Scene in Edmonds: The alleys of Edmonds
By Eric Brotman
What: The alleys of Edmonds
Where: Various locations in the Edmonds bowl (the representative photo is of an alleyway running south to north from Elm Street to the Pine Street Playfield, between 6th Avenue South and ‘A’ Avenue South.)
The narrow and weathered alleys of Edmonds endure as unusual urban roadways, where the traffic of neighbors and pedestrians can be greater than that of strangers and cars.
Some alleys are paved, though in many spots the pavement has crumbled. Other sections have remained, or reverted to, grass-edged beds of dirt and gravel.
The above photograph, taken approximately eight-tenths of a mile from the center of downtown Edmonds, could easily pass as a rural scene, and many residents with property along the quieter alleyways seem to embrace the spirit of a bygone time in their approaches to landscaping and decorative choice.
No history of alleys in Edmonds has been written, so their original purpose is unclear and often in dispute.
In interviews conducted in the spring of 2010, several residents of Edmonds shared their thoughts and memories of our local alleys.
LeRoy Middleton, a retired civil engineer and surveyor, was 85 in March of 2010 when he unfurled a 1910 surveyor’s map of Edmonds in his living room. Between nearly every parallel set of streets an alley was indicated.
When asked if the alleys might have been deliberately planned for pick-up and delivery vehicles to use, Middleton was doubtful. Such usage would have come only in later years, he explained, because “some of the oldest alleys were just grass, trees, and rocks.”
He believed the first alley in Edmonds was planned by a developer who simply thought it looked good, or wanted to give people another place to walk at a time when extended walking was a common activity (Middleton noted alleys are legally considered “public ways”).
He went on to say successive developers who routinely copied the design feature effectively would have made it traditional. “It’s the way they did things in those days,” Middleton said with a shrug.
Mildred Kelly Engels was a few months shy of her 95th birthday in March of 2010 when she reminisced about the alleys of Edmonds. For 20 years, between 1936 and 1956, she lived along what has become perhaps the busiest alley in downtown Edmonds. It’s the one parallel to, and sandwiched between 3rd and 4th Avenues, running south to north between Dayton and Main Streets. Customers patronizing any of the three banks and several restaurants in the vicinity often drive through the alley on their way to a convenient municipal parking area.
Engels remembered the alleyway mostly as “very quiet and peaceful.” As a young woman, she would see the alley narrow down to a pathway as she approached her back door. Farther along the way, the path widened into an alley again. “Everyone living along the alley kept their backyards beautiful,” Engels said. “Some of the other alleys in Edmonds were just wide and rutted grassy areas. They were very pleasant to walk through.”
Jane Yost Sorensen, born in Edmonds in 1918, lived along an alley off Alder street between 6th and 7th Avenues South. As she recalled, “The alley was used for all sorts of things,” when she was 5 or 6. Coal deliveries for the home furnace were made in the alleyway, as were deliveries of milk.
“Occasionally,” Sorensen said, “someone came by with a horse and trailer to pick up the garbage. It was so nice to have everything picked up in back, out of sight. The convenience was great.
“Our chicken coop was out there, too. Other kids in the neighborhood would want to see the chickens if they didn’t have any of their own.
“We knew everyone in every home along the alley. We were just plain neighborly.”
In 2013, a number of alleys remain for walkers to enjoy while imagining what life was like when the public ways were first laid out. The City of Edmonds maintains an official street map at the City Engineer’s office. It shows all the current alleyways accessible to the public.