A tall, red-brick bell tower proudly stands at the center of Seattle’s tiny Marvin Gardens, marking the former location of independent Ballard’s old City Hall.
An industrious town built on mill and boat labor and populated mainly by Scandinavian immigrants, Ballard maintained its identity as a separate city from 1890 to 1907. As city population grew, Ballard’s lack of fresh water and a proper sewage system became insurmountably problematic. The city was dependent on a shared water supply with neighboring Seattle, but a 1906 Supreme Court ruling declared that Seattle was by no means required to share their fresh water and the city of Ballard was left in a dire situation. Residents voted against annexation the first time it was proposed, but Ballard was eventually left with no choice but to be incorporated into Seattle. When the annexation occurred on May 29, 1907, the City Hall was mournfully draped with black crepe and Ballard’s flags were hung at half-mast in a sorrowful display of the town’s disappointment.
The City Hall’s brass bell was once rung several times daily to announce shift ends at the local shingle mills and curfew for the town’s children; its last official ringing was on the day that Ballard reluctantly was incorporated into the city of Seattle. The City Hall was used for various purposes for the next several decades until a large earthquake in 1965 caused irreparable structural damage and lead to a planned demolition two years later. On April 11, 1976, Ballard Avenue was officially designated a National Historic District as part of the U.S. Bicentennial Project. The brass bell was restored that year and placed in the brick bell tower in which it still resides today, a remnant from the days when Ballard vehemently maintained its independence from the city of Seattle.
These days the bell has been revamped and electro-magnetically charged to strike on the hour from 9am to 9pm daily, ringing for a full minute on Sundays at 10am and again at 3pm to declare the opening and closing hours of the local Ballard Farmer’s Market.