History & Heritage

Kirkland is a City that treasures its rich, vibrant history! From the historic images wrapping utility boxes downtown, to the sculpture made of old railroad spikes poised along the Cross Kirkland Corridor, to the old-time steel-cut images that decorate Juanita Beach Park, you’ll find bits and pieces of our early days scattered throughout the City. 

Kirkland’s scenic downtown core showcases these bits and pieces in a most dynamic way, thanks to a collaboration between the City, the Kirkland Cultural Arts Commission, the Kirkland Heritage Society, and a notably ambitious community volunteer.

This fun and history-laden project wrapped charming, historic photos around two downtown Kirkland utility boxes, one located at the corner of Lake Street and Central way, and the other at the corner of Lake Street and Kirkland Avenue. The boxes, both positioned at key City vantage points, provide downtown visitors with the opportunity to view the streetscape as it once was, while enjoying what it is today. As you stand at the corner of Lake Street and Kirkland Avenue and gaze out towards Marina Park, the view on the utility box shows you what it looked like in the early 1900s, when the Seattle Ferry would land at the Kirkland dock. 

Whichever direction you turn, you are rewarded with a corresponding view from long ago.

The story of Kirkland’s origins

Back in 1886, Peter Kirk, an enterprising businessman, auctioned off his property and manor in England and headed to America to make his fortune. He found his way to the Pacific Northwest. Like many entrepreneurs in his time, Kirk had big dreams, particularly for the land east of Seattle by the waters of Lake Washington. He thought it was the perfect place to build a steel town to support a mill.

Kirk and his business-partners built Moss Bay Iron and Steel Works with high hopes of creating the “Pittsburgh of the West.” The steel mill was completed in late 1892, but went under during the “Panic of 1893,” the financial crisis that swept the nation in the spring. That economic downturn stopped the steel mill in its tracks and it closed without producing any steel. Kirk never did see his dreams come alive; he eventually retired and moved north to the San Juan Islands.

But the little city survived the bumpy economy. Instead of steel, Kirkland rebounded by relying on wool milling and ship building. The first wool mill in the state of Washington was established in Kirkland in 1892, producing wool products for Alaska Gold Rush prospectors and for the U.S. Military during World War I.

Kirkland's ship building industry began on the Lake Washington waterfront with the construction of ferries. By 1940, Kirkland's Lake Washington Shipyard was building warships for the U.S. Navy; more than 25 were built during World War II on what is now Carillon Point. The location is now home to a luxury hotel and some of the most creative high-tech companies in the region.

Kirkland became the first city on the Eastside in 1888 and eventually became incorporated in 1905. In the early 1900s, Kirkland was the transportation center of the Eastside with ferries transporting commuters and goods. The ferries ran continuously from Marina Park's city dock to Seattle 18 hours a day. The opening of the Lake Washington Floating Bridge in 1940 signaled the end of the lake ferries.

Today, Kirkland is a community of over 80,000 people with the region's only downtown on the waterfront.