Roughly 15,000 years ago a 3,000-foot-thick glacier stretched across Puget Sound from the Olympic Mountains on the west to the Cascade Mountains on the east. As it melted and retreated northward, it sculpted Bellevue’s smooth hills and scoured out the two lakes that flank it—Lake Washington on the west and Lake Sammamish on the east—settling the city amid hills and water and soaring mountain ranges.
When white settlers first explored the area in the mid-1800s, rich soil nourished thick, lush forests. The region’s Salish Indians, called Hah-tshu-ab’sh, or “lake people,” had a settlement near Factoria, and they hunted and gathered food in the dense forested areas of Bellevue and fished along the lakes. In the century after those first settlers cleared land, Bellevue’s character shifted dramatically from wild country to metropolitan city. Much of that development is evident in the landscape and neighborhoods today.
Bellevue incorporated in 1953 with a population of just under 6,000 and roughly five square miles. It grew tenfold in the two decades following its incorporation to become the fourth-largest city in Washington in 1970.