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Now & Then
Pioneer in Brick

Photographed sometime in the early 1890s, Seattle's first brick home sat on the steep southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Terrace Street above Pioneer Square.

spacer Photo PAUL DORPAT
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THE ORIGINAL print of this residential scene describes its centerpiece as the "first brick home built in Seattle." The home's owner, John Wesley Van Brocklin, was a fitting character to build it. The New Yorker was a virtuoso carpenter-ironworker-machinist.

Before his arrival in Seattle in 1882 with his second wife, Candice — the older sister of his first wife Helen, who died — Van Brocklin had tried prospecting in Colorado and Montana. His short biography in Julian Hawthorne's 1893 "History of Washington" says his Montana mining was a bust, but the next 14 years spent building mills there was "done with better fortune pecuniarily."

Once in Seattle, Van Brocklin's talents were soon noted and ultimately rewarded. By the time he was appointed to the Board of Public Works in 1892, Van Brocklin had accumulated a local record of public and private building that included both this, the first brick home, and the King County Courthouse.

The Van Brocklin brick home was being built at the time of Seattle's Great Fire of 1889. This view of it was probably photographed in 1891, the year the courthouse was completed, or soon after. Included among the figures posing on the front steps may be John Wesley, Helen and John's two grown boys Hiram and Franklin, Candice and Helen, John and Candice's adopted daughter.

John died in 1900 and Candice 20 years later. While her obituary describes Candice as John Wesley's widow, it makes no mention of two items I found hand-written on a note in the UW Library's biography files. First, suffering from diseased kidneys, John Wesley took his own life in 1900. Second, he was then married to his third wife Ada, having — to quote the note — "divorced from his second some years ago."

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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