Before Photoshop (by about 135 years) there was still an irresistible urge to improve a bit on reality. Here’s an extremely rare photograph of the Northern Pacific docks from about 1878. This was the end of the transcontinental railroad, the mythic place where rails met sails just five years after Chinese contract laborers pushed the railroad to tidewater on the Pacific Ocean. Tacoma got picked as the terminal location for the transcontinental in July 1873 and in the six months that followed hardened laborers pushed the rails across the Nisqually delta and burnt prairies to reach saltwater in December. That final stretch was known from the beginning as the Prairie Line and this view shows its conclusion. Tailing off into the distance, the Prairie Line wound back into a hillside city that was just taking form. It was a dream city, almost designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, aspiring to greatness but mostly just the kind of place that looked best in the imagination of illustrators and engravers who never saw a Western Red Cedar stump in their life. Pre Photoshop illustrators who probably figured a dormant volcano this close to a city had to be fiction.

MtTacoma 1878

Written by tacomahistory

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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