center of each block at different times during the day: 10:30-11:00am, 11:00-11:30am, 2:30-3:00, and 3:00-3:30pm. The total number of pedestrians counted on each side of the street is recorded on the map for each block, with the morning totals on the left and the afternoon totals on the right. In the center of each block is the average number of total pedestrians (averaged between the two sides of the street).

For additional visual effect, the shading of each block is graduated in size in accordance with the average number of pedestrians.

Detail showing the extensive shading of Second Avenue compared to First Avenue

Detail of “Foot traffic in Seattle, Washington, Wednesday, April 26th, 1922.” Kroll Map Company, 1922. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

As you can see in the image above, Second Avenue saw a greater amount of foot traffic than First Avenue did just one block away.

View of First Avenue. Power lines hang across the road, where a street car is driving down the road. Pedestrians fill the sidewalk.

First Avenue. Seattle, Washington.” Keystone View Company, 1923. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Overall, the map demonstrates how much busier one half of the neighborhood is than the other for pedestrians, with the area bounded by Union and Pike between 1st and 4th Avenue seeing the most foot traffic. The Kroll Map Company may have had particular interest in the creation of the pedestrian traffic map, as it was located within the boundaries of the map at this time with location on 2nd Avenue between Marion and Columbia (that block saw 3,783 pedestrians during the count).

One Comment

  1. William M. Johnson
    December 21, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    Thank You!
    As a Seattle writer I found the maps and the timeline fascinating! I have used some of the info in the books I’ve written, including “101 Questions & Answers About Business Espionage,” but to see the street layout and numbers of foot traffic at a given time in history helped me put the business community at that time in perspective.
    William M. Johnson, Ph.D.

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