Federal Way Denny Cabin

Federal Way Denny Cabin


The Historical Society of Federal Way (HSFW) is restoring the Denny Cabin for public display at the City of Federal Way's West Hylebos Wetlands Park located at South 348th Street and Fourth Avenue South in Federal Way. This monograph is intended to give a description of David Denny, show his importance to the Seattle area, describe the reason for building the Denny Cabin, describe what is known about the uses of the Denny Cabin from the time it was used by David Denny as a real estate office until it was moved to Federal Way, discuss why the Denny Cabin ended up in Federal Way and describe the restoration and future plans for the Denny Cabin.

Much material concerning David Denny is included since showing his adventurous spirit when young, his work ethic, his moral viewpoint and the fact that he was one of the most prominent men in early Seattle helps support the value of the Denny Cabin as a historic building.

Since David Denny was involved with several log cabins during his lifetime it should be understood that the Denny Cabin referred to here is the one built in 1889 for use as a real estate office. Four other cabins of note are also referred to as the "Denny Cabin"; the Alki Cabin, the cabin David and Louisa lived in when they were first married, the Licton Springs summer cabin in present north Seattle near where the present Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery is located and his mining cabin in the high Cascades. David Denny also built several homes, one referred to as a mansion, which went beyond a cabin description.

Download The Denny Cabin Full Information PDF

David Denny Background Before Arriving in Portland, Oregon Territory

David Thomas Denny11 was born in Putnam County, Indiana, March 17, 1832.12 The start of David Denny's trek west was April 10, 1851, from Cherry Grove, Knox County, Illinois.13 The Denny family traveled in three wagons; in addition to David the travelers consisted of David's father John, his older brother Arthur Denny, Arthur's family, and three unmarried brothers. All told, the party consisted of four wagons with seven men, four women and four children. In the fourth wagon were members of the Boren family including Louisa Boren who would become David's wife shortly after settling in what was to become Seattle. The Denny and Boren party joined forces with the John Low party of six men and two women for better protection after some troubles with Indians. This Low Party had crossed the Mississippi on May 3, 1851 and had been traveling on the south side of the Platte River while the Denny party was on the north side. They met somewhere just before the Snake River.14 They were both using portions of the well-worn Oregon Trail and they followed it into Oregon Territory.15 At the Dalles, on the Columbia River, they chartered a boat to take them down the Columbia River to Portland. They arrived in Portland, Oregon Territory August 22, 1851.16 David Denny was nineteen years old.17 They had traveled about 2,400 miles.18 It had taken 134 days from Cherry Grove, Illinois to Portland, Oregon Territory.19

Portland, Oregon Territory

The land that is now part of Washington State had been undisputed American territory only since 1846. By 1850 a few adventuresome Americans had explored the Puget Sound region. Olympia had become the customhouse in 1851 and the Washington Territory capital in 1853. Information began to trickle to those coming from the east that the Puget Sound area offered great opportunity and beauty.20

A major hindrance to settlement was the physical isolation of the Puget Sound region. The route from the south, through Portland was the most accessible. Most of the early arrivals came through Portland after coming from the east along the Oregon Trail and the last few miles down the Columbia River. Traveling from Portland to Puget Sound could be accomplished either by land from Portland via a difficult Cowlitz River portage or by going down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and then north along the coast, east through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and back south down through Puget Sound.21

When they left their homes in Illinois, the members of the Denny Party intended to locate in the Willamette Valley. When they were at the Dalles they met a man by the name of Brock who gave them information extolling Puget Sound as being a place for the future.22 On reaching the Portland area they realized they would investigate the Puget Sound country sooner or later.23

We found Portland quite a thriving town, probably containing a population of 2,000 or more even at that early period, giving promise of future greatness. It was reported at 821 inhabitants by the census of 1850, and in 1853 claimed 6,000 hence I do not think my estimate for 1851 can be far out of the way.24

After arriving in Portland most of the party suffered from bouts of "augre", a malarial type fever. The Willamette River valley south of Portland had a reputation for this disease. Even worse than the relatively unhealthy climate was the fact that the choicest claims had already been staked and the city of Portland had been mostly platted by earlier arrivals.25

While in Portland the Dennys, Borens and Lows began to hear stories of Puget Sound's beauty and that it was still mostly unexplored territory.26 After a brief consultation, Arthur and David decided to settle farther north while John Denny and the three other brothers decided to stay in Oregon. Arthur Denny, still suffering from traces of the "augre" was in no condition to travel without some rest. David Denny and John Low decided to try to traverse the Cowlitz Trail north as soon as possible.27

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