Keeping History Alive on Mercer Island  

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Mercer Island Historical Society

Founded 1954

Keeping History Alive on Mercer Island

A Washington State Non-profit Charitable organization with 501(c)(3) status.


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A Brief History

Just over five miles long and two miles wide, Mercer Island lies in Lake Washington east of the city of Seattle and west of the city of Bellevue. Today about 24,000 people make it their home. Settlement of the island began in the late 1870's. The island was named after one of the three pioneering Mercer brothers from Illinois--most likely Thomas--who all had great influence in the Seattle area. In 1854, in a speech by Thomas Mercer, he suggested that Washingtonians should call the state's largest inland lake "Lake Washington". In return, attendees suggested this largest island in the lake should be named after Mr. Mercer.

Although none of the brothers lived on Mercer Island, they would often hunt and explore throughout the island's secluded forests. Early island settlers traveled by rowboats to the neighboring community of Seattle to pick up necessities. An occasional boat would drop off items that were too large to transport by rowboat.

Because of the inconveniences of island living, settlement lagged until C.C. Calkins platted the town of East Seattle in 1888, having purchased a large amount of land on the island, as part of his 22,000 acres across the Puget Sound area. In 1891 he built a luxurious resort on the western side of the island. This spurred the building of a ferry dock and small streamers began to make regular trips. This availability of transportation attracted more residents. Ferry travel continued until July 2, 1940 when the floating bridge from Mercer Island to Seattle was opened.

Today eight lanes of Interstate 90 connect Mercer Island with Seattle and Bellevue. It includes two side-by-side floating bridges with a bicycle/pedestrian lane, that link Seattle and Mercer Island.

Mercer Island is primarily a single-family residential community. A commercial business district and multi-family dwellings are concentrated at the northern end of the island, south of I-90. However, north of Interstate 90 is also a single-family residential community as well as being the site of city-owned Luther Burbank Park.