All Over the Map: Kellogg Island is a 19th-century time capsule

Jun 7, 2019, 6:02 AM | Updated: 8:26 am
A circa 1900 map showing the old salt marsh, part of which became Kellogg Island in the Duwamish River. (USGS) Modern map view of what's now Kellogg Island in the Duwamish River. (USGS)

It’s no exaggeration to say that Kellogg Island is my favorite place in all of Seattle.

I’ve never set foot on it, but I circled it once in a boat (thanks to the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance), and I try to spot it from above whenever I fly in and out of Sea-Tac.

Kellogg Island is in the Duwamish River, just east of the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 107 Park. This is just off of West Marginal Way, between Puget Way SW and SW Alaska Street, not far from the City of Seattle’s Herring’s House Park, and across the street from the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center.

What makes Kellogg Island so remarkable is that it is the most untouched part of what used to be the Duwamish River delta, before Harbor Island was created, and before what had been ancient tidal flats and salt marshes were turned into dry land and industrial area.

When the Duwamish Waterway was created in the 1890s, they dredged the channel right through part of a marsh. Somehow, and for some reason – and nobody’s sure why – they left a little seven-acre nub, with an elbow-shaped river channel between the nub and the west bank of the river.

Someone must have seen some commercial possibilities in the little nub, because sometime in the late 1930s, pilings were placed around its edges to create a dike, and fill dirt was dumped on it, creating the island that remains there now. Those old pilings are still there, and they’re still visible in many places.

This means that while Kellogg Island is a man-made creation, the little elbow-shaped channel that separates the island from the west bank is like a tiny ecological time capsule of what the Duwamish delta looked like before Europeans came and started “taming” what had been a wild river for millennia.

There were plans as recently as the 1970s to fill in the little elbow and build a public marina and/or industrial area on Kellogg Island, and the City of Seattle and Port of Seattle battled over its fate for many years before it became the protected habitat area that it is now.

Those battles are well-documented in old newspaper clippings, but the origins of the name of Kellogg Island are a bit of a mystery.

George Blomberg, Senior Environmental Program Manager for the Port of Seattle, told me Kellogg Island is open to the public, but it’s only accessible via canoe or kayak, and it is a protected habitat.

He also told me it was known as “Muddy Island” or “Mud Island” early in the 20th century. James Rasmussen, historian member of the Duwamish Tribe and executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, told me the same thing.

Blomberg is not sure when or why the Kellogg Island name was attached, but he thinks it might have been after the island was diked and filled, which would mean sometime around 1940 or so.

I reached out to several people I know in the history community, and nobody was able to definitively pin down Kellogg Island’s namesake. But, digging around in newspaper archives and old books, I was able to find two possibilities.

Gardner Kellogg

Gardner Kellogg was the city’s first paid chief after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, and he later became fire marshal, and served as president of a group called the Western Fire Chiefs. His sister was Sarah Kellogg Ferry, wife of Territorial Governor and first state governor Elisha P. Ferry.

Kellogg was an active member of the community in business and civic matters. He served on the first school board in Seattle in 1867, and he was also postmaster of Seattle. Gardner Kellogg and his brother David Kellogg also opened the first drugstore in Seattle in 1864, and David Kellogg later had a grocery store at First and Cherry.

Gardner Kellogg died on Mercer Island, back when they still called it “East Seattle,” in 1918 at age 79. Another brother named George Kellogg also lived in this area for many years.

Dr. John Coe Kellogg

Another possible namesake is Dr. John Coe Kellogg. He was a settler on Whidbey Island in the 1850s, but eventually moved to Seattle in the 1870s. He was known as the “Canoe Doctor,” because he paddled up and down Puget Sound, tending to ill people.

Dr. Kellogg also served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1889. His daughter married Rolland Denny, the youngest member of the pioneer group that landed at Alki in 1851. John Kellogg died in Seattle in 1902 at age 81.

In some ways, both of these possible Kellogg Island namesakes are too early to have been associated with the man-made island. There may be some more recent but otherwise unknown Kellogg who, for forgotten reasons, had his or her (okay, probably “his”) name attached to the former salt marsh nub.

Either way, while we may never be able to definitively confirm the source of the name, Kellogg Island remains a remarkable inadvertent ecological artifact that’s worth exploring or at least worth appreciating.

Depending how adventurous you feel, you could take a canoe trip there, or maybe have a picnic at Terminal 107 Park and behold Kellogg Island from across that little elbow-shaped part of the Duwamish River.

Of course, if the wind is right, you could just press your face against the window of the plane the next time you fly in or out of Sea-Tac Airport.

More from Feliks Banel

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All Over the Map: Kellogg Island is a 19th-century time capsule