A Brief History of Ballard, One of Seattle's Most Beloved NeighborhoodsOnce a city in its own right, Ballard is a Seattle neighborhood that retains a strong sense of identity. This is in large part because of Ballard’s unique history and distinguished culture as a thriving commercial center made up predominantly of Scandinavian settlers.

These Nordic Settlers gave Ballard a heritage stamped by hard work, collective consciousness, and a live-and-let-live mentality. They also gave the area numerous attractions, such as Golden Gardens, still popular among residents looking to enjoy their downtime.

We share some of the most important and influential moments from the neighborhood’s historical timeline.

Settlement of Ballard by Scandinavians in 1850s

Previously inhabited by the Shishole Native American Tribe, the area that makes up present-day Ballard was first settled during the 1850s and 1860s. For a few decades, the population hardly budged. By 1890, however, growth had picked up and the City of Ballard had a population of 1,636. Between 1890 and 1907, the population swelled further to some 17,000. The bulk of the residents that arrived in Ballard during this time came from Norway and Sweden. Fishing and timber were the city’s primary industries, with its output of wooden roof shingles earning it the nickname “the shingle capital of the world.”

Annexation by Seattle in 1907

As Ballard grew rapidly in size, city officials struggled to provide adequate services to its residents. A safe supply of drinking water was a big enough problem that Ballard eventually agreed to buy from Seattle. This agreement led Ballard to run up such a high debt it was eventually annexed by Seattle. A vote was held in 1905, in which Ballard citizens decided to remain an independent city. But by 1907, the tide of public opinion had changed and Ballard was annexed by Seattle in another vote. Judging by the flag flown at half-mast outside the Ballard City Hall on the day of annexation, it was a decision made more with the mind than the heart.

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Opening of Hiram Chittenden Locks

In 1917, the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Government Locks opened in Ballard. Lake Washington and Lake Union were now connected, improving water transit and fishing potential. Renamed after U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district head Hiram M. Chittenden, the locks are still very much in use today. They are also a major attraction for Ballard and Seattle residents, as well as out-of-town visitors.

Golden Gardens Through the Ages

As Ballard developed throughout the twentieth century, it underwent a number of changes. Many buildings built before its annexation by Seattle remained standing but took on different functions. New homes and commercial buildings were constructed wherever unprotected lands were available. An example of a public space with a purpose that didn’t  change even if the grounds underwent a facelift or two is Golden Gardens. At the turn of the 20th century, an amusement park drew Ballard residents to this gem of a recreational space to play and admire the beauty of the Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains beyond. Today, the amusement park is gone. But excellent views and a place to play are still the two primary reasons why people visit Golden Gardens.

Recent Ballard Real-Estate Boom

Warming up for the past several years, Ballard’s real estate market was recently named Seattle’s hottest by Seattle Met. Some dozen new apartment and condominium communities have sprung up around the neighborhood’s center at Market Street and 15th Avenue, rising to meet the high demand for housing in the area. One of these properties is AMLI Mark24, an eco-conscious development with designer interiors, nine-foot ceilings, and a 3,500 square foot sky deck and entertainment area. From the sky deck, residents have stunning views of Salmon Bay and historic Fishermen’s Terminal in one direction. On clear days, Mt. Baker and the Olympic mountain range are also visible.

Shared values and cultural ties have historically promoted a strong sense of community among Ballard residents, contributing to its moniker as a “city within a city.” At AMLI Mark24, AMLI Residential has designed an environment in which residents will be encouraged to be a part of the Ballard Community. As Community Manager William Betterton describes the relationship between AMLI Mark24 and Ballard, “Old-world flair meets contemporary design to tell a story of the grassroots on which our community lies.” AMLI Mark24, which got it’s name since it’s  at Market Street and 24th Avenue, possesses vibrancy and charm that speak to Ballard’s maritime tradition, but residents benefit from green building techniques and luxurious modern-day conveniences and amenities.

In spite of its status as part of the booming City of Seattle, even today Ballard retains its own sense of identity. The neighborhood’s Scandinavian influence is still strong, as evidenced by numerous Nordic-inspired festivals held in the neighborhood each year. Ballard’s Nordic Heritage Museum is a great place to explore this influence. Norwegian flags are commonplace, and the collective social conscience reigns strong. Urbanites looking to feel like they are a part of both a small town and a large city at the same time can find what they’re  looking for in Ballard.

What is your favorite thing about Ballard or Ballard’s history? Share with us in the comments.

About Jason Ernst


Jason received degrees in International Studies, Economics, and German Literature from the University of Arizona in 2011, and has worked as a freelance writer ever since. His research and writing interests include interior decoration and design, home entertainment, history, art, architecture, and travel. He is currently a regular contributor to the AMLI Residential lifestyle blog. Circle Jason on Google+