About The Lake
Lake Union lies between Lake Washington and Puget Sound just north of downtown Seattle. It was named by Thomas Mercer in 1854 who predicted correctly that Lake Union would one day be connected by canals to form the “union” between Lake Washington and Puget sound.
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History of Lake Union
Lake Union was formed by the Vashon Glacier around 12,000 years ago which was up to 3000 feet thick (3 times the height of the Columbia Tower!) As this glacier receeded, it left behind Lake Union, Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Green Lake and others.
According to the Deparment of Ecology, the earliest evidence of human population in Washington is around 8000 years ago, while the Seattle area appears to have been populated around 2-3 thousand years ago. Around 1775, the first Europeans set foot in the area and soon after, the native population was decimated by a smallpox epidemic. Nearly 70% of the native population dies during this disaster.
In 1851, the first settlers take root in Seattle and in 1889 Washington becomes the 42nd state.
The Native Americans around Lake Union during this time were primarily from the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. These tribes were subjected to deceitful treaties and actions that severely impacted their livelyhoods. The entire treaty Treaty of Point Elliott can be read here.
Chief Chesiahud (also known as Chodups John and Lake John) was a Duwamish Chief and a friend of early Seattle pioneer, David Denny. Pictured here around 1885 in a canoe on Lake Union, he frequently volunteered his services as a guide to settlers in the Seattle area. When the reservations were formed, Chodups John chose to remain a resident of Seattle and lived on Portege Bay.
As you can see, rowing on Lake Union has been around for a long time. Now, rowing has become a popular sport and an olympic event with the University of Washington team producing some of the best crews in the world. Take in the Windermere Cup at the Montlake cut and see one of the greatest sporting events on the lake.
If you’re cruising Lake Union, take care to watch for Duwamish fishing nets on the lake. This is one of the few remaining rights of the Duwamish tribe and to protect their nets and your boat, keep an eye out. Remember, the speed limit on most parts of the lake is 7 knots. Maintaining this speed will help avoid accidents and is also important to protect the many houseboats lining the lake.
This picture was taken around 1885 from approximately where Eastlake Ave. is currently located – looking Northwest towards Gasworks. 10 years earlier, the lake was pristene. In another 20 years, the lake would be entirely surrounded by development.
We found this great site where you can learn more about the history of Lake Union.