• A Sudden Light Interior

Early Northwest Railroads

Railroad Avenue (now Alaskan Way) along the Seattle waterfront, 1900

Railroad Avenue (now Alaskan Way) along the Seattle waterfront, 1900

The railroads played a huge part of the development of the Northwest, both in terms of bringing supplies to the area, and exporting product out.  Since the transcontinental railroad entered Washington to the south and followed the Columbia River, the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Tacoma over Seattle as it’s terminus.  Seattle was to be left off the railroad map!

But Seattleites would have none of it.  They built their own line, the Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad.  Later, a spur was built between Tacoma and Seattle, but it was little used and was nicknamed the Orphan Road.

In 1893, Jerome J. Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railway, completed a line in the north part of the country, connecting Seattle with St. Paul over Stevens Path.  It was the first transcontinental railway built without public money, and these are the tracks that run along the shore at the bottom of the bluff of The North Estate.

Elijah Riddell, the patriarch in A Sudden Light, is not based on any single person.  But I have to say, having read the following description of Jerome J. Hill, as written by Joel E. Ferris in 1959 and later re-published on HistoryLink.org, I had in mind this sort of a man…

“The story of James J. Hill, of which much has been omitted, shows that he was a truly remarkable man, a man of courage and vision, ruthless at times, perhaps, and in the opinion of some guilty of duplicity or worse, a many-sided man whose standard of business morals was in line with many others of his period. In his late years he encouraged culture, art, and education and with all his shortcomings was indeed an ’empire builder.'”

From A Sudden Light

p 58
“Elijah Riddell built those tracks,” my father said as I approached.
“I thought he was lumber money,” I said.
“Lumber and railroad companies were intertwined.  It was a very insider world.”

October 1904 in the Seattle Daily Times, the headline read:  Fortunes of Riddell Double in Size.  And there was a long article about the merger between Riddell Timber and Northern Pacific Railroad, which had been whispered about for years and had finally been consummated.  The consolidation of these industries “assures that Seattle will be the dominant city on the West Coast,” and the “living gold of the Pacific forests will continue to fill Elijah Riddell’s coffers.”


More about Early Northwest Railroads

  • Northern Pacific Railroad Announces Tacoma TerminusNorthern Pacific Railroad Announces Tacoma Terminus

    On July 14, 1873, Seattleites were shocked and dismayed to hear that the transcontinental railroad and its coveted wealth of goods and passengers would serve Puget Sound not from Seattle, but from Tacoma