First Hill (Pill Hill)

First Hill (Pill Hill)

Seattle’s First Hill is named for being the first hill from downtown, headed east. It is also known by its nickname, Pill Hill, so called for the high concentration of hospitals in the neighborhood. First Hill is one of the few neighborhoods in Seattle to have fairly easily discernable border lines, with Yesler to the south separating First Hill from the International district, 12th Avenue on the east acting as the borderline to the Central district, and East Pike Street as the northern boundary with Capitol Hill. Interstate 5 divides downtown from First Hill on First Hill’s west side.

Pill Hill, however was not the first nickname that First Hill ran across. The area began getting built up in the 1890’s, an early start due to its convenient location on the eastern edge of downtown. Many of the areas wealthy business people made their homes here in the early 20th century. Included in this collection of rich residents was meatpacking magnate Charles Frye, whose personal art collection remains on the Hill and free to the public in the form of the Frye Art Museum. First Hill was also the location of the original King Country courthouse, making for an unpleasantly steep walk for lawyers coming from their downtown offices. Due to their extensive complaints, the area was known as “Profanity Hill.”

The nickname Pill Hill was an easy one to come by, as the First Hill area is home to Harborview, Swedish and Virginia Mason Medical Centers, three major health care facilities. In addition there were others in the area that eventually merged into those three. Due to the location of these three hospitals, many other medical facilities and providers have gravitated to the location, cementing the reputation of the neighborhood.

The other easily noticeable feature of the neighborhood is the high concentration of churches on First Hill, despite Seattleites famously low levels of religious involvement. The architectures of Trinity Epicopal Parish, St. James Cathedral and Seattle First Baptist are all extraordinary in beauty and striking in their contrast with the apartment buildings and hospitals that dominate the neighborhood. Completing the trifecta with the hospitals and churches in the neighborhood are the collection of well-known private schools in the area. Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Northwest School are both highly regarded middle and high schools, while O’dea is a catholic high school for boys. In higher education, the Jesuit school Seattle University has been located in the neighborhood since 1898. The neighborhood is no longer the mecca for well-to-do business people that it once was; however, it is having a resurgence as a residential area. In recent years the trendy restaurants of Capitol Hill have been spilling south of Pike and into First Hill, adding to the allure of the neighborhood. Convenient to downtown, it has a lot of great features, but it continues to fight its reputation for being filled with the homeless and mildly insane that flock to the all-night waiting rooms and public health care of the hospitals.