The first European Americans to settle in Bellevue were William Meydenbauer and Aaron Mercer, who claimed homestead tracts several miles apart. Neither remained permanently, and the first permanent settlers arrived in 1879. There was already a community consisting primarily of logging homesteaders by 1882. During the early 20th century, Japanese immigrants worked on the land to gradually clear it to support small-scale farming on leased land plots.
Bellevue had about 400 full-time residents by 1900. With the arrival of phone service in 1907 and mercantile stores in Medina and Bellevue, civilization began to surface. In 1913, car ferry services started aboard the Leschi. The bus left the Leschi dock in Seattle every 15 minutes and stopped at Medina and Meydenbauer Bay.
In 1920, the census showed about 1,500 residents in Bellevue and its surrounding communities. In 1919, the American Pacific Whaling Company moved its headquarters to Bellevue, wintering its boats in Meydenbauer Bay. The first Strawberry Festival was held in 1925 and drew 3,000 people, primarily from across the lake. This festival became an annual event, and Bellevue became a peaceful, pleasant farming town.
Below are some stunning historical photos that show Bellevue from the 1900s to the 1940s.
Bellevue's first Catholic church was established as a mission associated with Kirkland's Holy Family parish. Its first services were held in the parlor of the Downey family home. In 1913 the congregation moved into a small wooden building on Main Street near 108th Avenue NE. The brick building seen in this image was built in 1926; it later housed the Bellevue public library after the congregation outgrew the space.
At that time Bellevue Way was called Peach St. The route to Kirkland and communities north was through Medina via the concrete slab road. It came through Medina, around Clyde Hill, past the points, roughly parallel to today's 520, and then connected with today's Lk Wash Blvd at the Northup/Houghton area.
Bellevue School, on Main Street in Bellevue, Washington was built in 1892 after the city passed its first school levy. Students entered the school building at one corner, under the ornate bell tower. This photo shows the schoolhouse with a group of students gathered on the steps. Bellevue School was also known as Main Street School.
During the 1930s, Bellevue resident Mina Schafer entered the candy business. She was known for her delicious candies and she did a great deal of experimenting until she produced the product that she wanted. Her husband, Louis, built the cottage shop which she named for her mother, Jenny (Jane) McDowell. (In the late 1800s her mother changed her name to Jenny because the name Jane had the connotation of a "loose" woman.) The shop was connected to the house by a bell system so that when a customer entered the shop Mrs. Schafer was alerted by the bell and could run down to the shop to wait on her customer.
First Covenant Church in Seattle began as a small group of Swedish immigrants who found other like-minded Swedes and formed the Swedish Christian Mission in early 1889. The Great Fire of June 1889 briefly stalled plans to build a church building, and the first church building was dedicated in May of 1891, at Ninth Avenue and Stewart Street. The congregation grew quickly and a new, larger building was constructed in 1910-11 for the more than 2000 Swedish immigrants who regularly attended services.
The school was built in 1887 and used until 1934, when the new Highland School opened. It was later used as a home, offices, and a floor covering business. It was moved in 1972 to make way for State Route 520. The building was destroyed by a fire in 2001. The bell is now housed at Stevenson Elementary in Bellevue.
Bellevue School, also called the Main Street School, opened in 1892. By 1912, the size of the schoolhouse doubled to accommodate the growing population. Although teachers taught some high school classes in Bellevue beginning in 1910, many of the city's early high school students had to travel to Seattle to complete their education.
During World War I a temporary Naval Training Station was set up on the University of Washington campus, near where the university's health sciences center is now located. The training camp was active from 1917-1919, during which time over 5,000 mostly college students were trained for both naval and naval aviation units.
The owners of this stand, John and Frances Kelfner, settled in Bellevue in 1911. They specialized in growing Island Belle grapes. These grapes were developed by Lambert Evans at his Stretch Island vineyard. The grape became the most commonly grown in the Puget Sound region. In fact, in 1918 the Island Belle Grape Growers' Union was formed to help market the grapes.
From the 1920s to 1940, the ships of the American Pacific Whaling Company wintered in Bellevue, Washington. While there, the company made repairs to the ships and equipment and got them ready for the next Alaska whaling season. In 1940, the docks were turned over to the United States Coast Guard for a repair base.
In 1889, the Benson Northup family left their old log home and moved to a new house in the Houghton area, north of Bellevue and now part of Kirkland. Seattle photographer David R. Judkins photographed them on the porch of their nearly completed home. The house has Italianate touches, with a cupola, low-pitched roof, and brackets under the roof eaves. It also has scrollwork brackets on the porch.