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Columbia Library Under Construction

RVHS Photo #96.73.01

It took a lot of lobbying by the local citizenry to convince the downtown officials to build a library in Columbia City. 

With grants from the Andrew Carnegie foundation the city was building several libraries around Seattle and our local leaders were persuasive enough to get one built in Columbia. It opened on December 30, 1915. 

The total cost including furniture and fixtures was $35,000.  We think the design chosen for our Columbia Library was the best of any of them. Rainier Avenue, at that time a two-lane, wood planked street was to the right of the streetcar tracks in the above photo. 

Later Rainier Avenue was graded, the streetcar tracks were moved to the right and Two lanes of brick paving were put in on either side of the tracks.

Old timers tell about the horse that died when it fell into the ravine and they concluded there was no easy way to get it out. The local people were starting to fill the ravine with garbage so they decided to leave the horse where it was. The garbage soon filled the ravine and it became the Columbia Park that we enjoy today and was recently the site of the Rainier Valley Heritage Festival. 

A creek came down a deep ravine behind the library, through a small lake named Lake Austin, and into Wetmore Slough which extended north along Rainier Avenue as far as Franklin High School. It also went east along Genesee Street to 47th Avenue and north along 43rd to Lake Washington.

This p[art of the slough is now known as Genesee Park. Salmon used to come up the creek behind the library to spawn. 

There was a lot of talk about the town of Columbia becoming a lake port by dredging Wetmore Slough, but when the locks were built in 1917, Lake Washington was lowered 9feet and the slough dried up. 

 The park was threatened in the ‘50s when a commercial developer wanted to build on the park. The Pioneers of Columbia City, the predecessor to the Rainier Valley Historical Society, led by local attorney Phil Weiss, got involved and convinced the city it should remain a park.  A lawsuit between the city and the developers worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and ended with a victory for the park. 

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 9/16/98

By Buzz Anderson


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