Seattle – Enjoying a walkabout in Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square in Seattle
Pioneer Square offers a look at Seattle’s history and culture.

Welcome to Pioneer Square, where Seattle started. Wouldn’t that make a great ad? Only if the neighborhood needed to advertise for visitors. The area where Seattle sprang up from is home to a lot of diversity – in people, attractions, food. Just about anything.

The center of Pioneer Square celebrates the area’s history. A totem pole stands tall and a bust of Chief Seattle (actually spelled Sealth) greets visitors. The totem pole is a gift from the Tlingit people of Alaska. Sort of. It seems back in the day some fellas traveled to Alaska, where they stole the totem pole and brought it back to Seattle. They donated it to the city. But, the Native Americans didn’t sit still during this time. The tribe sued to have the totem pole returned to its home. A judge ruled in the Tlingit’s favor, giving the tribe a small financial reward but allowing the city to keep the totem pole.

Things to do in Pioneer Square in Seattle
Tlingit totem pole may be the most recognizable attraction in the neighborhood.

Later, someone thought it would be funny to set the totem pole on fire. The city sent the remains back to Alaska, where some Tlingit carved a new version of the totem pole. This time, the tribe donated the replica.

The Suquamish chief’s bust honors the original residents of the area.

Pioneer Square
Seattle was named after Chief Sealth.

Nearby is an iron pergola. It once served as a stop on the city’s streetcar route. Today, the beautiful structure serves as a tourist attraction.

Public art in Pioneer Square in Seattle
The iron pergola once served as a waiting area for Seattle’s early streetcars.

Seattle history

Since Pioneer Square was the original Seattle, there are hundreds of stories to be told about its early days. One way to learn some of those stories is to take a tour of the city’s underbelly with Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. Speidel was a Seattle journalist and historian who fought to save Pioneer Square’s history.

Underground Tour in Pioneer Square in Seattle
A view of Seattle’s sidewalks from underground.

The 90-minute tour I took gives you a look at some of the original buildings in Seattle, now part of underground tunnels. The city wasn’t built well originally. Rich people lived on the hills overlooking the town. With the advent of indoor plumbing, wooden pipes carried people’s – um – “stuff” downhill where it landed in the bay. Downtown Seattle stunk. Then, came the fire that changed everything.

Underground Tour in Seattle
An early bathroom in Seattle.

A woodworker was melting glue over an open fire. The glue supposedly boiled over and a fire ensued. It quickly got out of hand and spread throughout the business district. Firefighters could not able to contain the flames and the fire eventually destroyed more than 20 blocks.

Given a chance to rebuild Seattle, city leaders actually worked on a new design. Thus, old Seattle was buried. A three-block area of the original location is now on the underground tour. I enjoyed the tour. It was the second time I went on, with the first being in 2010. Visitors will see remnants of old buildings such as a hotel, bathhouse, stores and a bank. The place is supposedly haunted, so the company offers ghost tours.

Underground Seattle in Pioneer Square
A bank’s remains in underground Seattle.

Pioneer Square honors fallen firefighters with a memorial. It’s different from others I’ve seen as the firefighter statues strike various positions along the sidewalk. The memorial, created following the deaths of four firefighters in 1995, honors the 31 firefighters who died in the line of duty since 1889.

Firefighters memorial in Pioneer Square
A memorial to the 31 firefighters who died in the line of duty since 1889.

The Last Resort Fire Department provides a look into the city’s fire fighting history. The museum opened in 2008, and it’s located at in the department’s headquarters, which served as Fire Station 10. Some of the trucks on display are still in working condition and could help in an emergency, a guide told me.

Pioneer Square
A local museum looks at the city’s fire department history.

Gold rush

Seattle’s economy boomed when gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory in the late 1890s. The city saw thousands of men and women come to town in search of riches. Some headed north to mine for gold, while others set up shop in both Seattle and the Yukon. Bars, brothels and stores boomed as men looked for drink and companionship before heading north. Stores sold everything necessary for people seeking their fortune up north. In the end, very few people scored any gold of significance. However, Seattle’s economy boomed and the city was on the map to stay.

Gold Rush Museum in Pioneer Square
A storefront replica at the national park exhibit.

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park explores the phenomena that was the gold rush and its use in everyday life today. Several exhibits and a movie trace the history of the two-year period. The museum is located inside the former Cadillac Hotel, once THE place to stay in Seattle.

Things to do in Pioneer Square
The hotel enjoyed its heyday during the late 1890s gold rush.

Pioneer Square has a uniqueness about it that makes me enjoy walking about the area. Waterfall Garden Park is a small enclave off the street that features a 22-foot waterfall. Odd? Perhaps. But. It’s an interesting way to mark the original location of the United Parcel Service’s headquarters.

Waterfall in Pioneer Square
The small park and waterfall are locate at UPS’ original location.

Occidental Square Park awaits visitors of all ages. People can play chess on a large playing board with giant-sized chess pieces. Foosball tables, bocce courts and ping pong tables are available for people to relax and enjoy themselves in a beautiful outdoor setting.

Chess board in Pioneer Square
Your move.

Pioneer Square features great architecture, some dating to the late 1800s. Some buildings stand tall over the others. Some have vines reaching skyward. The neighborhood has so much history and beauty.

Architecture in Seattle's Pioneer Square
Pioneer Square has a mix of older and more contemporary buildings.

Since it marked the beginning of Seattle, it seems logical that some of the original businesses may still exist, such as Merchants Café and Saloon, which lays claim as being Seattle’s oldest restaurant, since 1890. The State Hotel once rented rooms for 75 cents a night. The hotel was popular during the city’s Skid Road era – when logs slid downhill to the bay.

Oldest Restaurant in Seattle is in Pioneer Square
The oldest restaurant in Seattle.

Pioneer Square – the birthplace of Seattle – developed into a unique neighborhood through the years. I enjoyed my walkabout through history. The area has more to offer – additional museums, galleries and stores. Check out the food scene here, as well. You can taste almost anything, from American fare to Irish and Italian. I recommend hanging out in Pioneer Square.

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