On March 5, 2021 Capitol Hill Historical Society became the proud owner of a municipal treasure, otherwise known as Polk's Seattle City Directories volumes 1937 through 1996 (with a few gaps). And if you're wondering how.... it all started with a Facebook post.
On January 21 Michelle Meeker, board president of WARM (Washington Adoption Reunion Movement) posted to her Facebook page that WARM was looking to dispense with its vast collection of Polk City Directories. Then someone else shared it on the Seattle Vintage Facebook group, where I saw it and was lucky enough to be (quite possibly) the first to respond. (Scroll past the image for more)
What followed was a long email exchange, first with one of their long-time volunteers, Mickey LeClair and later with Michelle in which I made the case for why Capitol Hill Historical Society should get the Seattle directories. Before I get to that though, let's look at the collection and the history behind them to see why they're so important.
R.L. Polk & Company was founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1870 by its namesake, Ralph Lane Polk, when he was only 21 years old. America According to Polk says Polk got his start in door-to-door sales in his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey after serving as a drummer boy in the Union Army during the Civil War. According to another source Polk met a directory enumerator while selling patent medicine in Ohio and fascinated, left his job to sell directories for the enumerator's unnamed publisher in Cincinnati, Ohio. He worked there for a few years, learned the business, and then moved to Detroit to start his own directory publishing company.
His first publication was a directory of towns located along the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad. It included populations and the names of 17,500 residents and 600 professionals.