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The Edmonds Traffic Circle: From Mud and Manure to Today's Fountain

In the late 1800s, two wagon roads met in the forest overlooking Puget Sound. Over the years, this crossroads would see the surrounding forest cut and a town grow up in its place. Ultimately, it would become the town's focal point.

This is the first of a two-part series on the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Main Street and how it has evolved into the prime focal point of the Edmonds community.

The intersection of Fifth and Main defines Edmonds today.

It is a place of public art, quiet ambiance and flowing water. It is a place to walk, breath the fresh Puget Sound air and watch the pin oaks turn from summer green to the burnt umber of autumn. It is a place to read a book or just sit back and enjoy the ebb and flow traffic and pedestrians.

But it wasn't always that way.

Originally the intersection of the main north-south and east-west wagon roads serving Edmonds, the corner of what we know today as Fifth and Main began as a muddy, manure-strewn quagmire.

As the town grew up around it, it soon became downtown Edmonds' eastern focal point. The area now known as the central business district grew up along the axis between this and the western focal point, the wharf at the foot of Main Street.

By the mid 1920s, the automobile had become commonplace. Drawn by the ferries serving the Olympic Peninsula, cars increasingly jammed Edmonds' downtown streets (see Patch article ""). Each year saw more traffic moving through the intersection of Fifth and Main, bringing with it congestion, noise, accidents and other ills. In an effort to control this, the City of Edmonds installed a traffic light, added signage and experimented with one-way streets.

The earliest traffic circle came by accident. During World War II, many towns participated in home-front activities by holding scrap drives to collect materials necessary to the war effort. Edmonds was no exception (see Patch article ""). A collection point for scrap metal was set up in the middle of the intersection, forcing automobiles to drive around it. In later years it became a holiday tradition to erect the municipal Christmas tree in the middle of the intersection, which also had the effect of turning it into a roundabout.

In the early 1970s, perhaps inspired by the way intersection helped smooth traffic flow through downtown, the city designated it as a traffic circle and public art location.

A call went out to artists, and in 1974 the first piece of public art was installed. Designed by local artists Ed Ballew and Howard Duell, it was an abstract free-form fountain sculpted from sheets of copper. Pumps and internal plumbing sent water cascading over the various structural elements.

The next few years saw the traffic circle and fountain evolve into a focal point for Edmonds. In 1978, it was officially dedicated as the Al Kincaid Traffic Circle, in honor of his years of service to the community and as Chamber of Commerce president.

The original fountain remained until 1998. One day, though, an out-of-control car jumped the brick border separating it from the roadway and crashed into the fountain, damaging it beyond repair.

The next structure to occupy the roundabout was a wooden gazebo originally built in 1998 as a prop for the filming of a made-for-TV movie. The white gazebo had a certain charm, but little structural integrity or artistic merit.

Despite being frowned upon as little more than backyard furniture that could be bought in any home supply big-box store, many Edmonds residents loved the gazebo. A grassroots Save Our Gazebo committee petitioned the City of Edmonds to keep it, but it was not to be.

As an official public art location, Edmonds' codes mandate a formal selection process to choose a replacement. In 1999, the gazebo was moved from the traffic circle to a temporary location on Dayton Street near Harbor Square.

Its replacement, the Cedar Dreams Fountain, would come to be one of the premier pieces of public art in the Pacific Northwest.

Watch this space next week to learn about the Cedar Dreams Fountain, how it came to occupy the space at Fifth and Main and how its design captures and reflects Edmonds history, culture and community.

Barbara Chase October 27, 2011 at 04:45 AM
The gazebo was moved to Dayton & 104 ,the S. W. corner. I was told it deteriorated and was taken down by the city. Perhaps someone in the parks department will tell "the rest of the story".
Brian Soergel October 27, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Thanks for the answer on the gazebo, Barbara!

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