A Historic Resource Study for the Seattle Unit of the
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

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Reaping the Profits of the Klondike Trade

"A Hot Town" and "A Very Wicked City"

By day, Seattle bustled with activities associated with outfitting and transportation. By night, according to one newspaper headline, it became "A Hot Town" that catered to the needs of a largely transient population. The influx of people during the Klondike stampede included dock workers, ship crews, and various merchants, as well as miners -- most of whom were passing through. They increased the demand for accommodations, food and drink, entertainment, and other services. "The town is overrun with strangers," marveled one observer, "the hotels are crowded; the restaurants are jammed;" and "a number of theaters are running full blast." [60] The large number of people pouring into the city created a need for hotels, rooming houses, and other service industries. [61] As a result, downtown Seattle was a lively place -- "a great carnival of the senses" -- at all hours. [62]

The hotel business thrived in Seattle during the gold rush. Accommodations at the high end included the Hotel Seattle (originally the Occidental) at First Avenue and Yesler, the Butler Hotel at Second Avenue and James, and the Grand Pacific and Northern hotels on First Avenue. These were elegant buildings that offered a variety of amenities, including suites and dining rooms. [63] Less expensive rooming houses were also available throughout the commercial district. These featured small units arranged along a narrow corridor, providing very little privacy. [64]

Hotel Seattle
The Hotel Seattle.
(Courtesy Special Collections Division, University of Washington)

The supply of rooms, however, could not always meet the demand. "More Klondykers than ever were in town last night," noted one newspaper article from August of 1897. "For the first time since the fire men were walking the streets in the lower part of the city unable to get a bed, although they had money in plenty. The parlors in many of the hotels were filled with cots." [65]

In addition to searching for accommodations, a "great number" of people spent their evenings "out doing the town." Much of their activity centered around the Tenderloin -- an area bordered by Yesler Way, Jackson Street, Railroad Avenue, and Fifth Avenue. Here, gold seekers could enjoy "all kinds" of activities, not all of which were legal. [66] So lively was this district that in the fall of 1897 Seattle's City Council increased the size of the police force by approximately 40 percent. The town grew 500 percent "in rogues and rascals," one newspaper article explained. [67] Robberies and assaults became especially common crimes in this area. By November of 1897, Seattle had become "the greatest petty larceny town on the Coast." [68] As one reporter summarized, it is "a very wicked city just now." [69]

The excitement in the Tenderloin was encouraged by the sales of alcohol and the openings of numerous saloons. New drinking establishments in 1897 included the Torino and People's Café on Second Avenue South, and the Dawson Saloon on Washington Street. Typically, these businesses served beer, whiskey, and even champagne. They attracted "the Klondikers going and coming, for the majority of them get drunk at both stages of the game." [70] One visitor claimed that Seattle boasted one saloon for every 50 citizens, and he published these observations in The New York Times. Accordingly, the Tenderloin acquired a reputation like that of the Barbary Coast in San Francisco. [71]

Seattle newspapers were filled with stories illustrating the consequences of widespread drinking. In August of 1897, one gold seeker reported to city police that he had been robbed of $300 while "doing" Washington Street during the evening. The police could locate no suspects. Just as they were about to give up the search, the man sheepishly informed the authorities that he had apparently deposited the missing $300 at his hotel while intoxicated -- an act of good sense that he could not remember. [72]

Captain Bensely Collenette of Boston was not so fortunate. He had come to Seattle to lead a party of miners to the Yukon. Upon arriving in the city, he "went on a glorious drunk," spending "his money like wind." On Washington Street, he was robbed of $185. Even so, Collenette was later observed "riding around the city in the finest hack in town," and he left for the Yukon on the steamer Cleveland. [73]

Along with the problems that alcohol presented, the police contended with morphine and opium "fiends" in the Tenderloin. Many drug stores sold these substances, often remaining open at night for that purpose. Newspapers credited morphine and opium with murder, robbery, and leading women to a "life of shame." [74]

During the late nineteenth century, Seattle featured a variety of brothels, including the Klondike House. Located on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue South, this establishment functioned as the "stopping place for the worst of Seattle's fallen women," and it gained the reputation of being one of the "worst dives in the city." [75] Newspaper reports of the Tenderloin focused on prostitutes -- known as "soiled doves." Prostitution had existed in the city long before the late 1890s, but the gold rush increased its visibility. Women also worked as comediennes, singers, dancers, and actors in the district's theaters -- and they dealt cards in the gambling houses that sprang up during the gold rush. [76]

Gambling was a lucrative business that caught gold seekers before and after their trip to the Klondike. By the turn of the century, the Standard Gambling House, for example, had averaged more than $120,000 per year. [77] In addition to card games, customers could try their luck with the "Klondike dice game." [78]

In summary, vice became a prominent industry in Seattle during the stampede -- one that attracted as much immediate attention as outfitting and transporting miners. Newspapers focused on this topic from 1897 through 1910 -- in part because sensational and scandalous stories increased sales. The Seattle Daily Times condemned Mayor J. Thomas Humes for his failure to suppress gambling and other "social evils" in Seattle, likening his supporters to an army of "besotted drunks." In 1902, voters approved a reform measure that controlled vice through saloon license fees of $1,000 and evening and Sunday closings. [79]

The excesses of the Tenderloin during the Klondike stampede link the gold seekers to other figures in western history. During the early nineteenth century, mountain men and trappers emerged once a year from the remote, far-flung areas where they hunted beaver. They met at a rendezvous -- a caravan that purchased their beaver pelts and sold them supplies. After transacting their business, many trappers drank and gambled away their annual earnings, turning the rendezvous into a "scene of roaring debauchery." The caravan's owners, on the other hand, profited handsomely from this arrangement, often enjoying returns that reached 2,000 percent. [80] For the most part, those who made fortunes from the fur trade, like those who reaped profits from the gold rush, were not the people directly involved in extracting the resource; they were the ones that sold the goods and services.

Labor Employed in Seattle Factories, 1900

Boots and Shoes60
Packers and canners300
Brick and tiles400
Candles and crackers250
Paper boxes25
Power plants100
Cloaks and suits25
Printing and publishing400
Ship carpenters & caulkers360
Electric plants200
Spices, baking powder, etc.30
Evaporating plants150
Soda water bottling50
Tents and awnings150
Tin, cornices, etc.100
Hats and Caps30
Vinegar and pickles50
Iron (including machinery)650

Total: 8,600

Source: The Seattle Daily Times, December 22,1900.

Occupation of Seattle Work Force

1880 1890 1900 1910
Number Number% Number%

350625 1.4 2,0251.6
250478 1.1 1,0970.9
350664 1.5 1,3381.1
1,9003,595 8.1 1,9151.6
Manufacture138 2,7505,190 11.6 14,01411.5
Hand Trades
2,8505,383 12.0 25,62520.9
Trade & Transportation
6,90013,102 29.2 47,63538.8
Domestic & Personal Service
6,80012,802 28.5 19.87416.3
1,6003,029 6.7 8,7627.2
Total Employment
Total Population 3,533 42,837 80,671

Source: Alexander Norbert McDonald, "Seattle's Economic Development, 1880-1910,"
Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1959.

An "All-Klondike" Town | Outfitters | Transportation
"A Hot Town" and "A Very Wicked City" | Population and Economic Growth
The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

Chapter: Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Table of Contents

Last Updated: 18-Feb-2003