1800's to early 1900's
The early days
Before there was Sequim, there was Seguin. Seguin, according to postal records, was the name of the"surrounding area" for which the first post office in what is now Sequim, was named in 1879.
First Settler - John W. Donnell
The first settler on the Sequim Prairie was John W. Donnell. The story is told that he had first come to New Dungeness, found it too crowded for his liking and walked up the river seeking a suitable homestead. He took up a donation claim of 320 acres of prairie and bottom lands along the Dungeness River which extended approximately from Hendrickson Road to Grant Road. His patent, signed by President Andrew Johnson, was dated March 6, 1866.
Although the prairie was mostly scrub brush with stands of Garry Oak, a few pine trees, grass and cactus on a gravel sub-soil, Donnell managed to raise a crop of wheat on the bottomlands along the river. The arid condition of most of his land was caused by the rainshadow effect of the Olympic Mountains, which created a "desert-like" atmosphere. In the spring the land became lush and green with patches of wildflowers as the winter snow melted away and the spring rains followed. With an average rainfall of approximately 17 inches a year, the summer sun parched the land and dried up the few springs and small streams that flowed through the grass and weeds.
Second Settler - John Bell
The second settler and the first on the prairie, was John Bell, an Englishman who had come to Fort Victoria to work on the Hudson Bay Company farm. After a few scrapes with authorities, he took leave of the company, confiscated a small boat and rowed across the Strait to Clallam County. Possibly because British authorities frequently visited the coast to look for contracted escapees from the Hudson Bay properties, Bell pioneered around the north Puget Sound area and fought as a volunteer soldier in the last of the Indian Wars on the Sound. After a few years, he took out naturalization papers and filed a 160-acre homestead claim at what became the southeast corner of Sequim Avenue and Washington Street. Bell Creek flowed through part of his land.
Before long other homesteaders joined him at the corner (Matthew Fleming - SW corner, William Webster - NW corner, and Joseph Sinclair - NE corner.) They gradually sold off parts of their homesteads and bought land nearby.
Bell stayed on his land. He had married Sara Ann Greenlaw Vert of Scotland in the first "white" wedding in Clallam County in March 1856. Their first child, Mary Jane (the first white child born in Clallam County), was the oldest of five children. The Bells were very hospitable and the word got out, "for a real good meal and bed and hearty welcome stop at John Bell's." The couple welcomed everyone who came by.
Others move in - the first school
As other settlers moved in and purchased lots from the early homesteaders, they were welcomed to use the deep well built by the Bell family. Most of the newcomers were young families seeking a place to put down roots. They built small homes, fenced an area for a cow or two and began to raise children and small gardens. Very few had much cash money. After the homes were built, many men went away to work in the Port Discovery Mill, returning home monthly carrying a sack of basics such as sugar, flour, baking soda, and coffee from the mill store.
Other families moved in and before long there were enough children on the prairie to create a demand for a school. In April 1868, the first school on the prairie was established - the one-room Seguin School located behind the present high school library. The first school was open only three months a year and all young children were expected to attend up to the third grade.
The first post office and business
In 1879 the first post office was built and named "Seguin" for the surrounding area. The first business in town was a small general store begun by William Homer about 1892 at the intersection of the four properties. In 1893 Seguin was considered to have the best racetrack on the peninsula - it ran down the middle of Washington Street. After the town was incorporated, an oval track was located near the blocks now bordered by Second and Third Streets between Cedar and Spruce Streets. A wagon road ran between Seguin and New Dungeness.
Irrigation comes to the prairie
The community did not really begin to grow until after 1896 when the first irrigation ditch brought water from the Dungeness River onto the prairie. Water brought the prairie to life. Water flowed through irrigation ditches - including one that ran through the middle of town to the Bell farm - seeped into the arid prairie soil and made farming prosperous. Most new settlers took up farmland on the prairie; stores and other businesses in the settlement were begun. Several were two-story buildings with storefronts at the street level and meeting rooms on the upper floor. These included the IOOF Hall, the Farmers' Hall which later became the GAR hall (on land donated by John Bell), and the Opera House. Bell also donated land for the Pioneer cemetery on Washington Street.
If Seguin could be considered to have a "mover and shaker," Joseph Keeler was a candidate for that honor. He had been born in Kansas and at the age of fourteen moved with his parents to Port Townsend where he engaged in a variety of business ventures. Always ready for new ventures, he prospected up the Caribou Trail in British Columbia in 1897, prospected in the Yukon, and returned to Port Townsend in 1898 to marry Etta Priest, daughter of a pioneer Seguin family. They had one son, Hammond. The young family moved to Dawson where Keeler engaged in mercantile businesses and successfully invested in mining properties.
He moved back to his wife's hometown in 1902 and immediately became involved in a number of businesses. He started the first telegraph office in town and built a saloon on the southwest corner of Washington Street. Later he built the fifty-room Sinclair Hotel on the same corner using lumber from a mill co-owned with his father-in-law. Keeler promised there would be running water and electricity in every room by a certain date. He kept his promise. Keeler built a water tower behind his hotel and pumped water from his well to the tower to provide gravity-feed water to every room. Other people and businesses requested water and Keeler laid pipelines through the town. He put in a generator powered by a gas engine to provide electricity for the hotel. Soon neighboring businesses were asking to have power lines run to their places. That was the beginning of the Sequim Light and Power Company. He also built a saloon, bakery, butcher shop, and engaged in real estate sales.
Keeler laid out the first plat in the future town site. Before long at least seven others followed suit, laying out city-size lots on rectangular blocks and providing for wide streets and alleys. Some followed Keeler's lead and dug deep wells, put up water towers and provided water for a price to homes in their additions.
There is no record of the origin of street names in the first town site, but it is believed that the man who did the first town plat of 40 acres in 1907 also named the original streets. In addition to the "tree" streets, one is named Etta and another Hammond. In the beginning the North-South streets were numbered "First, Second, Third, etc." beginning at present "Second Street."
Seguin name change
In 1907, due to a Postal Officials' error in reading an official report, the post office was titled "Seguim" for approximately one month. With the next report, the official read the letter "g" as a "q" and the post office here became known as "Sequim." The name change apparently did not worry the residents enough to protest. It has been known as Sequim ever since.