Guide to the John J. McGilvra Papers

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Overview of the Collection

Creator: McGilvra, John J. (John Jay), 1827-1903
Title: John J. McGilvra Papers
Quantity: 3.62 cubic ft. (9 boxes and 1 oversize volume)
8 microfilm reels  :  positive  ;  35 mm.
Location of Collection: Materials are located in Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries. For more information about this collection including links to additional inventories and container lists, please connect to the finding aid on the University of Washington website.
Collection Number: 4806-001
Summary: Seattle pioneer, lawyer, businessman, and politician.
Repository: University of Washington Librarires, Special Collections.
Contact Information: Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Languages: Collection materials are in English.  
Sponsor: Funding for encoding this finding aid was partially provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical Note

John Jay McGilvra was born in Livingston County, New York, in 1827 and moved with his family to Illinois in 1844. After teaching school for several years, he began reading law, was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1853, and entered private practice in Chicago. In 1861, McGilvra was appointed U.S. attorney for Washington Territory, a post he held until 1865, when he returned to private pratice and politics. McGilvra was elected to the territorial legislature in 1866 as a Republican. The most notable accomplishment of his single term was the passage of enabling legislation for a wagon road over Snoqualmie Pass, the first trans-Cascade connection between eastern and western Washington. Following the Northern Pacific Railway's announcement in 1873 that Tacoma would be its West Coast terminus, he joined with other prominent Seattleites in organizing the Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad Company. Even after the failure of his railroad venture, McGilvra lobbied and litigated against the Northern Pacific and remained one of its most vocal critics.

McGilvra, one of the first attorneys in Seattle, spent most of his career in private practice but served a short time as city attorney. In addition to practicing law (he would eventually earn the title of "Judge" as a tribute to his longevity), McGilvra speculated in real estate. He and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased a large tract of land bordering Lake Washington, becoming the first white settlers in what is now the Madison Park neighborhood in Seattle. He built what became Madison Street to link his property with downtown Seattle and organized the Madison Street Cable Railway Company. McGilvra was also an advocate of municipal improvement and civic reform in Seattle, remaining active in civic affairs even after his retirement in 1893. He was a primary backer of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and promoted the concept of bringing Cedar River water to Seattle. He and other community leaders established a Municipal League in 1894, although it was soon disbanded. Oliver McGilvra, known to his family as Max, followed his father into the legal profession. McGilvra's elder daughter, Caroline, married his former law partner, Thomas Burke. John McGilvra died in 1903.

Content Description

The John J. McGilvra Papers document the career of the lawyer, elected official, businessman, and civic activist.

The general correspondence is arranged chronologically and spans the years 1861-1907. The contents relate to both personal and business topics. Letters from the early 1860s discuss matters arising from McGilvra's duties as U.S. attorney. They include the investigation of suspected embezzlement by the customs collector in Port Townsend, Washington, settlement of land claims, and enforcement of the Indian Intercourse Act. Letters from the 1870s and 1880s address McGilvra's legal battles with the Northern Pacific Railroad as well as his general legal business. Much of the correspondence from the 1890s until his death in 1903 deals with civic matters, including the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Cedar River water line, and Republican politics. Major correspondents include Caroline McGilvra Burke, George Goss, and Oliver McGilvra. The outgoing letters are in the form of five letterpress books, 1873 to 1890, from McGilvra's law practice. They include correspondence from McGilvra and Burke (1875-1876); McGilvra and Blaine (1885-1889); and McGilvra, Blaine, and DeVries (1889-1890), law partnerships McGilvra formed during the course of his career. They constitute a daily record of economic conditions, legal practice, and politics in the Puget Sound region.

Court papers, largely legal briefs and notes, are grouped by subject, with the balance being catagorized as miscellaneous. The materials in this series represent the full range of McGilvra's law practice and include materials from his years practicing in Illinois. Legal documents include various contracts, article of incorporation, and affidavits. Also included are his reports as U.S. attorney for Washington Territory. The speeches and writings date largely from the 1870s and beyond and are grouped by topic, including the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Republican politics and Seattle municipal affairs, and the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. The series includes notes as well as complete speeches and writings.

The collection also contains several subgroups representing the papers of the McGilvra estate and several family members. There are also small subgroups containing the correspondence of McGilvra and Baxter, another of his law partnerships, and law partner Elbert F. Blaine. Blaine has been called the "father of the Seattle park system." Included in the Blaine subgroup is the 1903 report from the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Mass., to Blaine (in his capacity as chairman of the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners) outlining a comprehensive parks plan for the city.

The McGilvra collection also includes two 4-reel sets of positive microfilm which contain McGilvra's general correspondence and outgoing letters. The microfilm targets misidentify a few dates. The terminal date for reel 1 should be May 29, not June 2, and the starting date for reel 4 should be 1896 rather than 1895.

Use of the Collection

Restrictions on Access :  

The collection is open to all users.

Restrictions on Use :  

The creator's literary rights were not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Administrative Information

Additional Reference Guides :  

This finding aid can also be viewed on the University of Washington website.

Acquisition Information :  

The John J. McGilvra Papers were a gift of the Thomas Burke estate in 1935.

Processing Note :  

The McGilvra Papers were part of a gift from the Thomas Burke estate which included the Thomas Burke Papers and Daniel H. Gilman Papers. The McGilvra Papers and the Gilman Papers were made separate collections. In 1965 each correspondence series was rearranged into a simple chronological sequence.

The microfilm in this accession was filmed from the originals in 1965 at the University of Washington under a grant from the National Historical Publications Commission.

Twenty photographic prints were transferred to the McGilvra Family Photograph Collection, PH. Coll. 487, in the division.

Two scrapbooks were relocated to the division's scrapbook collections in 1981. One is political; the other belonged to McGilvra's wife, Elizabeth, and contains clippings about her family, recipes, stories, jokes, and pressed flowers.

Bibliography :  
  • King County Bar Association, Addresses upon the Life and Character of John J. McGilvra (Seattle : Lowman & Hanford, 1904).
  • Doig, Ivan C., "John J. McGilvra: the Life and Times of an Urban Frontiersman, 1827-1903" (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1969).
  • Doig, Ivan C., "John J. McGilvra and Timber Tresspass: Seeking a Puget Sound Timber Policy," Forest History , 12 Jan. 1970 (6-17).

Detailed Description of the Collection

Personal Papers
General Correspondence
1/1 1861-1862
1/2-4 1863
1/5 1864
1/6 1866
1/7 1868-1870
1/8 1871-1872
1/9-13 1873
1/14 1874
1/15 1875
1/16 1876
1/17 1877
1/18 1878
1/19 1879
1/20 1880
1/21 1881
1/22 1882
1/23 1884
1/23-25 1885
1/26-27 1886
1/28-30 1887
1/31-34 1888
1/35-38 1889
1/39-40 1890
1/41-42 1891
1/43-44 1892
1/44 1892
1/45 1893
1/46 1894
1/47-50 1895
1/51-54 1896
2/1 1897
2/2-4 1898
2/5-9 1899
2/10-11 1900
2/12-13 1901
2/14-17 1902
2/18-19 1903
2/20 1906-1907
2/21-23 No Dates n.d.
2/24 Unidentified n.d.
Outgoing Letters - Letterpress Books
2 Volume 1 Jun. 1873-Aug. 1878
2 Volume 2 Nov. 1875-Dec. 1879
2 Volume 3 Jan. 1880-Nov. 1882
3 Volume 4 Apr. 1883-Aug. 1885
3 Volume 5 Sept. 1887-Dec. 1890
Court Papers
4/1 Cook County, Illinois Practice 1853-1860
4/2 Re: Daniel Bagley
4/3 Re: Dexter Horton and Company
4/4 Re: Northern Pacific Railroad Company
4/5 Re: City of Seattle
4/6 Re: Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad Company
4/7 Re: University of Washington Lands
4/8 Re: Henry Yesler
4/9 General
4/10 Court Papers Involving Northern Pacific Railroad Company
4/11-14 [Missing]
4/15 Miscellaneous Papers
5/1-5/8 Miscellaneous Briefs (A-V)
6/1 Miscellaneous Briefs (W-S)
6/2-3 Miscellaneous Briefs (unnamed)
6/4 Re: Wills
Legal Documents
6/5 Affidavits
Articles of Incorporation, Constitutions, By-laws, etc.(copies)
6/6 Lake Washington and Seattle Coal Road Company 1867
6/6 Meigs Lumber and Ship Building Company
6/6 Seattle and Lake Washington Waterway Company 1893?
6/6 Seattle Real Estate Board
6/6 Seattle Traction Company
6/6 Municipal League of Seattle 1896
6/7 Contracts
6/8 Contracts (Agreements)
6/9 Book Inventories 1861, 1890
6/10 Licenses, etc. re: Trading with Indians 1873, 1875
6/11 Notice of Estray 1884
6/12 Seattle Ordinances
6/13 Report: Trespass on Public Lands by Logging Companies 1864
6/14-15 Reports as U.S. District Attorney 1861-1865
6/16 Specifications for Construction 1859-1903
6/17 Surety Bonds 1875-1890
6/18 Miscellaneous
Financial Records ca. 1870-1900
6/19 Miscellaneous re: Seattle Municipal Finances
6/20 Miscellaneous Receipts
6/21-22 Miscellaneous
Speeches and Writings
7/1 Re: Alaska Boundary Dispute 1898-1899
7/2-3 Re: Lake Washington Canal ca.1895-1903
7/4 Re: Legislative Bills ca.1870-1900
7/5 Re: Madison Street Cable Railway Company ca.1865-1900
7/6-7 Re: Northern Pacific Railroad Company 1876-1877
7/8 Re: Republican Party ca.1870-1903
7/9-10 Re: Seattle Municipal Affairs and Politics ca.1870-1903
7/11 Re: Politics - General ca. 1870-1903
7/12 Re: Washington Pioneer Society
7/13 Re: People
7/14 Miscellaneous: (Genealogical Tree for Jacob Wiebens)
7/15 "Territorial Expansions" and "Immigration and Kindred Topics"
7/16 Miscellaneous

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McGilvra, John Jay, Estate Papers
7/17 Miscellaneous 1923
7/18 To: Lowman, J.D. 1923-1924
7/19-24 To: McGilvra, Mrs. Elizabeth M. From: McGilvra, O.C. 1904-1926
8/1 To: McGilvra, Mrs. E.M. From: McGilvra Estate 1913-1922
8/2 To: McGilvra, Mrs. E.M. From: Miscellaneous 1910-1923
8/3 To: McGilvra, O.C. From: A. H. Reid & Co. 1922-1923
8/4 To: McGilvra, O.C. From: Seattle Title Trust Co. 1922-1924
8/5 To: McGilvra, O.C. From: Miscellaneous 1919-1928
8/6 To: Burke, Mrs. C.E. From: McGilvra Estate 1912-1926
8/7 To: A.H. Reid & Co. From: Miscellaneous 1922-1923
8/8 To: Seattle Title Trust Co. From: Miscellaneous 1919-1923
8/9 To: Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands From: McGilvra Estate 1920-1927
8/10 To: Wright, G.E. From: McGilvra Estate n.d., 1920-1922
8/11 To: Miscellaneous From: McGilvra Estate 1916-1930
8/12 Agreements
8/13 Assignments
8/14 Certificates
8/15-16 Contracts
8/17 Indentures
8/18 Legal Papers
8/19 Memoranda
8/20 Notes - Financial
8/21 Powers of Attorney
8/22 Real Estate Contracts
8/23 Real Estate - Price Lists
8/24 Receipts
8/25-26 Reports
8/27 Statements
8/28 Wills
9/1-3 Financial - Miscellaneous
9/4 McGilvra Family Documents
9/5 McGilvra, O.C. - Miscellaneous
10 Journal 1903-1916

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McGilvra, Elizabeth M.
Incoming Correspondence
9/6 Canadian Bank of Commerce 1918-1920
9/7 Jones, Juliet E. (Hills) n.d., 1904, 1907
9/8 Lyon, L.K. n.d.
9/9 Moyer, Carrie, E. 1918, 1920, n.d.
9/10 Miscellaneous (A-Z) 1903-1920
9/11 Outgoing Correspondence 1920
9/12 Deed, Contract
9/13-14 Financial Records
9/15 Notes - Financial
9/16 Receipts
9/17 Statements
9/18 Tax Notices
9/19 Wills
9/20 Miscellany

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McGilvra, Ethel
9/21 Incoming Correspondence - Letter from K.B. Scott 1890-1894, 1917, 1926, n.d.

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McGilvra, Oliver C.
9/22 Incoming Correspondence 1900-1910
9/23-24 Outgoing Correspondence 1844-1926, n.d.

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McGilvra, Lillian L.
9/25 Incoming Correspondence 1915
9/26 Autograph Book
9/26 Notebook

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McGilvra and Baxter, Attorneys
9/27 Incoming Correspondence 1873-1875

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Blaine, Elbert F.
General Correspondence
9/28 Edmiston, J.K 1893
9/28 Hale, H.C. 1888
9/28 Kreisher, Philip H. 1886
9/28 Magers, J.E 1888
9/28 Montgomery, Alex 1888
9/28 Nicolai Brother Co. 1888
9/28 Olmsted Brothers (Report to Park Commissioners) 1905
9/28 Seavey, Abbie J. 1888
9/28 U.S. Pension Agency 1888

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1 Letterpress Copybooks, vol. 1-3 complete 1873-1882
1 Letterpress Copybooks, vol. 4, pp. 1-110 (Apr. 16, 1883 - May 29, 1884) 1883-1884
2 Letterpress Copybooks, vol. 4, pp. 111-end (Jun. 2, 1884 - Sept. 5 1887) 1884-1887
2 Letterpress Copybooks, vol. 5, pp. 1-441 (Sept. 9, 1887 - Sept. 21, 1889) 1887-1889
3 Letterpress Copybooks, vol. 5, pp. 442-end (Oct. 5, 1889 - Aug. 21, 1890) 1889-1890
3 General Correspondence (Jul. 8, 1861 - Dec. 16, 1895) 1861-1895
4 General Correspondence (1896 - 1903) 1896-1903
4 General Correspondence, Undated and Unidentitied

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  • Personal Names :
  • Goss, George
  • McGilvra, Caroline Burke
  • McGilvra, John J. (John Jay), 1827-1903--Archives
  • McGilvra, Oliver C.
  • Corporate Names :
  • Northern Pacific Railroad Company
  • Republican Party (Wash.)
  • Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad
  • Geographical Names :
  • Cedar River Reservoir (King County, Wash.)
  • Lake Washington Ship Canal (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Seattle (Wash.)--Politics and government--19th century
  • Seattle (Wash.)--Race relations--19th century
  • Washington (State)--Officials and employees
  • Subject Terms :
  • Businessmen--Washington (State)--Archives
  • Government attorneys--Washington (State)--Archives
  • Indians of North America--Washington (State)--Government relations
  • Legislators--Washington (State)--Archives
  • Railroads--Washington (State)
  • Water-supply--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Microfilms

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