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Memories of Merrimount

by Jane Meyer Brahm
from a memoir by Elliot Marple

South of East Seattle, in the center of the Island's western shoreline, is a neighborhood called Merrimount. Elliot Marple, son of one of the original owners, told of how his father, Lucius Marple, and his boyhood friend, Ed Manning, went into partnership together to buy a tract of Mercer Island land from a Scandinavian–American bank, which had failed. He wrote about Merrimount’s earliest days in his memoirs. Marple wrote:

“As I recall, Merrimount contained 22 and a fraction acres. When it was bought, in 1919 or 1920, it was heavily wooded with second growth after having been logged off in the late 1800s. The loggers had left standing a few very large old Douglas fir trees. They must have known from the dead tops, broken limbs, and the appearance of the bark that they contained conk (rot) or pitch and therefore were worthless in those days for lumber.

“The rest of the woods consisted largely of alder. Dad said it was necessary to remove most of the alder before a surveyor's line could even be run to determine where the boundaries were, and to set the corners for each lot. Over 200 cords of alder were cut as cordwood, loaded onto scows and taken to Seattle for sale as fuel.

"The platting of lots was oriented to the water. Waterfront was the only thing salable then, because of the dependence on water transportation. The waterfront lots were 50 feet wide, and long and deep; seems to me they ran back 300 or 400 feet. Merrimount Drive was platted to connect with the boulevard [now West Mercer Way], which went around the Island, and to connect with Forest Avenue to the south in the then-new Lott's Addition.

This is a photo of “The Boulevard,” which is what early residents called what was later to become West Mercer Way.
Taken in the 1920s, the view looks north on what is now West Mercer Way.

"Originally, on the first plat, it was called Lucerne, named for the blue lake and snow-covered mountains and their resemblance to the Swiss scene. Dad and Ed Manning decided to name it after the colony in Quincy, Massachusetts, near where they both had lived as boys.

This brochure was used to try to sell lots in the 23-acre,
48-lot Merrimount development of Mercer Island in the 1920s.
The brochure gushes: “It’s the real life on Mercer! After a hot
day in town you enjoy a short chat with friends on deck
before you step off at your own landing. . .Most Mercer children
ride ponies and have great fun racing them. . .You are home in a
few minutes ready to enjoy your own garden, to boat, swim,
fish or ride in the incomparable woods of Mercer Island."

“’Merrymount’ was a ribald colony where dancing around the maypole and other lighthearted non Puritanical activities caused it, during Puritanism's stern days, to be expelled from the town of Quincy. Nathaniel Hawthorne described for posterity its rebellious gaiety. Dad was a purist in English, so I suspect that he changed the spelling deliberately. He used to laugh and to enjoy recalling the source of the name.

“When Merrimount was platted, one of the first things done was to build a dock, just south of County Dock, which had been the last stop of the steamer Dawn from Leschi. Service could be extended to Merrimount without altering schedules, but regular service was not available the short additional distance to Lott's Dock, which I recall was built just before ours.

"Before we moved to Merrimount in 1921, we lived across the lake in the Mount Baker Park district, where Dad had built a large house in 1914. A Bellevue friend, an old -timer sailor from Maine, had built us a flat-bottomed sloop named the Frolic. We used to take a picnic and go across to the Island each Sunday when the weather permitted, for work and play. Dad kept a Fordson tractor at Merrimount, which he enjoyed operating.

"He used that tractor to move logs, clear land, pull stumps, etc. One night the weather turned bitterly cold, and Dad was worried about the tractor. In the middle of the night he drove to Lakewood boathouse where he kept the sloop, but there was nary a sailing breeze. He took one of the rental rowboats as stealthily as he could, left as quickly as possible, but the owner woke up and bellowed out, ‘Who's stealing my boat?’ Dad called back to reassure him and that was that. He rowed the two miles to Merrimount, drained the radiator of the tractor to prevent a possible freeze, and then rowed the two miles back.

"Those 50-foot waterfront lots sold for $1,000. The best lots, those with space to build just above lake level on land created when the lake was lowered, were at the north end of the tract, and were the first to be sold. "Dad built a cottage on the waterfront lot at the extreme south end of the tract, and we moved in during the summer of 1921. In our frequent Sunday crossings in the Frolic we were becalmed too often to suit Dad, so he added power, first an outboard, then a more powerful inboard motor. On the day we moved from Seattle to the Island we took a calf aboard the sloop. When we were 300 feet from shore, the calf decided she had had enough of powered boating, jumped overboard and swam the rest of the way. She was an independent calf, and deserved her new name, Jazz! The new cottage was crowded for a family with five children. Their schools ranged from University of Washington and Garfield High School to East Seattle Grade School.

"There were no near neighbors. The nearest family was the O'Connors, who lived in the large house built by Vitus Schmid before 1900. It was a 10 acre place where the Maple Lane colony is now, across from Merrimount. Island Crest Way cuts across the western end of what was the O'Connor property.

"Thomas O'Connor taught at Lincoln High School in Seattle. He took the Dawn at 7 a.m. from County Dock each school morning, then the Yesler cable car that ran from Leschi Park to First Avenue, then walked for 30 minutes to reach the school. In the evening, he would leave Leschi at 6:30, arrive at County Dock at 7 p.m., then climb the long hill up to his house - a long day which he gladly put in so the children could grow up in the country. He and his quiet, pretty wife had four children, Jack and David and two girls. Their place had a large barn where we kids had endless fun playing in the hay. They had one or two cows, chickens, a garden, and a fruit orchard.

"East of the O'Connors was the block-square tract known as the Melhorn Orchard. The small house was not occupied. No one came to get the fruit, except us kids. There were wonderful cherries. This was the project of an earlier day, when it was thought the Island could be farmed commercially. The 10 acre tract now includes, in the northwest comer, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

"South of Melhom's, across the platted street (now S.E. 45th) that was no more than a wagon trail among tall ferns and seedling trees, the Joe Ellis family lived. At that time Mr. Ellis was a Seattle street car conductor, working a late shift. He was required to live in Seattle, but he would take the 2:30 steamer to the Island for a few hours' stay before he returned to work. He used to sit up in the bow of the Dawn in good weather and talk with us kids, if we were on the early boat home from Garfield High School. Often he would say, 'Oh, if only I were young again.' He loved the Island and the lake. His only child, Elizabeth, lived at home and was quite a hand at getting together a community dance at the one-room schoolhouse. That was the AlIview Heights School, unused then, and located on Vitus Schmid's donated land where the library now stands. Usually the dances drew only the older of the O'Connor and Marple kids, sometimes the Garrisons, and Elizabeth Ellis and perhaps her mother. Phonograph records furnished the music. The Garrisons lived across the Island on the east side, and the quick way to get there was to walk. There was a trail, and especially during cherry season, we went over to pick from the large trees at Appleton, paying something like a nickel a pound for Bings and Royal Anne cherries. Wonderful!

"My younger brother and sister, Dick and Marcia, went to grade school in East Seattle. They walked the two miles each way. Only if the weather was very wet were they allowed to take the Dawn. That cost five cents for school kids. Walking was regarded as healthy. They took the boulevard, and then came down Merrimount Drive. It would have been shorter to cut off at Franklin Dock and walk along the waterfront, but there was really no way to get past old Mr. Lembke's. Once, on a Sunday morning, when my older brother, Warren, and I were cutting through Mr. Lembke's, he came out swinging an axe at Warren. We ran, and when clear, we turned around and saw him aiming a rifle at us. Many years afterward, Miss Eastwood said that when he died, hypodermic needles were found in the little shack on the beach where he lived alone, apart from the house of his very pleasant wife, only a short distance away, near the County Dock road.

"Dad built a barn on the lower side of Forest Avenue just where it leaves Merrimount Drive and heads south. It was an ingenious two-story affair. Horses and cows on the lower level; on the upper level, the auto came in off Merrimount Drive. Also, in that first small cottage, there was no room for our player piano, so it was stored on the upper level, where we kids used to enjoy playing the music rolls from time to time.

"During World War I, Dad had logged off a tract of his land near Arlington. From that he had quite a collection of saws, axes, peevees, cable, blocks, etc. all of which were put to good use. The roads, especially Merrimount Drive, were very slippery when wet. They had no gravel. We used a homemade sled for hauling wood, tools, baled hay, etc. We had two cows and a light workhorse named Bob who pulled the sled.

"In 1922, the Ed Manning built a large, comfortable house on the two or three 50-foot lots adjoining Miss Mustard’s on the south. About that time Dad built a two-story house south of Manning’s'. The lumber, bricks, lime, cement and other building supplies were loaded on a scow that was beached in front of the job site. To get lumber up to the house site 100 feet above the beach, Dad built a skid road with cross members of logs, and a wooden skidder, a sort of sled. Then he rigged block and tackle and put the tractor to work on the beach to haul the lumber up to the house site. Materials could have come by ferry to Roanoke, then be hauled two miles down the boulevard, but there was no way to get down to the waterfront because the hillside was so steep. The nearest one could get then was the barn. We lived in that house for about three years, until the younger children finished grade school.

A road crew works on West Mercer way (formerly " The Boulevard”) in 1910.

“With each house, Dad had a garden, a patch of virgin rich soil with vegetables for the family, and strawberries that we kids hoed, weeded and picked. Before building our third house, Dad cleared a half-acre or so west of the Boulevard, and planted loganberries. A sort of commercial venture, it never really paid off. But we ate loganberries until we couldn't stand them any more. Later, the berry patch became a lawn with a driveway to the new house. This area had several of the very old Douglas firs, left by yesteryear's loggers. They must have been four feet in diameter, and were too dangerous to be left standing near the new house. We took them down, one at a time, and my brothers and I, using a gasoline powered drag saw, cut them into two-foot fireplace wood, split them, and sold the wood in East Seattle. We delivered it with an old, hard-tired Federal truck that Dad had bought for use around the place. Before we had that truck, we were a one-car or no-car family, as many on the Island. Our car was garaged at Leschi for Dad’s use during the day, if he needed transportation other than the Yesler Cable Car, which took him near his office in the Hoge building. As a result, we were generally without an auto on the Island, which meant we didn't go far from home, except on the Dawn."

“We could go by the little steamer to East Seattle, where the school was the common meeting place or focus for those who lived on our part of the Island. The other community center was the Keewaydin Club at Roanoke, social and community center for dances and special events. The only church was the little Episcopal Church in East Seattle, where the Rev. Mr. Hilton was minister. Dad sang there for one Easter service; he was no churchgoer, but he did enjoy the music. I recall that afterward he asked me how he sounded. “The biggest social event in those years was the all-Island picnic at Fortuna Park. A boat went all around the Island picking up people for the all day North End fun day - a gala occasion!

"When all of us kids were going to school in Seattle, we exchanged our Merrimount home for one in town, owned by D.M. Kirby. The Mannings sold out and moved to Palo Alto to be near their recently moved corporate offices in San Francisco. Dad's building activities continued. In the late ‘20s he built a house, later the Ivan Kerns' residence, at boulevard level, but west about 400 feet. Some of the joists for the first floor were taken from the dismantled cow barn. This barn aroma lingered on for some little time, but the planks had been conveniently available, and too valuable to pass up. A little cottage at 4433 West Mercer Way, as it is now designated, was built in the 1930s, as a summer place when we lived in Seattle. But as the children grew up and left home, the house in town was too large, and was sold. My parents moved to the cottage, added to it by bits and pieces, and closed in a covered porch. They lived there until both were past 90, still keeping house. That house, remodeled completely, still stands today.

"One of my early memories goes back to a place on the south side of Merrimount below the boulevard, near a shaded brook where beautiful trilliums grew - thousands of them! One Sunday we children picked 50 of them, making massive bouquet for our Mother on her 50th birthday. We did not know then that when a trillium is picked, the bulb dies. The date had to be March 31,1920, when we were living in Mt. Baker Park. Thereafter, we always judged whether spring was late or early by how far out the trilliums were on March 31.“

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