The area known as Seattle Southside has a rich and vibrant history. From centuries old pre-European habitation by the Duwamish and Muckleshoot tribes, to European settlement in the mid-19th century, to the construction of Sea-Tac Airport, the history of this area is fascinating and colorful. This blog will only touch on some of the major events, but it will also include links and resources for a deeper dive into the past.
Historic photo of the Duwamish people courtesy of The Duwamish Tribe - date unknown.
The Duwamish people lived in the area surrounding the Duwamish River (modern-day Seattle Southside) for centuries, perhaps even thousands of years, as indicated by their oral traditions featuring stories about the last ice age (“History of the Duwamish People,” n.d.). They lived in cedar longhouses, hunted and fished in local waters and used rivers to trade with other tribes and neighboring people. In modern times, two canoes estimated to be up to 300 years old were discovered at the bottom of Angle Lake by scuba diver, William Westlake Walker (“History,” n.d.)
Although the first European known to have seen the area was British explorer, George Vancouver in 1792, the area was not settled by Europeans until the arrival of the Collins Party in 1851 (Class, H.C., 2007). Members of the Collins Party were soon joined by notable pioneers Stephen and Joseph Foster in 1852. Joseph Foster was notable in that he served in the early Washington Territorial Legislature, acted as a packer and scout in the Indian War, and he was the first superintendent of local schools (Stein, 1999). Today, the name Foster is on local schools and the Foster Links Golf Course where the Foster homestead was originally located (“Tukwila History,” n.d.).
In the early days of European settlement, pioneers found the soil near the river to be fertile, so many homesteaders spent the later half of the nineteenth century growing hops, hay, fruit, and vegetables (Stein, 1999). The industrialization of the region started with the construction of Military Road in 1853 which connected Fort Steilacoom and Fort Bellingham, and continued with the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway in 1902 (“History,” n.d.). In 1928, the Pacific Coast Highway acted as a primary route between the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, which resulted in dozens of new restaurants, hotels, and gas stations in the area (Dorpat & Crowley, 2003). Finally, in the midst World War II, construction on the future Seattle-Tacoma International Airport began in 1943 and was officially dedicated on Halloween of 1944 (Dorpat & Crowley, 2003).
Aerial photo of construction of the I-5/405 interchange circa 1966 courtesy of The Tukwila Reporter.
In the 1960s, Seattle Southside’s central location and crossing highways resulted in further development and construction. This construction boom culminated in the opening of Southcenter Mall in 1968, which would eventually become Westfield Southcenter. At the time, Southcenter Mall was one of the largest malls in the state. Nowadays, it is the largest mall in the Pacific Northwest (Stein, 1999).
Today, Seattle Southside’s history of innovation in transportation continues as the area is a central hub of Sound Transit’s Link light rail which currently connects the cities of SeaTac and Tukwila to Seattle, and will eventually go as far north as Everett, and as far south as Tacoma. Hotels, restaurants, and attractions continue to spring up around Pacific Highway and the Duwamish River, making “Seattle’s Backyard” a must-visit location for leisure and business travelers for years to come.
Brodin, P. (2017, February 15). Joseph Foster Tree firmly rooted in city's history | Tukwila's Story.
Class, H. C. (2007, July 22). Des Moines Historical Society Time Line Index. Retrieved from
Dorpat, P., & Crowley, W. (2003, May 31). SeaTac -- Thumbnail History. Retrieved from
History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.seatacwa.gov/our-city/visiting/history
History of the Duwamish People. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.duwamishtribe.org/history
Stein, A. J. (1999, January 29). Tukwila -- Thumbnail History. Retrieved from
Tolley, N. (2018, August 22). Seattle Southside History: Des Moines Beach Park. Retrieved from
Tukwila History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tukwilawa.gov/visitors/about-tukwila/tukwila-history/