The New Urban Frontier

By 1900, the population of the Puget Sound country was concentrated in cities such as Bellingham, Seattle, Port Townsend, Tacoma: cities based on industry and trade. The frontier had either moved north to Alaska and the Yukon, or become a symbolic term. For instance, the frontier was envisioned as the moving edge of commerce along the Pacific, as trade with Japan and China expanded early in the century.

The lure of "frontier life" -- of making it on your own, living in the country with fresh air, animals to tend, and plants to cultivate -- found new expression in suburbia. In the early part of the 20th century, the development of interurban electric railroads made it possible for men to hold city jobs, and to commute to homes in the suburbs. Their wives and children could live in a country home that was now lighted by electricity, and the family could keep in touch with the urban world through the telephone, free rural mail delivery, and the opportunity to take the interurban car to town for shopping or entertainment. The automobile and paved roads expanded this option, and made the Pacific Northwest a region characterized by a high level of single-family home ownership, low-density urban population, and a continued interest in home gardens and outdoor life.