A brief history of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society
- Elliott Couden, ca. 1980s
The Southwest Seattle Historical Society was founded in 1984 by West Seattle resident and White Center real estate broker Elliott Couden. Founding members chose to dedicate this organization to historic preservation, heritage education, and community service for the Duwamish peninsula, including West Seattle and White Center.
In 1983, South Seattle Community College was forming a lay advisory board for the humanities under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Joan Mraz, a humanities and art instructor at the college who chaired the advisory board, was seeking a person representing the history of the area to sit on the board. Dottie Harper, a local community activist from Burien, recommended Couden, who was trying to form a local historical society. Couden was invited to sit on the board, and there he shared his vision.
The founding members of the historical society came from West Seattle and White Center, and their scope comprised those areas after they met with Jerry Brockey, college president, and Normie Beers, longtime former West Seattle Chamber of Commerce secretary and YMCA director who had compiled materials for a history book of the area. The vision was to create a history center that covered the entire Duwamish peninsula.
Log House Museum restorer David Rogers creates the new log wall next to the old insect and weather-damaged south wall. This ensures consistency for size and fit when it is replaced. Note the beams through the windows that will lift the building as the old logs are slid out, and the new, in. Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)
Brockey offered the services of the college to help form a historical society. With the help of John Ashford, college library administrator, the 501(c)3 non-profit Southwest Seattle Historical Society was formed.
Brockey offered the college campus for meetings and storage of the collection. Beers’ book idea was absorbed in the West Side Story book project and published by the West Seattle Herald/White Center News in July 1987. Clay Eals, editor of the papers, served as the book’s editor and project manager, and Brad Chrisman, editorial coordinator, did the fundamental research and wrote most of its chapters.
The founding date for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society was Nov 13, the date of the landing on Alki Beach of the settlers who eventually formed the city of Seattle.
In 1993, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society became aware of the pending sale of a log building at the southwest corner of 61st Avenue Southwest and Southwest Stevens Street that was built as the carriage house for Fir Lodge/Alki Homestead in 1904. Also in 1993, Metro was building a sewage pipeline beneath West Seattle and had created a $500,000 mitigation fund for the Alki/Beach Drive neighborhood. The historical society placed a $200,000 measure on the community ballot, and in March 1994 local residents voted in favor of spending that amount for the purchase of the building for use as a museum.
In a covenant with the City of Seattle, the historical society acquired, restored, and converted the building and named it the Birthplace of Seattle Log House Museum. The restoration was made possible through a grassroots effort led by Arlene Wade, board president, that raised more than $875,000.
The museum has been open since November 13, 1997, the 146th anniversary of the Alki landing in 1851. The landscaping consists of native plants. A granite and marble donor circle adorns the courtyard in tribute to the many people and organizations helping to make this heritage project an award-winning facility and a community treasure.
Programs and events of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society include:
- Assisting in the publication of “West Side Story,” a historical record of Southwest Seattle
- B.J. Bullert’s PBS video “Earl Robinson: Ballad of an American”
- Development of Weather Watch Park on Beach Drive
- Preservation of the Admiral Theater
- “If These Walls Could Talk” annual home tour
- “Words, Writers, & Southwest Stories” monthly book-talk event at the Seattle Public Library
- Restoration, raising and unveiling of the 1966 Admiral Totem Pole at our museum
- Securing city landmark status for the Campbell Building (1911/1920) and Hamm Building (1926) in the West Seattle Junction
- Rotating exhibits in two galleries at the Log House Museum
Northeast view of the Log House Museum restoration. Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)
Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)
The opening ceremony of the Birthplace of Seattle Log House Museum was an historic moment for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society and the Duwamish Tribe. The museum is a place to learn about all peoples who have chosen residence on the Duwamish Peninsula.
A decade later, in 2007, construction began on the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center on West Marginal Way along the Duwamish River. Opened in January 2009, the longhouse is a place where the Duwamish people are recognized and have the opportunity to tell their own stories, in their own words.
Our 2020 Board of Trustees
- Kathy Blackwell, President
- Nancy Sorensen, Vice President
- Elizabeth Rudrud, Finance
- Secretary (open)
- John Sweetland, Membership Secretary; Treasurer
- Keith Bacon
- Dora-Faye Hendricks
- Kerry Korsgaard
- Phil Frick
- John Bennett
- Mike Shaughnessy
- Rod Moody
- Open Positions
Our 2020 Advisory Council
- Al Bentley
- Judy Bentley
- Jordan Hecker
- Marcy Johnsen
- Ron Arant
- Pat Jablonski
- Tia Hallberg
- Flora Belle Key
- King County Council member Joe McDermott
- Andrea Mercado
- Jack Miller
- Matt Vaughan
- Tom Rasmussen
- Carol-Ann Thornton
- Jerry Vandenberg
- Carol Vincent
- Jill Wakefield
Southwest Seattle Historical Society staff
Michael King Executive Director
Michael previously worked at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in Everett, where he managed the museum’s education and volunteer programs. Prior to working at FHCAM, he worked at the Nordic Museum in Seattle, serving in both the programs and development departments, during which time he built on the experience he gained at several cultural organizations including the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Morristown National Historical Park. He earned a Ph.D. in History and Culture from Drew University and holds Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in history from Lehigh University.
Maggie Kase Curator
Maggie previously worked as a museum consultant and teaching artist. She specialized in visitor services support, public programming, exhibits, and interpretation, most notably for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center. Before moving to Washington, Maggie worked at a combination of museums and cultural centers in the programming and curatorial departments including The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Home, and the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Arts Management and English Literature from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and a master’s degree in Museology from the University of Washington.
Elancia Williamson Visitor Experience Coordinator
Elancia Williamson joins the Historical Society from the Auburn Public School system and brings invaluable experience gained at the Washington State History Museum. Elancia was born in Monroe, LA and raised for 10 years in Chicago, IL, where she gained a love of reading, libraries, zoos, and museums. She studied history and anthropology while attending college and love’s working with children and serving the community.
SWSHS filed 990 Forms
Federal Tax ID#: 91-1297010
WA State UBI#: WA 601656864
City of Seattle Business License 119308