The history of Kenmore’s name spans much of the globe and embraces three separate communities, each located beside a body of water. The name originated on a Scottish loch (lake), was carried across the ocean to a riverside settlement in Ontario, Canada, and then was given to a community beside Lake Washington.
The name is derived from the Gaelic word Caenmore, meaning “big head.” The Scottish village of Kenmore, Perthshire, is about 190 miles north of Edinburgh, Scotland, situated at the “head” of Loch Tay, a “big” bay about 20 miles long.
The first of the three Kenmores traces its history to the mid-1500s. Before that time there may have been, along the water’s edge, one or two crannogs—dwellings built on stilts over the water for defensive purposes.
In the mid-1800s, as a wave of immigration was washing over North American shores, a man named Peter McLaren left his childhood home of Kenmore in Scotland to take up a new life in Ontario, Canada. He joined other immigrants settling in Osgoode Township, about forty miles from Ottawa.
As the new settlement grew, the residents sought an identity for their area. They gave the honor of naming the village to McLaren, by then a wealthy landowner. Recalling his home village in Scotland, Peter McLaren proposed the name Kenmore, telling residents he had high hopes for the town and wanted to see it become the “big head” in Osgoode Township. The town was christened Kenmore in 1857.
The Canadian town of Kenmore was situated at the juncture of three branches of the Castor River. Since waterways furnished the primary source of transportation and commerce in the early days of the developing country, the village flourished at its strategic location. The Castor River also provided the means for turning the wheels of the grist mills and sawmills that boosted growth of the emerging town.
In 1875, two young Scotsmen who were brothers-in-law—Duncan Carkner and John McMaster—came to the Castor River area and started the Carkner mill, which produced lumber, shingles, doors, window sash, and cheese boxes.
McMaster began eyeing a move across the border to the United States. He and his wife Annie left Kenmore, Ontario, and moved to Seattle in May 1889, a month before the Great Seattle Fire. McMaster had heard about plentiful stands of huge cedar trees at the head of Lake Washington. He joined his brother Peter at a shingle mill on the Duwamish mudflats to learn the new method of sawing shingles by machine instead of by hand.
McMaster and a man named Chris Kruse leased land on the northeast shore of Lake Washington from Watson Squire, and started a sawmill and shingle operation on January 1, 1901. It was located on a site just north of what later became home to Kenmore Air Harbor, and east of the future location of the Kenmore Pre-Mix plant.
In providing houses and services for his workers, McMaster created a settlement that then needed a name. He named his sawmill town Kenmore after his former home of Kenmore, Ontario, and registered the name with state officials on January 10, 1901.
Although another 97 years passed before Kenmore became an incorporated city in 1998, the area has been known officially as Kenmore since 1901.
The Scottish village of Kenmore, with about six hundred residents, lies at the head of a bay called Lock Tay (Lake Tay), fed by the Tay River emerging (left) under the village’s historic bridge.
Photo courtesy of Kenmore, Scotland, Village Council.
This 1905 photo shows the crew that operated the Carkner Shingle Mill on the Castor River in Ontario, Canada. The mill was established in 1875 by John McMaster and his brother-in-law, Duncan Carkner, before McMaster moved from Canada to the U.S. in 1889. He ultimately gave our Kenmore its name.
Photo courtesy of the Village of Kenmore, Ontario, Canada