Arthur dennys cabin at alki point ca 1902 flat quny3a

The Denny Party cabin, erected in 1851, was one of Seattle’s first.

This month’s cover story opens with a greeting: “Welcome to the great indoors” (“Washington’s Best Cabins and Cottages” ). It’s a salutation that’s shorthand for what the term cabin has come to mean. Luxury in the woods. Easy living. A hot tub. Probably Netflix. 

We’ve come a long way since the days of Seattle’s first European settler–built cabin. That cabin wasn’t the kind you’d turn to, to get away from it all. No Yahtzee by a cozy fireplace there. In fact, Seattle’s first is famous for being incomplete. 

See, when advance members of the Denny Party landed at Alki Point in September 1851, in present-day West Seattle, they built a cabin. Or rather they started to build a cabin. Nineteen-year-old David Denny, brother of Denny Party leader, Arthur, sustained an ax wound, and the injury and other setbacks stalled construction. 

When Arthur and the rest of the party arrived, six weeks after David, up from Portland via the schooner Exact, David greeted them with what must be the most Seattle phrase of all time. Even now, though it goes unspoken, it’s a sentiment likely on the mind of many a longtime local when someone new arrives: “I wish you hadn’t come.”

The cabin was roofless, and hardly equipped to host the 24 members of the party, including 12 children. Imagine a structure built with Lincoln Logs—by a five-year-old. A drunk five-year-old. 

The party pushed through the winter nonetheless (and added a roof) and stuck around long enough to recognize the region’s bounty. In the spring of 1852, the group relocated to the mudflats across the bay, and then on to present-day Pioneer Square.

Over the next century and a half, the city exploded and gained an international reputation for innovation. Cabins, meanwhile, became less like mountain man hovels designed to ward off hypothermia and more like those Seattle Met senior editor Allison Williams highlights in our cover story. They’re now posh vacation rentals. They’re called things like bungalows. They’re called things like chalets.

So yes, welcome to the great indoors. To paraphrase David Denny, we’re glad you came.

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