Arthur A. Denny
|Arthur A. Denny|
Arthur Denny circa 1890
June 20, 1822|
near Salem, Washington County, Indiana
|Died||January 9, 1899
|Resting place||Denny Family plot, Lake View Memorial Park, Seattle.|
|Occupation||Pioneer, store owner, politician, author|
|Notable work(s)||Pioneer Days on Puget Sound|
Arthur Armstrong Denny (June 20, 1822 – January 9, 1899) was one of the founders of Seattle, Washington, the acknowledged leader of the pioneer Denny Party, and later the city's wealthiest citizen and a 9-term member of the territorial legislature. Seattle's former Denny Hill was named after him; it was flattened in a series of regrading projects and its former site is now known as the Denny Regrade. The city's Denny Way, however, is named not after Arthur Denny, but after his younger brother David Denny.
Indiana, Illinois, and the way West
Denny was born near Salem Washington County, Indiana; by the time he was attending school his family had settled in Knox County, Illinois. Both his parents were of Irish descent. His father John Denny (1793–1875), fought in the western battles of the War of 1812 and later served in the Illinois state legislature, elected as a Whig. (He eventually traveled west with the Denny Party, but stayed on in Oregon's Willamette River Valley when Arthur and several others moved north to Puget Sound.) Denny did not have an easy childhood. He cared for his invalid mother while attending half-days in a log schoolhouse. He learned carpentry, taught school, studied surveying, and became a civil engineer and Knox County surveyor starting in 1843. In 1843, he married Mary Ann Boren; together they created six children: Louisa Catherine Frye, Margaret Leona Denny, Rolland Herschell Denny, Orion Orvil Denny, Arthur Wilson Denny, and Charles Latimer Denny.
In 1851 he led the Denny Party west. Leaving Illinois in April, they arrived in Portland, Oregon on August 23. In November, he sailed on to Puget Sound, arriving at Alki Point on Elliott Bay on November 13, 1851. It soon became clear that Alki was not the best spot for a settlement. The Denny Party relocated to the east shore of Elliott Bay, near what is now Pioneer Square, the original heart of what became the city of Seattle.
On February 15, 1852, Denny and others filed their claims. Denny soon established himself selling cargo on commission for ship captains. In 1854 when he began a general merchandise partnership with Dexter Horton and David Phillips. In 1855, he volunteered to serve in the Indian War then taking place in Washington Territory. He served in several political offices. He was a county commissioner first for Thurston County (in what was then still part of the Oregon Territory), and then, after Washington became a separate territory, for King County, where Seattle is located.
He also served as Seattle's first postmaster and in the territorial House of Representatives for nine consecutive terms, including serving a term as speaker. From 1861 to 1865 he was registrar of the General Land Office. He served as territorial delegate to the thirty-ninth United States Congress.
Denny soon turned from politics to business. He returned to being a partner with Horton and Phillips, this time by taking a half interest in Dexter Horton and Co., the bank founded by Horton and Phillips in 1870, which would eventually become Seattle-First National Bank. He was president of the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad Company. Later in life, he was active in Society of Washington Pioneers and wrote a memoir, Pioneer Days in Puget Sound.
Among his other achievements, he was involved in founding the University of Washington and donated much of the land for its original site. On the current U.W. campus, Denny Hall, the former administration building (built 1895) is named in his honor.
Contention over his intentions
However, Denny's land donation should not be attributed to a sense of civic duty. Denny donated the land in an effort to save face with the Methodist Church. The original land donation for the purposes of an institution of higher learning was made by David Swinson "Doc" Maynard but Maynard repossessed the land when he suspected members of the Denny party were spreading rumors about his wife. Blaming Denny for this disaster, the church was able to bring considerable pressure to bear on him. This pressure manifested itself in the form of the Rev. Daniel Bagley who using this information to the fullest was able to convince Denny to give the best 8½ acres in his donation claim to replace that which he had lost.
Personality and politics
Denny was an ascetic, a devout Christian (conservative in his religion to the point of opposing a divorce law), and a lifelong teetotaler. Indeed, he was teetotal to the point where he had the customers of his store buy their liquor direct from visiting ship captains so that he would not be involved in the transactions. He was a political conservative, and a cautious and conservative businessman and investor. Denny, in his memoir, described his decision to head north from Portland to Puget Sound as a "desperate venture". Lorraine McConaghy, historian at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry, agrees, but characterizes it further as "the only one he ever undertook."
Argument over land
This dour man is nonetheless remembered for at least one example of his wit. Also in his memoir, recounting his failure in 1853 to reach agreement with David Swinson "Doc" Maynard over what was intended to be a joint plat of the town of Seattle, he wrote, "it was found that the doctor, who occasionally stimulated a little, had that day taken enough to cause him to feel that he was not only monarch of all he surveyed, but what Boren and I had surveyed as well."
It was later shown in a review done by a professional engineering firm on behalf of the city that it was in fact Denny that was wrong about the direction the streets should run and had actually violated the law in his plat of the city.
- Pioneer Days on Puget Sound (1888). (Text online)
- Pioneer Days on Puget sound, published by The Alice Harriman Company, Seattle, 1908 (Online text showing original pages)
- , Special Collections, Washington State Historical Society (WSHS). Accessed online 8 March 2008.
- Junius Rochester, Denny, Arthur Armstrong (1822–1899), HistoryLink, October 28, 1998. Accessed online 8 March 2008.
- Russ Heinl, Seattle from the Air (2002), Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co., ISBN 1-55868-688-6, p. 23.
- Junius Rochester, Boren, Carson Dobbins (1824–1912), HistoryLink, October 31, 1998. Accessed online 8 March 2008.
- Jones 1972, p. 36
- Dorothea Nordstrand, Denny Party on the Oregon Trail, HistoryLink, February 15, 2004. Accessed online 10 March 2008.
- Washington State Historical Society. "Arthur Armstrong Denny". Retrieved 2012-02-16.
- Bill Virgin, Come Monday, Seafirst name is history, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 24, 1999. Accessed online 8 March 2008. (Seattle-First National Bank was later named Seafirst Bank and after being purchased was later rebranded as part of Bank of America.)
- Debera Carlton Harrell, Getting to know the real Denny, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 23, 2003. Accessed online 8 March 2008.
- Administration Building (now Denny Hall) exterior showing northeast side, University of Washington, ca. 1897 (photo and caption), University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections. Accessed online 10 March 2008.
- Roger Sale, Seattle, Past to Present, University of Washington Press, 1978, ISBN 0-295-95615-1, p. 25.
- "1854 Womans Suffrage Amendment Introduced by Arthur Denny". Retrieved 2012-02-16.
- Arthur Denny, Pioneer Days in Puget Sound (1888). Accessed online 8 March 2008.
- Biography of Arthur A. Denny
- Jones, Nard (1972), Seattle, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-01875-4
- The finding guide at the Washington State Historical Society for Arthur A. Denny
- Photo of Denny, 1865
- Photo of Denny, 1840
- Photo of sisters Louisa Boren and Mary Boren, wives of Arthur A. Denny and his brother David Denny.