This house is significant due to its early occupancy by an African American widow. During the first half of the twentieth century, most African American families lived in today’s Central District. Mrs. Rutherford’s presence was an anomaly for the time period and was a harbinger of the social and ethnic diversity that would eventually predominate in the Rainier Valley and South Seattle.
This single family residential property is located in Columbia City in the southern end of Rainier Valley. The house was constructed in 1908, and Mrs. Betty Rutherford, an African American and widow of Louis Rutherford, was the first occupant. She remained in the house through 1918. John Ostrom was a tenant in the house during the early 1930s; and, by 1938, Jack R. Ayres was the principal resident. Mr. Ayres remained in the house through 1944; and, from 1942 to 1944, Frances V. Jansky boarded with Ayres. In 1951, Martin F. Walsh purchased the property, and he remained there through 1969.
Substantial residential and commercial development in South Seattle and the Rainier Valley occurred when a transportation corridor connecting the Rainier Valley to downtown and Seattle’s industrial district was constructed along Rainier Avenue during the late nineteenth century. Development in the valley was facilitated by logging during the 1880s, the operation of the Rainier Valley Electric Railway in the 1890s, and the Jackson and Dearborn Street re-grades in the 1900s. Milling was the primary commercial industry during the last part of the nineteenth century although some agricultural activity existed. As residential development increased, Rainier Avenue gradually became the principal commercial corridor connecting the residential neighborhoods of South Seattle to downtown, the International District, and Seattle’s industrial districts. World War II brought additional building growth related to the wartime industry, as well as the influx of defense workers to nearby Boeing and the Duwamish shipyards.
Due to the same exclusion laws that affected most minorities, African Americans did not begin to have a significant presence in Rainer Valley and South Seattle until the 1940s. However, it was not until the 1950s and 1960s that large numbers of families were able move out of Seattle’s established black neighborhoods, such as today’s Central District that is comprised of the East Madison and Pioneer Square neighborhoods. Furthermore, it was not until the passage of the Open Housing Ordinance by the Seattle City Council in 1968 that the ability of non-whites to relocate to the Rainier Valley substantially increased. Only after passage of this ordinance did significant numbers of Asians, Filipinos, African Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups move to South Seattle. Today, the Rainier Valley retains its historical racially and economically diverse population.