If Walls Could Talk: The Bussell Family – Part 1

~posted by Jade

Bussell Home, ca. 1910, Image from the Seattle Historical Photograph Collection
Bussell Home, ca. 1910, Image from the Seattle Historical Photograph Collection

It all began with a picture of a house.
I was researching a recent addition to our Seattle Historical Photograph Collection and all I had to go on was the name “Bussell” on the back of the photograph. Quick searches in HistoryLink and the Seattle Times historical newspaper database revealed it to be the Madrona home of Charles Baner Bussell, a prominent figure in Seattle history.

Bussell is perhaps best known for purchasing large areas of Seattle’s tidelands at a time when many regarded the land as having little value and thought the investment was fairly dubious.  All that changed in 1906 when the railroads arrived in Seattle with people looking to purchase land close to the bustling commerce of Elliott Bay. Bussell sold his property for a hefty profit and became a millionaire. (To learn more about the tidelands, you can read Bussell’s 1906 promotional booklet, Tidelands: Their Story, available in our Seattle Sawdust Collection online.)

Front cover of C.B. Bussell's 1906 booklet Tidelands - Their Story, Image from the Seattle Sawdust Collection
Front cover of C.B. Bussell’s 1906 booklet Tidelands – Their Story, Image from the Seattle Sawdust Collection

Researching further, I found several history books in the Seattle Room which praised Bussell’s business acumen at length, but only briefly touched on his personal life. The details I gathered were: a first wife, Elizabeth Virginia Adam Bussell, married in 1885, soon followed by a son, Wallace, in 1886. Then a second wife, Emma Louise Korthals Bussell, married in 1913 and followed by a daughter, Charlotte. It all seemed fairly straightforward.

Then I began to notice some less than straightforward headlines when researching the Bussell family in the Seattle Times database. Among the headlines that caught my eye:

  • Divorce Suit is Brought – C.B. Bussell, a Wealthy and Prominent Businessman of This City, Made Defendant in an Action Brought by Elizabeth V. Bussell” (1902);
  • “Violet Ball is Near Death’s Door – Alleged Affinity of C.B. Bussell, the Local Millionaire Realty Dealer, Swallows Strychnine at Yakima – Latter, by Quick Action Saves Life – Mrs. Bussell Calmly Commends Miss Ball’s Good Taste in Taking Poison—Tells of her Separation” (1907);
  • “Insane Youth Shoots down Saloon Man – Wallace A. Bussell, Son of Millionaire Seattle Tide Land Owner, Kills Joe Bonner in Vice Crusade – Looks for Gambling Armed with Rifle” (1910)

Needless to say, these headlines were only the tip of the iceberg…

To find out what I learned, check out Part 2 tomorrow!


4 thoughts on “If Walls Could Talk: The Bussell Family – Part 1”

  1. Very interesting article. I was doing search on Louise Bussell when I ran across it. Louise was my step-grandmother. She married my grandfather George Joseph Schatz after Bussell’s suicide. After George’s death she lived with my dad until her death. I have a book of caricatures of prominent Seattle business men of the era – perhaps the cartoon book you mentioned. I’ve been thinking an historical society might be interested in it. Also have a number of fruit box labels that I think were Bussells.

    1. Dear Ken:

      I have been researching the descendants of John Hare Bussell. C. B. Bussell is the most interesting person in the tree. I did not know that he committed suicide. Do you have a death certificate or newspaper article about it?

      I have been researching C. B. Bussell for about five months. It is difficult to put things in sequential order as he, the press, and the historical books had a tendency to trade puff.

      Have you kept in touch with Constance’s children and grandchildren? Do you know if Wallace ever married?


      Bonita Hoffmeister

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