David Williams, “Too High and Too Steep”

Last week, David Williams, author of “Too High and Too Steep”, discoursed on Seattle’s topography. It boggled the mind overall, how, in the early 1900s and even farther back, did they accomplish what they did? There were no bulldozers, graders, hydrologists, nor cranes. And yet they juggled with water levels, obliterated high mounds, and leveled the landscape. All of this molded the city to the extent that business and residency were enabled.   At the start (1854) it was decided someday to utilize smallish Lake Union to connect the salt water of Puget Sound to the fresh water of Lake Washington. Fast forward 69 years, when a ship canal was envisioned. Lake Washington was 29′ above sea level, Lake Union 20′. Salmon Bay was a tidal salt water inlet. A feat of engineering for that time took place. It involved coffer dams, gates, pumping, blasting, and at times redoing. Ultimately, boats could go from the salt water of Puget Sound, through locks, into Lake Washington. In the process, the waters of Portage Bay flowed into the Montlake Cut. The landscape underwent change with the filling in of the tidal flats, creating 24 acres of new land between Beacon Hill and West Seattle.
A series of mounds, Denny Regrade being the most iconic. had to be obliterated. The soft earth was removed in huge volumes with the use of water cannons and dynamite. In the process, houses had to be relocated. Elevated on pallets, they were brought down by a technique of “stairstepping.”

The author gives praise to pioneers from the east who did all that was necessary to create the city they wanted, from such a challenging landscape.

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