One of Seattle’s earliest celebrations of its veterans came in 1899 upon the return of the First Washington Volunteer Regiment from the Spanish-American War. The 1200 volunteers fought around Manila for six months, with 129 killed and wounded. According to a City Council resolution, the soldiers “won a world wide reputation for bravery on the field of battle and have brought renown to the State of Washington.”
The resolution proposed that “some especial recognition should be given” to the soldiers as they were mustered out of service, calling for a committee to be formed to raise funds for a “suitable celebration” that included fireworks. Council designated the mayor, representatives from the three daily newspapers, the Board of Education, public school teachers, and the Chamber of Commerce to plan and fund this event. Ordinances were passed to pay for decorating and illuminating the streets for the celebration, as well as to ban streetcars from the area during the multi-day event.
The regiment arrived in San Francisco in November 1899 and from there made their way back to Washington. Dozens of boats greeted the Seattle contingent’s ship as it arrived in Elliott Bay, and tens of thousands of people cheered them in the streets. Celebrations continued for three days.
Seattle continued to look for ways to memorialize the veterans, and eventually decided to name a public space in honor of those who had died in the war. Of the two places eventually proposed – the “City Park” and a triangle at Yesler and Second Avenue South – a committee of veterans chose the former, which became Volunteer Park.