Just over five miles long and two miles wide, Mercer Island lies in Lake Washington east of the City of Seattle and west of the City of Bellevue. About 21,000 people make it their home. Settlement of the island by non-Native Americans began in the late 1870’s. The island was named after one of the three pioneering Mercer brothers from Illinois, all of whom had great influence in the Seattle area. Although none of the brothers lived on Mercer Island, they would often hunt and explore throughout the island’s secluded forests. The early settlers traveled by rowboats to the neighboring community of Seattle to pick up necessities. An occasional tramp steamer would drop off items that were too large to transport by rowboat.
Because of the inconveniences of island living, settlement lagged until C.C. Calkins platted the town of East Seattle, having purchased 22,000 acres. That’s nearly three percent of the island’s total acreage. In 1891 he built a luxurious resort on the western side of the island. This spurred the building of a ferry dock and small streamers began to make regular trips. This availability of transportation attracted more residents. Ferry travel continued until July 2, 1940 when the floating bridge from Mercer Island to Seattle was opened.
Today eight lanes of Interstate 90 connect Mercer Island with Seattle and Bellevue. It includes two side-by-side floating bridges that link Seattle and Mercer Island, a boon for commuters and shoppers.
Mercer Island is primarily a single-family residential community. A commercial business district and multi-family dwellings are concentrated at the northern end. However, the northern end on the other side of Interstate 90 is also a single-family residential community as well as being the site of Luther Burbank Park, which is county-owned.