The largest city of the Pacific Northwest, it lies along Elliott Bay, on the east shore of Puget Sound, 128 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Originally built on seven hills, with intervening lowlands, it extends between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, which are joined by two canals and Lake Union.
It was named for Noah Sealth, chief of several Native American tribes when Seattle was established in 1851. He was friendly to white settlers.
The Native American name of the site of the city was Tzee-tzee-lal-itc, meaning little place where one crosses over. The reference was to a Native American trail which started at the foot of present Yesler Way and ran over the hills to the east, terminating on Lake Washington
It is a city of steep descents and sudden turns, with streets that fall away inevitably to the waterside, lined with docks and moored ships of every description. Many bridges, ranging from the imposing concrete George Washington Memorial Bridge to small spans straddling the ravines, pass between the different parts of this city broken by water routes.
Today, Seattle is one of the most important import-export cities of the United States.
Approaching Seattle from the east, the route passes through the semi-wilderness of the Cascade Mountains, with their bare peaks, virgin forests, and logged-off lands; then through the foothills region, characterized by stump ranches and small dairy and poultry farms; and finally, as the land levels out into rolling cut-over lands, runs through a region of small tracts, orchards, roadhouses, camping grounds, and suburban homes—until it enters the city limits, some seven miles from the central metropolitan area.
If the approach is by water, the city is hidden from view by the projecting headlands or is only partly visible until the boat enters Elliott Bay. Once within Alki and West Points, the striking panorama of the whole city emerges, its many hills rolling upwards from the crescent-shaped shoreline of the bay. From Smith Cove at the left, north of the metropolitan area, to Alki Point at the right, runs a saw-toothed rim of piers, docks, and wharves, broken only on the south by tide flats and the Duwamish River, which forks around the man-made Harbor Island. Beyond the water front and Alaskan Way, a broad commercial avenue, are the warehouses and the factories, and behind them the ragged skyline of the business area, marked by modern skyscrapers, which tower above the smaller business blocks. Past these are hills covered with residences and apartment houses, with here and there a wooded area where the precipitousness of the slope has so far prevented building.
The city is impressively beautiful on a clear day, when the Olympics, with their serrated, snow-covered ridges can be seen to the west, and the Cascades, blue-green in the distance, are visible in the east and southeast, with the snowy cone of Mount Rainier looming above the other peaks of the range. At night, too, the city is beautiful, with its myriads of lights reflected in the waters; and even in the somberness of rainy weather, when the slate-grey waters of the bay are broken by whitecaps and low clouds scud across the sky, the city does not lose its charm.
The water front preserves the past of Seattle. In its cafes, quaint murals, the work of sign painters of an earlier day, still adorn the walls. Mirrors behind bars are encased in heavily carved wooden frames, and the shop signs of employment agencies and outfitters recall the heroic epoch of lumbering and the gold rush. The harbor was the embryo of Seattle, and to this day the city derives its character from the wharves and its people.