There's little question that Seattle was put on the map by the Klondike Gold Rush. The man credited with setting off that rush, George W. Carmack, spent the last dozen years of his life living in a big Colonial Revival home in what is now Seattle's Central District. The National Park Service says the George Carmack House is fit for the National Register, but it may be too late. A for sale banner hangs on it today touting the property as a 4,800-foot lot ripe for redevelopment.
The Carmack House sits on a tree-filled lot on the corner of 16th Avenue and East Jefferson Street in what is known as Squire Park. It's just behind the old Providence hospital, which is now part of Swedish. It's isolated now, surrounded by parking lots and the sprawling medical complex. This part of the Central District has seen some gentrification but also a fair amount of demolition — not for condos, but for parking lots near Swedish. Some nice old homes and bungalows have been gobbled up over the years.
The Carmack House's owner passed away in 2006, and the heirs have put it on the market. The asking price is $1.25 million, and it's within the master plan for the Swedish complex. The property is described as "a prime location for redevelopment" and as "ideal" for a medical building. There is no mention of the building's historic association in online information provided by the agent, Paragon Real Estate. The description on their Web site merely states that there is "an old residence" on the land.
The Carmack House is white and dirty — it has definitely seen better times. Vintage Seattle has been written about it, and last spring they got some wonderful pictures of it, including the interior. But it is restorable, and some have suggested that it might make a great "associated property" for Seattle's Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. It's a bit far from Pioneer Square, but there's no question about the importance of its historic association to both Seattle and American (not to mention Canadian) history.
Gold rushes are often sparked by a eureka moment, as when California's kicked off with a find at Sutter's Mill. Carmack is credited — some say wrongly — with being the Klondike's Sutter. He and some of his Indian relatives discovered gold on a tributary of the Klondike River in the Yukon in 1896. He may not have picked up the first nugget, but he apparently filed the first claim. Word of the discovery arrived in Seattle in 1897, and the rush was on. (Aside: One of the gold rushers that surged through Seattle was Mossback's maternal grandfather, William E. Haseltine.)
Carmack, unlike most sourdoughs, made a fortune in the Klondike and engaged in a number of other mining enterprises, including coal mining here. Carmack settled in Seattle in 1900 and married a woman from Olympia. He lived in the house between 1910 and his death in 1922.
Next year, Seattle will be celebrating the centennial of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909, our first world's fair. The Carmack House was built during the boom years that followed the Gold Rush and AYP. Back then, Seattle's claim to fame wasn't its Pacific Rim connections (the word "Pacific" in the expo's name wasn't part of the original conception), it was the fact that we were the "Gateway to Alaska" and the last frontier. The Klondike Gold Rush boom gave us our first millionaires and was the catalyst for the city we live in today.
One can sympathize with a heirs that might want to sell an empty old fixer-upper to capitalize on increased real estate values. Maybe a buyer interested in restoration can be found — but first they have to know that a piece of history is in jeopardy. It would be a shame to kick off the AYP Centennial by losing a potential landmark tied to the man who gave us some much to celebrate more than a century later.