What is the Seattle Underground Tour?
The Hidden City Under Seattle
Explore What Lies Beneath the City on the Seattle Underground Tour
The Seattle Underground tour is one of the most interesting things to do in Seattle. Most of the tour takes place beneath the streets and sidewalks of the historic Pioneer Square area. The tour is both entertaining and educational with many humorous stories about the colorful characters who were early residents of Seattle.
Tour guides tell of how the city was originally established in 1852 on the tide flats of Puget Sound with primarily wood structures. The climate and location made for streets of mud and the city was plagued with sewage problems when the tide came in. After the "Great Seattle Fire" the city was rebuilt with brick and stone buildings and the street level was gradually raised with a series of seawalls, leaving the former street level "underground".
The area is considered by many to include some of the best examples of Romananesque Rival Style architecture in the US. The Seattle Underground Tour was started by Bill Speidel, a Seattle journalist and historian who began the tours to gather public support tor the establishment of Pioneer Square as a National Historic District and local preservation district in 1970.
On the Seattle Underground Tour, explore what lies beneath the streets and learn about the history of Seattle.
(All photos by Vicki Green - PNW Travels - unless otherwise credited)
A Map of Seattle Showing the location of Bill Speidel's Underground Tour
Seattle Underground Tour Entrance
How to Get a Reservation for the Tour
The gathering place to begin the Seattle Underground Tour is located at 608 First Avenue, right across the street from the Pioneer Square Totem Pole and Pergola. Since the tour is popular, to avoid what can sometimes be a long wait, it is a good idea to buy tickets in advance for a specific tour time. Often discounted tickets are available on Groupon.
Inside Doc Maynard's in Seattle's Pioneer Square
About Doc Maynard
At the beginning of the tour, the group gathers inside Doc Maynard's for a 20 minute introduction about the history of Pioneer Square and Seattle. "Doc Maynard" (David Swinson Maynard), was a Seattle pioneer who, in addition to being a doctor, enjoyed a drink or two.
Seattle Underground Tour Introduction at Doc Maynard's - Seattle History told at the Seattle Underground Tour
The Seattle Underground Tour begins with a 20 minute introduction with a brief, entertaining and funny history of Seattle. The tour guides are probably stand-up comedians when not leading tours.
An Introduction to the Seattle Underground Tour
Seattle's Historic Pioneer Square - The Pergola and Totem Pole are Pioneer Square Landmarks in Seattle
The Totem Pole and Pergola - Our First Stop on the Tour
Pioneer Square is located at First Avenue and Yesler at the former site of Seattle's first sawmill. The most recognizeable landmark of Pioneer Square is the small park which features trees, the iron pergola, a totem pole and a sculpture of Chief Seattle. On the tour we learned that the pergola was built in 1909 at a streetcar stop to shelter the entrance to an underground restroom. The original totem pole was placed at the site in 1909 and the story of its acquisition provides an example of the character of some of Seattle's pioneers.
The pole was stolen from the Tlingit tribe by some Seattle businessmen visiting Alaska in 1889. It was erected in the square with much fanfare as is shown in the historical photo (below). The tribe sued, but were awarded only $500 in damages. The original totem pole burned in 1938 and the Tlingits generously carved and gave the city the replacement pole that now stands in the square.
Historical Photo of the Seattle Pioneer Square Totem Pole 1899
Watch for the skylights in the sidewalks
One of the next things pointed out on the tour as we walked along a street in Pioneer Square was one these odd purple colored squares on the sidewalk. These glass squares are actually skylights made to help provide some illumination to the underground streets below.
Seattle Sidewalk with Skylight
A Door Leads to a Stairway
Our Seattle Underground Tour Guide unlocked a door in a building on the street revealing a stairway leading to the world of the Seattle underground.
Descending the Stairs Down to the Seattle Underground
A Skylight from a Different Perspective
After descending to the underground we walked a short distance and our tour guide stopped and pointed out one of the skylights in the ceiling. The photo below was taken looking up from the streets of underground Seattle to one of the glass skylights in the sidewalks above.
Seattle Underground Skylights from Below
Our Tour Guide Entertains with Stories of Seattle
Seattle History Made Fun and Interesting
To those who think history is dull and boring, our Seattle Underground tour guide, Ray, was very entertaining when he gathered us together at several places along the tour to tell funny stories about Seattle's pioneers. It was interesting and helpful when he stopped and oriented us to where we were and the history of the buildings above us.
Under the Streets of Seattle - The Underground Seattle
Seattle from before the Great Seattle Fire
Old Seattle Streets
The passageways in the Seattle Underground were the streets and sidewalks of the city before the Great Seattle Fire in 1889.
Historical Photos of Seattle on the Underground Tour
Frontier City of Seattle Before the Fire of 1889
There are numerous old photographs on the walls along the tour which show what Seattle looked like in the very places we were standing prior to the the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. After the fire the city was re-built. Using seawalls and available fill materials the level of the city was raised leaving the original street level underground.
Old Seattle Street Signs and Addresses
Old Street Signs Under the City
Some of the walls and buildings in the Seattle Underground have street signs and addresses which helped to provide orientation as we made our way through the maze of underground tunnels and passageways.
An Early Water Supply System in Seattle
Old Water Pipes Made From Hollow Logs
The tour includes a section of pipe made from a hollow log that was used to carry water in Seattle's early days. The pipe was found under Seattle when some excavation was done.
Photos and Artifacts of Early Seattle
About the Seattle "Rogue's Gallery"
At the end of the tour a passage opens to the "Rogue's Gallery", a museum of sorts. The area contains some artifacts from life in Seattle in the 1800s, but the most interesting displays are the numerous historical photographs of early Seattle and some of the colorful people that were then its prominent citizens.
The "Seamstresses" of Seattle
The "Daughters of the Profits"
Seattle in the 1880s and 1890s was a rough and rugged frontier town with people making their living in whatever way that they could. Bill Speidel told the story of many of these individuals in his book, "The Sons of the Profits". For a single woman, there were few options for employment. Prostitution was a very profitable, but technically illegal, business. Seattle like many frontier towns had a high percentage of single women who, when asked by census takers, gave their occupation as "seamstress". The number of seamstresses in Seattle was so high that it seemed curious that there could possibly be work doing sewing for so many. Among the historical photos on the walls of the Seattle Underground Tour Museum and gift shop is this photo of five of Seattle's most wealthy and well-known "seamstresses". Perhaps they could be called the "Daughters of the Profits".
The Seattle Underground Tour Gift Shop
The End of the Tour
Naturally at the end of the tour there is a gift shop with souvenirs and several books about Seattle history. Among the books available are several written by Bill Speidel including "The Sons of the Profits" and "Doc Maynard: The Man Who Invented Seattle".
More Adventures in Seattle
For more ideas of things to do in the Seattle area, visit Pacific NW Travels and Tails.
© 2012 Vicki Green