A densely wooded swath of land between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, the area where Bellevue now stands was sparsely settled before the 1900s. If the thick forest weren't imposing enough, large boggy areas could intimidate would-be settlers. Native American tribes in the region favored the coast to the west and the plains east of the mountains.
|The Meydenbauer Bay area after logging in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of the Eastside Heritage Center.
In 1867 coal was discovered in the Coal Creek area, and white settlers began to arrive as extensive mining got underway at the Newcastle Coal Mine. William Meydenbauer and Aaron Mercer, wealthy adventurers from Seattle, staked large claims here in 1869. Over the next 40 years, other white settlers, including Civil War veterans awarded homesteads for their service, trickled into the vicinity.
Logging, almost by necessity, joined mining as an early occupation on the Eastside, as the settlers needed to clear land for their farms. During that period, the area got a post office and a schoolhouse. In the 1880s, the village got a name. Conflicting accounts attribute the name Bellevue ("Beautiful View" in French) to the view from the new post office's window or to the city in Indiana of the same name from which prominent settlers came.
With the turn of the century, Bellevue prospered as a farming community. The rich soil yielded bountiful harvests, and the residents sold their fruit and vegetables, ferried across Lake Washington to Seattle, then transported even farther after a Northern Pacific rail line came through in 1904.
Japanese immigrants, brought to Washington to clear and improve property claims, made the most of small plots they leased. They established a collective warehouse and soon produced the bulk of the strawberries and vegetables harvested in Bellevue. The town's agrarian success was celebrated with the first Strawberry Festival in 1925.
With a Bridge, a Suburb Emerges
The completion of the first bridge across Lake Washington in 1940 was a major event for Bellevue, bringing an influx of new residents. Unfortunately, after the United States entered World War II, the federal government sent the Japanese-Americans who had put the city on the agricultural map away to internment camps.
It was a great loss to the community, but new multitudes came to Bellevue. Bellevue Square, one of the first suburban shopping centers in the country, was built then. The opening of a Frederick & Nelson store at Bellevue Square in 1946 was celebrated with an orchestra and a radio broadcast.
Cityhood, then Skyscrapers
The City of Bellevue incorporated in 1953, with a former schoolhouse offered rent-free by the Veterans of Foreign Wars serving as city hall until 1960. The young city proceeded to annex neighboring areas, growing from an area of 4.7 square miles by Meydenbauer Bay to more than 31 square miles today. Annexation History
In the past two decades, the city has grown to skyscraper heights and shed its "suburban" status to become a thriving metropolis and a high-tech hub. Bellevue's gleaming downtown, which continues to grow dramatically, provides office space for thousands of professionals as well as condominiums and apartments for people who want to live in an urban setting.