Ballard got its name by coin toss
Ballard acquired its name as a matter of chance.
Indeed, the name was literally the result of a flip of a coin along with a 1880s nickname for a train stop. Before it became Ballard, the little community on Salmon Bay was known for about a year as Gilman Park as a result of the activities of the West Coast Improvement Co., the leading local land development enterprise.
William Rankin Ballard, the town's namesake, came west at age 11 with his family in 1858. The family settled in Roseburg, Oregon, where young William attended school.
He made his way to Puget Sound and studied civil engineering at Washington Territorial University. He learned surveying that prepared him well for his subsequent activities as a land developer. His first job after finishing his university studies were federal contracts surveying public lands around Puget Sound.
In 1876 his brother offered W.R. the position of first mate on the Zephyr, a sternwheeler that plied between Olympia and Seattle. When his brother died in 1877 Ballard became captain of the vessel.
In 1881 he became co-owner with George Harris and John Leary. Ballard proved to be an able manager, and the Zephyr was one of the most successful, and profitable, of the Mosquito Fleet steamers providing transportation for passengers and cargo on the sound. Ballard commanded and skippered the vessel until 1887. Although he never skippered another vessel, he was called "captain" the rest of his life.
Ballard was keenly aware of the rapid development in the Elliott Bay area as he transported large numbers of people moving to Seattle to work and make homes. Being an entrepreneur at heart he began investing in land and commercial enterprises.
One such venture was a hay and feed store on Salmon Bay that he undertook with another Mosquito Fleet skipper Capt. J.A. Hatfield. One day a logger, who had run up a substantial bill on credit for the hay and feed for his horses used in logging off his Salmon Bay claim, came into the store and announced that he did not have the cash to settle his account.
However, he offered to pay the bill with 160 acres of logged-off land. Reluctantly, the storeowners accepted the land in lieu of cash.
Shortly thereafter, Ballard and Hatfield dissolved their partnership and divided their assets. Neither man wanted the "worthless" land on Salmon Bay. After some debate, they decided to toss a coin, with the loser getting the land.
Capt. Hatfield won the toss and Ballard accepted the land. This 160 acres located on Salmon Bay was the key to Ballard's subsequent development activities that would result in the community carrying his name.
Eventually the logger's land was absorbed by the West Coast Improvement Co. and subdivided into building lots. Years later Ballard admitted that he realized over $160,000 from his losing the toss of the coin with Hatfield.
In 1889 the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad tracks ran as far north from Seattle as the south side of Salmon Bay, where travelers disembarked and took the footbridge across the shallow waterway. The railroad line manager, who knew Ballard and his leadership in what was known as the Gilman Park development, humouredly referred to the stop as Ballard Junction.
The car would come to a stop at the end of the line at Salmon Bay and the conductor would call out," Ballard Junction! All out for Ballard Junction!" The passengers would tumble out and make their way across the creaking bridge to their homes in the woods on Salmon Bay.
In 1888 the West Coast Improvement Co. platted their Salmon Bay holdings as Gilman Park in recognition of John Gilman's part in the bringing the railroad across the bay. The community was known as Gilman Park the year before it incorporated. However, the name Ballard was already firmly associated with this area in people's minds and when the community incorporated in 1890 the city council changed the name to Ballard, and Ballard it has remained ever since.
After annexation to Seattle in 1907 there was talk of changing the name of Ballard to "Northwest Seattle" or even "FDR No. 23" for the federal postal delivery route number. In 1917, after the completion of the ship canal and locks, the idea of calling Ballard "Canal Station" was discussed, but again it came to nothing.