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Why doesn’t “Capitol” Hill have a Capitol?

Posted by Johnine Larsen on March 16, 2017
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Capitol Hill in 1917, the result of James Moore’s development

As I’m sure you all noticed, Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood doesn’t have a capitol. It’s never had a capitol. In all likelihood, it will never have a capitol. So why the name?

Branding.

James Moore, a turn-of-the-century real estate developer, owned quite a bit of land on the yet-to-be-named hill northwest of downtown. His own house (okay, his own mansion) still occupies the corner of 14th Ave. E and E Aloha Street. Moore recognized that the area was far enough away from downtown’s bustle, clamor, and grime to let him live in a peaceful, luxurious setting—yet stay close enough to the city center for him to remain involved in urban life. Moore believed other wealthy residents would also see the value of living on his unnamed hill, but it’s difficult to attract residents to a place called “yet-to-be-named hill.” Moore needed branding.

James Moore’s personal Capitol Hill mansion

In 1901, James Moore christened the neighborhood “Capitol Hill.” The rational behind the specific name isn’t known, although my personal theory is that “Capitol Hill” just plain sounds important, wealthy, and alluring—or at least alluring to the wealthy residents Moore was trying to attract.

Another explanation: in 1901, Moore also promoted a bill in the state legislature to move the capitol from Olympia to Seattle. Moore believed in this bill, and he personally offered to donate a luxurious capitol building and five acres of land on “yet-to-be-named hill.” At the time, Olympia’s capitol building was… embarrassing. The bill failed nevertheless, however, and “yet-to-be-named hill” became “Capitol Hill” only in name.

Olympia’s first capitol building

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