Pioneer Square is a historical section of Seattle that shows off its charming, historical side right when you step foot in it. A valuable addition to our weekend in Seattle and home to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, where you will find Seattle’s true history.
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Seattle History with a Side of Comedy
When googling things to do in Seattle, you are most surely going to come across “Underground Tour” on your list. What you may not realize is that the Underground Tour is actually a tour through the first, historic city of Seattle. Built on soggy ground with a completely inadequate sewer system, the city was then burned to the ground several years later. It is referred to as the Great Fire of 1889 because miraculously no one died, but the city was decimated in a matter of hours.
When it came time to rebuild, Seattle decided to build on top of the old city, which would allow them to completely renovate the sewer system and give their buildings a strong foundation which was desperately needed.
What you also may not realize, is that this tour is half history and half comedy and quite entertaining! Our tour started off with us in the front row of a large room with an introduction by tour guide, Clay. He introduced us to the main players in the history of Seattle, Doc Maynard, Arthur Denny, and Ezra Meeker. He also hilariously educated us on exactly what happened when Seattle-ites tried to dump sewer into the ocean and what then happened when the tides changed….and turned their toilets into fountains. Ahem…
I won’t ruin all the fun for you by telling you everything. But I will tell you that my husband was laughing hysterically with tears even. He said to me, “I know you don’t think poop jokes are funny….but this is really, really funny!”
Underground Seattle Tour Guide
We then split into two groups and made our way on a tour of the underground. We explored old banks, homes, toilets, photographs, and other artifacts that were all discovered when the Bill Speidel decided to approach the city about opening up the space to visitors over 50 years ago as part of an effort to save Pioneer Square by turning it into a historic district.
The tour makes its way through streets above ground in Pioneer Square and then descends down staircases in multiple places to walk below the streets. The walkways underground are rickety, drafty, and dusty, which just contributes to its charm.
Our guide, Mariah, educated us on the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1889 and the process that led to buildings operating above ground and sidewalks remaining below ground for many years.
She also enlightened us to the many “seamstresses” that lived in a small area of town and made more income than any other male occupation. The head “seamstress,” Madame Lou Graham, was instrumental in the rebuilding of Seattle as her wealth allowed her to offer business loans in order to finance the rebuild.
Bill Speidel is the author of the book that was banned from schools called, “Sons of Profit”, so it therefore became the most stolen book from libraries for many years. He discusses Seattle’s sin taxes and recovery from the fire and fills you in on the juicy details that Seattle’s pioneers didn’t want you to know.
The tour ends in the gift shop which allows you to pick up a souvenir if desired, and also to view the many treasures that were found underground when the passageways were first discovered by Bill Speidel.
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour Ticket Info
Tours are given on the hour from 10am-6pm (October-March) and 9am-7pm (April-September) every day of the week. Our tour held over 50 people, so you can only imagine how popular this attraction is! Make your reservations early. Tickets are $22 for adults and $10 for children 7 and up.
Young children are welcome on this tour, but it is not stroller friendly. It is a 90-minute guided tour, so children need to be content with following along with the group for that length of time.
Parking in this Pioneer Square is not easy, so Uber, bus or light rail is your friend when it comes time to arrive for your tour.
Underground Tour Review
The history of Seattle comes to life as the guides comically story tell their way through the major events that led to its growth. There is something eerie about being underground, and yet something magical as well. We are so glad that we took the time to explore the mazes beneath the streets! Had we left Seattle without learning about its early days, we definitely would have cheated ourselves. The knowledge of the guides, as well as their entertaining humor, made for a very enjoyable morning!
A thank you to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour for hosting us on this tour in exchange for an article with our own, honest opinions to share with you, lovely readers!