Island residents regard their community as a tranquil place with lush vegetation and a rural feeling, despite its proximity to Seattle. It's also a well-to-do community. Mercer Island is home to many of the region's most prominent citizens. With 78% of the population holding college degrees, Islanders value education very highly. They take pride in their schools, volunteering and taxing themselves to ensure high quality.
The Mercer Island School District is committed to academic excellence. Schools within this district have received regional and national recognition and awards for outstanding test results and programs. The American Music Conference ranked this district as one of the best 100 public school music programs in the nation. The University of Washington, 15 minutes away in Seattle, is widely recognized as one of the best universities in the U.S. Additional institutions of higher learning include Seattle Pacific University, Seattle Central Community College and City University.
Not only does Mercer Island provide the best in education, it also provides its residents with the best in recreation. The Parks and Recreation Department oversees about 23 parks and also provides residents and visitors a variety of programs for all ages. Island parks such as Bicentennial Park provide ball fields, extensive bike trails, beaches, picnic areas boat launches and areas for fishing and swimming. Public beaches, boat and kayak rentals, and all sorts of water sports can be indulged here on Mercer Island.
The island has a vibrant art community. The Gallery is located in the Community Center at Mercer View and is coordinated by the Mercer Island Arts Council. Six shows a year are exhibited, and artwork is for sale.
Settlement of the island by non-Native Americans began in the late 1870s. The island was named after one of the three pioneering Mercer brothers from Illinois, all of who 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.