top of page

Reflections and Celebrations of Days Gone By


The holidays bring back many memories of family celebrations and the way things were when we were children. Neighborhoods also have pasts, and are fondly remembered by those who traveled through the shortcuts, yards and alleys of the past.

Did you ever wonder what the terrain of Rainier Valley looked like in the days prior to concrete roads? Have you ever been asked what used to be on that corner where a new business is opening?

Some of these questions can be answered by our elders. Peggy Duncan, long time resident of South Seattle answered some of these questions regarding the site of Day Street Park, just underneath the west end of the I-90 bridge.

Peggy spoke of her grandfather Christian Miller who had built cabins on the lake shore back in the early 1900s. This photo shows some of the cabins.

A closer look reveals many family members and friends enjoying the summer day. Children contentedly sitting in the bow of the boat under the watchful eyes of a parent.

The couple in the center of the photo quite possibly have just arrived from far away Queen Anne Hill to enjoy the holiday. Gentlemen stand off in the background perhaps discussing plans for the 4th of July celebration. Peggy told a wonderful tale of a family effort to celebrate the Fourth. The spectacular display included fireworks and a great balloon undoubtedly enjoyed by families for miles around.

It seems that Peggy’s uncle Adolph Schmick was a crafty individual who delighted in his contribution to the annual celebration. He worked quietly in his daylight basement, with brightly colored paper, scissors, and glue to construct a large paper balloon about ten feet tall.

The top of the classically shaped hot air balloon was held outside the upstairs window. The crossbars carefully  placed in the lower cylindrical opening held a can of alcohol or other flammable liquid. The fuel was lit and the balloon filled with hot air as a cooperative and patient family member held the upper end of the paper balloon out the upstairs window. When hot air sufficiently filled the multi-colored balloon (or perhaps when someone’s arm became tired) the glorious spectacle, freed over Lake Washington, soared amidst cheers from all onlookers.

Evidently the balloon stayed aloft for quite a while, as reports in the newspaper tracked it out over the lake, visible from the eastside and far north of the release site. 

Children would come from Leschi and Dearborn, taking a path through the woods to the lake. The gentlemen carefully ignited fireworks purchased from perhaps Hitt Fireworks in Columbia City. The glorious day caused all cares of the workaday world to be forgotten and freedom celebrated. Hard to believe that families would come over the hill from downtown to their “summer place” on the lake. Friends would come all the way from Queen Anne Hill to join the family for picnics and relaxing respite at the lake.

Peggy also reminisces about her father’s livelihood as a chef. He ran several restaurants in hotels in Seattle. He would stay at a place for a time and then move on to another establishment. Her fondest memories include sitting at the counter in the Stevens Hotel watching the men throw dice.

At the Rainier Grand, owned by J.J. Kelly, Peggy got into a little mischief playing on the elevator. Mrs. Kelly had taken a shine to Peggy, letting her have the run of the hotel. Mr. Kelly, however, thought to teach the boisterous girl a lesson, waiting for her as she stepped off the elevator, nearly scaring her to death. Mrs. Kelly entertained Peggy, taking her to plays and other performances at Cornish.

Inevitably, Peggy’s father moved on after two or three years, to the Savoy, St. Regis, Claremont, and to the Old North Inn in Bothell. Dad’s final restaurant was on the Seattle waterfront at the ferry dock.

Growing up with a chef for a Dad, the housekeeper only had to clean. Dad provided the meals, all the help had to do was warm up the dinner he had brought home. 

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 12/30/98

By Mary Ann Balch


bottom of page