Document 55: Scenic Beauty of Lake Washington

Hiram M. Chittenden, “Sentiment Versus Utility in the Treatment of National Scenery,” Pacific Monthly (January 1910): 37-38.

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Another instance in which the never-ending conflict, of which we are writing, is just now playing a part of some importance is that of Lake Washington, near the city of Seattle, and is of present interest because public attention has lately been strongly turned in that direction through the agency of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Topographically the city of Seattle is more highly favored as to scenic beauty than any other city of ancient of modern times. More literally true than of ancient Rome, it may be called a city of seven hills, and from each of these there lies outspread a panorama in nature such as Rome did not possess. The controlling feature in the immediate landscape is the presence of several beautiful bodies of water—the tidal waters of Puget Sound and the fresh water lakes, Union and Washington. Lake Washington, in particular, is a priceless asset in the scenic beauty of the city…Its waters are clear, its shoreline picturesque, the snowy range of the Cascades stands reflected in its waters, it presents indisputably one of the most beautiful natural pictures in the world. In a less degree only is Lake Union, which is already entirely surrounded by the city, an attractive natural feature.

But great as is the sentimental value of these lakes to the city and surrounding country, their utilitarian value is greater still. For many years a project has been on foot to lower Lake Washington to the level of Lake Union and to connect the two with the Sound by a ship canal, thus adding to Seattle’s salt-water harbor a fresh-water harbor of far greater extent and advantage. The lowering of Lake Washington will accomplish other important ends in the sewerage of the city, in draining certain swampy tracts around the shoes and in controlling floods in certain streams. To the general Government the lakes will prove of unquestioned value as a fresh water basin for its naval vessels, whenever laid up in this vicinity, for any length of time.

The only valid opposition to this very important measure arises from a fear on the part of some that it will detract from the scenic beauty of Lake Washington. But an analysis of the question shows these fears to be unfounded. The change in shore-line along residence districts will be only slight and will become inappreciable within one or two years. Factories will not seek the residence districts because these situations are unfavorable. They will rather go to the low-lying grounds and drained swamp areas which have no scenic value to lose. The presence of shipping, far from detracting from the beauty of the lake, will give an added interest, just as it now does to the tidal harbor of Elliott Bay. Lake Washington is too large a body of water to be affected in appearance by the measures proposed, and it will remain, after being opened to commerce, what it is now, the chief scenic attraction of the city. It is distinctly a case where utilitarian ends can be accomplished without any sacrifice of sentimental interests.

A form which this conflict between sentiment and utility often assumes is that of resisting changes simply because they destroy old associations. It matters little that the change may be an improvement; those who have been familiar all their lives with certain conditions are naturally loath to see them changed.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest