Early legends of the Island may have kept settlers away.
Legend has it that the Duwamish Indians, who lived in what would become the greater Seattle area, believed Mercer Island was inhabited by an evil spirit. Thus they largely stayed away from the Island except to gather wild berries in the daytime. Another story relates to the Duwamish belief that the Island sank into the lake each night and rose again in the morning.
Pioneers take their chances on the “sinking island” and begin to settle here.
Mercer Island was slow to attract settlers at first, a fact that must seem incredible today given the current real estate market. Regardless, early settlers came and went. In 1860, Mercer Island was named after Judge Thomas Mercer, one of the three Mercer brothers who were among the early settlers in the Seattle area. In 1885, Charles and Agnes Olds, the Island’s “first family,” settled on the Island. Shortly thereafter, other homesteaders began to establish themselves on the Island.
The population begins to boom as access to the Island becomes easier.
Near the turn of the century, a wealthy entrepreneur named C.C. Calkins built a very large hotel, the Calkins Hotel, on the west side of the Island. But after only a few years, Calkins’ fortunes changed and he had to sell the hotel. Fire destroyed it in 1908 and with it Calkins’ dreams of turning the Island into a fashionable resort.
Gradually, the Island’s population grew and steamers transported people and goods across Lake Washington. It wasn’t until 1940, when a bridge was built between Mercer Island and Seattle (the world’s largest concrete floating bridge), that the population began to boom. Before the bridge was completed, the population was about 1,200. A decade later it was 4,500, and by the time Mercer Island was incorporated into a city in 1960, it was 12,000.
Mercer Island continues to grow … and look toward the future.
In the 1980s, the Island’s connection to Seattle was replaced by a new floating bridge with two tunnels. Interstate 90 was trenched across the north end of the Island in the most expensive and environmentally creative stretch of interstate in the United States. With the new interstate, Mercer Island gained the 22-acre Park on the Lid, with playfields, tennis courts and parkland over the lanes of the interstate.
As the Puget Sound Region continues to adapt to growth, Mercer Island looks forward to Sound Transit Light Rail crossing the Island, stopping at the Mercer Island Station. It will provide both residents and visitors with a convenient environmentally friendly mode of transportation and make Mercer Island an even more convenient place to live, work and do business.