Walks through the neighborhood usually turn into a history lesson for anyone with me. The old buildings all hold stories waiting to be uncovered and shared. Clues to our neighborhood’s past are everywhere – embedded in the sidewalk, under vinyl siding, or shared in the memory of a longtime resident. When we are looking, with our eyes and ears, we find clues that provide a peek into the past.
I was one of the many volunteers photographing pre-1960 homes this past February as part of the Ballard Historical Society’s mapping project. My assigned route took me from 8th Ave NW to 14th Ave NW, where I met David Smith, owner of Blowing Sands Glass Studio.
David showed me around his building, sharing bits of history he had gathered using old property records and photos obtained from the Puget Sound Archives. As I was leaving he showed me the old City of Ballard street name plaque embedded in the sidewalk outside his shop and our conversation turned to trolleys.
Pre-1907, 14th Ave NW was Railroad Avenue and the #27 trolley ran the length of the street, taking passengers north to East Sloop Street, today’s NW 70th Street. There was a “T” or turn around at NW 70th Street so the trolley was able to face forward on the way back into town. Photo of the #27 trolley below, courtesy the University of Washington. Current view of this location can be found HERE.
Trolley lines were important in the development and expansion of early Ballard. The northern frontier neighborhoods, including Loyal Heights & West Woodland, owe their growth to the introduction of the trolley line. Most roads in the area were not paved until the 1930s, making travel dirty and difficult. Trolleys made the rural north end accessible to those wanting to buy property or a home of their own.
As I walked home along 14th Ave NW, I wondered what our city would be like today if the trolley rails had not been torn up and replaced by gasoline powered buses in the 1940s. The convenience of commuting from Ballard to Fremont, Queen Anne & beyond, car free, no parking problems, makes the trip sound down right delightful.
The future of 14th Ave NW includes a park that will provide much needed green space in park starved Ballard. This two block outdoor oasis, stretching from NW 59th to NW 61st Street, will become the front yard for neighbors who live in the many condos and townhomes lacking outdoor access. Perhaps someday the park will stretch south, following the trolley line, creating a refreshing refuge for years to come.