Go Beneath the Streets With Seattle’s Best Tour
History can be dirty, it can be messy, but to me it’s always intriguing! When I visit new cities I want to learn its stories, look into its past and delve deep to see its true colours – or shades of grey. So, on my recent visit to Seattle I knew I wanted to go beneath the streets with Seattle’s best tour, Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour.
The Underground Tour began with an idea in the 1950’s by Bill Speidel when he started a petition to help save Seattle’s Pioneer Square and its past hidden beneath the streets, and thanks to him a part of Seattle’s history has been protected. The tour now is based on his book ‘Sons of Profit’, a humorous account of Seattle’s key players in the early days, the men and women driven by greed.
The Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour begins in Doc Maynard’s restored 1890’s public house where your guide sets the stage and introduces you to the characters of Seattle’s past. You’ll be guided beneath Pioneer Square, down six flights of stairs, along rugged pathways in dim lighting, where you’ll come face to face with Seattle’s past. Just below the streets there are still the remnants of abandoned 1890’s storefronts. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 that destroyed 25 square blocks in 12 hours – with a remarkable zero deaths – the city felt somewhat blessed so they could rebuild and fix old building, land and sewage problems.
In 1851, the water closet (indoor toilets) became popular but by 1882 Seattle’s sewers were overwhelmed and the twice daily tides were bringing the waste back in and toilets became fountains. YUCK! Could you imagine? After the fire the city began building anew, and in a quirky fashion. The city built streets 12 feet, sometimes almost 30 feet in places, with sidewalks at store level below. This was because merchants didn’t want to wait to rebuild their shops until after the city rebuilt its streets, so they rebuilt their stores at what would become basement level to continue bringing in money, but knowing once the streets were complete their second floor would become the street level access they put their money into making it look decorative and proper. But during the street building if pedestrians wanted to cross the street they needed to climb a ladder up and another down the other side. I couldn’t help but imagine mothers with young children or people with groceries and bags, how strange and awkward – not to mention dangerous – that must have been. When proper sidewalks were built over the gully like old ones the city installed glass ceiling tiles as skylights to the underground passageways. Now these aged glass tiles have taken on a purple hue and are a beautiful reminder of the past.
Underground it feels almost like you’re strolling through a dilapidated old museum, past wooden storefronts with glass still intact, remnants of old store signs sitting in corners and even forgotten toilets and tubs littered with cobwebs.
The tour ends in the Rogues Gallery where you’ll find antique artifacts of Seattle’s Victorian era and the Gold Rush Days. From old photos to a vintage printing press and even the original Thomas Crapper toilet, Rogues Gallery offers a glimpse into the everyday person’s life in Seattle’s past.
I truly enjoyed this tour, with an amazing tour guide who was full of intriguing facts and introduced me to Seattle’s history and its quirky characters, the best part was there wasn’t a dull moment! The tour takes you into the past, not in a dry, fact driving way but laces with great delivery and witty humour. Seattle’s quirky past will stick to you, much like its wall of gum!
Have you gone beneath the streets of Seattle with Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour?