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Seattle Neighborhood
Aerial view of Ballard and Lake Washington Ship Canal from the south
Aerial view of Ballard and Lake Washington Ship Canal from the south
Map of Ballard's location in Seattle
Map of Ballard's location in Seattle
Country United States
State Washington
City Seattle
Time zone UTC-8 (Pacific Time)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-7 (Pacific Daylight Time)

Ballard is a neighborhood in the northwestern area of Seattle, Washington, United States. Formerly an independent city, the City of Seattle's official boundaries define it as bounded to the north by Crown Hill (N.W. 85th Street), to the east by Greenwood, Phinney Ridge and Fremont (along 3rd Avenue N.W.), to the south by the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and to the west by Puget Sound's Shilshole Bay. Other neighborhood or district boundaries existed in the past; these are recognized by various Seattle City Departments, commercial or social organizations, and other Federal, State, and local government agencies.

Landmarks of Ballard include the Ballard Locks, the National Nordic Museum, the Shilshole Bay Marina, and Golden Gardens Park. The neighborhood's main thoroughfares running north–south are Seaview, 32nd, 24th, Leary, 15th, and 8th Avenues N.W. East–west traffic is carried by N.W. Leary Way and N.W. 85th, 80th, 65th, and Market Streets. The Ballard Bridge carries 15th Avenue over Salmon Bay to the Interbay neighborhood, and the Salmon Bay Bridge carries the BNSF Railway tracks across the bay, west of the Ballard Locks.

Ballard is located entirely within Seattle City Council District 6, which also includes the neighborhoods of Crown Hill, Green Lake and Phinney Ridge, as well as most of Fremont, North Beach/Blue Ridge, and Wallingford. Ballard is part of the Seattle Public Schools and the Washington State Legislature's 36th legislative district. At the federal level, Ballard is part of the United States House of Representatives's 7th congressional district.


Early settlement

Before the settling of Seattle, the land surrounding Shilshole Bay was inhabited by the Shilshole Tribe who lived off the plentiful salmon and clams in the region. The first European resident, homesteader Ira Wilcox Utter, moved to his claim in 1853. Utter hoped to see a rapid expansion of population but that did not happen, so he sold the land to Thomas Burke, a judge. Thirty-six years later, Judge Burke, together with John Leary and railroader Daniel H. Gilman, formed the West Coast Improvement Company to develop Burke's land holdings in the area as they anticipated the building of the Great Northern Railway along the Salmon Bay coastline on the way to Interbay and central Seattle. The partners also built a spur from Fremont’s main line of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway. Today three miles (5 km) of this line, running along Salmon Bay from N.W. 40th Street to the BNSF Railway mainline at N.W. 67th, are operated as the Ballard Terminal Railroad.

During the late 19th century Captain William Rankin Ballard, owner of land adjoining Judge Burke's holdings, joined the partnership with Burke, Leary, and Gilman. Then, in 1887 the partnership was dissolved and the assets divided, but no one wanted the land in Salmon Bay so the partners flipped a coin. Capt. Ballard lost the coin-toss and ended up with the "undesirable" 160-acre (0.65 km2) tract.

The railroad to Seattle ended at Salmon Bay because the railroad company was unwilling to build a trestle to cross the bay. From the stop at "Ballard Junction," (as the terminus was called) passengers could walk across the wagon bridge and continue the journey to Seattle. In addition to gaining notoriety as the end of the railway line, fledgling Ballard benefited economically from the railway because the railroad provided a way to bring supplies into the area and also to export locally manufactured products. Ability to ship products spurred the growth of mills of many types. Ballard’s first mill, built in 1888 by Mr. J Sinclair was a lumber mill; the second mill, finished the same year was a shingle mill. After the Great Seattle Fire in 1889 the mills provided opportunities for those who had lost jobs in the fire, which in turn spurred the growth of the settlement as families moved north to work in the mills.

City of Ballard from 1890–1907

Seattle - Ballard city hall, 1915
Ballard City Hall, photographed 1915.

With the rapid population growth the residents realized that there might soon be a need for laws to keep order, a process that would require a formal government. In the late summer of 1889 the community discussed incorporating as a town, but eventually rejected the idea of incorporation. The issue pressed, however, so several months later, on November 4, 1889, the residents again voted on the question and this time they voted to incorporate. The first mayor of Ballard was Charles F. Treat. A municipal census, conducted shortly after the passing vote showed that the new town of Ballard had more than 1500 residents, allowing it to be the first "third class town" to be incorporated in the newly admitted state of Washington.

By 1900, Ballard's population had grown to 4,568 making it the seventh largest city in Washington, and the town was faced with many of the problems common to small towns. Saloons had been a problem since the beginning, and in 1904 the drinking and gambling became so bad that the mayor ordered the City of Ballard officially closed for the day in order to prevent gambling. The city also faced problems with loose livestock, so the Cow Ordinance of 1903 made allowing cows to graze south of present-day 65th St. a punishable offense. The city faced more serious problems, however, with two of the most difficult being the lack of both a proper water supply and a sewer system. The one weakness of the location on Salmon Bay was the lack of nearby freshwater springs, which meant that water came from local ground water wells. Lack of a proper sewage system contaminated the ground water, compounding the problem.

The town continued to grow, reaching 17,000 residents by 1907 and becoming the second largest city in King County. However Ballard, like many of the other small cities surrounding Seattle continued to be plagued by water problems. The rapid population growth had overwhelmed the city’s ability to provide services, particularly a safe drinking water and sewer, and Ballard’s city government had tried unsuccessfully to deal with the crises, so the citizens began considering asking Seattle to annex the town. In 1905 the question was voted on and the residents voted against annexation, hoping for a solution, but the problems refused to go away. In July 1906 the Supreme Court ruled that Seattle was not required to share water with surrounding communities. Ballard had been dependent on a water sharing agreement with Seattle, but the Supreme Court decision left them with inadequate water, forcing a second vote on the annexation question. By this time the residents realized the inability of local resources to cope with their situation and the majority of residents voted in favor of annexation. On May 29, 1907 at 3:45 pm the city of Ballard officially became part of Seattle. On that day Ballard citizens showed their mixed feelings about the handover by draping their city hall with black crepe and flying the flag at half mast.

Modern history

Aerial view of Ballard, Seattle
Aerial view of Shilshole Bay Marina and Lake Washington Ship Canal from south
Ballard Ave 07
The lower part of Ballard Avenue still includes many light industrial businesses.
Ballard Ave 12
Architect's office on upper Ballard Avenue, about two blocks south of Market Street.

At the end of the 20th century Ballard began to experience a real-estate boom. By early 2007, nearly 20 major condominium/retail projects were under construction or had just been completed within a five-block radius of downtown Ballard. The new developments will add as many as 2500 new households to the neighborhood.

Transit and growth remain the two most contentious issues in the greater Seattle area. Sustainable Ballard, a group formed in 2004, is exploring many of these challenges on a community level. The group has adopted the slogan "A Blueprint for EveryTown USA." This fast growing community-wide effort is working on many projects, including "Undriving Ballard," a transportation campaign to reduce traffic in the neighborhood, and "Get Carbon Neutral," working toward Ballard becoming the first carbon neutral community in the nation, a goal inspired by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Gore lauded Ballard's efforts in an address at the NYU Law School on September 18, 2006.

In recent times Ballard has added venues for live music, including bars, restaurants and coffee shops, such as Conor Byrne, Egan's Jam House, Fu Kun Wu @ Thaiku, Kiss Cafe, La Isla, Molly Maguire's, Old Pequliar, Sunset Tavern, The Stepping Stone, and The Tractor Tavern. Each month the Ballard Chamber of Commerce sponsors the Second Saturday Artwalk. Downtown Ballard also boasts a variety of restaurants and local shops. Downtown Ballard is also home to the Majestic Bay Theater, which was the oldest operating movie theater on the West Coast prior to its closure in 1997. In 1998 it was renovated and transformed from a bargain single-screen theater to a well-appointed triplex.

Ballard Historical Society

The Ballard Historical Society is a volunteer-run non-profit historical society located in the Ballard neighborhood. The organization does not have any traditional exhibition space, but maintains a community presence through its self-guided historical tours, historical markers, lectures, community events, and collections. The Ballard Historical Society's collections include memorabilia, historical archives, photographs, and other objects relating to Ballard History. The society has made its photo archives available online. The organization has 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

Formed in 1988 with encouragement from the Ballard Centennial Committee in celebration of the Washington state centennial in 1989, the organization's establishment coincided with the publication of Passport to Ballard, a collection of essays on the neighborhood's history from pre-European settlement up through the 1980s. In April 2007, the Ballard Historical Society unveiled its Historic Markers, which can be seen on buildings in the Ballard Avenue Historic District.

The organization also co-produced, along with the Nordic Heritage Museum and Swedish-Finn Historical Society, Voices of Ballard: Immigrant Stories from the Vanishing Generation (2001), a book collecting oral histories from long-time Ballard residents who have made the neighborhood home since before the 1960s. The Ballard Walking Tour, a self-guided tour created by the organization, highlights 20 different historic sites on and around Ballard Avenue. The most recent illustrated Tour Brochure was released in February 2009.

Every three years the Ballard Historical Society organizes the Ballard Classic Homes Tour and features a different set of vintage homes in Ballard during each parade of houses.


Ballard Fest 2006 3
Signs at the 2006 Ballard SeafoodFest reflect Ballard's Scandinavian and maritime heritage

Historically Ballard is the traditional center of Seattle's ethnically Scandinavian seafaring community, who were drawn to the area because of the salmon fishing opportunities. The neighborhood's unofficial slogan, "Uff da", comes from an Almost Live sketch that made fun of its Scandinavian culture. In recent years the decline of the fishing industry, and the addition of numerous condo buildings, has decreased the proportion of Scandinavian residents but the neighborhood is still proud of its heritage. Ballard is home to the Nordic Heritage Museum, which celebrates both the community of Ballard and the local Scandinavian history. Scandinavians unite in organizations such as the Sons of Norway Leif Ericson Lodge and the Norwegian Ladies Chorus of Seattle. Each year the community celebrates the Ballard SeafoodFest and Norwegian Constitution Day (also called Syttende Mai) on May 17 to commemorate the signing of the Norwegian Constitution.

Locals once nicknamed the neighborhood "Snoose Junction," a reference to the Scandinavian settlers' practice of using snus.

Registered historic places

The following Ballard buildings, areas and landmarks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

Ballard - Starlight.jpg Ballard Avenue Historic District Along Ballard Avenue N.W. between N.W. Market Street and N.W. Dock Place (added in 1976, ID #76001885).
Ballard Carnegie 03.jpg Ballard Carnegie Library On N.W. Market Street (added 1979, ID #79002535).
Ballard firehouse 02.jpg Fire Station No. 18 At the corner of Russell Avenue N.W. and N.W. Market (added 1973, ID #73001876).
Ballard Bridge from Fishermen's Terminal 05.jpg Ballard Bridge (added 1982, ID #82004231),
Lake Washington ship canal, Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, 1995.jpg Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and the Lake Washington Ship Canal (added 1978, ID #78002751).

Notable residents

  • James Acord – sculpture artist
  • Josh Barnett – UFC fighter
  • Carl Deuker – young adult sports author
  • Tom Douglas – restaurateur
  • Sig Hansen – fishing vessel captain, cast member of Deadliest Catch
  • Edith Macefield – real-estate holdout
  • Dori Monson – radio personality
  • Karsten Solheim (1911–2000) – inventor of PING golf clubs
  • Jerry Holkins - writer

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