William Grose – The Central District’s own Founding Father

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With all the talk about William Grose, the question remains, who he was and why is he important to Seattle’s history?

Standing at six feet, four inches and weighing over 400 pounds, many would consider William Grose a large man. But what truly made Grose a sizeable character was not his physical stature, but the way he paved for Black families in his settling into the Central area of Seattle, helping to establish its first Black community.  

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1835, William Grose (also spelled Gross) was a son of a free black restaurant owner.  At the age of 15 he would leave home to join the United States Navy, where he would go on to serve under the Command of Commodore Perry in East Asia.  Highlights in his military service include traveling to Japan for the signing of the Amity Treaty in 1854, and participating in a rescue expedition that occurred in the Arctic.

While in San Francisco, Grose, would receive a shipboard injury that would cause him to leave the Navy and seek employment in the gold mines of California. While working in the Columbia, Sonora and Montezuma mining districts, Grose, would rise to become a leader among the Black miner camps.  While in California, he would help to fund the publication of the Elevator, one of the first African-American newspapers on the west coast and important in the opening up of the Underground Railroad emigration route into British Columbia, Canada.  Grose was also chosen by Black Californians to go to Panama and negotiate with their government to end its practice of returning escaped slaves back to the United States.

Grose would arrive in Washington State while working as a steward on the mailboat, The Constitution, which travelled from Victoria, B.C. to Olympia, with stops in Tacoma and Seattle along the way.  It was on one of these trips where he had a chance meeting with Washington Governor Isaac Stevens, who would convince Grose to move into Washington Territory. In 1860, Grose would move and settle into Seattle’s Central area, and in August of 1876 he would open “Our House”, a restaurant that was located on the south side of Yesler, just below First Avenue.
Willaim Grose House - 24th and East Madison

In 1883, Grose, would build a three-story hotel on Yesler’s Wharf, which was also named “Our House”.  It was here where he formed friendships with Yesler, Denny along with other Seattle pioneers. The hotel would run until June 6, 1889, when it, along with 29 square city blocks of downtown, was destroyed by the Great Fire of Seattle.

In 1882, Grose, would pay $1000 in gold to Henry Yesler for a 12-acre tract that was located in the East Madison District, becoming the first Black person to ever buy property in this area.  He would build a ranch here and, following the Great Fire, retire to it in 1889. In 1890, Grose, would build a home on the property, and he and his son George would operate their truck farm from this location.  The house, located at 1733 24th Avenue E., would eventually become one of the Black residential district hubs in the city.  In 1900, the area around Grose’s house was home to most of the 406 African-Americans who lived in Seattle.  With little changes, Grose’s home still stands at this location today.
By 1890, Grose was one of Seattle’s most successful pioneers and its wealthiest Black resident, his wealth estimated at a quarter of a million dollars.

He was one of the founders of the Cornerstone Grand Lodge of the York Masons, Seattle’s first black Masonic chapter, which was created in 1891. He was also a trustee of Seattle’s first African-American church, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, also founded in 1891.  

On July 27, 1898, William Grose died in Seattle and he is buried in Lake View Cemetery located on Capitol Hill.

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