Aerial view of Elliott Bay
The Duwamish Head in West Seattle
Elliott Bay is part of the central Puget Sound region of Washington state, extending southeastward between Seattle’s westernmost point – West Point – to the north and West Seattle’s westernmost point – Alki Point – to the south. Seattle was founded on this body of water in the 1850s and has since grown to completely enclose the bay. The connection it provides to the Pacific Ocean has been a key element in the city’s economy, allowing the Port of Seattle to become one of the busiest in the United States.
Elliott Bay is 21 square kilometers in size. The Duwamish River flows into Puget Sound here.
The Duwamish lived in the Elliott Bay and Duwamish River area for millennia, establishing at least 17 settlements until white settlers established a foothold here in the 1850s. Among the first white settlements was New York Alki, founded by members of the Denny Party, a wagon train led by Arthur A. Denny; today it is home to the Alki Point neighborhood in West Seattle. After a harsh winter, however, they moved to what is now Pioneer Square, a place later called Seattle. Over the years, the city expanded and covered the entire shore of Elliott Bay. The city declared the bay one of its navigable waters.
The bay was named in 1841 during the Wilkes expedition, but it is not known after whom. Candidates are some members of the expedition: the ship’s chaplain Jared Elliott, the ship’s boy George Elliott, and the sea cadet Samuel Elliott. The latter seems the most likely namesake. Commodore Jesse Elliott, a U.S. Navy officer, has also been suggested as a possible source of the name. The bay is also listed as Duwamish Bay and Seattle Harbor, especially before the United States Board on Geographic Names officially established the name as “Elliott Bay” in 1895.
Local legend has it that the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet, which peaked in the early 20th century, originated with a “Seattleite” (Seattle resident) who saw the fleet across Elliott Bay and remarked that its activity resembled that of mosquitoes. Two notable Mosquito Fleet-related sinks occurred in the bay: the 1906 sinking of the steamboat Dix, which resulted in dozens of deaths, and the 1911 sinking of the paddle steamer Multnomah. Commercial passenger shipping eventually declined as automobiles and ferries became more popular.
The last remaining model of a Boeing 307 crashed into Elliott Bay in 2002 during a final test flight from Boeing Field to Everett. The aircraft(Flying Cloud) was the subject of an eight-year restoration project; it appeared ready for display at the National Air and Space Museum. Despite the accident, the aircraft was restored again, flown to the Smithsonian Institution, and put on display.
West Point and Alki Point are the headlands jutting into Puget Sound that are considered the northern and southern entrances to Elliott Bay, respectively. A line drawn between these points separates the bay to the east from the open sound to the west. More precisely, the bay was defined as east of a line from Duwamish Head northward to Magnolia Bluff. The Duwamish River pours into the southeastern portion of the bay. This area was extremely over-formed by man in the 20th century by channelizing the river and filling in the tidal flats to create Harbor Island, once one of the largest man-made islands in the world. To the west of the river delta, the land juts north into the bay to form Duwamish Head. Eastward, to the north and northwest, lies the heart of Seattle, the Alaskan Way Seawall (a coastal protection levee), the Central Waterfront (the most urbanized area) of Seattle, and Smith Cove.
Elliott Bay is home to the Port of Seattle, which in 2002 was the ninth busiest seaport in the United States in terms of throughput by TEU for container ships; it ranked 46th in the world. Cruise ships offering tours to Alaska became increasingly important in the 2000s. The bay is also home to the Colman Dock, the main terminal of the Washington ferry system, the largest in the United States. Ships run regularly from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton. The route to Winslow on Bainbridge Island is the busiest in the ferry system in terms of vehicles and passengers carried. The King County Water Taxi, a passenger-only ferry, operates across the bay connecting Downtown Seattle with West Seattle (from Seacrest Dock) and Vashon Island.
Two marinas exist on Elliott Bay. The larger of the two, Elliott Bay Marina, is privately owned and located in the Magnolia and Interbay neighborhoods on Smith Cove; it has 1,200 berths. Bell Harbor Marina is operated by the Port of Seattle and is located on the Central Waterfront in the Belltown neighborhood. Up to 70 vessels can moor there.
Numerous piers project into the bay, particularly along the Seattle Central Waterfront. Piers 57 and 59 are home to tourist destinations such as the Seattle Great Wheel (a Ferris wheel) and the Seattle Aquarium. Pier 67 is home to the Edgewater Hotel, a four-story, 223-room hotel that is the only hotel built over the water in the area. Pier 86 is a dedicated grain shipping terminal operated by the Louis Dreyfus Group. Grain is transported to cargo ships across the Elliott Bay Trail and through a small waterfront park, which also has a public fishing pier near Smith Cove. Located in the Cove is Terminal 91, which has served various purposes over the years, including storage for imported cars and fish. Recently, it has become a dock for Alaska cruise ships. To the south, in West Seattle’s Seacrest Park, there is another public fishing pier and a designated area for scuba divers.
Because it is considered a prominent aspect of Seattle’s geography, the bay is often reflected in the media. The Real World: Seattle, the 1998 season of MTV’s reality television series, was filmed at Pier 70 on the Bay. The fictional Elliott Bay Towers, the home of Dr. Frasier Crane from the television series Frasier, are named after the bay. In season 3 of the Seattle-set crime drama The Killing, suspect Ray Seward is incarcerated at the fictional Elliott Bay Penitentiary. A simplified map of Elliott Bay is used in the “Maps” icon in Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 smartphone operating system. Microsoft is headquartered in the Seattle metropolitan area.
Elliott Bay was a flashpoint of environmental problems. Urban and industrial development along its shores, as well as those of the Duwamish River leading to them, had raised concerns about the level of pollutants released into the waters. On the southern shore, there are two localities that have been cleaned up with the help of Superfund, a federal program to address environmental problems: Harbor Island and the former Lockheed West Seattle site. Several other sites have been singled out as candidates for cleanup, including the Pacific Sound Resources site and others on the lower Duwamish.
The shoreline in Downtown Seattle provides poorly suited habitat for juvenile salmon coming from the Duwamish River because of a lack of brightness under the piers and a lack of food on the vertically rising Alaskan Way Seawall. A restoration project for the Seawall aims to improve habitat conditions by bringing in structures underwater to create shallows where salmon can find food. In addition, glass blocks have been embedded in the sidewalks that are free-floating over the bay, allowing sunlight to illuminate the man-made shoals on the piers.
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