Gottlieb Burian's gravestone at Lakeview Cemetery.

Story by Scott Schaefer
Photos Courtesy Highline Historical Society
The Highline Historical Society has posted a very interesting article written by Earl F. Charvet (from research by Charles L. Thiesenhusen) on its website that sets the record straight about Gottlieb Burian, the man Burien was named after.
Previously, most B-Towners thought that our city was named after some funny-looking old dude called Gottlieb Von Boorian.
Recently-uncovered documents show that his name was just plain ol’ Gottlieb Burian, sometimes spelled with two ‘r’s’, as in ‘Burrian.’
Some other historical info that has been corrected:

  • Gottlieb Burian is sometimes mistakenly thought of as the first settler in this area. Others credit a guy named Mike (not Mick) Kelly. Wrong – that honor goes to George Ouellet (just think, Burien should’ve been named Ouelletville!).
  • There is no evidence that Gottlieb Burian descended from a noble Prussian family or that family members spelled their name in any way other than “Burian.” Naturalization papers, state legal records, contemporary newspaper accounts, city directories, marriage records of his children, and the family’s grave markers at Lake View Cemetery all show the name spelled “Burian.”
  • If Gottlieb was referred to as “Von Boorian” during his life, it may have been a self applied honorific or a tribute by his friends at the Turnverein and the Sons of Hermann Lodge. Another possible explanation for the Von Boorian myth may be that it arose from the notoriety of Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Stephan Burian von Rajecz, called “Baron von Burian” in newspaper headlines during the early years of World War I.

Here’s an excerpt from the story (read the full article here):

In the 1880s, the area ten miles south of Seattle called Sunnydale (now Burien) was densely forested by tall Douglas firs and hemlocks, and mostly unsettled. Land patents for homestead sites were still available for purchase directly from the Federal government. The first record of the Burians residing in Sunnydale appears in March 1885,29 which confirms family accounts stating they arrived in Sunnydale in “about 1884.”30 However, Gottlieb Burian did not purchase his 120 acre homestead in Sunnydale from the Federal land office until about five years later, on 31 August 1889.31 This parcel of land (in Township 23 North, Range 4 East, Section 19; around today’s 12th Avenue SW and SW 156th Street) was handsomely sited on the southeast corner of a lake, later named Lake Burien in his honor.
Evidence from city directories and census records prove that the Burian family maintained two primary residences. The house on the lake served as a home where they raised their children and was a comfortable retreat from city life.32 33 A photo taken about 1893 shows Gottlieb and Emma dressed simply in black on the steps of Sunnydale School, clearly in a place of honor, surrounded by school girls in white dresses with women wearing their finest hats and men in starched collars and ties.34 The occasion is unknown, but it is obvious they were highly respected citizens in the community. Their city home at 1716 Spring Place on Capitol Hill, one block away from Minor Park, was not far from the center of Seattle’s commercial hub, its social events, and Gottlieb’s places of business.35 A few years before Gottlieb’s death, they sold this house and moved seven blocks west to another home at 1020 Spring Place, where Virginia Mason Hospital stands today.36
Gottlieb Burian is sometimes mistakenly thought of as the first settler in the city of Burien area. However, this honor belongs to George Ouellet (variously spelled as Oullet, Ouellette, Oulett, Oulet, etc.), a French-Canadian immigrant born in Sainte-Marie de Beauce, south of Quebec City in 1837.37. Ouellet purchased the first of his several Federal land patents in the area in 1864, fully twenty-five years before Burian bought any land.38 39
Late in life, Gottlieb and Emma retired at their downtown Seattle home. When a census taker arrived in June 1900 and interviewed Gottlieb at age 63, he amusingly gave his profession as “shoemaker.”

Gottlieb Burien and friends, from a photo taken on the steps of the Sunnydale School (circa 1893) at a community gathering. Photo courtesy Highline Historical Society.

Don’t forget – you can help the historical society preserve our area’s history by donating online here.]]>

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4 replies on “Highline Historical Society Sets Record Straight On Guy Burien Was Named After”

  1. Let me say just based on the choices for other names in our area (Dale, Vale, Heights, Hurst) that your hypothesis, ” (just think, Burien should’ve been named Ouelletville!).” is wrong. Possibly, it would have been named Ouellet Heights or Ouellethurst or Ouelletdale. You should know by now that I have an obsessive compulsive hatred for the tag “Ville” as can be evidenced by my fight to get the name “Evansville” correctly eliminated from history and properly replaced by the historically correct “Evansvale” name.

      1. Sorry TcB, your proposal is etymologically incorrect. “Ouellet” is clearly a French name, and if it were appended with anything, “ville” – the French word meaning city or town – would be a correct choice. (Something from ancient Middle English, such as “Heights” or “Hurst” or “Dale” – would be both inappropriate and wrong.) —– “Evansville” is also an etymologically appropriate place name, as there are many people named “Evans” born in France… specifically, for example: 152 French nationals were born with the surname “Evans” between 1941 & 1965, as well as 138 between 1966 & 1990. (Please see the French website, which hold a database extracted from governmental INSEE records of births.) Personally, I also have close ties to a French Evans family that lives in Marseille. —– As for your misplaced “compulsive hated,” I suggest you seek help from trained clinical psychologist to control your raging anger and your compulsive disorder. It would do you much good.

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