Who is that Street, Steilacoom?
by Steve Campion.
Have you ever looked at a street sign and wondered who owned the name first? Why did that person end up on the map? Who is that street? With the help of Joan Curtis of the Steilacoom Historical Society (see “sources” below), today’s WA-List looks at the signs in Washington’s oldest city and tries to answer some of those questions.
Steilacoom was patched together in three parts — the fusion of three different men’s plans. Those parts are still visible in the layout and names of the town’s streets.
The city’s organized past got going in early 1851, when ship captain Lafayette Balch filed a plat (i.e., a plan of streets) for his land claim on a timbered Puget Sound hillside. He called the place Port Steilacoom and used it as an outpost for harvesting Northwest timber and delivering it to the California Gold Rush city of San Francisco. A few months later, John Chapman established Steilacoom City less than a mile to the west. To this day you can see the rival towns on a map by paying attention to the angles of the roads. Chapman’s streets are aligned north-south and east-west, while Balch’s run diagonally in line with the shore. The two men soon realized the benefits of merging their competing interests into a single town of Steilacoom, and sewed their two sets of differently-angled roads together with a Union Street.
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