Ballard is an uber-hot, uber-neighborhood in the northwest corner of Seattle. Currently it is a much sought after piece of real estate for restaurants, shops, condo complexes and all else that comes with being desired for development. This is, however, as any old time Seattle resident will tell you, very much a recent development. Until the end of the 20th century, Ballard was not known for top restaurants, a music scene or adorable boutiques. Rather it was known for lutefisk eating septuagenarians and the lack of driving skill that comes with that age or haggard fishermen and the lack of cleanliness that comes with the businesses they patronize.

Ballard started its life as its own city in the mid 1850s; cuddled into Salmon and Shilshole Bays, it had everything a town could need—a railroad to connect it and an industry to serve it. Ballard was founded as the terminus of the railroad because the railroad company did not want to continue the tracks over the bay. Thus many small businesses began there, catering to the people and products that had to exit the tracks at that point, whether they were to continue their journey by land or by sea. The next big development following the railroad tracks was the aftermath of the Great Seattle Fire in 1889.

With the mills in downtown Seattle burnt to the ground, the fledgling city looked to its then neighbor to the north, Ballard, to pick up the slack with its newest addition, its own lumber mills. The influx of economy and people provided by the movement northward overwhelmed the city of Ballard, bringing with it all sorts of problems, from gambling to sewage treatment. To quell the issues and bring order, Ballard had to be annexed to the city of Seattle. This is a moment in Ballard history that is still protested and lamented, mainly in the form of semi-ironic bumper stickers.

Ballard grew from a mill town to earn a reputation that it held for a century to come, that it was home to fishermen and Scandinavian immigrants (often the same people). Fresh fish is still available across the ship canal at Fisherman’s Terminal and there are still a few Scandinavian businesses, selling lutefisk (a Norwegian delicacy) and Swedish baked goods that dot the neighborhood. As Seattle expanded northward a century ago, Ballard grew and now it does so once again, as businesses and homeowners are priced away from downtown and move to Ballard.

Ballard Avenue and Market Street, the two major commercial thoroughfares of Ballard, are both lined with new buildings and crowded businesses. The growth has made old Ballard homeowners nervous, as many of them were pushed from their homes to make way for large developments and condominiums, however, new Ballard has embraced its reputation for happening nightlife, amazing food from top chefs and cute shops in which to spend money.

In summer, the locals flock to Golden Gardens, the beach and park that lines the western edge of Ballard, offering amazing views, waterfront amenities, a dog park and a place to enjoy the summer sunshine in Seattle. Tourists, meanwhile, crowd the Ballard Locks, where the water levels are maintained to balance the Lake Washington Ship Canal, allowing boats easy passage from Puget Sound to Lake Washington and vice versa. The Locks boast nice views, fascinating engineering and the opportunity to see salmon jump through the fish ladder, an incredible and beautiful feat of nature.