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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
FOR FURTHER READING
- Woodstock Farm Historic Map
- “David Griffiths” variety of Daffodil, developed by David Griffith’s at Bellingham Bulb Research Station
- Recalling More Than a Pretty Place…Gate’s Other Woodstock
- Woodstock Farm Conservancy
- Woodstock Farm: Hours of operation, directions
- Cyrus Gates’ Memorial, Bayview Cemetery
- Mabel Huntoon-Gates Memorial, Bayview Cemetery