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Seattle’s Gold Rush History

 The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park:  Tucked into the historic Cadillac Hotel in downtown Seattle is a national park that preserves the history of the Klondike Gold Rush.  Thousands hoping to get rich poured into Seattle in 1897 when gold was found in the Klondike, Yukon Territory, Canada. This is a great American story about the people and the journey but it also provides a sense of the history of Seattle, as it was at the end of the 19th century. As the main supplier of goods needed to meet the one-ton requirement (food and gear) to enter the gold rush territories, Seattle was transformed from a small waterfront city to a regional trade center.

The journey was rough. Some headed up the Chilkoot Trail while others headed up the White Pass out of Scagway. These were narrow passes over mountains that were impassible once the snow began.

The exhibits show pictures of the many people who embarked on that journey. They also have a sled loaded with a ton of food and gear, effectively translating a vague term like “ton” into something tangible. Looking at the pictures of the narrow trails over the mountains, it is not surprising that many did not make it with all their food intact. In fact, you can play the wheel of fortune to see likely you would be to come home with gold.

 Men, women and children joined the stampede but only a few would return rich. An adventure of a lifetime for those who survived, and for a few, wealth beyond their wildest imagination; it was truly a wheel of fortune. John Nordstorm, a familiar Seattle name, did find enough gold to eventually start a shoe store when he returned to Seattle, which became his path to fortune.

  A favorite exhibit is the scale that computes people’s weight in gold at today’s price as well as in 1897.  So, what was my weight in gold?  $2,152,151.35!  Of course, it was not worth quite so much in 1897 gold-rush dollars; only $46,477.

 Open all year; free tours of the museum and surrounding historic area are provided during the summer at 2 p.m.  Gold panning demonstrations are offered during the summer.  During non-summer months, several films are shown throughout the day. 

How to get there

From Olympia take the Intercity Transit 603 to the Highway 512 Park and Ride; then hop on South Sound Transit 592 or 594 to Seattle.

Get off at Jackson Street and walk a few blocks west to Second Avenue.

  319 Second Avenue (corner of 2nd and Jackson streets), Seattle

Contact:  (206) 220-4240  www.nps.gov/klse/

What else is in the neighborhood?

This park is at the edge of Pioneer Square with its many shops, galleries and restaurants.  The historic King Street Railroad station is located between 2nd and 4th Avenues and Jackson and King Streets.  The station was built between 1904 and 1906.  Its 242 foot brick tower was the tallest building in Seattle at the time of construction.  Restoration is ongoing in this lovely building.  The Merchants Cafe (109 Yesler Way), known as Seattle’s oldest restaurant, is housed in one of the first buildings erected after the Great Fire of 1889 destroyed much of downtown.  It is said that during the gold rush, miners would exchange their gold for cash at the restaurant on Sundays and the restaurant would deposit the gold in the banks on Mondays.

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