The Luck of an Olmsted Legacy
In 1889 men wore top hats, long dress coats, fitted jackets and plaid tweed suits. It is not impossible to imagine a particular young man of the time to be wearing the latter on a train headed to Washington State. Given that we at Dunn Gardens know his history it is also possible to imagine what he was thinking about as he sat on a days-long journey from the East Coast. He had been lured aboard, in part, by the enthusiasm of a boyhood friend, Elton Ainsworth, who was residing in Seattle.
The man in question is Arthur G. Dunn and he was likely musing on the fishing business during his trip westward. He was 28 years old in 1889, one of eight children born to Irish immigrant parents in the village of Cape Vincent, New York. He worked in the river and lake fisheries of his hometown until joining Elton to explore fishing in the Puget Sound area. Arthur Dunn met his friend with $280 in his pocket and the pair were poised to take their chances in the vigorous and brand new state of Washington.
The friends opened a shop leased on the corner of Second and Pike and Ainsworth and Dunn was born. The premises had a counter, a couple of knives and a basket. The men subsequently added a pushcart that they used to transport fish, oyster, poultry, and game to customers on First Avenue. With these actions they became the first Europeans to enter the fishing business in the Pacific Northwest.
The business grew well beyond its modest beginnings, in the language of the day, to ‘wonderful proportions.’ Soon Ainsworth and Dunn replaced their small market by a warehouse on Pier 59 and the company moved into the business of canning salmon and selling at both a wholesale and retail level.
In 1915, aided by the success of the business, Jeannette and Arthur Dunn purchased ten acres for an estate garden; the property was south of the Seattle Golf Course, had been logged, and looked over Puget Sound. It was ripe for development by the firm engaged for the purpose— the storied Olmsted Brothers whose presence was being felt fully in the region at the time.
By 1915, when the Dunns built their ‘cheap’ house in the country, the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm was well known in Seattle. At the very least Arthur Dunn had insight into the nature of the garden the firm would propose. In a remarkable burst of creative energy, supported by a prescient city council, the firm proposed building a system of public parks, parkways, and playgrounds in 1903. The system of parks and linked boulevards that evolved is now regarded as one of the best and the best-preserved in the country.
The good news is that the Olmsted story in Seattle is being captured by Jennifer Ott of HistoryLink. It is due out in a book tentatively titled Olmsted in Seattle and expected to arrive in Summer 2019. The account will capture the chronology of the plans Olmsted devised, the various parks and boulevards, the adventures of building such a system and reveal the personalities associated with the long project. It will document a rich heritage dating from 1903, when the Olmsted Brothers’ work was begun in Seattle.
Like the park system that has blessed life in this part of the world since the 1904 when the first boulevard was designed, the book documenting how the legacy evolved is in need of support. The Olmsted Book project is close to realizing the $95,000 it will take to publish such a valuable record but is not there yet. As the Dunn Gardens is an Olmsted garden this is a project close to our hearts. Please send your donations to HistoryLink, 93 Pike Street, Suite 315B, Seattle, WA 98101. Or donate online at www.historylink.org (click “Donate” in the upper right corner). All donations gratefully accepted.