By Alan Robertson
I had heard for years that there had been a rail line that had cut through the Duwamish Greenbelt but had not seen information on it. From 1912 until 1931, there was an electric streetcar line that connected Seattle to Burien through Highland Park (learn more about the history here). The line came South near West Marginal Way from Spokane St and then started climbing the hill as it passed Puget Way SW. It continued through the greenbelt, clipping the SE corner of the Pee-Wee fields at Riverview Playfield, passing East of the upper Riverview Playfields and then connecting with Highland Park Way SW at SW Holden ST.
When the trolley was discontinued, they ripped out the tracks and power lines. Then much of the area was mined for sand and gravel, further erasing evidence. On top of that, there were hill slides, falling trees and dense vegetation that have made following the path of the trolley impossible.
The West Seattle Blog had started a series of Throwback Thursdays, which caused me to search the municipal archives for images of Highland Park and Riverview. The image above was used by the West Seattle Blog and it sparked a conversation which caused me to search further. It turns out there was a fair amount of information available.
Historylink.org has a nice article about it with numerous sources. A substantial amount of the research was done by Rob Ketcherside, who has a book Lost Seattle. He was kind enough to reply to me and point out that he had written an article for the Highline Times about the end of the line in Burien.
Rob Ketcherside has quite a bit of information on his websites, including some wonderful map mashups, that use Bing Maps to plot the route and overlay with old survey maps. Warning: These maps can take a bit to load, so they may not look like anything initially, but are worth waiting for. On the route map, Rob includes some images. Below is 16th Ave SW & SW Roxbury St, looking NW. The buildings on that corner are still the same, though they have new facades.
The view below is looking NE from 16th Ave SW, just South of SW Henderson St. The house that you see in the background is 8844 16th Ave SW.
And now the same intersection, but looking due North along the tracks. The building on the SW corner is still there and is a store.
Below is an image that Rob believes may be the Hillside Station which would have been near the Riverview Pee-Wee fields.
Exactly where the station above would have been is a little uncertain. The map that I have been referring to has it down in the middle of the hill. Rob has another map with a survey overlay, which places the track up into where the Pee-Wee fields are now. If that is where it was, it would have been a more reasonable location, with an easy walk for people in the Riverview neighborhood.
Having walked through the woods here, there is little to suggest that a trolley was ever here. There is a section of trail near West Marginal, which I have documented in the Walking section. At one time, rTrip was going to create a trail from the Chinese Gardens down to West Marginal along this section. It would be great if this could be formalized as a trail.
Looking at a satellite view of the intersection at Holden, it isn’t hard to imagine that the trolley line came through what is now the driveway of an apartment building on the NW corner, then continuing on through what is now the right turn lane from Holden onto Highland Park Way.
You can see the scar of the trolley tracks at the intersection of Highland Park Way and Holden, as it veers northwest of Highland Park Way.
Behind the apartment building is a house that was built in 1915. It is a craftsman style house with a big porch facing what would have been the trolley line when it was built.
It is not hard to imagine people sitting on the large front porch and waving as the trolley rolled by.
Here is a 2015 screen capture of the same area from Google maps.
Note: The 1937 version comes from King County’s Road Services Map Vault:
Type in “1937 AERIAL SURVEY” for Project/Map name. Then select Section 30, Township 24 and Range 4 before clicking search.