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Originally published Friday, June 22, 2012 at 12:02 PM

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Temporary housing after Seattle's Great Fire

The inferno ignited about 2 p.m. at the southwest corner of Madison Street and Front Street (First Avenue) and by sunrise the next morning, the flames had consumed about 32 blocks.

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AS FAR AS I can figure from studying many photographs of Seattle's Great Fire of June 6, 1889, this line of commercial sheds was a unique response to the conflagration. Tents, not sheds, were the primary answer to the needs of a community that lost practically its entire business district.

The inferno ignited about 2 p.m. at the southwest corner of Madison Street and Front Street (First Avenue) and by sunrise the next morning, the flames had consumed about 32 blocks — but not this one.

In 1883, Seattle's first pioneer industrialists, Henry and Sara Yesler, began building their mansion on this block. Here, they had nurtured an orchard, the village's largest. Even with the new big home (part of it shows upper-left) the couple kept a few fruit trees on the side lawns. However, if there were any trees left on the mansion's front lawn, they were removed after the big fire.

Along the Third Avenue side of the Yesler block, between James and Jefferson streets, Yesler and James Lowman, his manager and relative, nailed together temporary quarters for a few of the businesses that were flattened. For his burned-out stationary and printing company, the venerable Lowman and Hanford, Lowman picked the corner shed here at James and Third.

King County's courthouse (its tower appears here far right at Third and Jefferson) is now City Hall Park. The 1882 courthouse was saved when soaked blankets were applied to the roof, and bureaucrats, litigants, judges and prisoners repeatedly splashed buckets of water against its clapboard walls.

Sara Yesler had died in 1887. Henry and his second cousin, Minnie Gagle, were living in the mansion at the time of the fire. Five months later they were married; she was 54 years his junior.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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