Watch: Searching for the 125-year-old Interlaken bike path

In 1896, Seattle city crews and a group of volunteers worked together to build a bike path from downtown to Lake Washington. They made it quickly, following the terrain around the north end of Capitol Hill to find the easiest route. They cleared the skinny path and dug as needed to make it mostly flat, then they covered it with cinders and ash. For less than a decade, biking out on this path was a very popular activity, and it helped promote the city’s first major bike boom. But by 1905, most of the route had either vanished or was being developed into a boulevard.

One of the most iconic sections was through what is now Interlaken Park. It was not unheard of for people to encounter a bear while biking through the deep woods of Interlaken, and much of the route of the old path was immortalized when the Olmsted Brothers used it as the guide for Interlaken Boulevard.

But a path paved with ashes and often routed through private property did not last long. Property development closed some sections while nature took care of others. Still, I was curious if I could find any hints today that the old path ever existed. Jonathan, a Seattle Bike Blog reader, sent me an old hand-drawn plot city engineers used to construct the 1896 path. I traced that plot into a Google Map that I could follow on my phone, and then set out to follow it.

Did I find the old path? Watch the video to find out.

Old photo of a woman with a bike on a winding path.

Woman with bicycle on the Lake Washington bicycle path, 1899-1900. Photo by John P. Soule.

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14 Responses to Watch: Searching for the 125-year-old Interlaken bike path

  1. Cam Solomon says:

    I love this. I’ve def biked some pieces of this.

  2. Gary Yngve says:

    Very cool! I’d definitely prefer encountering a bear over a speeding texting law-breaking motorist!

  3. Art V. says:

    Nice. Interesting history. The question is: Why didn’t they save it and why did it last only 10 years?

    One of the answers to this was the tremendous population growth of Seattle during this time.

    And the social concept that development (and making money) is everything with no consideration for the value of things that are being destroyed. Unfortunately, that philosophy still runs most communities today.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      You’ll have to read my book (which won’t be out for a while) to learn more :-)

      In the book I talk a lot about the development of this path. But I will say that spurring development was part of the reason they built the path in the first place. Its demise was sort of part of the plan. And the primary Interlaken-area developments (led by the Boyer family) were also among the city’s first to have racist purchasing rules to make sure only white people could buy and live there. You never have to dig far to find the ugly side of history.

  4. Janet Heineck says:

    Thanks for this!

  5. Ott Toomet says:

    Thanks, this was interesting! I know about the path from Paul Dorpat’s books, but I have never seen it on a plan. I always thought it followed Interlaken east of 23rd and continued on Arboretum drive, and I always wondered why did they made it downhill there just to climb again. Do you want to upload the plan you show in the video?

    On a different note–what I like with the Interlaken boulevard, and probably would have liked with most of the old bike path, is how it follows the terrain so it is mostly level. I’d love to see new street planning to take terrain into account in a similar fashion, it is just so much nicer to bike on such a flat streets.

  6. Don Brubeck says:

    That is some great amateur urban archeology, Tom! Nice work. When do you think the book will be out?

  7. Tom Parsons says:

    very interesting! Excited to see the book at the end of the path (:

  8. Skylar says:

    Thanks, Tom, this was so cool! It definitely will make me think even more about the history of Interlaken. :)

  9. Jon Dawkins says:

    I agree with you about the location of the halfway house though some published accounts place it at where 19th comes up from Boyer to connect with Interlaken. You have the location correct from what I’ve been able to determine.

    Art V asks why they didn’t save it. An Olmsted map that was hand annotated in 1904 says that the building had burned down.

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