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What is the Seattle Underground Tour?

Updated on November 9, 2015

The Hidden City Under Seattle

The Underground Seattle Tour
The Underground Seattle Tour | Source

Bill Speidel's "Sons of the Profits"

Sons of the Profits: or There's No Business Like Grow Business, The Seattle Story, 1851-1901
Sons of the Profits: or There's No Business Like Grow Business, The Seattle Story, 1851-1901

William "Bill" Spiedel was a Seattle historian and writer who started the Seattle Underground Tour as a way to save historic Pioneer Square from the wrecking ball. He wrote the Sons of the Profits to share the history of Seattle and stories of its pioneers. Many of Seattle's early settlers came to the area to seek their fortune. Bill Speidel's book is about many of these "characters" that built 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

Entrance to the Seattle Underground Tour
Entrance to the Seattle Underground Tour

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

Doc Maynard's Bar
Doc Maynard's Bar

A Biography of Doc Maynard, By Bill Speidel

Doc Maynard: The Man Who Invented Seattle
Doc Maynard: The Man Who Invented Seattle

David Swinnen "Doc" Maynard was one of the early settlers who had a large role in the creation of the city of Seattle and was one of its most colorful characters. Bill Speidel, a Seattle historian, wrote this biography full of anecdotes and stories about Doc Maynard after many years of research.

 

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 Seattle Pioneer Square Totem Pole and Pergola
The Seattle Pioneer Square Totem Pole and Pergola

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

Pioneer Square Totem Pole 1899
Pioneer Square Totem Pole 1899 | Source

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

Old skylight on a Seattle sidewalk
Old skylight on a Seattle sidewalk

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

Stairs down to the Seattle Underground
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

Looking up through a skylight from below
Looking up through a skylight from below

Our Tour Guide Entertains with Stories of Seattle

A tour guide telling stories of early Seattle
A tour guide telling stories of early 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

A Seattle Street from before 1889
A Seattle Street from before 1889

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

Old Photo of Seattle Before the Fire of 1889
Old Photo of Seattle Before the Fire of 1889

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 Pipe - Seattle, WA
Old Water Pipe - Seattle, WA

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

The Seattle Underground Tour "Rogue's Gallery"
The Seattle Underground Tour "Rogue's Gallery"

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

Seattle "Seamstresses"
Seattle "Seamstresses"

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

Seattle Underground Tour Gift Shop
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

Please sign my guestbook - Please feel free to leave your comments about the Seattle Underground Tour

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    • AGreeneGirl profile image

      AGreeneGirl 4 years ago

      As a native Oregonian I have been to through the Underground Tour a few times. It is a great tourist spot for any guest. It has charm and history and appeals to kids and teens as well as adults. I know longer live in the Pacific North West so thanks for giving me a taste of home. We spent a lot of time in Seattle as well, so it is pretty close to home!

    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 4 years ago from Tucson

      The Seattle Underground has fascinated me since I saw an old movie called "the Night Strangler" with Darrin McGavin many years ago. It's great that Seattle was able to preserve their history this way while most cities lost theirs.

    • profile image

      SalinaV 3 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens. I would definitely take this tour. It sour like a fun and informative tour. Thanks!

    • Carashops profile image

      Cara 3 years ago

      Fascinating! Thank you for sharing.

    • srsddn profile image

      srsddn 2 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      Vicki, Nicely presented. I liked the photographs. Videos put the tour in right perspective. I wish I knew about it during my tour to Seattle some years back. Thanks for sharing this wonderful underground tour. Voted up and useful!

    • traveleze profile image

      Lee John 2 years ago from Preston

      Hi Vicki,

      What is the Seattle Underground Tour? Well you explained all the information i needed in this AMAZING HUB, i voted according :) and followed you, I write travel hubs if you could check mine out and leave any feedback if you necessary id be very very grateful :)

      Thanks

      Lee

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 2 years ago from Europe

      That's amazing information. I never knew that this underground tour existed! The totem pole is also incredible. Great Hub!

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