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

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Sunday, June 25, 2023

Lock Wall Roses at Small Lock Operating House Four

 Researched and written by Stephen Munro, gardener at the Chittenden Locks.

Teddy Roosevelt with rose in lapel

Operating House Four sits adjacent the small locks and is where lock attendants control
the valves and gates for those locks. Two large rose bushes seemingly burst out of the
desolate concrete of the lock wall monolith on the west and east sides of this structure.
The one on the west side is nearly thornless with large very fragrant double purple
flowers. The other, on the east side has large double pinks flowers that are also very,
very fragrant. Both appear to bloom seemingly all growing season from late-May to


Rose Bush on western side



Rose in detailed picture

Rosebush on eastern side

Despite their large size and strong sweet fragrance there ubiquitous yet unidentified
roses lock wall roses were rather taken for granted. They simply endured where they
were planted. The oral history among lock wall personnel is that the roses are a fixture
and have just always been there. There were also tales of lock attendants clipping the
roses to give to ladies on vessels locking through or visiting the lock wall to watch the

These roses were occasionally pruned and dead headed by gardeners, garden volunteers,
and sometimes lock attendants that was the extent of thought and effort put into their
existence and upkeep.

Yet, the enduring appeal and excitement of the Chittenden Locks is that there is hidden
or forgotten significance to almost every feature, even these roses. The elements that
make this possible is firmly rooted in the interesting origins of the locks planning and

Indeed, the locks setting and design, purpose and function, period of planning and
construction, leafy botanical adornment, and National Historic District status are all
elements that make it unique among U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works projects.
These elements combine in grand fashion to give this place its remarkable and distinct

Tantalizingly, these elements also combine in the heretofore unknown or forgotten story
of the roses at the small locks. These roses and their historical context provide both a
living representation of and allegory of the character and distinction of these locks. The
names of these roses, their age, and significance were waiting to be rediscovered. The
catalyst for just such an endeavor occurred in 2021.

Contemporary Corps of Engineers critical infrastructure engineering regulations and
pamphlets are clear that dams are to be free of any vegetation growing in, on, or around
these structures. Growing roots and cavities on critical infrastructure will undermine the
integrity of the superstructure.


Indeed, the roses growing on the superstructure of the locks does not at all conform to
current engineering regulations. During routine inspections of the superstructure of the
locks during 2021 Corps engineers floated the proposition that perhaps the roses should
be removed in compliance with regulations..

Project personnel were in shock at the prospect. Many lock wall personnel, park rangers,
and gardeners were dismayed at the prospect that these roses could be removed. Yet, in
order to save these roses their probable age, identity, and significance needed to be
investigated in order to have a chance to justify their preservation.

Surprisingly, a black and white photograph of the locks from 1920 shows dark clumps
and shadows on the west and east sides of Operating House Four that are obviously
plants. Another photo from 1944 that was taken to capture a B-29 being locked through
on a barge shows even more foliage espaliered on the north side of the structure as well.
Friends of the Ballard Locks entered the fray discovering that post cards of the locks of
the 1920s also show vegetation growing there. It seems that there was always vegetation
growing on the west and east side of this operating house, yet no photograph clearly and
definitively clearly showed that this vegetation were roses.

B-29 being towed on barge through large lock



Early postcard showing plant outside guardhouse.



The roses have a rugged yet classic beauty to them that appears timeless yet not exactly
modern. Their identification would possibly confirm this and also provide substantial
circumstantial evidence that these roses could possibly be one hundred years old or

Indeed, upon their identification the roses were venerable and distinct.
The purple rose on the west side of Operating House Four is a hybrid perpetual rose
named “Reine des Violettes” or the “Queen of Violets” bred by M. Mille-Mallet in France
in 1860. The pink rose on the east side of Operating House Four is a tea rose named
“Duchesse de Brabant” bred in France by M. H.B. Bern√®de in 1857.
*1, *2, *3

The identification of the roses bolstered the circumstantial evidence that they were
planted at a very early period. Hybrid perpetuals were immensely popular in the
Victorian Era yet fell out of favor as hybrid tea roses rose to prominence in the 20 th
Century. Tea roses like hybrid perpetuals also fell out of favor to hybrid tea roses that
used the bloodlines of tea roses in their development.

The “Duchesse de Brabant” also possesses a significance that is too much of coincidence
to indeed be one. This rose was the favorite rose of President Theodore Roosevelt and
was one he often wore in his lapel.
*5 President Teddy Roosevelt also authorized the initial
funding for construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1907.

1 Crockett, James Underwood, Rosse. Roses.Time-Life Books, 1971.
2 Reine des Violettes-Rogue Valley Roses, Accessed 28 June 2023.
3 Duchesse de Brabant-Rogue Valley Roses, Accessed 28 June 2023.
4 Crockett, James Underwood, Rosse. Roses.Time-Life Books, 1971.
5 Ibid.
6 Givens, Linda Holden, “James A. Moore is authorized to build a canal in Seattle connecting Puget Sound to Lake Washington by a bill signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 11, 1906.” Accessed 28 June 2023

These two roses then, likely could have been planted in or around 1920 due to their
ancient lineage and popularity in the 19 th Century. It is likely that the “Duchess de
Brabant” was selected and planted at Operating House Four as an homage to President
Teddy Roosevelt.

In this way the roses also an allegory to the locks as a project that was planned and
constructed in the 20 th Century yet with features and elements that owe more to popular
elements of the 19 th Century. The roses and the project popular and built before the
Great Wars of the 20 th Century during a shoulder season of history.

Indeed, these roses had a history and a significance that perhaps was too familiar to be
formally documented yet were simply waiting for us to notice them thoughtfully.



Can you see a rose bush outside the operating house on the left side of photo?

 ‘Reine des Violettes’ Hybrid Perpetual, Mille-Mallet, France, 1860

Of the hundreds of Hybrid Perpetuals that were once grown, there are now only a few left.The ancestor of ‘Reine des Violettes’ is a seedling of ‘Pope Pius IX. The flowers of ‘Reine des Violettes’ are about 10 cm tall and grow in dense clusters on short stems above a collar of dull gray-green leaves. The bush is large and graceful with very few thorns. The main flowering is in summer, with a repeat in autumn.


Other names are Comtesse de Labarathe and Comtesse Ouwaroff. Parents are unknown. This large, fragrant rose named for the Duke of Brabant of Belgium was introduced in France by Bernede in 1857. President Theodore Roosevelt often wore a blossom from Duchesse de Brabant in his lapel.

On June 11, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt (1859-1919) signs an act, passed unanimously by Congress, that grants Seattle developer James Alexander Moore (1861-1929) authorization to build a canal along the federal government right of away connecting Puget Sound with Lake Washington via Lake Union.


Roosevelt with his favorite lapel decoration.



The top picture of Theodore Roosevelt was found on, has an original copyright date of 1906 and is in the public domain.

 The picture of the B-29 is from the US Army Corps of Engineers files as is the picture of the large log raft being towed through the large lock.

The last picture of Theodore Roosevelt at his desk is from the Hutton Archive/Getty Images.

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