The Establishment of Fort Lawton

Fort Lawton was established more than a century ago for two primary reasons.  First, it was to serve as a coastal defense for the South Puget Sound and the Bremerton Naval Base.  Second, it was to protect the City of Seattle from lawlessness.  In the 19th-century, Seattle was an infamously seedy, crime-ridden town.  The city’s booming timber trade and lax legal oversight brought big dollars to the Northwest as well as no small number of unsavory individuals.  This was the era of skid road.

In 1886, the year after Seattle’s elected officials declared martial law to quell the violent, anti-Chinese workers rebellion, a group of influential business leaders petitioned the U.S. government for a military installation on Magnolia Bluff.  The petitioners’ hope was that it would help bring order to their city. After years of persistence and several instances of wining and dining Army delegations at the Rainier Club, the city leaders were finally rewarded.  A new army post at Magnolia Bluff was approved in 1898.  Officially dubbed Fort Lawton in 1899, the new post opened in February of 1900.

Historic Photos supplied by Seattle Municipal Archives