A fascinating history of hidden hydrology (of a sort) are the mysterious infrastructure traces often in plain sight. We may do a double take, or wonder about some random pattern on the surface, but often dismiss this as legacies of historical cycles of building and erasure. Those on the lookout and with an inquring spirit may discover, if you’ll pardon the pun, a deeper story.
A recent article in May 2017 from CityLab shows “The Sublime Cisterns of San Francisco”, and offers some clues to the origins, namely “Subterranean vats were an emergency response to the city being repeatedly and savagely burned to the ground.” The circles exist at a number of intersections throughout the city, noted with a circle of brick or stone.
“To date there are 170 to 200 of the tanks stashed around town—the city’s numbers varyquite a bit—functioning as emergency watersources apart from the water mains and suction stations pumping saltwater from the Bay.”
The significance of fire that created this system of cisterns that folks are discovering is driven by several major fires in the 1850s. Thus the distributed reservoirs have been installed since the original founding of the City, seen in a key plan from July 1852 – from Burrito Justice (linking to a David Rumsey map of San Francisco 1853) and identifying intersections where these existed.
The fires culminated in the most notable fire is the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, discussed in this April 2017 CityLab story “The Ultimate Photo Map of the 1906 San Francisco Quake” which identifies photographs documenting the event.
“One hundred and eleven years ago, in the early morning of April 18, San Francisco shook and trembled through a massive earthquake. Stone buildings shed their skins. Chimneys and brick walls collapsed on streets and adjoining buildings. Roadways split and sunk. People were gravely injured or killed by crumbling boarding houses, apartments, and warehouses…
The disaster became much worse as fires broke out from the Embarcadero to Hayes Valley and, aided by wind and inept attempts to create fire breaks with explosives, joined into larger maelstroms that gobbled up almost 500 city blocks of cottages, factories, tenements, hotels, stores, banks, and government buildings over the next three days.”
The extent of the fire is captured in this view from Oakland, via CityLab, showing “A view of the San Francisco earthquake’s aftermath from Oakland” (Credit – Oakland Museum of California)
The City of San Francisco Fire Departments page drops a link to the cisterns as well as a video via the exploratorium, ‘The Science of Firefighting: Cisterns’ which has some FD folks “discuss the history and function of these cisterns, and demonstrate the drafting procedures used to access the water.”
Having gone to undergraduate school at North Dakota State University in Fargo in the mid-1990s, one became aware of a distinct transitional zone as you headed east towards the Twin Cities. A short drive across the Minnesota border, you could see what was the shoreline traces that marked a clear shift of geology and with some study, begin to piece together the story of the past millenia, involving a glacier, a lake, and the reason the Red River flows to the north.
A recent Ghosts of Minnesota post “A Minnesota beach where there is no water” by Troy Larson, reminded me of this place and the influence the immense glacial Lake Agassiz on the landscape of the upper sections of the Plains, a lake formed at the end of the last ice age, some 8,000 to 14,000 years ago.
A map of the territory by Warren Upham, from the earth 19th Century shows the extent of the Lake, and as mentioned by Larson, “Today, Lake Agassiz is believed to have been even larger than what is represented on this map.”
Larson gives some context:
“Lake Agassiz was a massive body of fresh water in the middle of North America, larger than all of the Great Lakes combined. As the ice sheet retreated, ice dams held back the meltwater to create glacial Lake Agassiz. As the lake drained, sometimes slowly, other times in sudden, catastrophic outflows, the lake shrank and changed, leaving behind a table-flat landscape with some of the richest farmland in the world, and even sandy beaches from it’s ever-shifting shoreline. To the geologically educated, the signs of Lake Agassiz are everywhere, but even to those like myself, without a geologic eye, there are places where you can see the remains of this monster lake.”
A close up shows the area around the North Dakota-Minnesota border, bisected by the Red River (of the North).
The post covers some photos of the area near Fertile, Minnesota, home of the Sandhill Recreation Area and nearby Agassiz Dunes Natural Area, and as explained in the Ghosts of Minnesota post by Larson: “These dunes were formed as the ice sheet retreated and the weather became dry and hot. In wetter times, foliage appears and covers the dunes, and in dry periods, the growth retreats and the sand becomes more visible.” With places like a dune called “Death Valley” named due to the instability of the shifting sands, this is an atypical plains landscape.
image – Ghosts of Minnesota
While there are plenty of lakes in Minnesota (yes, well over 10,000) the sort of expansive lake left traces of a more significant water body, as mentioned by Larson:
“The sand feels just like beach sand. It’s a soft, fine grain sand that shifts beneath your feet when you walk on it.”
A more expansive map from a recent CBC article that covered a new book by Bill Redekop (@billredekop) entitled “Lake Agassiz: The Rise and Demise of the World’s Greatest Lake” exploring the hidden mystery of the lake. “For millennia, the evidence of its existence remained hidden in plain sight, but slowly details of the landscape began to merge in the minds of people passing through the province.” The modern map (via the CBC article) shows a more expansive Lake Agassiz, and the extent:
As Redekop explains, the investigation of the hidden connects the modern to the historical. He summarized the feeling after writing the book:
“”Now I have two landscapes: the one that I see and the one that I imagine, that I know was there 10,000 years ago.”
The deep time of geology, as mentioned here in the post on Seattle area, leaves many traces and clues to . Beaches without lakes, valleys without creeks, all connect us to a historical past that shapes our present and future.
The images are beautiful and intriguing, owing to the ability of LIDAR to penetrate vegetation layers to reach surface levels often unseen with traditional methods. The beautiful imagery in the article is from the Washington Geological Survey site ‘The Bare Earth’ which is a descriptive resource on “How lidar in Washington State exposes geology and natural hazards”.
While useful for many types of analysis, this is particularly important to identification of landscape hazards, which had devastating impacts in 2014 in Oso, a town north of Seattle, and you can see some of the images highlighting landslide activity in the region.
The most intriguing image to me was the Mima Mound Natural Area Preserve, which I hadn’t known about before reading this, which look much like a magnification of dermis instead of earth.
The landscape itself is subtly rolling like an earthworks art project, and the reasons for their form is up for debate, as seen in the caption above. The landscape itself is subtle and beautiful, definitely motivated to take a trip down to Olympia.
The pages on the great context on how LIDAR works with a story map of some visuals along with descriptive illustrations. Per the WGS site,
“Lidar (light detection and ranging) is a technology that uses light pulses to collect three-dimensional information. Lidar data is often collected from an airplane using a laser system pointed at the ground. The system measures the amount of time it takes for the laser light pulses to reach the ground and return. Billions of these rapidly-collected measurements (points) can create extremely detailed three-dimensional models of the Earth’s surface. See the diagram below to better understand how airborne lidar is collected.”
A breakdown of the different maps that be extracted from the process.
The beauty of LIDAR is the ability to give an alternative view that is impossible to capture in other ways, particularly in deeply vegetated sites, with lots of coniferous vegetation. Again, from The Bare Earth site: “In geology, lidar bare-earth models allow closer study of geomorphology, which is the study of the origin of the topography of the earth. Landslides, faults, floods, glaciers, and erosion leave their mark on the landscape, and while these marks can be hidden by dense vegetation, they can’t hide from lidar.”
Harkening back to the previous posts of the geology of Seattle, the glacial retreat was a major factor in the Seattle-area geology and current hydrology. The image below shows an aerial image, which reveals little of this feature, but the Lidar image shows the directional scarring and drumlin deposition around Hood Canal in sharp relief.
Header image, like many of the other images in the post, is from Washington Geological Survey, via National Geographic,. The header shows “The floodplain and dry, former channels of the Chehalis River in western Washington State are revealed by this LIDAR-based elevation map.”
Lost River Walks is a long-standing resource in Toronto, “The objective of Lost River Walks is to encourage understanding of the city as a part of nature rather than apart from it, and to appreciate and cherish our heritage. Lost River Walks aims to create an appreciation of the city’s intimate connection to its water systems by tracing the courses of forgotten streams, by learning about our natural and built heritage and by sharing this information with others.” They include a number of Stream Pages, accessible through the Site Map, which provides history of individual streams, in this case, The Market Streams, which highlights a series of streams and provides some overlay mapping of the current sewer network.
The engagement is a key part of the group, as the name implies, through a series of guided walks, which highlight lost rivers and creeks in the context of the urban fabric, as well as focusing on topics like water quality. There are also self-guided tours ‘Thirsty City Walks‘, provides opportunities to follow the former and current routes of waterways. A map below shows the route of the walk with key points and audio commentary as one follows the route.
A great bonus article I found on the Geohistory-Géohistoire Canada Project, authored by John Wilson entitled “The Lost Rivers Project: The Case of Holly Brook“. This post outlines some of the process, in particular the need for ground truthing, as he mentions, “I have spent many hours travelling the city’s streets and laneways looking for signs of lost rivers and ravines. My street-level observation of Holly Brook’s course was simple – whatever the City Engineers may have drawn on 1890s maps, water doesn’t flow uphill!” Lots of great stuff at Lost River Walks, so check out the website, and follow them on Twitter @LostRiversTO and also via founder and lost rivers force Helen Mills at her account @HMMLostRivers
The Don River Valley Historical Mapping Project is (was) a robust exploration of the Don River, “This project documents historical changes in the landscape of the Don River Valley. Drawing from the wide range of geographical information available for the Don River watershed (and the Lower Don in particular), including historical maps, geological maps, fire insurance plans, planning documents, and city directories, the project uses Geographic Information Systems software to place, compile, synthesize and interpret this information and make it more accessible as geospatial data and maps.” It’s hard to tell if it’s still active or just the website hasn’t been updated, but most info stops in 2010, but still some great geospatial data, resources, maps, and other information related to the Don and larger Toronto hydrology.
A new? interactive map of the project provides spatial information to complement the work to date, and offers a way to interact with the data in new ways.
Another interesting take on how to use different methods for displaying the subject matter comes from Alex Meyers project “Uncovering the Creek“, a timeline that provides a “…study of the city’s changing landscape through a close examination of Trinity-Bellwoods Park and the Crawford Street bridges. This project is a virtual excavation of a hidden Toronto landmark that has been almost erased by the process of city building.” A nice method of using a linear timeline with links to graphic resources and maps.
The group Human River was featured in the Lost Rivers documentary, and was featured doing an interactive walk, “during the annual story telling parade, participants wear blue becoming a human river and bringing the Garrison Creek back to life”. It’s a cool way to use event to raise awareness plus looks like a lot of fun. It also looks like their website is both abandoned and hacked with lots of spamming links – so i grabbed this image quickly and then ran. Not sure the current status.
Also mentioned in the Lost Rivers documentary, the Garrison Creek Demonstration Project by Brown & Storey Architects (from 1996!) envisions the use of the Garrison Creek zones for green infrastructure, positing that “… the existing natural watersheds, like the Garrison, can be used as sites for stormwater management pond systems. Not only can these connected pond systems serve to collect, treat and re-use stormwater locally, they can also act as a catalyst in the creation of a series of connected open spaces knitting both an urban and green infrastructure back to the waterfront to Lake Ontario. The study documents several aspects of the Garrison watershed: the considerable amount of open spaces, their area and type, geological formations, existing storm water infrastructure underground, the areas of fill along the ravine path, and an abstracted locational plan for water retention ponds.”
The Garrison Creek route is also referenced with some cool markers, as seen below:
Some additonal links include the Taylor Massey Project and Lost Creeks of South Etobicoke both smaller scale projects highlighting areas of Toronto lost creeks. Also, more recently, Trevor Heywood posted a long series of walks on Twitter, with his explorations around the Yellow Creek, showing that the passion for exploration of Toronto hidden creeks is alive and well. On that note, few more interesting images in the form of murals, first posted by @SheilaBoudreau of a Lost Rivers mural I’ve seen a bit; the second a map, posted by @tashmilijasevic both locations unknown to me but i’m sure folks in the area know where they’re at.
A Photographic Abundance
Photographers become drainers seems to be a theme in many cities. In addition to Michael Cook from The Vanishing Point mentioned above, another photographer focusing on underground Toronto is Jeremy Kai, (Twitter @RiversForgotten From his site: “His underground photography explores the concepts of urban watersheds and the methods in which cities interact with water and waste water. These processes go mostly unobserved by the general public. Kai hopes that by documenting the city’s lost rivers and overlooked spaces beneath the streets, he can awaken a new sense of mystery and mythology in the minds of urban dwellers everywhere. His first book, Rivers Forgotten, is published by Koyama Press. It was released December 2011 and features his underground photography”
In a different bent is a recent exhibit entitled ‘Nine Rivers City’, From the site: “From west to east, nine rivers feed into Lake Ontario. View a map of the rivers here. Harbourfront Centre has commissioned six contemporary visual artists to capture the complexities of each of these waterways that run throughout our urban landscape. Situated against the shoreline of Lake Ontario, NINE RIVERS CITY showcases how these extraordinary waterways connect us, attract us and mystify us.” A clickable map showcases photographs spatially, such as Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s HWY 401 below:
Another take on this is Kathy Toth, who formerly had a page on her website ‘Watercourse (Buried Creeks)’ which seems to have been taken down, but does delve into the subject matter with her Hidden Toronto work, which aims to be reprinted soon. Per her page: “The first edition of Hidden Toronto featured a selection of hidden infrastructure locations in Toronto, including bridges, drains and rooftops where graffiti has sprung up. Many of the locations are off the map and can be found with some searching or luck. Some of them are right downtown under foot, others are on the edge of greater Toronto area. I decided to showcase these spaces, and the artwork painted on them because they exist in an extremely narrow circle of composed of graffiti artists, a few photographers, and the odd individuals who either live in the surrounding areas. These environments have a unique character and the artists who work here take advantage of the serenity and isolation afforded by these surreal landscapes sometimes just 100m away from busy roadways.”
Can massive computing power and artificial intelligence crack the code of deep history of places? This is a fundamental question of a project discussed in an article on nature.com “The ‘time machine’ reconstructing ancient Venice’s social networks”. Frédéric Kaplan plans to “…scan documents including maps, monographs, manuscripts and sheet music. It promises not only to open up reams of hidden history to scholars, but also to enable the researchers to search and cross-reference the information, thanks to advances in machine-learning technologies.”
The goal is to crunch enough data to outline the connections that emerged in historical societies including “social networks, trade, and knowledge”. While of interest to historians, it could also inform economists and epidemiologists, as well as other disciplines. Much like Rome, Venice, mentioned as “The Serene Republic“, is a good for this endeavor due to the wealth of knowledge and its organization, aided by its protected lagoons and it’s desire for documentation.
“As Venice’s empire grew, it developed administrative systems that recorded vast amounts of information: who lived where, the details of every boat that entered or left the harbour, every alteration made to buildings or canals.”
While there was been study over the years, much of the archive “…predominantly written in Latin or the Venetian dialect, has never been read by modern historians. Now it will all be systematically fed into the Venice Time Machine, along with more unconventional sources of data, such as paintings and travellers’ logs.”
Kaplan’s interest has been to employ AI for lingustics, so the concept of using machine learning to study patterns in language is fundamental to the work, along with digitization of many thousands of pages of documents, building on work already done by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
There’s a lot more about the linguistic ‘hacking’ of documents, as illustrated below, but the concept also involved diving into the archival cartography. “In 2006, a huge, purpose-built scanner began to digitize the archive’s precious store of more than 3,000 maps of Italian towns, including many commissioned by Napoleon. These ‘cadastral’ maps delineate property boundaries and record the ownership of small parcels of land; some of the documents are as large as 4 metres by 7 metres.”
The result is the ability to create some amazing detail with overlay of multiple sources:
“One cadastral map of Venice that he commissioned in 1808 has provided a backbone of reliable data, allowing historians to add geographical context to a 1740 census that lists citizens who owned and rented property in the city. By combining this with 3D information about buildings from paintings such as those of Canaletto, the time-machine team has produced an animated tour through Venice, showing which businesses were active in each building at the time.”
A video on YouTube outlines the ambitions of the project. From their summary: “The State archives of Venice contain records stretching back over a thousand years. The vast collection of maps, images and other documents provide an incredibly detailed look into Venetian history. This could be used to create a kind of virtual time machine for historians and the public to explore the city.”
What implications does this have for hidden hydrology? To me, the overwhelming task of both digitizing information and determining patterns is something that is daunting for a team of professionals, much less individuals looking to glean discoveries from their local place. The sheer effort and technology in digitization and analysis could be employed to discover key linkages and patterns that may illuminate historical hydrology, topography, and other clues. An example mentioned in the article highlights the concept, using animations to look at spatio-temporal change , in fact “One is a dynamic video of the development of the Rialto from AD 950 onwards, using diverse sources of information at different time points. The simulation shows how the buildings — and the iconic Rialto Bridge — sprung up among the salt marshes, along with the area’s periodic destruction by fires and subsequent reconstructions.”
The possibilities with large data sets is intriguing, and the article mentions cross-disciplinary opportunities, as well as larger connections to other ‘time machines’ in cities, such as a new effort in Amsterdam and possibilities in Paris. It adds a dimension of big data as a potential avenue for exploration, yet is tempered by age-old techniques and cautions of the next shiny object.
“The unbridled ambitions of the time-machine project are a concern for some researchers, not least because many of its core technologies are still being developed. “The vision of extending digital representation into different time slots is absolutely, self-evidently right — but it might be better to develop things more in a lot of different, small projects,” says Jürgen Renn, a digital-humanities pioneer and a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Nevertheless, Daston suspects that the time machine heralds a new era of historical study. “We historians were baptized with the dust of archives,” she says. “The future may be different.”
The first of what I hope are many field trips and investigations is now up on the site in a section called Explorations. This will be the location for these site-specific journeys, and will be augmented with maps, narratives, soundscapes, and images layered to tell the Water Stories of these hidden streams and buried creeks.
For this initial foray, in Seattle, it was immense fun to wander the areas north of Green Lake and discover the history of Licton Springs. As you see from the map below, the historic routes show a stream flowing southwards into Green Lake. The reach of the waterway starts around Licton Springs Park, where it is sees daylight for a stretch, along with some other intermittent segments where it pops up in surprising ways, throughout the neighborhood.
The story of Licton Springs focuses on the significance to Native Duwamish peoples, who celebrated the place and it’s spiritual, reddish, iron-oxide infused waters, and to early settlers, who lived and recreated, bathed in thermal pools, and bottled and drank of the healing mineral waters.
Like many places, the history of how the place evolved and how it was maintained is of interest, but the journey of the now and the experience of a day of exploring the edges, the muddy margins, and the sloppy seeps (lost shoes included) connect the history of place to the experience of today.
Beyond the park, there are a number of other discoveries that paint a story of people and place woved together through the flow of water. Discovery of the story of Pilling’s Pond, a small section carved out of the flow of Licton Springs to provide a sanctuary where Charles Pilling became a world expert duck breeding in the middle of Seattle.
The discoveries also include a unique segment of stream fronting Ashworth Avenue, a single residential block with driveways and fences literally bridging over the final daylit segment of of Licton Springs, showing how each owner shaped, or left feral, their little piece of the wild.
The connection as well with the virtual, with the final connection is made to Green Lake. Now only connected via overflow, the tracery of Licton Springs, imagined perhaps in some abstracted water play forms, swales, and cascades, may still be allow the creek to be evident, if only in our imagination.
The link below expands on this summary, so check it out, go out and explore, and come back with some water stories of your own.
As with most cities, one river or creek seems to dominate the imagination, and Pogue’s Run is that for Indianapolis, with a number of historical ruminations, such as Historic Indianapolis, which showed a etching by Thomas B. Glessing of “Surveyors mapping the new capital in 1820”, and noting that the stream was probably Pogue’s Run.
In the course of finding out about Pogue’s Run, a number of other interesting people and projects emerged from Indianapolis. Below are some summaries
A video connects the music to place, which “follows a humble waterway through urban neighborhoods in Indianapolis. From its source, through the city, into a mysterious three-mile underground tunnel, and finally to the White River, Pogue’s Run represents the ongoing tension between nature and civilization.”
Charting Pogue’s Run
Artist Sean Derry’s work “Charting Pogue’s Run” investigated the creek via an 1831 map, with a thin line of blue paint and cast iron marks woven through.
A bit of description (longer version on his site):
“Charting Pogue’s Run investigates the past and present characteristics of Pogue’s Run as it flows from the Neareastside neighborhood to its confluence with the White River south of downtown. Beginning on E. New York St., along the boundary of the Cottage Home neighborhood, a blue line and small iron markers map the stream’s 1831 path through the city. This addition to the city-scape traces the streams meandering path across 4.5 miles of Indianapolis.
The work, along with Hyatt’s, was covered as part of the free workshops, “Rethink, Reconnect, Reclaim”, which “explores creative approaches for improving Indianapolis”. See a video of the project here:
A surprise was finding the comprehensive Streamlines project, led by environmental artist Mary Miss, a continuation of her legacy of environmental art, in this case “StreamLines is situated on five sites, in diverse communities along tributaries of the White River. Miss’ sculptural elements reveal the natural systems and infrastructure that impact the Indianapolis waterways and encourage exploration of the area.”
Apart from site specific art: “StreamLines is an interactive, place-based project that merges the sciences and the arts to advance the community’s understanding and appreciation of Indianapolis’ waterways. This work is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and is modeled on the City as Living Laboratory/FRAMEWORK. StreamLines features art created for specific sites along six Indianapolis waterways of focus to Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW): Five environmental installations by Mary Miss/City as Living Laboratory® (MM/CaLL); A series of dance performances by Butler University Department of Dance; Six musical compositions curated by Michael Kaufmann/The Kinetic Project; A collection of poems penned by Indiana poets selected by Poets House”.
A diagram of the concept of her site specific installations, which include similar themes, as noted, around the concept that ‘Rivers are the Lifelines of our Cities.”
Along with some of the installations themselves, which are place based but tied together thematically. An excerpt from her site: “At each site, the three states of water – ICE, VAPOR, WATER are written on the surface of the mirrors. Words on the ground express the themes of each different location. They are formed of reverse letters, which are legible in the reflection in the mirror above. Site themes address water and its many states in the environment, the importance of water to Indianapolis’ development and history, water infrastructure and the connection to the watershed. At the outer edges of the installations, smaller mirrors (18” in diameter) and small pedestals in groups of two or three present texts, much of it legible only in reflection, such as poetry, scientific and historical facts, riddles, jokes, prompts, and questions. These texts also direct visitors to the app and website for additional information.”
The markers and poetry are located in and around installations, circling back to the formative river, the poem “Pogue’s Lost Horse” by Catherine Bowman connect to the place in other ways, through words, visions, and rhythm.
The dance and musical numbers are available on the site and best captured in video, as well as the Streamlines Vimeo page, which also has interviews and other info. One of my favorite is the ‘Choreographing the Movement of the Waterways’, described here: “This video explores the story behind the dance component of StreamLines. On September 24, 2015, more than 100 members of the Butler Ballet performed Riverrun, a site-specific dance choreographed by Butler University Dance Professor Cynthia Pratt for the StreamLines project. This dance was part of the programming for the project’s launch and performed in Holcomb Gardens on the campus of Butler University. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”
There’s also a video delving into the work on the musical composition and soundscape, and “explores the story behind the six musical compositions of StreamLines. Curator Michael Kaufmann worked with six musical artists – Olga Bell, Hanna Benn, Stuart Hyatt, Roberto Lange, Matthew Skjonsberg and Moses Sumney – to create the sound art for StreamLines. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”
Beyond Pogue’s Run, the work draws from a variety of local waterways, as mentioned in this post from Next City: “The White River flows through downtown, joined by Fall Creek, Pogue’s Run, Central Canal, Pleasant Run and Eagle Creek, many of which also flow through Indy’s most underserved neighborhoods.” Part static placemaking and part events, there is a simple google map to locate the places included.
It’s really interesting to see how Indianapolis expresses the connection to lost waterways and hidden hydrology primarily through art, spanning literature, dance, poetry, music, and environmental installations. It showcases the diversity of means to tell these water stories – technical, mapping, ecological, historical, artistic, designer, and provides a unique snapshot of a community, it’s rivers, and how each are shaped, and shape one another.
Week three of the Waterlines class featured Seattle writer and geologist David B. Williams. Perhaps best known as the author of the recent ‘Too High and Too Steep’, a chronicle the large-scale manipulations (topographic and hydrologic, to name a few), Williams shared a more focused talk on his upcoming book Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal, which coincides with the Centennial of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks this year. Following the course theme, and touching on some previous topics, the story encompasses the trials and tribulations to get the locks built, and the large-scale impacts that such endeavors have on the ecological and hydrological systems of Seattle.
David is an engaging storyteller, so he laid out the evolution of this significant part of Seattle’s history, touching on the geology (with the north south orientation how important the waterways were to getting around, especially, east-west movement), and the use for years by native people, who used the portage between Lake Washington to Lake Union, and then a quick connection to gain access to the ocean, and vice-versa, for the past 10,000 to 12,000 years, with stories of Kitsap Suquamish coming to Lake Washington because it was one of the largest freshwater lakes in the region. The idea of a ship canal of some sort is as old as Seattle itself, first pitched by Thomas Mercer in 1854 and finally coming to fruition as a way to move coal, timber, and people, after many attempts 63 years later. In fact there were multiple routes proposed and attempted with big Seattle names like the aforementioned Mercer, along with Burke, Denny, and Gilman, cutting through Smith Cove, routes across what is currently downtown, and one of the most absurd in Seattle’s history – the Semple Canal. This map shows a number of these routes, and also the one natural, yet not very viable connection vai the Black River, which was mentioned in the previous post on Seattle archaeology as outlet from Lake Washington and would eventually fall victim to the draining of Lake Washington.
As mentioned, Semple’s Canal was perhaps the craziest scheme, wanting to slice through one of Seattle’s seven hills, Beacon Hill, which stands almost 350 feet tall. Williams documents it on his blog in this post, with a couple of graphics showing the route and section cut (noting a maximum cut of a mere 284′-6″), highlighting the absurd notion of cutting a canal through a hill, although a good portion of the material removed from the canal before it was shut down was used to fill the Duwamish estuary into what is now industrial lands, and frankly, based on some of the other history, it would not have surprised me if this would have happened.
The eventual route of the Canal was landed on eventually towards the end of the 19th century, connecting to the Puget Sound through the existing Shilshole Bay and the eventual location of the locks, connecting through Salmon Bay, which was a fluctuating saltwater tide zone, connecting through the Fremont Cut to Lake Union, and the Montlake Cut connecting Portage Bay on the west with Union Bay and larger Lake Washington on the east.
The conditions prior to implementation show Salmon Bay connected to salt water, and involved slicing through Ross Creek and wetland zones between Salmon Bay and Lake Union, where a creek was feeding the Bay. To the east the portage had become a narrow log flume at the narrowest point connecting Union Bay and Portage bay, completing the connection from lake to sea.
As mentioned, the eastern Montlake Cut was used as a log flume with a narrow channel (developed by Denny and others) connecting through Portage Bay, and a similar effort was made to connect through Ross Creek via what is now the the Fremont Cut. A photo showing the area looking from Union Bay towards the west from Paul Dorpat’s blog showing the isthmus with Portage Bay in the distance prior to ship canal. This area was sliced through with a log flume (seen on the 1894 map above) in the 1880s and at times through the early 1900s to move timber from inner areas to Seattle and beyond, setting the stage for the eventual connection.
A second image showing the narrow connection of the log sluice from 1886 that is seen on the 1894 map, one of the thin connections which eventually were expanded for free flow of goods and people across Seattle. A dam at the upper end held Lake Washington above the level of Lake Union, and logs were dropped into this chute to float on the next leg of the journey.
While the connections seem logical, the elevations of each water body were different, with the level of Lake Union around +20, the level of Lake Washington at +29, and Salmon Bay elevation lower as it entered the Puget Sound, often not having standing water at times. The process of building the locks set all of these elevations at the same as Lake Union, which raised Salmon Bay and made it a continuous fresh water bay, which is why it works as a place to over-winter fishing fleets as it is today (see Deadliest Catch) to keep boats out of salt water. It also lowered Lake Washington, which as mentioned disconnected the lake from it’s natural outfall at the Black River to the south, replumbing the south area of Seattle while creating a whole lot of new lakefront land. The completion of construction of the locks and the eventually breaching of the Montlake coffer dam (below) and the other coffer dams at the Fremont Cut, (after having to shore them up a few times), filled Salmon Bay with fresh water, and caused Lake Washington to drain down the 9 feet slowly over a few months
The locks, which opened to fanfare and massive 4th of July celebration in 1917, are fun to visit today to watch ships come in, go to the fish ladder, and see the activities. According to Williams, these are the only government locks in the US that are crossable to the public (didn’t know that) and the main traffic, although peppered with an occasional working vessel to Portage bay, consists mostly of pleasure craft. Also, while they did originally build a fish ladder, it didn’t work well (and was improved years later, which make a fun viewing opportunity). Williams mentioned that fish tended to just get into the locks and ride up to travel upstream. It’s an interesting resilience story that fish that were cut off from the Cedar River where they spawned when the Black River was disconnected, and instead of heading up the Duwamish/Black/Cedar to the south, would still be able to figure out how to get upstream via alternative routes via Shilshole miles north from their original spawning route. Talk about a well established navigation system.
The impacts for Seattle, much like the other massive changes, ended up having huge economic implications in positive ways, with the ability to tap into industrial lands for coal, timber, and shipbuilding, and some minor military use, along with what are mostly now marinas for pleasure craft today. The fact that maritime industries are only second to aerospace in the Seattle economy is surprising, which owes much to the ship canal. Seems a common story for Seattle, make massive change and reap the benefits (to some), even if it cuts off a river that happens to be the home place for local Native people. To comprehend the 60+ year journey from idea to fruition, and the hundred years of operation since, another story of changing land and waters influencing our urban lives every day. Excited to see some of the events and read David’s upcoming book for more. On that note…
Addenda: Making the Cut
A great resource on the upcoming centennial festivities is the website Making the Cut: The Locks, The Lakes and a Century of Change, which provides info on events, much of the history mentioned above, and a good section on historic maps which shows a good cross section of hidden hydrology in relationship to the hydrological manipulations to connect the lakes to the ocean. A series of before and after maps documents the changes in the locks, Lake Union and Lake Washington, and other areas. The series below highlights the evolution from the tidal marsh of Salmon Bay prior to the locks being installed in 1916 to the freshwater waterway today.
Last week was Part 2 of the Waterlines class, featuring archaeologist Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, with a concept of ‘Before the Cut’. This was an exploration “using archaeological, ethnographic and historical data [to discuss] the effects of shoreline transformations on indigenous populations.” Similar to the first class, the depth and breadth of the cultural history, and his more expansive title ‘Archaeology and Ethnographic Background of Seattle and Prior Massive Anthropogenic Modifications” hints at the depth of this topic.
Lots of details here, but the idea that in the past 14,000 years of occupation by native peoples, after migration from the north via the Bering Land Bridge and along the outside edge of the ice. There are various theories, but that the retreating glaciers opened up a path between that allowed access, and continuous occupation is found throughout the Northwest in archaeological sites 12-13000 years of age. Once here, the land has changed via sea level rise, mudflows, earthquakes, tsunamis, subsidence, alluvial processes, and more. The story is thus the land shaping people, and the people shaping land. The defining characteristics of the different tribal groups are called adaptions, and place origins of geography, such as the Saltwater adaptation, particularly the Suquamish who lived near the sea, versus the Riverine adaptation, the Duwamish people who lived near the river. Other adaptations are tied to lakes and inland/upland areas, all of which collectively shape the speech, family community, and cultures. For Lewarch’s presentation, the focus discussed a larger history of regional indigenous occupation of the Seattle area, with focus on some of the areas near Seattle that had significance.
Black River Origins
One of the main points of origin for Duwamish people, based on the above adaption, is the Black River, where four original villages were located. An excerpt from the 1909 USGS Topographic map of the area shows the former drainage, where the Cedar River flowed in from the east, and the Black River drained the south part of Lake Washington, near Renton. This confluence also was fed from the south by the former route of the White River, as all of it flowed into the Duwamish and out to the Sound. The names of the settlements of the ‘People of the Lake Fork’ and the inhabitants near the Little Cedar River, and their evolution in living off the land and the river ecosystems for many years.
The demise of this home place began with channelization of the Cedar River into Lake Washington, and ended he lowering of the lake when the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks were built in 1916. The elevation of Lake Washington was lowered nine feet, to the same as Lake Union, which severed its outflow to the Black River, captured in the photo below shows the river after the lowering of the lake, where it slowly died and has (mostly) been subsequently buried. For more on the Black River history, a short blurb on this from David Williams here.
The map from the Wikipedia page on the Black River also shows the before and after and the erasure of the original location of Duwamish settlements through reconfiguration of the hydrology of the region, another in a long line of massive manipulations in the region. The Duwamish People were living in the area, and continued to do so, even as the Black River was dying. They were relocated to reservations, and as Lewarch mentioned, they were sent to coastal areas near the ocean, and being a river tribe, kept returning to the river to fish for many years after, where they lived on a property owned by Erasmus Smithers, until it was burned in 1896. There’s inevitably a long history of settlement and resettlement and disenfranchisement throughout recent history I’m glossing over, but the idea of a river tribe not having a river seems par for the course of how tribes were treated. Secondary to this, the subtle differences between different tribes were not recognized, with many Suquamish or other tribes in the region being lumped into the Duwamish by colonists.
The Duwamish River obviously had a significant place in the history of this river tribe, and the estuary connected the river people with those of the sea and the density of place names in that zone . A number of archaeological sites amidst the oxbows of this area. The 1899 US Coast Survey shows the bay and larger estuary, with the area of downtown Seattle starting to build out, but prior to the majority of the land filling to come.
A map of these old configuration juxtaposed with the channel that exists today shows the level of land filling and manipulation done to this area to carve out industrial lands. From the fantastic Duwamish Revealed site: “About 100 years ago, the Duwamish was straightened and dredged, reducing 14 miles of winding river to 5 miles of industrial “waterway.” Nearly all of the native habitat – mudflats, marshes, and swamps surrounded by old growth Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Hemlock trees – was replaced by agriculture, then industry. The Duwamish is home to three Native tribes: The Duwamish, the Muckleshoot, and the Suquamish, and has immense cultural importance to them. The word “Duwamish” is an Anglicized version of Dkhw’Duw’Absh, meaning “people of the inside” in Lushootseed, the language of the Coast Salish people.”
While native peoples were instrumental in building the city and working in it’s saw mills, fisheries and other industry, rapidly changing Seattle began to try to eliminate the native residents of the city, passing laws in 1863 to make it illegal for Indians to live in Seattle unless they worked for whites, villages and settlements were burned. Native peoples moved north as development occurred, and tended to stay near the water, occupying places within the network of piers and wharves. One such place was Ballast Island, formed from ships dumping rocks after their voyages, which slowly accumulated into made land. A photo from the area shows the colonization of this space by Native peoples, who camped out around the wharfs fringes, being ogled by early Seattlites. In 1891 they were forcibly removed, one in a string of forced removals that shaped the early history of the area.
West Point & Shilshole
Moving away from downtown, the occupation and history of West Point, the point that was formerly military outpost and now Discovery Park, along with being the massive sewage-treatment plant. This area was a tidal marsh that was occupied and used, with the formation of sediment along with earthquakes shaping. When the treatment plant was being expanded, a significant archaeological effort was undertaken, beautifully documented in this online resource from the Burke Museum. Shilshole also has a significance to Native Seattle, with the native word meaning ‘threading the needle’ to get into the small mouth that led into Salmon Bay, which was littered with shell middens and other features showing occupation, similar to other areas on the coast. Prior to the creation of the locks, this area . One long-time resident was Salmon Bay Charlie. A great resource for this and other Seattle history is the blog by Paul Dorpat featuring ‘Seattle: Now & Then‘, where you can investigate the area in some more detail. From the post: “Salmon Bay Charlie and his wife lived in their cedar plank home on the south shore of Magnolia’s Salmon Bay. For half a century Charlie, also known as Siwash Charlie, sold salmon, clams and berries to the first settlers and later to the soldiers at Fort Lawton. Today’s historical view shows Charlie’s house at the turn of the century, taken by the photography firm, Webster and Stevens.”
A bit to the east, the connection between the eastern edge of Lake Union and Lake Washington is a good discussion of place names, including the connections between Lushootseed, or Coast Salish names and colonist names. This brought up a discussion of the area below,
I rotated the Waterlines map to match the same orientation, and the references to the area marked B, which was a village site named sɬuwiɬ, “Little Canoe Channel” that marked the mouth of Ravenna Creek, where Lewarch mentions there were stories of salmon runs up Ravenna. There’s also Lake Union, marked as #21, which is called x̌ax̌əču meaning, “Small Lake” and Foster Island, in an area named staɬaɬ or “Baby Fathom” showing that even with a translation there is still a story missing. Perhaps a shallow zones at the mouth of the creek. The cut, marked as #18 which is named sxʷac̓adwiɬ translated as “Carry a Canoe” meaning it probably wasn’t passable as a waterway until later when the Denny’s opened it up as a log-sluice to move timber between the two points.
According to Lewarch, the notes from Waterman were sort of a mess, so the editors compiled it into something readable, including an amazing figure in Seattle history, Vi Hilbert, a Puget Salish and “a conservationist of the Lushootseed language and Culture”. While Waterman interviewed a small group of around 25 native people for his work, it generated over one thousand place names. And as Lewarch mentioned, all of those interviewed said if they had talked to the Elders, they would have ended up with 1000s more, a sad testament to a cultural history lost forever. Another resource for this is Coll Thrush’s book ‘Native Seattle‘ offers a great section with maps of those place names developed along with Anthropologist Nile Thompson, a snapshot of one below with the accompanying Lushootseed language and origins. Many of these as I mentioned ended up on the Waterlines map, with more abbreviated descriptions. The one below shows the NW corner with Green Lake in the center, and West Point, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay, along with areas along the coast marked.
Lots of threads to follow and stories to connect. In general, the talk focused on the Indigenous cultures and their resilience, both pre-European settlement and after colonization, displacement, and more. He ended up with a quote from Chief Seattle, and discussion both of the potential misinterpretation of his words by the translator, and whether it was an environmental, or social statement, but the multiple meanings that resonated strongly in Seattle history. He quoted a passage:
“And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.”
It could be both a warning or a statement that shows that resilience of Native people wasn’t just in survival, but left a permanent mark on the landscape and people. The culture and place of what Seattle is and the way we should live is etched in history and resonates in the places dotting the map of Seattle, including waters visible and hidden.
A preliminary presentation featured Amir Sheikh, one of the primary collaborators on the Waterlines Project, and he discussed much of the history and process of the overall project and methodology along with framing the concept of place names using Lushootseed language, as featured on the Waterline maps (see my post on language here). One video he showed was “Djidjila’letch to Pioneer Square: From Native village to Seattle metropolis“, a video which takes the viewer “…from Native village to metropolis, the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle has undergone dramatic transformations. This animation provides a bird’s eye glimpse at some of the social, economic, and landscape histories of the neighborhood through time.”
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the installation ‘Calling Thunder: Unsung NYC’ it’s a fantastic example of using digital storytelling methods that connect with hidden hydrology. The project extends the work of the Welikia Project. which provides ecological history of New York along with some great visualizations of pre-development in the form of maps and 3D graphics. A little background comes from the article in the NY Times from April 25th, ‘The Sounds of ‘Mannahatta’ in Your Ear’:
““Calling Thunder,” is an aural bridge across four centuries. It builds on Dr. Sanderson’s stunning work, with Markley Boyer, in creating visualizations of the rolling landscape of 1609 Manhattan — known by the Lenape people as Mannahatta, “the island of many hills” — that are twinned with photographs of the same points in the modern city. We see hills and streams at places now occupied by skyscrapers and subway tunnels; a red maple swamp where an H&M store stands in Times Square.
Drawing on the work on Mannahatta, the immersive video and 360 video and soon VR animate the lovely maps that populated the original books. As one moves through the pre-1600s aerial imagery, it transitions to the modern cityscape, The visuals showcase the heart of the book “…published in 2009, and its classic, bookly virtues — visual beauty, wit and imagination, all underwritten by deep scholarship — persuasively deliver its most astounding revelation: Manhattan in the 17th century had more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more than most rain forests or coral reefs.”
The soundscapes are the best part, a collaboration between “… Bill McQuay, a former sound engineer with NPR who is now an audio producer with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and David Al-Ibrahim, an interactive storyteller and graduate student at the School of Visual Arts.” Using sounds from the Macaulay Library at Cornell, the soundscapes piece together species, for instance, in recreating the Collect Pond, the species of American Crow, Marsh Meadow Katydid, Bullfrog, American Bittern, Baltimore Oriole, and Black-capped Chickadee are culled from the site specific ecologies of Welikia and the range of possible species present, which is a fascinating way to experience the site. A snapshot of the area near the Collect Pond Park shows a wide range of species to drawn sounds from,
I was a bit disappointed with the visuals that accompanied the soundscapes, simple, abstract, placeless sketches that distracted, more than accentuated the experience. Looking around, one wished the simple site-specific scenes were rendered in the same graphic style as the larger renderings, only more animated scenes with residual movement, wind, rustling leaves, and environmental cues that evoke the historical places, perhaps transitioning between new and old.
Maybe a fitting next stage for the project, a simple immersive VR experience could be done without a lot of work, but the sketches aren’t going to cut it. The goal of capturing a vision of what was and what is, with a measure of interactivity that heightened awareness of the habitat sounds would be attainable, as seen through the myriad . I found that closing your eyes and immersing in the sounds was the best way to experience this. The dilemma is hinted at in the article: “At first, Mr. Al-Ibrahim said, he considered presenting only the sound from each of the sites. “It turns out people don’t respond well when put in pitch blackness with a headset on,” he said. By offering readers and listeners the choice of technologies, the project sidesteps the trap of endorsing one storytelling technique to the detriment of the actual message.”
The method of disseminating historical ecology, and pair the experience with soundscapes showcases. As a quote from Sanderson mentions, which is clear from the work on Welikia and Mannahatta, the abundance of species. For a city known as one of the most dense and urban, the previous natural resource is somewhat surprising. This is the beauty of connecting the past and the present.
As mentioned, “The Unsung website offers various ways to take in the weave of history, research and informed speculation in “Calling Thunder,” each with its own rewards: as a simple audio recording, 360-degree video, or, coming soon, virtual reality.” I can’t wait to see the next installment and appreciate the inspiration of full-sensory experiences.