kirke park history

The Church on “the Heights”

In 2008, the City of Seattle purchased this property from the Seventh Elect Church in Israel, a small sect founded in 1922 by a self-styled preacher from the Midwest named Daniel Salwt (originally Sult).

While living in Ohio around 1900, Salwt almost certainly became acquainted with Benjamin and Mary Purnell, the founders of the House of David, a well-known premillennial Christian sect. Convinced that it was his destiny to gather together believers in preparation for the endtime, Salwt headed west, arriving in Seattle around 1910 at the age of sixty-five. He chose “the heights above Ballard” as the site for his church, which he most likely modeled after the House of David; celibacy, vegetarianism, and long hair and beards were the norm for both.

Estimates of the number of Salwt followers varied from about twenty-five, on average, to several hundred. A court record from 1932 describes them as mainly day laborers, including shingle weavers, plasterers, and mechanics. On joining the church, they were required to surrender wages and other personal property. they earned additional income for the colony by installing sprinkler systems that Salwt himself designed. Members also tended fruit trees and both vegetable and ornamental beds on the property.

The large communal building that once occupied the center of the property was mostly likely a downtown hotel that was given to Salwt, then brought ot the property in pieces and reassembled. A farmhouse stood nearby, north of the large building. The walls of the garden (the “secret garden”) were the foundation of a “temple” that was never finished.

Kirke (pronounced KEER-kuh), a Nordic word meaning “church,” reflects both the history of the park property and the cultural heritage of Ballard. Between 1890 and 1920, nearly 150,000 Scandinavians — mostly from Norway and Sweden — settled in the Pacific Northwest and became the largest foreign-born ethnic group in Washington. Ballard, with its maritime, fishing, and lumber industries, was especially attractive to these new immigrants and soon acquired a distinctively Scandinavian character that is still in evidence today.

A plaque with this information is posted on the walls of Kirke’s Secret Garden.

Stones set into the ground once claimed the property in SALWT’s name.
Barbara Hainley

The late Barbara Hainley, a member of Ballard Historical Society and one of the original members of Friends of Kirke Park, played a key role in the park’s founding. She was an editor and writer with a background in educational publishing, and a beloved member of the Kirke Park family.

Barbara wrote an excellent description of the rich and unusual history of the site in Communal Societies, a Journal of the Communal Studies Association.