During the 1890s, Tacoma’s role in the Pacific Northwest was firmly established, and its residents’ dreams of being the dominant city in the region were dashed. Due to events in the 1890s, Tacoma stagnated while Seattle took over as the dominant city in the region.
Tacoma had been severely affected by the panic of 1893. The banks failed, homes were repossessed, and businesses failed. Tacoma’s fledgling labor movement died in 1895 due to the Panic of 1893 and the subsequent depression. Tacoma’s most devastating bank closure occurred on August 20, 1895, when the Bank of Tacoma failed.
William Fife, who built up his fortune and then lost it all, left the area searching for new gold in far-off places. Others followed him. The population of the city declined by 30 per cent between 1893 and 1900. Several other Pierce County towns were founded at this time, many based on the success of their local sawmills. Additionally, two of the county’s colleges were founded, Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound.
Take a look at these stunning historical photos of Tacoma in the late-19th century and see if you can spot landmarks that are still standing.
The photo shows a massive five-story stone and brick building located at 1110-1116 Pacific Avenue in Tacoma. It was built in 1890 on Pacific Avenue, about 100 feet south of 11th Street. Later this was the site of the Publix garage. People can be seen walking and standing in front of the building.
Ten women of various ages, two of them wearing fur-trimmed coats, sit in the front row. About twice that many men of various ages are standing behind them. A boy stands at each end of the group. Storefront, Street no. 1220, in the left background, is possibly a photography studio.
Laying the cornerstone for the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce building at Ninth Street, Broadway, and Commerce Street intersections. With only a few women present, crowds surround the site, where a tall wooden tripod will lay the stone. A row of men in a fraternal organization uniform stands at attention, facing the site.
Holding a bass horn, William Price is in the back row, left. Each of the other men holds a musical instrument, including the trombone, clarinet, tuba, euphonium, piccolo, flute, cornet, possibly a French horn, and mellophone. With an attached cymbal, a bass drum lies on its side in front of the group, with a snare drum and woodblock on top.
A statue on a pedestal is at the edge of the pond to the left of the image lower center. The statue's reflection is visible in the pond. A grass-covered area extends towards buildings on the horizon line across the image center. Near the left image edge, the large building is Annie Wright Seminary, at Tacoma Avenue and South First Street. Houses on South G Street extend from image center to image right edge.
Two horse-drawn buggies are in the foreground. The old Merchants National Bank building is behind a streetcar below image center, at Eleventh Street and Pacific Avenue. The new Merchants National Bank building is across the Street in the left image. Some pedestrians are crossing the Street.
Several men pose on the roof of the building while other men pose on the ground. There is scaffolding along the right wall. In the front, a crane is hoisting a piece of lumber. In the foreground are stacks of lumber. To the right of the crane are two horses pulling a wagon? To the left and right are men pushing wheelbarrows of bricks.
Tacoma Commencement Bay and Puyallup River tide flats, looking east towards Mount Rainier and Cushman Indian School, with the Wheeler Osgood Sash and Blind Co. factory near the water's edge in photo center. Mount Rainier is visible in the distance. A boarding house and company houses are apparently at factory left, and shacks of Chinese workers at right.
A pond is in the image left foreground. A statue on a pedestal, "The Fisherman's Daughter," given by Col. Ferry, is in a planted area in image right foreground, at the edge of the pond. A pedestrian bridge is in the image center right background. Houses are beyond the park, across image upper left and center.
Treetops are in the lower right foreground. Possibly the Puyallup River is running diagonally across the lower half of the image. An elevated plank walkway is being constructed along the near side of the waterway. Workers are laying the planks in the lower image, to the left of the center. A gate with an illegible sign is on the waterside of the walkway near this area, and possibly the tops of two sails are visible behind it. A wagon is on the flat ground adjacent to the walkway.
From left to right, the businesses are Pacific Produce Co., near Fifteenth Street, and the Tivoli Bottling Works, possibly near Seventeenth Street. A sign in front of the latter business: Val Blatz Milwaukee Beer; Bottling Works, Wholesale. Railroad tracks are in the foreground. Several barrels are stacked on a railroad car loading ramp in the photo center.
Boxes of fruits and vegetables are displayed outside the store, including eggplants and pineapples. Handwritten labels identify these items as Hubbard Squash, Yakima Valley Water Melons, Yakima Valley Concord Grapes, Puyallup Vegetables, Mush Melons, etc. Posing for the photographer in the store doorway are two men in long, white aprons, a woman, and three men partially visible behind them.
The ship is visible from the starboard side of the bow end. The dock is in the image left foreground. Three or four passengers are standing on the ship's lower deck. The S.S. Washington is at the dock in the image center. The S.S. State of Washington is in the left image background at the dock. The masts of a sailing ship are visible behind the latter ship. The S.S. Premier was built in 1887 in San Francisco for the Canadian Pacific Nav. Co. and ran to northwest coast ports. Her name was changed in 1894 to the S.S. Charmer.
Two of the women and the boy are sitting by a table in front of the tent with eating dishes stacked on it, in the image center-left... One of the men, holding a long stick, sits on the ground by the table. Another woman sits on a bench in the image center, holding the end of the guitar, with its body resting on the ground. Two men stand behind her. A painted canvas sits on a painting easel nearby. Another man stands at the image center-right.
The store name is on the show windows and a sign above the doors and windows. An outdoor light hangs from a pole in front of the entrance. Four men stand in the doorway, and the one on the left appears to be Frederick Williams. Small parts of the businesses on either side are visible.
A logged hillside in the image lower right foreground, with a small log building above the lower right. The S.S. George E. Starr, a sidewheeler steamship, is docked at image lower left. Another steamship is also docked nearby. A railroad freight car is near them on the dock. Buildings are on pilings in the water in the image lower center and near the image lower-left corner.
Two of the women and the boy are sitting by a table in front of the tent with eating dishes stacked on it, in the image center-left... One of the men, holding a long stick, sits on the ground by the table. Another woman sits on a bench in image center right, holding a guitar on her lap. A man sits beside her. Two men stand nearby, near a painting easel. A painted canvas sits on the easel.
David Wilson built the building. A ladder extends from the ground to the top of the building in the image right. It appears to be stabilized by ropes or cables extending out of the image on both sides. Two workers stand in one of the upper-story windows. Building supplies are on the ground in front of the building, with workers standing by them.
A first-floor stone arch is being constructed in the image left. Four men wearing aprons pose on scaffolding erected across the building front, arch, and standing on the adjacent partially constructed stone wall. A few other workers pose nearby on the scaffolding in the image right. A man wearing an apron stands behind a long stone slab on the ground in front of the building, amidst other stone pieces, some partially carved.
A railroad track curves from image lower-left corner along the hillside base above the hill. A sailing ship is in the water next to loading areas on the waterside of the mill. Railroad tracks are visible next to the water above the image lower right edge, and two small buildings on piers over the water are nearby.