Skip to main content
King County logo

The Mills of Salmon Bay

Mills move to Salmon Bay

Saw and shingle mills were first established on Salmon Bay in 1888. After the the Great Fire of 1889 destroyed 29 blocks of Seattle’s downtown business district, including Yesler’s Mill on Elliott Bay, Salmon Bay mills grew in number and significance, supplying lumber for much of the reconstruction of the city’s core. The first few Salmon Bay mills are noted in the 1889 plat map to the right. The below survey map, created five years later for the Ship Canal project, shows 10 mills along the waterfront.


Above: Detail from 1894 survey for the U.S. War Department, filed with King County Auditor. State of Washington Board of Land Appraisers King County Map of Ballard Tide Lands. Series 332: Tide and shore land plat survey maps, King County Archives.


Above: Detail from plat of Gilman Park Addition, 1889 showing mill sites and waterline on Salmon Bay. Volume 3 Page 40, Series 334, King County Recorder, Recorded Plats. King County Archives.


In 1890, the newly incorporated Town of Ballard boasted a growing industrial area, with three shingle mills and three sawmills, including the Seattle Cedar Company, the Stimson Mill Company, and the Salmon Bay Mill Company. Ballard soon became known as the “shingle capital of the world,” and by 1915 there were some 20 mills along Salmon Bay.

51832_small 51833_Small 51834_small

Photographs of the Salmon Bay Mills taken in sequence to form a panoramic view, 1915. Items 51832, 51833, and 51834. Series 2613-07, Engineering Department Photographic Negatives. Seattle Municipal Archives.

Operating on the Bay

Water was integral to operation of the sawmills, with some structures built over the high tide line. Timber was floated to the mills through the small canal that connected Lake Union to Salmon Bay, and from Puget Sound through Shilshole Bay. Prior to processing, mills stored timber in the bay, which prevented wood from drying and splitting and allowed for easier handling. Small ships carried cut lumber and shingles for export from Salmon Bay’s shallow waters to larger vessels anchored in the Sound. And, in addition to railway spurs connecting the mills to interstate lines, railroad car ferries provided water transport of rail cars loaded with lumber.

The 1901 dredging and widening of the channel to Puget Sound for the Ship Canal project helped lumber, shipbuilding, fishery, and other industries expand in Salmon Bay.


Above:Seattle Cedar Lumber Company Mill car ferry transfer bridge, 1915. Item 51812. Series 2613-07, Engineering Department Photographic Negatives. Seattle Municipal Archives.

TTY Relay 711

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday: 9 am-4 pm

Please note the Archives is closed Wednesdays.