Eugene Semple

Eugene Semple
13th Governor of Washington Territory
In office
April 9, 1887  April 9, 1889
Preceded by Watson C. Squire
Succeeded by Miles Conway Moore
Personal details
Born June 12, 1840
Bogotá, Colombia
Died August 28, 1908 (aged 78)
San Diego
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Ruth A. Lownsdale
This detail from a 1911 map shows the city's Industrial District (after the construction of Harbor Island). A portion of Semple's attempted canal can be seen at lower right, running east-west; north of that can be seen the large city blocks that characterize the former tidelands.

Eugene Semple (June 12, 1840 – August 28, 1908) was the 13th Governor of Washington Territory and the unsuccessful Democratic candidate to be the first governor of Washington State.

Early life

Eugene Semple was born in Bogotá, Colombia, on June 12, 1840, to then minister to the Republic of New Granada, James Semple.[1] The older Semple later served as chief justice to the Illinois Supreme Court and as U.S. Senator.[1] The younger Semple received his education in Illinois before attending law school at St. Louis Law School.[1] In 1864, Semple moved to Portland, Oregon, where he was editor of the Oregon Herald and practiced law.[1] He was the editor from 1869 until 1873, and in 1872 he became state printer for Oregon.[1] In 1870, he married Daniel H. Lownsdale's daughter Ruth.[1] After Semple left the state printer position in 1874, the family moved to Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland. Semple was in the lumber business there before moving to Seattle.[1]


President Grover Cleveland appointed Semple as the Governor of Washington Territory in 1887, where he served for one term until April 1889. After Washington became a state in November of that year, Semple ran as the Democratic candidate to be the first Governor of the State of Washington, however he lost to the Republican Elisha P. Ferry.

In 1893, he successfully pushed a bill through the Washington State legislature to facilitate a means of financing privately owned canals by allowing them to sell reclaimed tidelands. With $500,000 of financing, he himself soon attempted such a canal connecting Elliott Bay to Lake Washington by cutting through Seattle's Beacon Hill: a more southerly route than the Lake Washington Ship Canal that was favored by Judge Thomas Burke and others aligned with the Great Northern Railway, and which was ultimately built.[2]

Work began July 29, 1895. Within 10 months nearly 100 acres (0.40 km2) of tide flats had been filled. At that point, Burke managed to get a court injunction challenging the constitutionality of the 1893 law. A December 1898 decision went in Semple's favor, but the delay had put his company into financial difficulties. Semple scored some other legal victories and did well with the state government, but Burke ultimately won out. Semple's activities affected railroad lands, giving Burke further opportunities for injunctions; Burke won over the Seattle city government (and ultimately the federal government) to the northern canal route. By May 1904, Semple's incomplete project was dead. The former Elliott Bay tidelands filled in by his attempt at building a canal soon became the heart of Seattle's Industrial District.[3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 219.
  2. Berner 1991, pp. 17–18
  3. Berner 1991, pp. 17–20

Further reading

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