How do I love the Seattle Public Library? Let me count the ways.

Today’s guest blogger is Diana E. James, author of the newly published Shared Walls: Seattle Apartment Buildings, 1900-1939 (and co-author of one of our library’s own talented teen librarians).

How do I love Seattle Public Library? Let me count the ways.

Shared Walls: Seattle apartment buildings, 1900- 1939, by Diana E. James in the Seattle Public Library catalogWhere else would a staff-person patiently sift through a drawer of maps until the perfect one appeared: my now much-tattered 1939 Kroll Map Company’s Greater Business District of Seattle, distributed by Seattle entrepreneur Henry Broderick. The names of churches, schools, hotels, government offices, hospitals, businesses of all ilk, and apartment buildings are written in tiny letters wherever they appear. The map is much more than a bird’s-eye view of Seattle in 1939, the precise ending date for my study; it is a revealing picture of the everyday life of our city.

Image from the Baist Real Estate Atlas, 1912 edition.Where else would I have the satisfaction of lowering a 4 x 4 (well, maybe not quite that large) 1905 Baist Real Estate Atlas onto a rolling table placed there just for the purpose? And then turn the large pages until I reach a particular block within a particular neighborhood–and discover something I didn’t even know I was looking for, but which adds another nugget of information to my research.

Where else could I sit and troll my way through the actual pages of Pacific Builder & Engineer (and its various incarnations) looking for announcements of permits, architects, property sales and purchases, and, again, coming across unsought but helpful bits of news. One can also get lost in other building-related periodicals and journals, such as Hotel News of the West and Washington State Architect, just waiting to be pulled off the shelf and perused!

All these and much more (Polk Seattle City Directories! microfilm of the P.I.! Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce!) made Shared Walls possible. But it was the friendly, encouraging, ever-helpful library staff that made my research a pleasure.

Why thank you, Diana – we’re grateful to local historians like yourself for adding such interesting books to our collection. Ms. James will be appearing at the Elliott Bay Book Company on January 28 to share research tips and lead a brief walking tour of the store’s historic environs. If you can’t make Diana’s presentation, remember you can always learn more about researching your house’s history and other local history research right here at the Library.

Bringing the Ghosts to Life – Doing a House History

People who live in old houses must sometimes be aware of the residents who came before them. Just for the briefest time, there may be a shadow, or a current of air—something that suggests another presence or, perhaps, earlier residents. Sometimes they have left some physical object behind, tossed in a corner somewhere … that is how I came to own the drill bit.

Sitting in my (their) living room, I often wondered about the owners before me—what kind of people were they? How did they live? Living in their house, I felt curiosity, but only vague kinship, until the day I discovered, wedged in an unfinished basement wall, a carpenter’s bit from a brace and bit. Wedged pretty tight, too—I had to work to gouge it out. But holding it in my hand, I felt a very strong sense of the man who had worked there years ago, gotten it wedged into the wall, and finally abandoned it after some effort to remove it. (I could see very old chisel marks around where the bit had been.) This was so like something I might do, that I wanted to meet the man who had left the bit behind—but Continue reading “Bringing the Ghosts to Life – Doing a House History”