Bellingham, Washington

November 17, 2014 by  

Sir William Bellingham of England is the man behind the naming of Bellingham Bay.  He provided supplies and equipment for Captain George Vancouver to make the voyage to Puget Sound in 1792.
The first settlement along Bellingham Bay popped up sixty years later thanks to the efforts of Russell Peabody and Captain Henry Roeder.  They wanted to build a sawmill using water to power the saws.  Energy from water requires a strong waterfall.  By 1853, the sawmill was in operation at the base of the Whatcom Falls.

William Prattle, another fortune hunter, had an interest in coal.  With the help of information from the Lummi Indian Tribe, he found it and opened the Sehome Mine.  For 25 years, this remained the main source of employment for the workers in this area.

Canadian Gold Rush

Washington State and Canada share a common border.  The Canadian Gold Rush of 1858 spilled over to Bellingham Bay in the form of miners with tents.  The 10,000 miners used this site as a staging ground to prepare for their trip up the Fraser River in Canada.  75,000 – 100,000 people stayed on Canadian land making the same preparations.

Most of the gold miners left Bellingham Bay when the Canadian government stepped in and required them to go to Victoria, across Puget Sound, where they would be able to get permits to cross the border.

Another famous American soon came to the Bellingham Bay area with orders to build Fort Bellingham.  Captain George Pickett brought soldiers into the area to protect the members of the Lummi Indian Tribe.  The Tribe had to move onto a reservation in order to avoid the taunting coming from unfriendly Canadian tribes.

Founding of Bellingham

The oldest home in Bellingham is the Pickett House on Bancroft Street.  Captain Pickett built it for his family in 1856.

By 1900, four settlements lined the shores of Bellingham Bay: Whatcom, New Whatcom, Fairhaven and Sehome.  Their independence would be short-lived.  The City of Bellingham formed when the four settlements came together as one in 1903.\nAs a result, the newly formed city was bustling with activity from eight major sawmills and shingle mills as well as four salmon canneries.  Bellingham boasted the largest sawmill and the largest cannery in the early years of the 1900s.

The Bellingham Growth Spurt

Nelson Bennett was the developer that put Tacoma on the map and he intended to do the same thing with Bellingham.  Two other developers joined with him.  Soon C. X. Larrabee, James Wardner and Bennett had plans for business and industry in this new city.  They also planned the links to railroad and steamship lines for exporting their products and importing supplies.

The real estate market boomed.  Buildings in the business district went up in the blink of an eye.  Alleyways between buildings never appeared.  The hub city of Puget Sound was taking shape.  They cleared the land graded most of the roads.

From Boom to Bust to Slow Growth

Then it happened.  The depression of 1893 brought a stop to the frenzied growth of Bellingham.  Businesses closed and banks failed.  The trend spread and affected other bay cities, too.  When a pattern of slow growth emerged in 1900, the deep waters of Bellingham Bay lured industry to the area of Bellingham still called



The document of consolidation, issued in July of 1904, stated thus:

“…Let there be from this hour, one city with one destiny, unity of\npurpose, of action and of aims.”

Formation of the first administrative council proceeded.  It consisted of 15 members governing a population of 22,000.  Within ten years, that population grew to slightly more than 30,000.  This growth repeated itself again during the 1980s and 1990s.

The Bellingham City Charter calls for a mayor-council format where the people elect the mayor to lead the city”s management team.  This period of leadership is a four-year term.  Six elected council members also serve four-year terms.  A seventh at-large council member serves a two-year term.  The people also elect the Municipal Court Judge who also serves a four-year term.

Those who serve at the Mayor”s discretion include the Chief Administrative Officer and all administrative department heads.  The City Council approves hiring or removal of the City Attorney and the Finance Director.  The Bellingham Public Library Board of Trustees appoints the Library Director.


Bellingham is located only 30 miles from the Canadian border.  The two major cities closest to Bellingham are Vancouver, BC (Canada) and Seattle, WA (USA).  Vancouver is closest at 51 miles and Seattle is 90 miles away.  Considering its location at the farthest northwestern corner of the United States, its climate is unusually mild.

Poultry and dairy farms dot the countryside surrounding Bellingham.  The dairy herds graze on lush green pastures for a full ten months of the year.  Two dairy farms produce and ship butter, cheese and powdered milk – some used locally.  Hundreds of poultry farms help Bellingham to maintain a #1 statewide ranking in egg production.

Bellingham has a very mild climate conducive to the agricultural industries, especially the growth of berries and fruits.  The rich soil is a boon to cultivation of the blueberry, raspberry and strawberry crops.  Potatoes and green beans also thrive in this area.  The fruit crop includes apples, cherries, filbert nuts, pears and plums.

Bellingham has a deep-water port welcoming vessels from Alaska and Asia.  Seafood processing plants and shipbuilding enterprises are close to the bay waters.  The economy owes some of its steady growth to a blossoming tourist industry supported solely by the area”s natural beauty.


Bellingham has a 2004 population of 71,000 people and is the seventh largest city in Washington State.  The largest group of this population is from European countries.  Other ethnic groups include the Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans and the Asian and Pacific Island natives.

In 2003, Bellingham reported a total available labor force of 90,100 with 85,700 actually employed.  The unemployment rate hovers around 5.4%.  There are approximately 29,475 households in Bellingham and the census of 2000 reports an average household income of $32,530 with the average home value at $156,100.

Business and Industry

The top three local manufacturers are Britax Heath Techna, Inc. with an International distribution and annual sales ranging from $50-$100 million; Alpha Technologies, Inc. with an International distribution and annual sales ranging from $50-$100 million; and Yamato Engine Specialists, LTD. With a National distribution and $25-$50 million in annual sales.  These three manufacturers together employ a total workforce of 870.

Yamato is the newest of the top three manufacturers with an opening reported in 1990.  Britax, established in 1946, is one of the oldest manufacturers in Bellingham.  Alpha came on the scene in 1978.

None of these manufacturers has anything to do with lumbering and mining, the two industries that built Bellingham and the surrounding region.  Britax specializes in the production of Aircraft Interior Systems. Alpha produces Industrial
Power Systems and Yamato imports Rebuilt Automotive Engines.


Bellingham boasts 12 banks and 5 credit unions.  The 12 banks that serve this city are as follows:

Bank Northwest\nBank of America\nBanner Bank\nFrontier Bank    Key Bank\nPacific Northwest Bank\nPeople”s Bank\nSkagit State Bank    US Bank\nWashington Mutual\nWells Fargo\nWhidbey Island Bank

Additionally, there are five credit unions in Bellingham.  They are the GAPAC Employees Federal Credit Union, the Industrial Credit Union, the North Coast Credit Union, the Pacific Northwest Credit Union and the Whatcom Educational Credit Union.


The primary newspaper is the Bellingham Herald.  There are several smaller publications and, of course, a few underground news magazines in the mix.  In alphabetical order, this group includes:

Business Pulse Magazine\nBellingham Business Journal\nEcho, The\nEvery Other Weekly\nMount Baker News\nWestern Front, The\nWhatcom Watch

Radio stations broadcasting with AM signals from Metro Bellingham include:

KPUG (1170 AM)\nKGMI (790 AM)\nKBAI (930 AM)

Radio stations broadcasting with FM signals from Metro Bellingham include:

KUGS (89.3 FM)  –  Western Washington University\nKZAZ (91.7 FM)  –  Washington State University\nKISM (92.9 FM)  –  SAGA Broadcasting, LLC\nKAFE (104.3 FM)  –  SAGA Broadcasting, LLC

Some lesser stations operate privately and are not part of this list.  In addition, two television stations are located in Bellingham: KVOS (Channel 12) and KBCB (Channel 24).  Comcast provides cable TV services to this viewing area.

A strong telecommunications system is in place for customers with wireless internet, landline phones, cell phones and any number of conceivable pods.  This system includes AT&T, Advanced TelCom, PAC West, Comcast, Grizzly Telephone Service, Stargate Telecom Inc., Northstar Communications, Qwest and Spring.


Bellingham Public School district serves 10,500 pupils in 13 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 3 high schools and 1 upper level alternative school.  Twelve private schools at various levels of learning serve another 1,000+ students, averaging 82-85 students per location.

Four institutions of higher learning have campuses in Bellingham.

  • Bellingham Technical College has a student enrollment of 4,500
  • Western Washington University with a student enrollment of 13,500
  • Whatcom Community College has a roster of 6,000
  • Northwest Indian College reports a total of 942 pupils

Of the age 25+ population, 88.5% are high school graduates.  33% have a Bachelor”s Degree or higher.

Where to Stay – What to Do

Bellingham has an International airport for the convenience of business and industry as well as tourists and visitors.  Both passengers and freight come and go from there.  At this time, carriers using the airport on a consistent basis are Allegiant, Horizon and the San Juan Airlines.  The freight carrier is Horizon.  Local charter service is also available.


Bellingham has an assortment of accommodations to fill the need of each weary traveler.  The city has three distinct areas: North Bellingham, Downtown and Fairhaven.

The International Airport is in North Bellingham.  This area abounds with shopping opportunities.  Fortunately, visitors (who literally shopped until they dropped) have a choice of eight lodging accommodations: Travel House Inn, Rodeway Inn, Quality Inn Baron Suites, La Quinta Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn and Hampton Inn Bellingham Airport. Best Western Heritage Inn is a highly recommended lodging establishment.  The atmosphere exemplifies that of a country inn.  Free continental breakfast is available each morning and the list of hotel amenities seems endless.  Even better, the list of room amenities could cause a sane person to drool!

Downtown Bellingham is a tourist paradise with museums, art galleries, retail stores and restaurants.  Lodging in this area is plentiful and includes Motel 6, the Bay City Motor Inn, Travelodge, Days Inn, Coachman Inn Motel, the Hotel Bellwether and the Guesthouse Inn.  While all accommodations in Downtown Bellingham are very good, one stands far above the others: the Best Western Lakeway Inn.

The Best Western Lakeway Inn is a newly remodeled hotel offering excellent guest attention, good food and a full bar as well as indoor pool, sauna, spa and fitness center.  Rooms now have work desks for the business traveler, overstuffed sofas and chairs, coffee makers, hair dryers, state of the art flat screen plasma televisions – and more.

Although Fairhaven does not exist as village or township, the South Bellingham area will always be Fairhaven.  Although the outside architecture is carefully preserved, many of the interiors are remodeled and refurbished. Fairhaven retains its historical charm inviting visitors into its coffee houses, taverns and eateries, antique shops, bookstores, art galleries and luxury spas.

Lodging in this area gives visitors a sense of quaintness.  Two inns are located in Fairhaven: Fairhaven Village Inn and the Chrysalis Inn and Spa.  The Chrysalis Inn and Spa calls itself “a Respite for the Body, Mind and Soul.”  Both are highly recommended.

Fairhaven Village Inn exudes the quaint charm of yesteryear while offering the technology of today. The 22-room inn is in the heart of Historic Fairhaven District.  Your royal treatment includes all of the amenities of the finest hotels including dedicated service for each guest, down comforters, robes, internet – topped off with a sumptuous, free, continental breakfast.

Indoor Activities

Restaurants – Dining

Bellingham has three coffeehouses and one tearoom:

  • Woods Coffee (360-738-4771)
  • Tony”s Coffees (360-738-4710)
  • Rustic Coffee Bar (360-306-8794)

The cozy Abbey Garden Tea Room (360-752-1752) definitely deserves a visit.  “High Tea” is a specialty that is sure to delight your taste buds.  The choice of teas is enviable and your selection comes in an individual pot.  The tearoom also offers sandwiches, quiche, soups and dessert.  This is a very relaxing environment – almost meditative – and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Two fast food establishments are located in Bellingham:

  • Fairhaven Fish & Chips
    1020 Harris Avenue
  • Win”s Drive-In (Highly recommended)
    1315 12th Avenue
    All-American hamburgers make this visit worthwhile
    Limited menu: Fish & Chips, Burgers, Soups, soft drinks and shakes

Ethnic foods are readily available in these five establishments:

  • A. W. Asian Bistro
  • Dos Padres (Mexican)
  • Flats Tapas Bar (Spanish)
  • Mambo Italiano Cafe
  • On Rice Thai

A couple of taverns, pizza parlors, ice cream counters, deli”s and bakeries round out the selection for a quick lunch stop.  Turn your attention now to the evening dining experience.  Whether you prefer casual or fine dining, Bellingham can accommodate you!

Fine dining in a relaxed environment overlooking the bay and serving a creative cuisine with an extensive wine list describes the perfect setting for any restaurant.  This is what the Chrysalis Inn and Spa (360-676-9463) is inviting you to experience.

A casual dining experience is yours at any one of these establishments: two Steak & Seafood restaurants or four theme eateries.  The Colophon Cafe (360-647-0092) is the epitome of a casual dining experience.  This very trendy soup and sandwich cafe tempts visitors to stay awhile longer to taste their homemade desserts.


Bellingham is home to the oldest continuously running and most famous theatre on the West Coast.  The Bellingham Theatre Guild (360-733-1811) organized in 1929 to stimulate interest in cultural productions.  The Guild came graciously into the age of technology.  Every two weeks they place the theatre playbill and other scheduled events on their website.


You can catch street musicians setting up an impromptu site for your listening pleasure as you shop, tour or eat.  However, for a wonderful musical experience, you should plan to spend an evening listening to the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.  Concerts take place at the Mount Baker Theatre.

  • Whatcom Symphony Orchestra
    104 North Commercial
    Call the ticket office for concert schedules and tickets.


The compulsive shopper must stop into the Bellis Fair Mall.  This is a new complex located in north Bellingham near the International Airport.  Factory outlets, boutiques and specialty stores are conveniently – and strategically – located around the city.

Museums and Galleries

Bellingham has its fair share of art galleries and museums.  Certain ones stand out as being superior.  The art galleries in this group include:

Allied Arts Gallery
1418 Cornwall Avenue

1000 Harris Avenue

Chuckanut Bay Gallery & Sculpture Garden
700 Chuckanut Drive

Lucia Douglas Gallery
1415 13th Street

Mark Bergsma Photographer
11 Bellwether Way, Suite 104

Mindport Exhibits
210 West Holly

Rebecca Meloy
PO Box 723

Pacific Marine Gallery
700 West Holly Street

WWU Outdoor Sculpture Collection
Western Washington University

WWU Western Gallery
Western Washington University

Four other galleries are close to some of these listed locations.  They feature a variety of artistic endeavors from framing, pottery and jewelry to sculpture works.

There are several important, yet unusual, museums in Bellingham.  Some are interactive and others are static exhibits.  All of them present some aspect of the historical development of Bellingham:

American Museum of Radio and Electricity
1312 Bay Street
This museum is the only one of its kind in North America.  Artifacts and interactive exhibits trace the history of radio from the discovery of electricity to the evolution of radio broadcasting, as we know it today.

The Bellingham Railway Museum
1320 Commercial Street
The museum traces the history, heritage and operation in and around Bellingham.

Maritime Heritage Center
1600 C Street

Whatcom Children”s Museum
227 Prospect Street

Whatcom Museum of History and Art
121 Prospect Street
This is four buildings that each have a different theme encouraging discovery and exploration.  One of the buildings houses The Children”s Museum (above).

Outdoor Activities

Recreation and Tours

There are many opportunities in Bellingham Bay area for outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting and camping.  Bellingham is the place for the RV camping crowd.   The Bellingham RV Park is a camping dream!  It has 56 full service pull-through sites with an address that makes a great sightseeing starting point.  Where can you go from where we are located?  Check out this partial list:

B. B. Stables (360-398-2729) is the place for horse lovers and owners.  The Stables can accommodate the beginning rider, recreational rider, show participant or a spectator fascinated with horses.  This facility dedicates its services toward both the horse and the rider.  They give owners an opportunity to truly bond with the horses.

Golf Courses are abundant in Bellingham, which ranked #7 on the Golf Digest 2002 list of the “Best Golf Cities”.  Bellingham is in Whatcom County, which has the largest
number of public golf courses in the entire Pacific Northwest.  Some private courses allow guests to play through with a member.  Bring your clubs to a golf course in or around Bellingham.

Bellingham Parks and Recreation provides and maintains hiking and biking trails as well as swimming pools and beaches.  There are public picnic grounds, softball and soccer fields and gorgeous gardens. The City of Bellingham provides many public facilities promoting opportunities for healthy exercise and fitness.

This “city by the bay” is a natural location for water sports of all kinds.  Sailing, kayaking, whale watching and rafting are most popular.  It is also the point of departure for charters to the San Juan Islands and up to Vancouver.


Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
904 Potter St. Bellingham, WA 98229

City of Bellingham-City Hall
210 Lottie Street Bellingham, WA 98225

Bellingham-Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry
119 N. Commercial Street Bellingham, WA  98225

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