Downtown Renton

The Downtown Renton tour incorporates approximately one square mile and covers markers 2, 7, 9 through 14, 16, 17 and 19.

The tour highlights some of Renton's earliest industries:

  • Renton Coal Company
  • Renton Clay Works
  • Snoqualmie Falls Power Company substation.

 History Tile Locations Map #2

2. The City of Renton's Donation Land Claim Act


Piazza Park near stream headwaters, SE side

History Tile #2 Donation land claimThe federal government passed the Donation Land Claim Act in 1850 in order to encourage settlement in Oregon Territory. It provided the means for a settler to establish a claim of 160 acres.

When the first settlers arrived in what was to eventually become Renton, the Cedar River joined the Black River as it left Lake Washington. The rich land at the confluence of these rivers became the land claims of the first settlers:

  • Henry Tobin, 1853
  • Erasmus Smithers, 1856
  • William Smith, 1856
  • Christian Clymer, 1863

7. Renton Coal Company


Benson Road, near the location of mine entrance

SLide number 7 Renton Coal COmpanyIn 1873 Erasmus Smithers discovered a coal seam while exploring streams. Smithers was short of cash, but backers were quick to come forward with financial assistance. One of these backers was Captain William Renton, one of the most successful businessmen in the territory.

Captain Renton and his partners were looking for a profitable venture involving the movement of timber or coal along a proposed independent railroad route. With Captain Renton's financial backing, Smithers organized the Renton Coal Company with Thomas Morris, engineer for the railroad, and Charles Shattuck, president of the Seattle Coal Co., in Newcastle. The mine entrance was on the north side of Renton Hill. The town, which incorporated in 1901, was named for Captain Renton to honor his financial contributions in this business venture.

9. S&WW Railroad


SW Corner of 4th and Burnett

History Tile number 9 Seattle and Wlaa Wall railroadLess than two months after Erasmus Smithers went public with his coal find, the town of Seattle learned that the Northern Pacific Railroad had selected Commencement Bay rather than Elliott Bay as the terminus of the transcontinental route.

Stunned by the news, town leaders decided to start their own railroad, organized as the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad (S&WW) with Capt. William Renton as a trustee. The founders felt that an independent railroad could be used to transport timber or coal (both found in the Renton area) would be a successful endeavor.

In February 1877, after a lengthy construction phase, the narrow-gauge track reached Renton. In March, a shiny new locomotive, the A. A. Denny, steamed out of Seattle to the Renton depot to a crowd of cheering onlookers. The depot was located at the foot of Mill Street, and was a crude structure supported by two huge fir stumps.

10. Alki Saloon


SW Corner of 3rd and Main

History Tile #10 Alki SaloonBuilt in 1881, the Alki Saloon was typical of the saloons in early Renton. Generally saloons were the domain of working men who worked all week at mines, mills, and logging camps. On Saturday nights they would head to town for fun at the saloon.

11. First Presbyterian Church


Corner of Mill and Beacon

Reverend George Whitworth was called the father of Presbyterianism in Washington. He founded at least 20 churches, including Renton's first.

History Tile number 11 First Presbyterian ChurchThe First Presbyterian Church was organized in the home of David Parker on December 13, 1885. Churchgoers later built the original church structure, a white frame building with a steeple and bell that overlooked the town. As the city grew and the building became inadequate, a brick church was built in 1924, and an even larger church was constructed in 1960.

12.Central School


NW Corner of Fifth and Main

Tile number 12 Central SChoolBy the 1890s, the school population had outgrown the one-room school built in 1871 on the NE corner of South Fourth and Main Street. In 1892 an elegant two-story, seven-room building with a concrete foundation and a bell tower was built on Fifth Avenue between Wells Avenue and Main Street.

Many citizens thought the school was far too large and would never be used. Despite their predictions, 110 students attended the first year. The school's first principal was George Conklin whose salary in 1899 was $80 a month. He taught the school's first high school classes, and the first high school class graduated in 1904.

13. Snoqualmie Falls Power Co. Substation


SW corner of Third and Mill Avenue

History Tile #13 Snoqualmie Falls Power Co. SubstationIn 1896 the Seattle and Rainier Beach Railway (S&RB), an electric streetcar line beginning in Seattle, reached Main Street in Renton. The advent of the S&RB introduced Renton to a new technology - the electric power plant.

By 1898 the Seattle Electric Company had completed the world's first underground hydroelectric generating facility at Snoqualmie Falls. A year later the power from its generators was sent to Seattle via the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company Substation. Built at Third and Mill, it was the town's first brick building. Although at the time most of the power was used to run the S&RB, eventually it supplied power to the mines.

14. Renton Clay Works


Cedar River Trail near the dog park

Tile number 14 Renton Clay WorksIn 1901 two California entrepreneurs, James Doyle and J. R. Miller, discovered that the shale overlaying the Renton mine's coal seams produced a high-quality clay. Tests indicated the material would make excellent brick, and with Seattle investor E. J. Mathews, Doyles and Miller organized the Renton Clay Works.

They developed a plant on the south bank of the Cedar River that was briefly the largest producer of paving brick in the world. In addition, the Renton plant specialized in fire brick, terra-cotta, and decorative terra-cotta. In 1905 the plant was purchased by Denny Fire Brick Company and the entire company was renamed the Denny-Renton Clay & Coal Company.

16. Renton's First City Hall


On Wells, between Second and Third

Tile number 16 Renton's first city hallRenton was incorporated as a fourth class town on September 6, 1901. Renton's first Mayor was Dr. Abijah Ives Beach. The first town offices were opened in Tonkin's merchandise and grocery store, and remained there until the town purchased property on Wells Avenue between Second and Third Streets in 1908.

City government functioned there for 50 years until all city offices, including the police department, were moved in 1968 to the building next to the Renton Public Library on Mill Avenue adjacent to the Cedar River. In 2000 City Hall moved to its present location at 1055 South Grady Way.

17. Doctor Bronson's Hospital


SE Corner of Main and Second

Tile #17 Doctor Bronson's HospitalDr. Adolph Bronson graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco, California, in 1904. After working for a year as an intern, he came to Renton in 1905. Accidents in coal mines and logging camps were common at the time and his practice grew rapidly.

By 1911 he needed more room and had a two-story hospital building constructed. Dr. Bronson's Hospital originally had 15 rooms and an operating room. It was enlarged to include a larger waiting room and a brick front in 1927. Dr. Bronson practiced for 30 years and owned the only general hospital until the government-sponsored Renton General Hospital opened in 1943.

19. Grand Theatre


Wells, between Second and Third

Tile number 19 The Grand TheatreThe property on which the Grand Theatre was built was purchased by Frank Connelly. The theatre opened in 1916. Frank's wife, Marie, got the show underway promptly at 7 p.m. every Saturday night. She would walk down the aisle clothed in a silk dress and a fur coat, smile and wave to her friends, and began to play the piano until the main event started.

In the years between 1916 and 1925, all the popular movies of the era were shown at the Grand.

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