Volunteer Diaries

Origins of Places’ Names in Bellevue and Its Surroundings

OR/L 79.79.244

OR/L 79.79.244

When people choose a new city to live, they usually don’t care about the name of their new city. What matters are, for example, location, transportation, or the cost of living in that city, but normally how the name of city sounds doesn’t matter.

                I am one of the unusual persons who decided to move to Bellevue partly because of its name – I felt the tone of its name “Bellevue” comfortable and beautiful. Though I confess that it wasn’t the main reason that I chose Bellevue as my first city in the United States (yes, there were lots of other reasons – of course more practical ones), the name of Bellevue was definitely a part of reasons for me.

                But why is Bellevue called Bellevue? It’s a bit strange to give such a French-influenced name only to Bellevue (as you may already know, Bellevue means “Beautiful view” in French), seeing that there seems to be no such influence on names of other places in Bellevue or surrounding areas.  This question leads me to refer to some origins of places’ names in Bellevue and surrounding areas in this article.

                In Bellevue and its environs, I think one of the most visible categories about places’ names are the ones named after persons’ names. For example, there are Larson Lake (named after Ove Peter Larson, coal miner, homesteaded in 1889), McCormick Park (named after Robert McCormick, who was active in many civic projects during the fifties and the sixties), Meydenbauer Bay (named after William Meydenbauer, one of the first pioneers in Bellevue in 1869) and Mercer Slough (named after Aaron Mercer, settled in August 1869) in Bellevue or near Bellevue. In those cases, the names were chosen either among the persons who engaged socially in the area (This is true of McCormick’s case), or among early pioneers coming to the area.

                There is a case in which a wish about future image of place can form its new name. Factoria, a business district in south Bellevue, was named in anticipation of its future industry. Fortunately, now Factoria is one of the liveliest commercial districts in the city, although it is not certain if this is thanks to its name.  

                Let’s get back to the name of Bellevue itself. I found two possible explanations why it was named Bellevue, and from both points of view, this name is something to do with the first post office in Bellevue, established in the 1880s. The first one tells that, during a conversation among postmen working there, one postman suggested to give to this area a name related to its good view, and in agreeing with him, another proposed to spell it in French way. According to this first explanation, this conversation is the origin of the name of Bellevue.  The second one tells that Lucien and Matt Sharpe, brothers who worked as first postmen in Bellevue, chose the name Bellevue for this area. Actually, their hometown was the city already named Bellevue in Indiana, and that is why they chose this name for their new place of residence. Apparently, we don’t know which one is true (or if there is another true story) because of lack of documentations, but here are two interesting explanations.

                We tend to take places’ names for granted and not rethink about their names, but exploring origins of their names is exploring their histories. If you have some time this summer, it would be interesting to take a glance at some anecdotes behind the name of the place where you live.

 By: Misako - EHC Volunteer



-          Historic place names of Bellevue (Bellevue Historical society, in 1989, as a part of Centennial project)

-          “Have you ever wondered where our eastside names came from? Here’s some interesting trivia” Windermere Real Estate

-          Another version of how city came to be known by the name Bellevue, Lucile McDonald, 1980

-          City of Bellevue, About us, https://bellevuewa.gov/discover-bellevue/about-us, consulted on July 9th 2019

Kirkland Steel Mill

Kirkland Steel Mill

L 75.0545  Peter Kirk’s Steel Mill, Kirkland. The Great Western Iron and Steel Works on Steel Works Lake (formerly known as Forbes Lake, now known as Lake Kirkland) c.1895

L 75.0545

Peter Kirk’s Steel Mill, Kirkland. The Great Western Iron and Steel Works on Steel Works Lake (formerly known as Forbes Lake, now known as Lake Kirkland) c.1895

According to Peter S Kirk the city that bears his name today, Kirkland, was supposed to be the Pittsburgh of the West in the 1890s.  There were abundant natural resources of iron-ore and limestone locally.  A.A. Denny and other local celebrities had discovered rich iron-ore deposits the 1880s.  The local residents were very supportive of a steel mill because of the prosperity and wealth it would bring to the newly platted town of Kirkland.  So, what happened?

Peter Kirk, from Workington in England, was experienced in iron and steel production and had access to qualified personnel to start a steel mill.  He had also toured through several steel mills in Pittsburgh prior to coming to Seattle.  He had officially incorporated the Moss Bay Iron and Steel Company of America in 1888 and secured $5,000,000 of capital.  This is about $138,000,000 dollars in 2019 dollars and was thought sufficient at the time to start a steel mill.

Sadly, there were a number of factors that conspired against Kirk and other investors to assure the mill would not be built.

First, the year 1893 saw a major downturn, or “panic” in the stock market.  East coast investors suddenly saw their money evaporate.  Kirk had the original money but it was being used up rapidly to purchase equipment for the new mill and he needed more to continue.  It is an expensive proposition to start a new steel mill from scratch.  Money and investors were evaporating in a hurry.

Second, transportation was a major issue.  The plan for the mill was to produce rails for a rapidly expanding west coast railroad building boom.  The finished rails had to be moved from the eastern shore of Lake Washington out into Puget Sound and into the Pacific Ocean.  Though a Lake Washington Ship Canal was being talked about and planned it had not yet been built.  The Montlake Cut was neither discussed nor planned at this time.  Without these two public works projects it would be very difficult and expensive to move the steel out of Lake Washington much less out of the Puget Sound area. 

Another transportation issue not yet solved was the railroad spur to be laid from the iron-ore mines near Snoqualmie to the Rose Hill steel mill site.  Given the nation’s financial woes in 1893, it was not going to get built soon.

The final hurdle to overcome was the high ash content of the nearby Newcastle coal.  High ash content coal is not good for coking coal, a key ingredient in steel manufacture.  Sadly, Peter Kirk did not have a viable backup plan to get the coking coal he needed.

It probably would have been possible to solve one of the aforementioned problems and move on with the steel mill.  However, all the problems combined proved too much to overcome and the steel mill bubble burst, for good.

By Jim - EHC Volunteer 


1.     Bagley, Clarence B, History of Seattle: From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time.  Volume 2, page 632.

2.     Ely, Arlene, Our Founding Fathers: The Story of Kirkland, 1975, Published by the Kirkland Public Library, Kirkland Washington

3.     Sherrard, William Robert, The Kirkland Steel Mill.  Thesis in partial fulfillment of Master of Business Administration, University of Washington, 1958.

100th Anniversary of the McDowell House

100th Anniversary of the McDowell House


McDowell House (Paxton House) circa 1918.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the McDowell House, one of the few historic houses in Wilburton that still retains most of its original structures. It’s a craftsman-style house with spacious square rooms, a cobblestone chimney on the southern wall, and a brick fireplace painted white. The roofs extend a couple feet out from the walls and over the west-facing porch, keeping the house dry. One of its more remarkable features are large multi-paneled windows with wooden frames, a luxury in that time. Surprisingly, most of the closets in the house have windows, reducing the need for artificial light.

The house was formerly part of a 5-acre property that contained the Cherry Hill and High Ridge Farm, which produced fruits including grapes, berries, and cherries. It was a few blocks north of the Wilburton historic town and conveniently close to the railroad. Many of the features of the property are now gone, including a barn and a windmill. Bellevue demolished a garage as well.

John H. and Ella McDowell owned land in Clyde Hill by 1905 and built the McDowell House in 1918 with cedar timbers from the Wilburton Mill. Watson and Wallace McDowell were most likely relatives to John and Ella, though the documentation is ambiguous. Watson was a Lieutenant serving in World War I – he returned to Wilburton by New Year’s Day in 1919. Wallace was also involved in the military, working in transportation in England and France in 1918.

The McDowell's sold their house in the 1920’s and from there the house went through many different owners. Thomas E. and Mary S. Paxton bought it in 1964, after which the house became known as the Paxton House. The City of Bellevue bought it from the Paxtons in 1988. Today, the McDowell House houses the Eastside Heritage Center’s administrative offices where staff, interns, and volunteers do outreach organization, event planning, and research.

Overall, information on the McDowell House wasn’t well-preserved; the Eastside Heritage Center has very few records on the house and its inhabitants. Despite its many mysteries, we are happy to celebrate the house and its heritage to remember Bellevue as it was.


By Alice - EHC Youth Volunteer

Dudley Carter: An Unusual and Forgotten Artist

Dudley Carter: An Unusual and Forgotten Artist


Dudley Carter's iconic Forest Deity carving, near Bellevue Shopping Square circa 1947.

Dudley Carter was Redmond’s most famous sculptor, working with cedars and redwoods to sculpt Native American-inspired works. His more prominent works include the Haida House at Slough Park and “Forest Deity” at Bellevue Square.

Carter was perseveringly productive and his lifestyle challenged many modern American conceptions of life. He got his first paid job when he was 6 and kept working until his death almost 95 years later. He reportedly took one vacation and never again, preferring to continue working. He never had a formal Western education because he grew up among Native American peoples such as the Kwakiutl, Haida, and Tsimshyan, far away from schoolhouses. He also believed modern medical practice was a waste of money. He avoided seeing a doctor, instead eating a minimalist diet and fasting when needed.

Carter didn’t start sculpting until he was in his 40’s; the Depression in the 1930’s decreased demand for his services as a logger and gave him more time to explore his self-expression. One of his first major pieces was “Rivalry of the Winds”, which the Seattle Art Museum bought in 1932. He later moved to California and there created “Goddess of the Forest” at the 1939-1940 San Francisco World Fair, which gained him more recognition. He moved back to Seattle in the 1940’s.

Kemper Freeman Sr., the developer for Bellevue Square, loved Carter’s work on “Bird Woman” at the Bellevue’s first arts festival in 1947 and commissioned a work for Bellevue Square. At the time, Carter had a day job as a forest engineer for a timber company. He worked on what became “Forest Deity” every night from 10 pm to 2 am in the Snohomish woods close to Granite Falls until he’d finished.

The finished work revolves around the serene face of the deity, who according to some interpretations is female. There’s a small wreath of dogwood blossoms on her head. At the top of the work, an eagle chick peeks out from under the large head of its mother. In both American and Native American cultures, the eagle represents power through its speed and majesty in flight.

Carter would first sketch his sculpture on paper, then model it in small scale with clay or wood. Only then would he use a chainsaw to build the general form of the work from a giant log. Finally, he would use a double-bitted ax and other traditional hand-held tools to create the character of his piece. He believed that electronic chainsaws, while fast, removed all the personality and idiosyncrasies that make a sculptor’s work special. Occasionally, he would forgo planning and sketching in favor of finding inspiration in the natural shapes of driftwood from beaches.

Carter’s work is also displayed at Chinook Middle School, the Redmond Senior Citizens home, the entrance to Marymoor Park, and the Seattle Art Museum. Despite living around his work, I had never noticed it. Next time I’m at Bellevue Square, I’ll be sure to look for “Forest Deity”.

For more information, a documentary titled “Dudley Carter” was made in 1982.


By Alice - EHC Youth Volunteer