Van Doren’s Landing

Traveling to Kent today is pretty easy. Locally, we have roads and sidewalks in most places. Regionally, we have Metro buses, and the Sounder train from Seattle. Internationally, we are close to Seatac and an airplane from almost anywhere. It is great.

Today, I will speak to a time when that was not the case. In the 1870s, you had three choices to travel to Kent.  You could walk.  You could ride a horse. Or you could take the river boat.  In all three cases, you probably saw Mr. Cornelius Van Doren at Van Doren’s Landing.

Cornelius Van Doren

Cornelius Van Doren

The landings on the White River were very important places in the early period of Western settlement in Kent.   It was the connection to the outside world, the place where goods were loaded to go to Seattle and where goods from Seattle were unloaded. It was the first place to learn the news of the day and to pick up the mail, since the dock owner was often the de facto postmaster.   Just south of Kent, Thomas Alvord had a landing.   West of Kent, David Neely had a landing and was the first official postmaster for the area.

Further north, between 228th and 212th, was Van Doren’s Landing. Cornelius Van Doren arrived in the valley in the late 1860s or early 1870s and settled on the White River near the newly created town of O’Brien, which was north of modern Kent.
Van Doren's AreaHe was known to have small black smith shop, farmed a little hops, but more importantly operated a ferry and riverboat dock.

First, the ferry was important since there were no bridges across the White River at that time and the Military Road was the only real road in the area.

Military Road was the only road to connect north and south in the 1870s.

Military Road was the only road to connect north and south in the 1870s.

The map is taken from the brochure “Military Road: A Lasting Legacy,” by Karen Meador.  The photo is of Gee’s Ferry on the Mississippi River. It is an example of a cable ferry like the one Van Doren operated. It made crossing the river easier and safer than fording or swimming!

Gees Ferry in Alabama

Gees Ferry in Alabama

Second, Van Doren’s property was a place for the river boats to dock.  Boats like the one pictured here were common on the White River starting as far back as 1855. They were the primary means of transport for the valley’s bounty of raw materials bound for Seattle. Van Doren’s Landing was well situated when  Patrick Hayes brought hops to Kent in the 1870s.  Hayes demonstrated that the cash crop could be raised successfully and in bulk, which spurred many land owners in the valley to start cultivation. Van Doren’s landing was the central loading point for north Kent. Van Doren also grew some hops of his own, possibly on acreage on the west side of the river.

Hops pickers in the valley were a common sight in the 1880s.

Hops pickers in the valley were a common sight in the 1880s.

Van Doren’s Landing also had a small blacksmith shop, his was one of a number of early settlers who knew his way around a hammer, and could do the basic work needed to keep farm implements in working order.

Mr. Van Doren is on the far left.

Mr. Van Doren is on the far left.

The need for river boat landings and ferry crossings diminished in the mid 1880s. The railroad came through Kent in 1885 and regular service was established in 1887. The White River was bridged at several places by 1890 and in 1893, there are suggestions in the newspaper to lower the bridges several feet because has been no river traffic for years.  However, Cornelius Van Doren was not forgot!  The city of Kent has a fine park on the Green River that bears his name. Several plaques have been created over the years, including this one, that dedicated the space for the early settler.

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