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East Seattle Community

First Settlers

Vitus and Ida Schmid

Until the first settlers took root on Mercer Island, its visitors included Native Americans, trappers, berry-pickers, and explorers. The Island was visited by native Americans but they did not live there because it was believed it was inhabited by evil spirits. One explorer was Thomas Mercer after whom the island is most-likely named. By 1861 only about 320 non-Native Americans peopled the region now known as King County. Because so much beautiful land was available for claiming in the Puget Sound area most residents had a wide choice of land to claim. During the 1870s many filed claims but lost them when they couldn't prove their claims. Donation or pre-emption laws of 1820 were still valid, whereby a man could buy from the U.S. a minimum of 80 acres (1/8 of a section) at $1.25 per acre. Seattle realtors sold land to Easterners, sight unseen, as investments.

One early settler on Mercer Island was Vitus Schmid, a wagonmaker's apprentice from Baden, Germany. At age 15 he came to stay with an older sister in Chicago. He wanted to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War but his sister refused to consent. Schmid joined a Northern Pacific snowshed crew and worked his way to the Northwest. In 1876 Schmid and John Wenzler, a cobbler from Chicago, filed a claim for 160 acres in the central part of the Island.

During their land-clearing work, a large tree fell on the cabin and wrecked it. After their struggle of rowing equipment and supplies to the island and hand-clearing the land and hand-building the cabin, this blow discouraged them. Schmid returned to Chicago and Wenzler returned to the cobbler's bench.

Schmid, now with his wife Ida and two sons, came back, filed another claim on Mercer Island in 1878, and built another cabin. Luck was still against him. A lumber company challenged his right to the claim and the case was in the courts for 11 years. Schmid won, received clear title, and moved his family, now six, into the cabin in 1889. That cabin was just above Island Crest Way, west of the area now known as Maple Lane, and it stood there until 1954, when it was torn down to make way for modern houses.

Thomas Mercer (1813-1898)

The Calkins Hotel building
during its days as a fashionable resort.
(Courtesy of the Seattle Historical Society)

The first concentrated development on Mercer Island was a community known as East Seattle, located on the north west side of the island (see below). In 1889 the Calkins Hotel was built here, but was destroyed in a fire set by an angry employee in 1908.

Also located in the East Seattle area were commercial buildings with stores and Mercer Island's first post office.

After the first bridge west to Seattle was completed in 1940, the business district relocated to its present location, about one mile east.

A 1918 map from the Port of Seattle showing the community of East Seattle

A 1918 map from the Port of Seattle showing the community of East Seattle