Incorporation

Eastside Stories: Eastside Cities

Eastside Stories   is our way of sharing Eastside history through the many events, people places and interesting bits of information that we collect at the Eastside Heritage Center. We hope you enjoy these stories and share them with friends and family.

Eastside Stories is our way of sharing Eastside history through the many events, people places and interesting bits of information that we collect at the Eastside Heritage Center. We hope you enjoy these stories and share them with friends and family.

Cities. Almost all of us on the Eastside today live in one. We may take our cities for granted, but they have not always existed—people had to create them. States are the foundation of the country, and counties are necessary subdivisions of states. Cities are, well, kind of optional.

When Finn Hill joined Kirkland in 2011, one of the last large bits of urban unincorporated area on the Eastside came under the benevolent arm of city hall. Most Eastsiders now live in one of 14 cities in the urbanized areas and five in the rural areas. The boundaries of cities often seem to make little sense, and they sit on top of a patchwork of school and other special districts.

If we were designing a system of governance from scratch we certainly would not end up with anything like the current map of the Eastside. So, how did we end up with our current array of cities?

Cities are formed when a group of residents petition their county government. Once a boundary for a proposed city is agreed upon, residents within that boundary vote on incorporation. Residents can also vote to annex to an existing city, if that city is willing to absorb them.

In the early days of the Eastside, pioneers had few expectations for government services, so cities were slow to form. It can be perfectly fine to live in unincorporated areas without city government. County government provides basic services, and other services are provided by special utility and fire districts and private associations.

Scene on Front Street in Issaquah circa 1910

Scene on Front Street in Issaquah circa 1910

The first wave of incorporations happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Issaquah is the oldest city on the Eastside, dating back to 1892 (originally named Gilman). It was a coal mining town that made a successful transition to railroad work. Snoqualmie (1903), Bothell (1909) and North Bend (1909) all had their roots in the early railroad routes and as logging and agricultural commercial centers.

Kirkland, which incorporated in 1905, was slated to become the “Pittsburgh of the West.” By the time Peter Kirk’s big industrial plans fell through, Kirkland had become a good sized settlement, and it made sense to form a city. Redmond, had its roots as a timber and railroad center, and incorporated its growing downtown in 1912. The farming and railroad towns of Carnation and Duvall incorporated in 1912 and 1913, respectively.

In 1910, when the postcard was mailed, Redmond was big enough not only to have its own souvenir cards, but also a local post office to mail them from.

In 1910, when the postcard was mailed, Redmond was big enough not only to have its own souvenir cards, but also a local post office to mail them from.

Then city formation on the Eastside ground to a halt for decades. Growth was slow, as mining and timber activity wound down and few new large industries moved to the still-remote area. Some larger settlements, like those around the mines of Newcastle, disbanded. Bellevue was still just a one-street village, and the vast commercial areas of Overlake were farms and forests. Not much need for new cities.

Then in the 1950s, the Eastside sprang to life.

The new bridge across Mercer Island opened the area to large scale homebuilding, and Bellevue began to resemble a real city. In 1953 Bellevue incorporated with just under 6,000 residents. Feeling Bellevue breathing down their necks, the Points Communities formed themselves into four separate cities: Clyde Hill (1953), Hunts Point (1955), Medina (1955), Yarrow Point (1959). And the tiny artists colony of Beaux Arts Village formed itself into a town in 1954.

Eugene Boyd and Phil Reilly celebrate the incorporation of Bellevue in 1953

Eugene Boyd and Phil Reilly celebrate the incorporation of Bellevue in 1953

Then another 35 years of quiet. Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah and Bothell gradually annexed surrounding neighborhoods, but many pockets of residential area were perfectly happy with the benign neglect that county government offered.

But along came a less benign force: the Growth Management Act of 1989, which required extensive planning and encouraged higher density development. Nothing gets the attention of otherwise complacent citizens like the prospect of changes in land use, and within a few years, the Eastside had four more cities seeking to control their destiny: Woodinville (1993), Newcastle (1994), Kenmore (1998), Sammamish (1999).

In many respects, cities are the ultimate democratic institutions: groups of free citizens banding together to form a local government that will collect taxes from them and provide services they ask for. The chaotic looking map of the Eastside is the result of tens of thousands of individual decisions by Eastsiders about how they want to shape their neighborhoods. Individual cities take on the character of their residents over time and become unique places.

From chaos comes community.

All images from the collection of the Eastside Heritage Center. If you are interested in obtaining images from our collection, which has extensive holdings from Eastside cities, contact us at collections@eastsideheritagecenter.org


Learn more about the Eastside. Books available from Eastside Heritage Center include:

Lake Washington: The Eastside

Bellevue: the Post World War II Years

Our Town, Redmond

Medina

Hunts Point

Bellevue: Its First 100 Years


Our Mission To steward Eastside history by actively collecting, preserving, and interpreting documents and artifacts, and by promoting public involvement in and appreciation of this heritage through educational programming and community outreach.

Our Vision To be the leading organization that enhances community identity through the preservation and stewardship of the Eastside’s history.

Eastside Heritage Center is supported by 4 Culture

Eastside Heritage Center is supported by 4 Culture

Eastside Stories: The Points Communities

No. 4 | March 20, 2019

Eastside Stories

Eastside Stories   is our way of sharing Eastside history through the many events, people places and interesting bits of information that we collect at the Eastside Heritage Center. We hope you enjoy these stories and share them with friends and family.

Eastside Stories is our way of sharing Eastside history through the many events, people places and interesting bits of information that we collect at the Eastside Heritage Center. We hope you enjoy these stories and share them with friends and family.

The Points Communities

A visitor to the Eastside, headed across the SR-520 bridge toward Kirkland, Redmond or Bellevue will first cross through four small cities: Medina, Hunts Point, Yarrow Point and Clyde Hill. While the large Eastside cities have populations numbering in the high ten-thousands to well over 100,000, the Points Communities cities range from just 420 souls in Hunts Point to 3,200 in Medina.

Just where did these little burgs come from? And do they really make sense in our modern patterns of governance?

The Points Communities were settled around the same time as the rest of the Eastside, and since the easiest transport was by water, their proximity to Seattle allowed them to turn into significant communities early on. The Lake Washington Reflector newspaper gave Medina and Bellevue equal billing on the masthead into the 1930s.

As Seattle grew, and ferry service became reliable, the points offered both affordable commuting homes and waterfront mansions for the wealthy. The three points themselves—Evergreen, Hunts, Yarrow—had a large number of vacation homes in the early years, as the upper middle class of Seattle could enjoy waterfront living for the summer while staying within commuting distance of Seattle. The uplands of Medina attracted more year-round commuters, while Clyde Hill and the uplands of Yarrow Point were largely agricultural. 

 
Medina School opened in 1909. At that time, most older children from Medina took the ferry to Garfield High School in Seattle.

Medina School opened in 1909. At that time, most older children from Medina took the ferry to Garfield High School in Seattle.

These communities grew slowly until major change came to the Eastside with the opening of the Mercer Island floating bridge and the post-war housing boom. Kirkland had long been the commercial center of the Eastside, but Bellevue gradually expanded its commercial role and by the 1950s was getting quite built up. Unlike other established Eastside towns—Renton, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, Bothell—Bellevue had never incorporated as a city. It took care of that omission in 1953, creating a new city centered in what is now the downtown area.

Clyde Hill incorporated the same year as Bellevue, but there was little consensus within the rest of the points about their future. The points area was now cut off from the rest of unincorporated King County by Bellevue, Clyde Hill and Houghton (a separate city that merged with Kirkland in 1968). With the prospects of higher density growth and a new floating bridge, residents wanted to control their own planning and zoning.

City government for the points seemed inevitable, but what would that look like? Annexation to Bellevue was certainly an option, and the prevailing “good government” view at the time was that small cities were inefficient and unnecessary. The Bellevue American newspaper and the King County Municipal League argued for annexation to Bellevue, and many points residents agreed.

 
Bay School, located where Hunts Point City Hall stands today, served the points and north Clyde Hill. Older children from Bay School attended Kirkland High School.

Bay School, located where Hunts Point City Hall stands today, served the points and north Clyde Hill. Older children from Bay School attended Kirkland High School.

But, at the same time, each community had its faction that favored incorporation. The points area had long been divided by school district and community club boundaries, and the incorporation movements followed these boundaries, with the Medina Community Club joining forces with the Evergreen Point club.

Pro-annexation residents of Medina applied to join Bellevue, but annexations take time, and the incorporation forces in Medina got on the ballot before the annexation process could be completed. If Medina incorporated, annexation to Bellevue would be impossible for the other points, so in 1955 incorporation measures went on the ballot on the same date in Medina, Hunts Point and Yarrow Point. Medina and Hunts Point voters approved their measures, and it took another four years to get a successful vote in Yarrow Point.

 
Sunnyside Landing provided one of the ferry connections for Yarrow Point. It stood at what is today a public beach access at the foot of NE 42nd Street on Cozy Cove. Ferries serving the points landed at Madison Park in Seattle, allowing commuters to take a streetcar directly to downtown Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Archives)

Sunnyside Landing provided one of the ferry connections for Yarrow Point. It stood at what is today a public beach access at the foot of NE 42nd Street on Cozy Cove. Ferries serving the points landed at Madison Park in Seattle, allowing commuters to take a streetcar directly to downtown Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Archives)

It turns out that small cities are not such a bad idea, especially if they have robust tax bases. In the 1950s it became very common across the country for suburban cities to contract for complex services while keeping control of politically important functions like planning. The Points Communities all contract with Bellevue for fire service and Bellevue operates the water and sewer utilities.

Medina provides police protection to Hunts Point and Clyde Hill provides police service to Yarrow Point. All four communities make extensive use of private firms for planning and other technical work.

So there they sit, four fiercely independent cities that certainly appreciate the amenities of the big cities next door, but have no interest in joining them.


Learn more about the Eastside and the Point Communities. Books available from Eastside Heritage Center include:

Lake Washington: The Eastside

Medina

Hunts Point

Bellevue: Its First 100 Years

A Point in Time (Yarrow Point) is out of print but available at the King County Library


Our Mission To steward Eastside history by actively collecting, preserving, and interpreting documents and artifacts, and by promoting public involvement in and appreciation of this heritage through educational programming and community outreach.

Our Vision To be the leading organization that enhances community identity through the preservation and stewardship of the Eastside’s history.

Eastside Heritage Center is supported by 4 Culture

Eastside Heritage Center is supported by 4 Culture