Kirkland Now & Then | Norkirk Neighborhood's Piccadilly Hill

In 1888, Peter Kirk's newly incorporated Kirkland Land & Improvement Company set out to plat a townsite, Kirkland, its backers and staff believed would soon blossom into the 'Pittsburgh of the Pacific.' Kirkland was to be a company town of 'progressive' design and modeled after another, Pullman, IL. Kirk's staff engineers plotted each street and avenue with care and deliberation. Streets were not then named according to today's numeric grid system, and many of Kirkland's early street names pay homage to England--Piccadilly, Fleet, Victoria--a nod to several of the corporation's officers who'd recently immigrated from there to the Washington Territory.

Kirkland would to have two primary thoroughfares: Market Street was to be the north/south lifeline, running from the water--and envisioned pier for ocean going vessel traffic upon completion of the planned locks and Lake Washington Ship Canal, dubbed derisively by political opponents: 'The Kirkland Ditch"--to the complex of fine brick buildings four blocks north, at its intersection with Piccadilly Avenue. This intersection was to be the empire's administrative hub.

The second lifeline, Piccadilly Avenue, was to run east/west, from Market Street to the steel mill, on Rose Hill by Forbes Lake, near the site of Today's Costco store. For a time after the Great Seattle fire of 1889, Kirkland boasted more brick structures than its large western neighbor across the lake.

Once the dream was platted, an army of thousands of company workers descended on the townsite. The crews felled the large trees and cut away underbrush covering the land and cut over 3,000,000 board feet of lumber, though, in their haste to meet strict deadlines, most of these first-growth giants were simply set ablaze where the fell and massive fires dotted the land comprising today's Market and Norkirk neighborhoods. The pall of choking smoke, ash and soot was so thick in 1891 that the lake's western bank was not visible from Kirkland for months.

With the trees cut, the brush cleared and their massive stumps blasted, burned or wrested from the soil by oxen teams, Kirk's crews began laying out their survey lines and cutting through the most important roads. Market and Piccadilly were their first priority, since mill construction was already underway and linking the townsite with the mill was a critical step. Piccadilly was graded and planked and a plank sidewalk hastily constructed. But the Kirkland bubble burst in 1892, just on the heels of the major national depression: The Panic of '93.' Kirkland quickly became a shadow of its former self as most of its boomtown population fled. Those hardy, resilient few who remained to pick up the pieces did yeoman's work and persevered through a decade of economic hardship and setbacks, until they voted to incorporate Kirkland as a fourth-class town in 1905 (60 votes for, 49 against) and began in earnest building their town. Among their early projects that year, they built a fine school, the Central School, and with it a substantial gymnasium, on the site of today's Kirkland City Hall. This view looks west c.1910, up Piccadilly and the school and gym are visible at the left on 'Piccadilly Hill,' as it was then known. Today's Norkirk Neighborhood was by this time still mostly open space from the previous decade's clearing efforts and a few widely scattered homes and outbuildings are visible.

While much nostalgia surrounds the failed steel venture, those 'founders' left Kirkland with little more than a few houses and brick buildings and some dirt roads--most of the town's 'roads' were mere lines on a plat. And had the 'founders' dream succeeded, imagine Kirkland today in the wake of major 19th century industrial activity--with pollution, slag heaps and the other byproducts of heavy industry. Instead, it was really the hardy, largely unrecognized group who 'stuck it out' and made Kirkland a town in 1905, and their sucessors, to whom we owe thanks for laying the foundation of Kirkland as the extraordinarily livable gem on the lake we know today.