Preserving the History of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Virginia V Cruise

MOHAI and the Virginia V Foundation teamed up to provide a recent cruise down a portion of the ship canal, out through the locks and back again. This was a great opportunity to have a few hours sailing on board a historic steam ship and see some familiar sights from a new angle. The tour sold out quickly and the next offering in August is also sold out. It may be worthwhile to contact MOHAI to inquire about a mailing list, but there were very few no shows for the initial cruise, so we can always hope there will be more offerings of similar cruises next year. This is all being done as a cooperative effort to celebrate the centennial of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Chittenden Locks. Numerous groups and historical societies are meeting and planning events to mark the 100th year anniversary so keep an eye out for other centennial events. It should also be mentioned that funding for this event, and others to follow, was in part, provided by 4 Culture, so a big thank you goes to them for helping make the event a success. Members of Friends of the Ballard Locks were on hand to offer some historical information and answer questions. Look for them on the next cruise, and bring your questions or your own family history as it pertains to the ship canal.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Virginia V Cruise Opportunities


This summer marks the beginning of a year-long centennial celebration of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Hop on board the historic vessel Virginia V for a journey through the Ballard Locks with historians from Friends of the Ballard Locks sharing the history and legacy of this engineering achievement. MOHAI will have hands-on activities for children and a selection of beverages and chips will be available for purchase.

There will be two opportunities to join this adventure: Sunday July 10 and Sunday August 14. Guests will board the vessel on Lake Union at 12:30 p.m. and return to the dock at 3:30 p.m. Visit for further information and to make your reservations.

This program is produced in partnership with the Virginia V Foundation, MOHAI and Friends of the Ballard Locks, with generous support from:

This is a great opportunity to enjoy a  rare cruise aboard a truly historic vessel and ask questions about the locks and ship canal!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

100 Years Ago


If you were visiting the locks in May of 1916 this is what you would have seen.

  1. This view taken from the railroad bridge shows the completed large lock with all the gates kept open to allow the tidal flow into Salmon Bay. The small lock is not yet done, there are still cofferdams at both ends so work can continue within the lock. The slope west of the administration building has been terraced as we see it today.

  1. On the south side of the canal work is progressing on the spillway dam with the spillway and the lower apron about half completed, the dam will be finished in about 3 months.

  1. This photo is taken from the Fremont bridge, the newly dug Fremont canal heads westward toward the shingle mills at the head of Salmon Bay. The lock site is further west in Salmon Bay, in 10 weeks the gates of the locks will be closed to flood Salmon Bay to its current height of 20 feet above sea level.

Photos: Corps of Engineers             Display: Friends of the Ballard Locks

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Summer Concerts Are Coming

Plan ahead for the summer concerts at the Chittenden Locks this summer. Use the link at the right to see the announced schedule for concerts beginning May 29. Yet another reason to visit the locks this summer. Read below for the schedule or find the link to the 2016 Summer Schedule to the right.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lake Washington Ship Canal

Here are a few of the images we have of the canal taken before and during construction. Hopefully we'll have much more to add along with whatever dates and descriptions we have for them.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lake Washington Ship Canal Centennial

Members of regional history organizations have joined together to plan events and displays to commemorate the centennial of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Watch for this Making the Cut logo in local publications, libraries, etc. highlighting the events and construction milestones culminating in the centennial of the locks July 4, 2017.

The artwork was created by Stephen Schildbach, who incorporated many ideas and suggestions from the committee working on the Ship Canal Centennial. While impossible to include every suggestion, and submitting many rounds of proofs, this logo was chosen as being the most representative of the committee's main goals in a logo. Much thanks for his patience and creativity.

4Culture is also to be thanked for their funding and support in this project and other upcoming events. Take part in your local history and look for events celebrating the 100 years the canal has been a part of the area!

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Article researched and written by Susan Connole
First water entering lock chamber

Lock chamber being filled.

February 2, 1916…

January 31, 1916 started out like any other cold, damp winter day in the city. Then mid-morning it started to snow, it kept coming down all day and on into the night. The storm continued steadily for 2 days: schools were closed, streetcar service was shut down and a snow slide closed the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Stampede Tunnel, halting train service across the Cascades.

By early afternoon on February 2 the wet snow was so deep it collapsed the roof of the West Seattle Christian Church, and several hours later the dome of St. James Cathedral crashed down under the weight of the heavy snow. The storm left Seattle with 3 feet of snow on the ground.

But over at the government locks in Ballard the workers were focused on something else. The cement work of the large lock was completed and the miter gates installed, it was time to open the valves and admit water into the chamber for the very first time. In this photo taken just after noon on February 2, you can see the water coming from the filling tunnels at the floor of the lock, notice the staff on the upstream gate watching as the water pushes into the snow.

There must have been a sense of jubilation and pride that after decades of politics and planning- and 5 years of construction- it worked! Perhaps this group photo was a celebratory one, Chief Engineer Major J. B. Cavanaugh and his staff on the steps of the administration building on that momentous day (Cavanaugh is third from right in hat and glasses.) The Engineering Department workboat Orcas did a trial lockage the next day and the lock was then in operation. The small lock went into operation July 25 and an informal opening celebration was held August 3, 1916, the official dedication was held on July 4, 1917.

Sources:, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Carl S. English, Jr.: The Man Behind the Ballard Locks Gardens

By Sara Peterson 


A young Carl English
Carl and District Engineer Colonel Eineigl


The gardens at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks—or as many people call them, the Ballard Locks—might not be the often-photographed and popular gathering place they are today if it wasn't for Carl S. English, Jr., the gardens' namesake. English was a budding botanist even in his formative years, and his lifelong love for and fascination with plants and flora can be seen in every tree and flower that decorates the locks.

Carl S. English, Jr. was born on October 22, 1904, and grew up on his family's farm near Camas, Washington. His green thumb most likely came from his mother, who took care of the farm's many houseplants and garden flowers. Carl made his own foray into the world of plants at age 16, when he built a 16-by-50-foot greenhouse using his own money and with very little help.

A high-school botany course solidified English's interest in the subject, and he eventually enrolled at the State College of Washington (now Washington State University) to become a botany specialist. It was while he was in Pullman, Washington, that English met his future wife, Edith Hardin, at the school's herbarium. She was a zoology major herself, but was just as interested in botany as Carl was. They were also both students of Dr. Harold St. John, a botany professor who later taught at the University of Hawaii.

English graduated from college in 1929 with a degree in botany, and he and Edith moved to Portland, Oregon. While there, English did landscaping work with the Swiss Floral Company. In addition, he and Edith maintained a small seed and plant business of their own, focusing on plants native to the Pacific Northwest. 

Aerial view on locks grounds and Ballard industry in background 1928

The Englishes moved north to Seattle, Washington, in 1931, and that November, Carl began working with the Corps of U.S. Engineers as an assistant horticulturist for the then-called Government Locks (now the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks). English would eventually become the locks' main horticulturist. He and Edith also brought their growing plant and seed business with them from Portland, as it was quite successful in its own right.

With such an interest in so many plant varieties, English felt compelled to apply his expertise and enthusiasm to the Ballard Locks gardens. The gardens' look had changed very little since the locks first opened in 1917. Original plantings for the gardens had come from materials donated by the Seattle Park Development group, and mainly consisted of a few shrubs. In fact, before Carl came along, the main duty of the groundkeepers was mowing the lawn.

By 1940, English had been placed in charge of the gardens, and starting then he made it his responsibility to build the gardens into something special. Little by little, he replaced many of the original plants with ones he had grown himself from seeds. It was actually quite challenging to find plants that would thrive or even grow on the grounds, due to poor drainage over a lot of the area. But English and his wealth of knowledge were up to the task.

Carl S. English, Jr., horticulturist at the locks.  11 April 1962

He sought to transform the gardens into a showcase for all sorts of trees, shrubs, and plants. Thanks to his seed and plant business, Carl had access to a variety of plants from nearly all parts of the globe, and at virtually no cost. The Englishes had their own seeds and plants to contribute to the project as well that they had collected on vacations throughout the western part of the continent. Plus, they had a lively seed exchange with foreign botanical gardens and with friends who shared an interest in plants.

A small sampling of the plants and flowers throughout the garden.

As Carl built up the gardens, he used small greenhouses at the locks as temporary homes for the hundreds of plants he grew from seed and tested in the garden environment. Under Carl's direction and dedication, the gardens eventually flourished into a haven for botanists and plant lovers from around the world. And, of course, they became a popular gathering place that many locals and visitors still enjoy today.

English loved sharing his expertise and knowledge with anyone who showed interest. In 1969, he put together a free list for visitors of the plants in the locks gardens at that time, plants he had cultivated and tested to determine their ability to survive in the northwest. And he always had time to answer questions from visitors or summer helpers. University classes, arboretum units, garden clubs, and other groups could sign up for free tours of the gardens led by English himself, though these hour-long tours were so popular that reservations usually needed to be made a year in advance.

Outside of the locks, Carl and Edith were extremely active in the community of plant lovers. They offered once-a-week classes out of their home on horticulture or botany. In the summer, they would either take their regular seed-collecting trips, or else accompany horticulturists and botanists on mountain field trips to help identify plants the visitors wanted to study.

The English house was known for its library of horticultural and botanical books, which the Englishes happily let Garden Club members use. Both Carl and Edith were members of the American Rock Garden Society's northwestern unit, and the group gave the Englishes an award in 1966 that recognized the many contributions they had made in the field of plants. Carl was also a member of the Men's Garden Club of America, the American Horticultural Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Club, and the Alpine Garden Society of England, plus he was a fellow with the Royal Horticultural Societies of Kew, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Lieutenant Colonel Allan P. Nesbitt presenting the Outstand Performance Award to Carl S. English, Jr.
July 31 1967

To honor his tireless work both at the locks and with plant communities around the world, Carl was named 1969's outstanding civil servant of military agencies by the Seattle Federal Executive Board. But perhaps an even greater honor was bestowed on Carl on December 10, 1974. That's when a bronze plaque was erected at the entrance of the locks gardens, dedicating and naming the gardens after Carl.

Plaque dedication ceremony.

English had retired from his position at the locks shortly before the gardens were named for him. But despite no longer working at the gardens officially, Carl's influence was ingrained everywhere. His dream of botanical splendor had become a reality, so much so that when Carl retired, experimenting with rare plants as further possible additions for the gardens petered out for a while. According to Walter Lyon, the head gardener for the locks after Carl's retirement, English's vision for the gardens was pretty much complete, and no one saw any need to mess with it.

About two years after retiring, on August 10, 1976, Carl S. English, Jr. suffered what proved to be a fatal heart attack near the parking lot of the locks. But decades later, his gardens still flourish. And though updates have been made to some of the plants Carl introduced to the grounds, his vision of the gardens as a location that plant lovers of all levels could enjoy is still alive and strong, as he continues to look on from the dedication plaque that bears his likeness.

Find a link to the Carl English Photo Gallery on the right side of the page or select this link

Carl English photo gallery

and enjoy.


American Horticulturist. Summer 1972. "The Garden at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle." 29–31.

Dress, William J. "Plantsmen in Profile, III: Carl S. English, Jr." Baileya vol. 5 (Sept. 1957): 141–46.

Epstein, Harold. "Mr. and Mrs. Carl S. English, Jr." American Rock Garden Society Bulletin vol. 24, no. 3 (July 1966): 75–8.

Koykka, LoAnne B. "A History of the Gardens at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks." Paper submitted for landscape architecture class (Landscape Architecture 331 taught by Professor Norman Johnston) at the University of Washington. December 1, 1969.

Kruckeberg, Arthur R. "The Gardens at the Government Locks in Seattle." University of Washington Arboretum Bulletin, Published by the Arboretum Foundation vol. 40, no. 1 (1977): 25–8.

Lyon, Walter L. "The Contribution of Carl English." Compilation by one-time head gardener at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. February 1, 1978.

Meyer, Dick (submitted by). "Memorial Note on Carl S. English." Obituary notice. August 13, 1976.

Roberson, Frances K. "Carl S. English, Jr.: October 22, 1904–August 11, 1976." University of Washington Arboretum Bulletin vol. 40, no. 1 (1977). Published by the Arboretum Foundation. 24.