Cheasty Greenspace is located on the east slope of Beacon Hill directly above the RainierValley and Martin Luther King Way, stretching 1.5-mile between S. Bayview St. in the north to S. Angeline St. in the south. The thirty-one parcels comprising the greenspace total approximately 43 acres of Parks land and are linked by undeveloped rights-of-way–property that increases the total acreage of forest to 57 acres. Cheasty Greenspace includes three riparian corridors and associated wetlands and has significant value as wildlife habitat, both in its own right and as part of a green corridor connecting smaller habitat fragments that might otherwise be isolated in the urban environment.
Some of the earliest history recorded on the vegetation in the area is reported in Raymond Jay Larson’s thesis titled, “The flora of Seattle in 1850: Major species and landscapes prior to urban development.” This extensive thesis follows the early survey reports across Seattle to reconstruct what Seattle may have looked like. While the report does not specifically reference Cheasty Greenspace, which was originally named Jefferson Park Tract, it does speak about features in the area around modern-day Cheasty. Looking at the Route of GLO Surveyors provided on a map of Township 24 North, Range 4 East, it appears that Cheasty Greenspace is most likely in the southeast quadrant of Section 16. The following are a few excerpts from this report.
. . . They have reached the approximate present day intersection of S. Alaska Street [sic: Columbian] and 15th Ave S.
The team next turned east and ran on a random line between sections 16 and 21 (47). After 16 chains (1/5 mile) they began to descend. Twenty chains (1/4 mile) later they intersected the road from Seattle to Steilacoom, which ran north and south here. Four chains later they set a temporary quarter section corner post at the 40 chain mark.
The party continued east and noted a 2 link (15.8 inch) wide brook after 9 chains (198 yards). They noted that it had high banks and ran to the northeast. After 11 chains (242 yards) they reached the foot of the descent and entered a “creek bottom” which continued to the northeast. The surveyors continued for 8 chains (1/10 mile) where they intersected a “worm fence, bearing N. and S. and enter an Enclosure of about 10 acres-the improvements of Ira Wooden’s pre-emption claim of about 160 acres.” They ran in this area for 7.25 chains (159.5 yards) and intersected a pond 50 links (33 feet) wide that continued to the north and south. They left the improvements at this point. After another 5.3 chains (116.6 yards) they intersect the north and south line 18 links (11.9 feet) north of the post to the corners of sections 15, 16, 21, and 22.
The surveyors now ran west on a true line between sections 16 and 21 (48). At 39.78 chains they set a post for the true quarter section corner. They marked a 10″ diameter cedar to the southwest and a 14″ diameter cedar to the northeast. After 79.55 chains they returned to the post for the corner of sections 16, 17, 21 and 22.
The land in this area was rolling. The upland portions of the section had second rate soil while the bottoms had first rate soil. The timber was fir, cedar, hemlock, ash and maple. The undergrowth was the same with salal, crabapple, and alder also present. Tables 2 and 5 list many of the species that were likely present in this area.
. . . [skipping areas not near Cheasty] . . .
The survey party turned back and headed west on a true line between section 15 and 22 (23). At 39.95 chains they set a post for the true section corner and marked a 10″ diameter fir to the northeast and a 12″ diameter cedar to the south. After another 39.95 chains they returned to the corner of sections 15, 16, 21 and 22 from which they began.
The land in this part of the section was rolling. The soil in the valley was first rate and the uplands were considered to be second rate. The timber was codominated by cedar and fir. The next most common species were maple and ash. The understory consisted of alder, vine maple, salmonberry, salal and fern. Tables 2, 3 and 5 list the species that also likely grew in this area. It was September 7, 1861.
The surveyors next headed north between sections 15 and 16 (24). They started to ascend and at 5.78 chains (127.2 yards) intersected the trail from Lake Washington to the town of Seattle. The trail ran north and west was situated at the summit of the ascent. This trail was depicted as meeting up with the military road leading from Seattle to Steilacoom. The road led to the middle of the young town of Seattle.
Early road building efforts were largely futile. The vegetation simply grew too fast to keep the roads open in the days before trade and traffic increased overland (Grant 1891). It seems likely that these roads and trails were located where they were for a reason. It may have been that they often built along already existing trails.
After 31.22 chains (686.8 yards) they began to descend along a hill that ran to the northwest. Four chains (88 yards) later they reached the 40 chain mark and set a post for the quarter section corner. They marked a 6″ diameter cedar to the southwest and a 12″ diameter cedar to the east.
Based on the Flora Tables and the descriptions above, Cheasty Greenspace was predominately timbered by fir, cedar, hemlock, ash, and maple. While the understory was mostly alder, vine maple, salmonberry, salal, and fern. However, the flora in the area was quite diverse, as shown in the flora tables linked above.
When the Olmsted Brothers designed Jefferson Park, especially the golf course, they also included a preliminary design for Jefferson Boulevard, which was intended to be an Olmsted parkway. Jefferson Boulevard was renamed Cheasty Boulevard in 1914, in honor of E.C. Cheasty of the Parks Board and former Seattle Police Department commissioner. At the time of Jefferson Park, what is now Cheasty Greenspace, was named Jefferson Park Tract. That tract was subject to multiple designs by the Olmsted Brothers, including lot development for a housing project or a 9-hole golf course. However, due to the cost of building on the hillside, neither project was ever completed.
Instead of following the Olmsted plan, the land was put into the ownership of the Public Housing Authority, which built what is now the Rainier Vista community at the base of Cheasty Greenspace. The land known as Cheasty Greenspace was then transferred from the Public Housing Authority on June 10, 1954 to the City for “corporate uses”. The land was transferred again January 18, 2000 from the City’s Executive Services Department to the Department of Parks and Recreation “for open space, park and recreation purposes”. The legacy of this varied history still exists to today, resulting in the seemingly contradictory designation of Cheasty Greenspace being an Environmentally Critical Area while being zoned SF 5000, which is for single-family homes with a minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet.
Until recently, Cheasty Greenspace was relatively unknown throughout the community. However, due to the Cheasty Greenspace restoration, trails, and bike park project, its existence and future have become a city-wide discussion. Everyone who lives near it genuinely loves the space and wants to see it be a healthy forest and a healthy part of the community. We invite everyone to work together to restore Cheasty Greenspace and create equitable access to nature.