An account of Edmund Coleman’s first successful ascent of Mount Baker, Washington Territory, 1868

“Mountaineering on the Pacific,”:The Account of Englishman Edmund Coleman’s first successful ascent of Mount Baker in 1868, [and other assorted adventures], as published in Harper’s Magazine, Nov. 1868.

Click to enlarge thumbnails. Select ‘View full size 680×1084’ to further enlarge image, or save image file to your local machine–


The Original Birchwood Elementary School: gone but not forgotten

As most locals know by now, the  Birchwood Elementary School so many of us grew up with was recently razed to make way for the new Birchwood School which is currently under construction. Today on a whim, I thought I’d have a look at the site via Google Maps/Earth, discovering that the street view and satellite images of the old school still remain (probably until the new school is finished.) Therefore, I took the opportunity to stitch together a panoramic view of the entire school, as viewed from Pinewood Ave. Purely for posterity, so grab a copy now, if you don’t have any images of your own. I also set up a satellite view in Google Earth that shows the blacktop game grids: hopscotch, etc.

Lots of memories down there for me, and I’ll share some them eventually, but not right now. Literally, I could put push-pins into various locations around that school and recount hundreds of memories, as remembered through a child’s eyes.



Birchwood - Satellite
(click for larger image)

Cyrus Lester Gates 1858-1927: Founder of Woodstock Farm


Cyrus Lester Gates

Cyrus Gates came to Fairhaven, Washington in 1890, entering the employ of Charles Xavier Larrabee as his personal secretary. A fastidious man, and diminutive in appearance next to the physically imposing Larrabee, he was no less of a businessman, as well as a local benefactor. A brief biographical note at the WWU website covering their voluminous historical collections states:

“Gates became actively involved in various Larrabee bankable business enterprises, holding part-ownership in the Roslyn-Cascade Coal Company, and serving as Secretary-Treasurer of the Pacific Realty Company until his death on January 13, 1927. Gates donated large amounts of time, money and land to civic and commercial development of the Fairhaven District and Chuckanut Drive. He was especially interested in the development of the city park system.”

Mabel Huntoon-Gates

Mabel Huntoon-Gates

Gates married Mabel Huntoon, sister of the well-known Bert Huntoon, another local businessman and civil engineer whose activities made a considerable impact upon the city. The couple had three children together, and in 1905 Gates began construction of the family home along Chuckanut drive, which was purchased by the city in 2004. It continues to be known by the name Gates gave it: “Woodstock Farm” [satellite view] this being a reference to a place Gates much loved – the town of Woodstock in Gates’ native Vermont. Woodstock Farm was his pride and joy until the time of his death, in 1927, at 68 years of age. Mabel continued to live at the farm until the early 1940s, whereupon the farm was sold to a private party and Mrs. Gates took a room in the Leopold Hotel.

Bert Huntoon

Burt Huntoon

Gates left his mark on Bellingham in other ways, less well-known, perhaps, but in their own way as significant as his best known achievements. Less well known to many is the fact that he purchased the land on which Bellis Fair Mall [satellite view] now stands, and donated it to the State of Washington for use as an agricultural research station. I grew up near where the station stood, and we referred to it simply as the “State Farm.” Across the years I have heard to it referred to as the “tree farm,” the “state tree farm,” and “an old bulb farm.” In reality it was a full-fledged agricultural research station, overseen from Washington D.C., as the USDA Miscellaneous Publication located here notes: (see accompanying digital clipping).

research, agricultural, bulbs, bellingham, washingto

Details on the Bellingham Bulb Station, formerly located at the present site of Bellis Fair Mall.

As an aside, my mother grew up on Telegraph Road, on the site where Burger King presently stands, which was diametrically opposite the entrance to the research station – now the main entrance to Bellis Fair Mall – and as a young girl played with , Kenny Peters, son of the above-named resident scientific aid, B.L. Peters.

In a City of Bellingham Document located here, it states:

…Gates purchased most of the property [used] for today’s Bellis Fair Mall and, with his Larrabee associates, donated the property to the State of Washington expressly for state and federal demonstration and research involving bulb and field crops. Ironically, this effort lead to today’s world-scale bulb industry in Skagit County near the south end of Chuckanut Drive. Regrettably for many, the State did not choose to work with the heirs and successors of the Agricultural Station donors to convert it into a major north Bellingham Park or research arboretum….

I tend to take issue with the statement “…ironically, this effort lead to today’s world-scale bulb industry in Skagit County near the south end of Chuckanut Drive.” As I have detailed in another post, the tulip industry was first firmly seated here in Whatcom County; tens of thousands of tulips and other flowering bulbs were grown in the general vicinity of what is now Smith Greenhouses near Marine Drive. Indeed, the Tulip Festival and the associated annual Tulip Parade were a feature of Bellingham’s civic life in the first three decades of the 20th century, until a hard freeze (the “northeaster”) so-damaged the bulb crop that the entire industry was forced to relocate in Skagit Valley to avoid such disaters in the future. The bulb research conducted at the Bellingham Station may have benefited the Skagit Valley bulb industry,but it certainly did not, in itself, “lead” to it.

gates family

Cyrus Gates (far right) and family at Woodstock Farm. Unidentified man on the left.

Far more ironic than this, in my opinion, is the fact that a piece of land of historical, economic and scientific value, donated to the State by one of Bellingham’s important benefactors, was so easily given over to blacktop and the clutter of a “regional mall,” built by an out-of-state land development company.

Still, Woodstock Farm was purchased and preserved for posterity by Bellingham Parks and Recreation, for all to enjoy, which is no small thing. Something of what Cyrus Lester Gates built still remains.


The Fairhaven Hotel: gone, but not entirely forgotten

There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

– Ecclesiastes 1:11

Fairhaven Hotel
The Fairhaven Hotel in its heday, ca. 1895. It stood for 63 years before being replaced by a service station (right).

The Fairhaven Hotel was built in 1890 under the auspices of James. J. Hill, Charles Xavier Larrabee and the Fairhaven Land Company. Total cost of the structure and its furnishings was $300,000, and the lumber, sandstone, and red brick was all procured/produced locally. This grand Victorian style hotel quickly became the centerpiece of Fairhaven’s “boom” years. It comprised over 100 rooms and boasted solid oak stairways with a plush carpeted lobby and multiple gaslight candelabras. It was lauded as the finest hotel in Washington. High society gathered in its dining room to enjoy multi-course  gourmet dinners at what now seems the ridiculously modest sum of $10.00. Mark Twain stayed there for several days in 1895, and reportedly played billiards at a posh and exclusive adjoining club. The hotel’s future seemed to be bright as the turn of the century neared. But as is common in “boom towns,” sometimes they meet with bust. The hotel’s fortunes suffered with a downturn in the booms that had previously characterized Fairhaven and its satellite towns of Bellingham, Sehome and Whatcom; the hotel closed and Charles Larrabee and his family moved in, making it their home until 1918 when the Larrabee home (now known as Lairmont Manor) was completed in Edgemoor.

The building was tried as a hotel again in the 1920s, under the name “Victoria Hotel,” with far less than stellar results. It then became the “Yoghurt” Sanitarium, the subsequent closure of which is understandable, if it was based upon the ideas of John Harvey Kellogg, who operated the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan at the same time, and advocated many curious health practices (among them yoghurt enemas and the application of phenol to the private parts to discourage “sexual self-abuse.”)

During the depression, the building was used for business purposes – most notably a women’s sewing center – then in 1937 the hotel was quit-claim deeded to Whatcom County by the Larrabee family. Early plans were to convert it to a hospital. In the name of “renovation,” everything above third floor was torn down, and the red brick was resurfaced with concrete. Ultimately, the building became home to the Fairhaven Boys and Girls club, as well as the location of wedding receptions and dances. It was after one of these dances in 1953 that the venerable old structure was gutted by fire.

The county condemned the ill-fated structure and sold it to the highest bidder willing to clear the site. Purchased for a mere $1200, it was converted to rubble in less than six months.The cleared lot was sold for $20,000 and a “modern” service station was built there, to serve the “alternate” Route 99 traffic coming off of Chuckanut Drive. The gas station structure still stands today (see accompanying photograph), and was for a time partly vacant and partly home to Cory’s [hot]Dog Hut, until the hot dog business moved in August 2012. I’m not sure what it’s being used for now, if anything.

One thing is certain. Only a handful of locals know, upon passing by its former location, that the site once was home to the grandest hotel in Washington State, and that almost 110 years ago, the famous Mark Twain rested his head there.

Remembering Ella Higginson

Ella Higginson

ELLA HIGGINSON (WWU Libraries: Ella Higginson Collection.)

Ella Rhoads-Higginson was born in Council Grove, Kansas in 1861, but moved with her parents to Portland, Oregon when she very young. Her youth was spent in Oregon City and Portland, but after marrying Russell HIgginson in 1885, the couple moved to the small town of Sehome, Whatcom County, Washington Territory in 1888, just one year before the territory was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state. Russell, an aspiring businessman, promptly opened a drug store on Elk St. (now State St.). Meanwhile, Ella pursued her aspirations of being a writer, with a good deal of success, her poems and stories being published in such nationally circulated journals as Collier’s, Harper’s Monthly, and McClure’s magazine. The work for which she is best known, however – the Poem, “Four-Leafed Clover” was published in 1890.

In short, Ella made good, and by the turn of the century she had already achieved national notoriety. Meanwhile, she was very active in the civic sphere, especially in regard to women’s rights and various issues affecting women, in addition to being a member of several local clubs and societies. She also worked to establish Bellingham’s first public library, thus bringing the gift of literature within the reach of everyone, rich or poor.

In 1931, Washington State Governor Roland Hartley appointed her state Poet Laureate, yet, paradoxically it was not long after this that her popularity began to wane. WWU English professor Laura Laffrado, who is presently is researching the life and works of Higginson stated in the Bellingham Herald that “at the beginning of the 20th century, she was the great Ella Higginson…By 1940 [the year of her death] she is forgotten entirely.”


ELLA HIGGINSON’S home at the corner of Pine and High Streets. It was torn down to make room for Western’s Viking Commons.  (Biery (Galen) papers and photographs)

I myself have come to the understanding in recent years that Higginson, once a badge of pride for Bellingham, has been mostly forgotten. While it’s possible to quibble endlessly about the reasons for this, I surmise that HIgginson’s fall from notoriety seems to coincide with the waning popularity of poetry, in general, as an art form and entertainment, which in turn coincides with the rise of more passive forms of entertainment – first the radio, then the cinema and television, and later…well, I hardly need expound on the passive distractions available to the average person, today, while the lyrics of popular songs – many of them abysmal or incomprehensible at best – approximate the “poetry” of the day. Prior to these diversions, however, poetry as literature was highly prized as a means to entertain, to englighten, to tell stories and educate. Rural families, largely confined to the house during much of the long winter, where Whittier’s “red logs beat the frost line back with tropic heat,” would read poetry aloud to each other, as well as to themselves…and the magazines and books that could be had in those times were much prized. As for the poets of the day, some of them assumed a stature more akin to what we think of as “rock stars,” and less like the bookish “nerds” that a part of our “modern” culture now derides.

I digress, however. I return again to the simple fact of the matter: once a famed and honored writer and poet, Bellingham has largely forgotten who Ella Higginson was (heaven forbid Baltimore do the same with Poe!). Thus I was gratified to see that Laura Laffrado at WWU is researching the works and life of Ella Higginson, in the hope of bringing her writings back into the public eye…and the hope of seeing a statue honoring her erected.

“Onward!” says I; it can only do us good to connect with the past that is our heritage, here in Bellingham, Washington.


Ella Higginson's gravestone at Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, WA (photo by Ron Buchinsky)

Ella Higginson’s gravestone at Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, WA (photo by Ron Buchinsky)

The Infamous “Windshield Pitting Epidemic” of 1954

This curious incident in the history of Washington State has been reproduced in various books and magazines, and the general consensus is that it was a manifestation of “mass hysteria,” and that it began in Bellingham, WA. A number of sources for further reading about the subject are included at the end of this post.
Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, Steven’s Point Daily Journal, April 16, 1954


Thousands Report Car Windshield Damage

Seattle -(AP)– Superbomb, supernatural or superstition, there as no doubt about it today, the one million people in the Puget Sound country were stirred up by the case of the pockmarked windshields. Some were even blaming H bombs.

And the mayor of this city of 500,000 was trying to stir up the President of the United States. The mayor, Allan Pomeroy, apparently was among the believers that something, rather than someone, is damaging thousands of automobile windshields with an unknown substance.

The mayor asked the president to “instruct appropriate federal agencies ot co-operate with local authorities on an emergency basis.”

There are doubters, too, who think an awful lot of people are victims of mass hysteria, suddenly conscious of something that may have happened days, weeks or months ago.

“Tommyrot!” exploded Dr. D.M. Ritter, assigned by the chemistry department at the University of Washington to assist authorities seeking an answer to the riddle. “There isn’t anything I know of that could be causing unusual breaks in windshields,” he said after examining several and residue found on he cars.

“These people must be dreaming!”


One thing is certain: The claims of damaged windshields are mounting into the thousands. And one thing else appears certain: No other glass objects seem to be suffering, not even side windows of cars.

The description of the damage varies from actual holes to pit marks covering every known shape. Chips, scratches, mars, pits, holes, crumbling, blemishes, blurs, blots and cracks. Some people even claim  that the damage has happened before their very eyes.

Law enforcement officials are convinced that some vandalism was involved in cases reported at Belllingham. Some, but not all, believe the vandalism spread.

Then, this week, other communities south of Bellingham said they had suffered an outbreak of the trouble. Wednesday night it broke out in Seattle. The police switchboard couldn’t handle the complaints; neither could the newspapers.

Some police officers said it even happened to them. Others took the Dr. Ritter attitude. A state patrol official, who asked not to be named because “so many high officials appear to have been taken in,” said he hadn’t found one actual case outside of Bellingham that couldn’t be laid to normal travel damage.

He pointed out that winter, with its heavily sanded streets, has just passed. Windshields were dirty, the atmosphere dark and murky. Blemishes didn’t show up then.


“It’s clearer, brighter, now,” he said. “And with this wave of hysteria, people are inspecting their windshields closely and finding spots they never knew were there before.”

On the other side, persons not know to be the hysterical type reported their autos had been hit. Some said a graphite-like substance had been found on the cars and that it reacted in magnetic fashion.

Meanwhile, rumors were thick that teenagers had been rounded up and signed confessions of responsibility for the Bellingham depredations. The cops are just waiting to round up the rest of the gang, the rumors went.

But police in Seattle said the reported cases of damage are too widespread to have been done by a person or persons.

Some of them, and many of the persons who claimed damage, blamed it on a reaction from the explosion of the hydrogen bomb. [Note: approx. one month prior to the windshield epidemic, the U.S. had conducted the “Castle bravo” test of the first “practical,”  deliverable fusion bomb … The test took place on March 1, 1954 – RB] Others said it was “a manifestation of God’s wrath.”

At Whidbey Island naval air station, where a number of marked windshields were discovered, Geiger counters showed there was no radioactivity present.

Photo credits: Seattle Museum of History and Industry & Seattle Post Intelligencer.


The Blue Canyon Coal Mine, 1895: Disaster Strikes

bus0856-2In 1891 the Blue Canyon Coal Mine opened at the southern end of Lake Whatcom. The coal was bituminous, of lower grade and generally less desirable than harder anthracite coals, but the mine was able to land a contract to supply coal for the United States Pacific Fleet. Coal mining has never been a particularly safe profession, as lung disease and mining accident statistics indicate, but it was proportionately less safe in 1895 than it is today, and like so many mines of that day, Blue Canyon became the site of a mining disaster.. On April 8, 1895, a massive explosion rocked the mine, killing 23 miners in what remains Washington State’s worst industrial accident, to date.

The Blue Canyon mine closed in 1917, producing only 250,000 tons of coal in its 26 year history.

The following accounts of the disaster were both published in the Pullman, Washington Herald on April 13, 1895, five days after the disaster.



Bellingham Kiwanis Club Visits Bellingham Coal Mine


In 1935, in what amounted to an episode of boosterism for the mine, the Bellingham Kiwanis Club was invited to tour the facilities. The interior of some of the shafts were decorated with evergreen boughs and Chinese lanterns for a “welcoming air” (pun not intended). Refreshments served in China were even provided.img0000005A

Bellingham Coal Mine, above ground facility. Vicinity of Park Manor/Albertsons, Bellingham, Washington.


BELLINGHAM KIWANIS CLUB VISIT TO BELLINGHAM COAL MINE, 1935High tea in the bowels of the Earth beneath Bellingham.

BELLINGHAM KIWANIS CLUB VISIT TO BELLINGHAM COAL MINE, 1935The greenery and Chinese lanterns are clear attempts to bring a friendly, festive feeling to a relatively foreboding place.

Bellingham’s Drive-In Theaters

In the 20th century, just as the rise of the automobile as a primary mode of private transportation  gave rise to motor courts and “motor hotels” (motels), so to did it give rise to a new and novel form of entertainment: the drive in movie. For a reasonable price, the entire family could see a double feature under the stars without having to leave their car (with the exception of leaving the car to procure snacks at theater snack bars that judiciously advertised their goodies with quaint and entertaining film shorts during intermission).

In 1958, approximately 4000 drive-ins were in operation in the U.S. Today, there are only around 350 drive-in theaters that remain open.  [source] The reasons for this decline require little elucidation: the widespread proliferation of home video, the rise of multiplex theaters, the disappearance of “family night” with the general dissolution of the classic American “nuclear family.” Washington State saw this decline in drive-in venues, as well, as detailed in the following numbers–



All three of Bellingham’s drive theaters are gone now, as is the one – The Holiday – that stood in the county. And while Jennifer Scherer Janische, CEO of Drive on In, Inc., notes that Drive-ins are enjoying something of a resurgence, accompanied by expansion or reopening of existing venues, and even the construction of brand new facilities [source], I must in all honesty say that I do not see this happening in the City of Bellingham, WA, anytime soon, for a complex of reasons. But I could be wrong. I hope so.

Now, for a walk down memory lane. Unable to acquire any photos of either our historic Motor-Vu or Moonlite Drive-ins, I have turned to aerial photographs of the city to develop a timeline of their presence across the years. I have done the same for the Samish Twin, which closed in 2002 after a thirty-year run, having opened in 1972. And I throw in a few other odds and ends, as well.

According to, the Motor-Vue was opened in 1955 and demolished in 75 or 76.

According to, the Moonlite Drive-In opened in 1955 and was demolished in 1978, or 79, to make way for the Meridian Village Shopping Center.

Built in 1971 and opened in 1972, this was the youngest drive-in theater in the state. While still possessing a loyal clientele at its time of closing in 2002 (Article, WWU Western Front: “Samish Twin Drive-In to be Demolished”) it simply could not prevail under the various economic pressures placed upon it. It is now a “Park ‘n Ride” lot (see photos)
There is an online photo gallery with shots of the Samish Twin, including a shot of the interior of the snack bar.

And finally, in what seems a fitting image to close out this post, we have the following shot of one of the signs from the Holiday Drive-In Theater, in Whatcom County, contributed to the Bellingham Facebook Group by Michael Unick.

Holiday Drive-In Sign

Valley view rd, at Birchbay Lynden and I-5 exit. Image by Michael Unick.

Dirty Dan Harris and his amazing clam-digging pigs


pigs“Nelson Bennet, in 1889, bought the Dan Harris [land] claim for $40,000, paying for it in coin. Dan Harris, or Dirty Dan as he was known, was said to have been the laziest man that ever came to Washington. He located at what afterwards became Fairhaven many years before the coming of Bennet and his Fairhaven Land Company, and in reply to a question from Bennet said that at first he did not know how he was going to find stuff enough to live on, but that when the tide went out the table was set. Harris made a trip to Olympia and a friend of his there presented him with two pigs. He did not know what to do with them, but taking them back home with him, he turned them out to rustle for themselves. They grew fat and Harris was at a loss to know how the trick was done until he found them on the tide flats digging clams. This gave him an idea and he followed the pigs as they followed the receding tide. They would dig out two clams and Harris would at once appropriate one for his own use, treating the pigs fairly, he explained, by never taking more than he could use between tides.”

– Herbert Hunt, Floyd C. Kaylor, “Washington, West of the Cascades, Historical and Descriptive; the Explorers, the Indians, the Pioneers, the Modern.” (Chicago, Seattle, Tacoma: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1917) chapter Xxxiii, p. 410