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A brief history of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society

Elliott Couden, ca. 1980s

Elliott Couden

The Southwest Seattle Historical Society was founded in 1984 by West Seattle resident and White Center real-estate broker Elliott Couden. Founding members chose to dedicate this organization to historic preservation, heritage education and community service for the Duwamish peninsula, including West Seattle and White Center.

In 1983, South Seattle Community College was forming a lay advisory board for the humanities under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Joan Mraz, a humanities and art instructor at the college who chaired the advisory board, was seeking a person representing the history of the area to sit on the board. Dottie Harper, a local community activist from Burien, recommended Couden, who was trying to form a local historical society. Couden was invited to sit on the board, and there he shared his vision.

The founding members of the historical society came from West Seattle and White Center, and their scope comprised those areas after they met with Jerry Brockey, college president, and Normie Beers, longtime former West Seattle Chamber of Commerce secretary and YMCA director who had compiled materials for a history book of the area. The vision was to create a history center that covered the entire Duwamish peninsula.

loghouse museum construction

Museum restorer David Rogers creates the new wall next to the old insect- and weather-damaged south wall. Note the beams through the windows that lifted the building as the old logs were slid out and the new logs were slid in. Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)

Brockey offered the services of the college to help form an historical society. With the help of John Ashford, college library administrator, the 501(c)3 non-profit Southwest Seattle Historical Society was formed.

Brockey offered the college campus for meetings and storage of the collection. Beers’ book idea was absorbed in the West Side Story book project and published by the West Seattle Herald/White Center News in July 1987. Clay Eals, editor of the papers, served as the book’s editor and project manager, and Brad Chrisman, editorial coordinator, did the fundamental research and wrote most of its chapters.

The founding date for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society was Nov 13, the date of the landing on Alki Beach 0f the settlers who eventually formed the city of Seattle.


With the new wall in place, the new wheelchair ramp is poured for full museum accessibility. Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)

In 1993, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society became aware of the pending sale of a log building at the southwest corner of 61st Avenue Southwest and Southwest Stevens Street that was built as the carriage house for Fir Lodge/Alki Homestead in 1904. Also in 1993, Metro was building a sewage pipeline beneath West Seattle and had created a $500,000 mitigation fund for the Alki/Beach Drive neighborhood. The historical society placed a $200,000 measure on the community ballot, and in March 1994 local residents voted in favor of spending that amount for purchase of the building for use as a museum.

In a covenant with the City of Seattle, the historical society acquired, restored, and converted the building and named it the Birthplace of Seattle Log House Museum. The restoration was made possible through a grassroots effort led by Arlene Wade, board president, that raised more than $875,000.

The museum has been open since November 13,1997, the 146th anniversary of the Alki landing in 1851. The landscaping consists of native plants. A granite and marble donor circle adorns the courtyard in tribute to the many people and organizations helping to make this heritage project an award-winning facility and a community treasure.

Programs and events of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society include:

  • Assisting in the publication of “West Side Story,” a historical record of Southwest Seattle
  • “West Seattle Wanderings,” a driving tour booklet and art exhibition
  • West Seattle History Discussion Series in cooperation with Seattle Public Library
  • Sponsorship and support for the “Murals of West Seattle” and “Mount View Looks Back” a White Center project
  • B.J. Bullert’s PBS video “Earl Robinson: Ballad of an American”
  • Development of Weather Watch Park on Beach Drive
  • The Homes with History tour
  • Preservation of the Admiral Theater
  • Community re-enactment of the Denny Party Landing to celebrate the 1989 Washington Centennial Celebration, and the Sesquicentennial and active leadership in bringing Native American and pioneer history to life as part of the Greater Harbor 2000 Commission plan for redevelopment of the Alki/Harbor/Duwamish Corridor
  • “If These Walls Could Talk” annual home tour
  • “Words, Writers & West Seattle” monthly book-talk event at Barnes & Noble Westwood Village
  • “SouthWest Stories” monthly speaker series rotating at five Seattle Public Library branches on our peninsula
  • Restoration, raising and unveiling of the 1966 Admiral Totem Pole at our museum
  • Securing city landmark status for the Campbell Building (1911/1920) and Hamm Building (1926) in the West Seattle Junction

Northeast view of the Log House Museum restoration. Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)


Photo by Deborah Mendenhall (SWSHS Collection)

The opening ceremony of the Birthplace of Seattle Log House Museum was an historic moment for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society and the Duwamish Tribe. The museum is a place to learn about all peoples who have chosen residence on the Duwamish Peninsula.

A decade later, in 2007, construction began on the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center on West Marginal Way along the Duwamish River. Opened in January 2009, the longhouse is a place where the Duwamish people are recognized and have the opportunity to tell their own stories, in their own words.

Our 2017 Board of Trustees

  • Karen Sisson, President
  • Peder Nelson, Vice President
  • Ron Arant, Treasurer
  • Tia Hallberg, Secretary
  • Sandie Wilkinson, Membership Secretary
  • Jenni Bodnar
  • Burke Dykes
  • Dora-Faye Hendricks
  • Marcy Johnsen
  • Kerry Korsgaard
  • Barbara Mackey
  • Nancy Sorensen
  • two open positions

Our 2017 Advisory Council

  • Al Bentley
  • Judy Bentley
  • Jordan Hecker
  • Scott Hunt
  • Pat Jablonski
  • Flora Belle Key
  • King County Council member Joe McDermott
  • Andrea Mercado
  • Jack Miller
  • Patricia Mullen
  • Charles Payton
  • Tom Rasmussen
  • Greg Theobald
  • Carol-Ann Thornton
  • Diane Tice
  • Jerry Vandenberg
  • Carol Vincent
  • Jill Wakefield
  • Ken Workman

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Southwest Seattle Historical Society staff

Jeff McCord
Executive Director
Lissa Kramer
Amy Gorton
Museum Manager

SWSHS filed 990 Forms

2007 990 (pdf)

2008 990 (pdf)

2009 990 (pdf)

2010 990 (pdf)

2011 990 (pdf)

2012 990 (pdf)

2013 900 (pdf)

2014 990 (pdf)

2015 990 (pdf)

Federal Tax ID#: 91-1297010

WA State UBI#: WA 601656864

City of Seattle Business License 119308

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