George Kinnear (Jan. 30, 1836 – July 21, 1912) was a Civil War veteran and Woodford County clerk in Illinois when he heard about the Pacific Northwest.
Enticed by firsthand and written accounts, he followed the siren’s call to travel to the Northwest in 1874 and chose Seattle as his new home. He bought a tract of land now known as the “G. Kinnear Addition,” on the southwest side of Queen Anne Hill.
On Sept. 26, 1878, he arrived with his wife, Angie and his son, Charles, to what was then referred to as Eden Hill and proceeded to become a real estate professional in the Seattle area.
Mr. Kinnear built one of the most beautiful Queen Anne style mansions on Queen Anne Hill. According to the “Notebooks of Laura Hamilton,” he employed up to 24 construction workers, and even then, it took two years to build Kinnear Mansion. Ironically, in this timber-rich land, he had all the oak and cherry wood for the interior of the house shipped to Seattle from Syracuse, N.Y.
Mr. Kinnear was very civic-minded. Clarence Bagley, in his “History of Seattle,” wrote of him, “ …from the beginning of his residence on the Sound, he did everything in his power to make known to the country the possibilities and opportunities of the Northwest and to aid in the development of the city in which he had located. He favored and fostered every measure which he believed would prove of benefit to the town and country.”
Examples of his civic dedication are evidenced by promoting the construction of a wagon trail through Snoqualmie Pass in 1878-1879 and organized the “Immigration Board.”
In 1886, he was captain of the Home Guard, its highest-ranking officer, and was integral in subduing the mobs during the anti-Chinese riots of 1885-86, which prevented the forcible eviction of Seattle’s Chinese residents.
He also was the treasurer of the Washington Improvement Co. and the Rainier Power and Railway Co.
The Kinnear Mansion was demolished in 1959, and the land was donated by Charles Kinnear to the First United Methodist Church for a residential facility for the care of the elderly and children. Bayview Manor Retirement Community currently occupies the site.
A park of influence
In 1887, George and his wife both signed the deed donating the land to the City of Seattle, on condition that the city would keep and maintain the property as a public park. The park was donated in two parcels: the first 11 acres in 1887, and 10 years later, another 3 acres.
Although Kinnear Park was officially Seattle’s third city park, following Denny Park and Volunteer Park, it was the first to be developed, largely because of community involvement.
In Dr. F.A. Churchill’s memoirs, he recalls that, in 1890, “the Department cleared Kinnear Park of underbrush and built winding paths down to the beach. It became a community project, with local residents giving plants, bulbs and shrubs from their own gardens, which the park gardener reciprocated by giving them seeds and cuttings in the fall.”
Early landscape architect Edward O. Schwagerl was appointed superintendent of Seattle’s parks in 1892, and his comprehensive park-and-boulevard plan called for preserving the city’s shoreline and major vista points (Seward Park, Sand Point, Fort Lawton and Alki).
As its landscape architect, Mr. Schwagerl had the most influence in the design of Kinnear Park. Other local parks he designed include Tacoma’s Wright Park and Point Defiance Park and the University Heights subdivision in Seattle. Returning to private practice, he was selected to plan Mount Baker Park.
On May 4, 1903, John Charles Olmsted and Percy Jones visited Kinnear Park, generally approving of the park’s development, but they urged that the park should be given more individuality.
In Kinnear Park’s landmark nomination by Karen Gordon, it is said that a factor in the park’s early popularity was the 1896 Cotterill bicycle plan. George Cotterill — at that time, was assistant city engineer and later mayor of Seattle — organized a team of volunteers to construct 25 miles of bicycle paths in the scenic areas around the city. This bicycle route, the forerunner of the city’s boulevard system, ran along Olympic Place to the Kinnear Park Viewpoint.
It was cited as a significant example of late 19th-century parks and is one of Seattle’s most intact examples of this type of park. It provided a pleasant place to enjoy the view, appreciate nature and to socialize with neighbors in both informal and formal events.
The park soon became a community gathering place, and according to the 1910 Parks Report, it was “a boon to the occupants of the numerous apartment houses on Queen Anne Hill.”
That year, band concerts were held every Tuesday evening with an average attendance of more than 2,600 people.
Other diverse programs featured a range of orators and educational topics.
Programs held in 1910 featured speeches such as Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” “How a Nation Grows,” “The Modern Patriot’s Duty” and “An Easterner’s Impression of the Coast.”
Another well-documented series of park programs were the Sunday programs in July and August of 1936. These were unified by the theme of “Being A Good Neighbor.” The series was coordinated under the direction of the Queen Anne Club, under the direction of prominent real estate professional H.C. Pigott.
An objective of the program series was to call attention to the features of Kinnear Park because Queen Anne residents felt the public was not using the park to its full potential. Topics for lectures in this series included “Our Negro Neighbors: The Urban League,” “Cooperatives,” “Celebrations of the Kellogg Peace Pact” and “The Community Chest.”
On Aug. 18, 1938, there was a 50th-anniversary celebration of Kinnear Park, featuring a 24-piece band and former Mayor Cotterill lecturing on the history of the park.
The Queen Anne Historical Society continued the tradition of community gathering by sponsoring a band concert in 1977.
Changes over time
Physically, Kinnear Park remains largely intact from the 1892 design, featuring paths to stroll and areas to enjoy the views. It consists of three sections: Upper Kinnear Park, Lower Kinnear Park and the steep slope that connects the two.
Early descriptions of Upper Kinnear Park in 1893-94 mention a rustic parachute- (or mushroom-) shaped seat and a trellis pavilion. This has been replaced by a viewing platform in today’s park.
In 1909, West Olympic Place was widened and regarded, and a concrete retaining wall was constructed to separate the street from the park. Also, permanent concrete stairs were constructed at the main entrance, replacing dangerous wooden stairs.
In 1929, a comfort station (restroom) was added, made of concrete and glazed red brick, with dark-gray accent bricks.
Lower Kinnear Park was originally arranged for picnic grounds and a playground for small children. These amenities deteriorated over time and have been removed.
A horseshoe court was added in 1944, and tennis courts were added in 1947.
The appearance of the steep slope of the park retains a natural appearance. It is heavily covered with trees and vines. Slides have always been a problem due to the combination of sand soil, steep slopes and underground springs.
The shoreline was filled in around 1920. The TREEmendous Seattle program planted evergreen trees on the slope after the 1995 slides.
Formed in recent years, FOLKPARK (Friends of Lower Kinnear Park), a group of concerned local residents and businesses came together in March 2009 to renew Lower Kinnear Park as a sustainable urban forest that links us to its heritage, natural setting and our greater community.
HOLLY SMITH is secretary of the Queen Anne Historical Society.