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Encyclopedia > First Hill, Seattle, Washington

First Hill is a neighborhood in Seattle, Washington, named for the hill on which it is located. The hill, in turn, is so named for being the first hill one encounters traveling east from downtown Seattle toward Lake Washington. First Hill is bounded on the west by Interstate 5, beyond which is Downtown, on the north by E. Pike Street, beyond which is Capitol Hill, and on the south by Yesler Way, beyond which is the International District. Its eastern limit, beyond which is the Central District, is indeterminate, but has been said to lie anywhere from 12th to 18th Avenues. (The area between 12th and 20th Avenues is also known as Squire Park.)


First Hill rose to popularity in the 1890s as a location close enough to downtown for convenience, but far enough out to offer a sense of retreat for the wealthier residents of Seattle. Among the elite to live on First Hill at that time were local judge Cornelius Hanford, successful meatpacker Charles Frye (whose private art collection is now open to the public at First Hill's Frye Art Museum), contractor Morgan Carkeek (for whom Carkeek Park is named) and William Boeing, founder of the Boeing Company. Noted photographer Imogen Cunningham and her husband Roi Partridge lived on First Hill in a boarding house in the 1910s until the residents of the house were evicted and the property converted into a hospital. More recently, local philanthropist and businesswoman Patsy Collins resided in a First Hill condominium.


The first official King County Courthouse was built on First Hill in 1889-1890; the steep climb to the courthouse from downtown legal offices caused such frequent and vociferous complaints that Seattle lawyers nicknamed the area "Profanity Hill." The courthouse, constructed on the corner of 7th Avenue and Alder Street, was quickly outgrown, which, along with the loud dissatisfaction of local attorneys, led the county to move the courthouse off First Hill in 1916.


The hill is also known as "Pill Hill" because, in addition to being the current home of three major health care facilities (Harborview Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center/First Hill, and Virginia Mason Medical Center; four if Swedish's Providence campus is included in the neighborhood), it was also once the location of the Maynard, Seattle General, and Doctors Hospitals (all of which merged into Swedish) as well as Cabrini Hospital.


First Hill has been home to Seattle University, a private Jesuit university, since 1898. Also located on the hill are Northwest School and Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences--two highly regarded private schools--and the Catholic O'Dea High School, as well as several churches that have become city landmarks: Trinity Episcopal Parish Church, St. James Cathedral, and Seattle First Baptist Church.


First Hill's major thoroughfares, assuming its greatest possible extent (see above), include Madison, James, Cherry, and Jefferson Streets and Yesler Way (east- and westbound) and 9th, Boren, 12th, and 14th Avenues and Broadway (north- and southbound).


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