Cavanaugh House at Chittenden Locks turns 100

Published July 17, 2013
SEATTLE – Like an empress overseeing her nation, a 100-year-old house has been governing since the beginning above the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.

In mid-1913, the Lockkeeper’s House, now called the Cavanaugh House, was completed on the grounds of the Locks. Built in 75 days at a cost of $7,840, it was the first completed structure of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials honored her centennial during a ceremony July 16.

Originally built for the Lock’s electrician, offering around-the-clock availability in the event of electrical failure, the house was renamed and dedicated Jan. 16, 1967, to honor Col. James B. Cavanaugh, the Seattle District Engineer who oversaw the Lake Washington Ship Canal construction, which began Nov. 10, 1911.

Cavanaugh graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1892 and served in a variety of technical and tactical assignments, starting with Michigan’s Soo Locks expansion from 1895 to 1897. He served in the Philippines for a year during the Spanish American War, commanding three engineer companies that built many ports, roads and bridges.

“The next 10 years and four assignments, Cavanaugh taught or practiced engineering, preparing him for construction of the largest locks north of Panama, a remarkable feat in that day,” said Seattle District Commander Col. Bruce Estok.

Cavanaugh arrived just three months before the massive project began, leading the district for nearly six years, and leaving just a few weeks before the Locks’ official opening July 4, 1917.

Early photos show an isolated home on a barren hill, but Corps Gardener Carl S. English Jr., changed the view considerably with his vision. The Cavanaugh House now functions as a private home, and a plaque installed in 1974 at the front gate lists the former and current occupants’ names.

It has undergone some renovations over the years, but despite some changes the house retains its original character and any work now performed complies with historic property law and policy. The Locks, canal and structures, including Cavanaugh House, constitute a National Historic District and are listed in the National Historic Register.

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Bill Dowell

Release no. 13-031