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Skagit River Journal

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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
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Fairhaven Centennial Museum, 1953
for Washington Territory, born in 1853
located in old Fairhaven Hotel

(Centennial Program)
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal
      Many years ago we found this program at a garage sale. We have asked since then if anyone recalls visiting this museum, but none of the old timers or historians or authors, of that age, could recall it. We have wondered for some time what might have happened to the exhibits and the documents that were housed there. We know that the County Museum, now housed in the old City Hall at the brow of the hill above the Bay in Bellingham proper, opened in 1941, so perhaps the documents, photos and exhibits found their way there. We hope so.
      Imagine walking into the old lobby of the hotel, where toys of the two generations of the Larrabee children probably still lay around, along with the adaptations they made from the original 1890s cabinets and furniture. Imagine the frayed carpet. We do not know of any replacement so it was likely the original still on the floors and hallways; the threadbare patterns must have formed a visual rhythm of trips to and fro the floors and rooms and parlors. We wonder about a guest book that might have been there, with visitors noting when they may have stayed in the hotel or when their parents did.
      Imagine the keys, the sets of fine old iron keys, hundreds of them, for the rooms, for the offices, along with skeleton keys for all those hundreds of locks. Imagine the old tapestries and paintings that had somehow survived. The cloth of the curtains also threadbare. We wonder how much furniture was left. Priceless pieces of the finest wood, hand-selected by Nelson Bennett, C.X. Larrabee and James F. Wardner, along with their compadres during the boom — how much was left? Were there exhibits about local pioneers during the territorial days through November 1889? What happened to all those artifacts and wooden treasures? Was there a record in this short-lived museum? Within weeks in that summer, the destruction started with wrecking balls and pikes. In two years, only rubble would remain and that was soon bulldozed up for a service station, which would sit on the hotel's footprint.
      Joel Douglas: what is next for the site?
      As we note in the companion feature about the memories written about the Fairhaven Hotel in 1965:

      From grand spectacular in 1890 to old and dilapidated in 1953 the Fairhaven Hotel stood for 63 years as residents of Fairhaven saw it as a plush edifice, late the Larrabee family home and at the end the Fairhaven boys and girls club.
      Built in 1890 by the Fairhaven Land Company at a cost of $150,000, plus another $150,000 for furnishings, the hotel was ranked as one of the swankiest place on Puget Sound, if not the Pacific coast. It stood majestic on the northeast corner of Harris and 12th streets.
      See the complete story at (http://www.skagitriverjournal.com/WA/Whatcom/FairhavenSth/Business/Hotels/FairhavenHotel/FHotel02-1891Memory.html)
      Here are two of the photos from inside the program brochure:

(Fairhaven scenes)

      All we really know about this short-lived museum, in a very long-lived building, is that it was located on the second floor, where many of the parlors and greeting-rooms used to be, as well as private sample rooms for the higher-class salesmen; Henry Hill need not apply. That is why we hope a reader will have documents, articles or photos that you can copy or scan for us. Here is a brief history from the inside of the brochure. It includes information that will be of special interest to those with whom we sat on committees in the very late 1960s to form today's Fairhaven College:

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      The Fairhaven Hotel was built in 1890 at a cost of about $200,000.00. Following its construction Fairhaven or the "Imperial City" experienced four golden years of almost phenomenal growth. During this exciting period most of the brick and stone buildings (many of which still stand today) were built.
      The citizens of Fairhaven were so confident about their city's future that in 1893 they began to formulate plans for a huge university to be built between Fairhaven and old 8ellingham. (Old Bellingham, a small settlement of about 30 or 40 houses between Fairhaven and Sehome, merged with Fairhaven in 1903.) It would have been called, as might be assumed, the Fairhaven University.
      The main building, which according to plan would have been six stories high and four blocks long with a tower over ten stories high above the main entrance, was to have been financed by a $250,000.00 endowment. The depression that hit the bay cities at the end of 1893 completely killed all hope for the university, the first wing of which was to be completed in 1894.
      The interior of the hotel was beautifully furnished with $50,000.00 worth of the most elaborate hotel furniture available. Ii also boasted an electric elevator, modern plumbing, and a crew of white-gloved Negro waiters and bell hops. On the lower floor of the building there was a bowling alley, barber shop, and billiard hall. The main floor housed a bank, the offices of the Fairhaven Land Company, a beautifully appointed velvet and plush lobby, and the grand ball room.
      As the observer stood on the hotel veranda in 1893 he saw a thriving city of 5,000 inhabitants where only five years before there had been only a few shacks clustered on the shores of the Bay.
      In 1890 the assessed valuation of real and personal property in Fairhaven amounted to $8,000,000. The year 1893 ushered in an electric street car service connecting Fairhaven with the Lake Whatcom area. From time to time observers would be able to see these gaily painted electric cars rumble by. Farther down in the city thousands of people thronged the streets which were by now entirely planked and sidewalked.
      At night the cheerful light of myriads of electric streetlights shown down on the crowded streets, For water the city used conveniently located Lake Padden which was 437 feet above the city and assured the user of ample pressure. Harris Avenue was lined with business houses and offices. In 1893 the "Imperial City" had 25 miles of sidewalk, five miles of street car tracks, 16 mills and manufacturing establishments, eight miles of electric light lines, 25 miles of water pipe, eight sewers, 120 business houses, eight hotels, ten miles of gas mains, ten churches and two newspapers.
      The lower portion of the hotel building still stands and is used as a meeting place for the Fairhaven Boys' and Girls' Club, the Men of Fairhaven, and the Women of Fairhaven.
      Although the building is still basically sound it is rumored that it may soon be razed. When it goes we will see the end of an era in Fairhaven, the death of a fine old building that has for nearly sixty-five years been the center of social life for the city of Fairhaven, the "Imperial City" of Bellingham Bay.


(Wardner's Fireman's band)
Jim Wardner's famous volunteer Fire Dept. Bras. Band, June 6, 1890 to June, 1892. [All 1953 photos courtesy of the Bellingham Herald.
Grand Ball Room
      In November of 1980 [typo, actually 1890] when the Hotel was opened the Police Gazette magazine printed a picture showing a local sheriff standing in the doorway of the grand ball room checking the sidearms of all of the visitors and placing them in a large barrel [Return]

Acknowledgments [1953]
      We would like to thank the following individuals and firms who donated freely of both their time and materials to help make this museum a success.
      Gail DeGrace, Chairman. Larry McCord, Mrs. George Stearns, Stockton Paint Co., Morse hardware Co., Circus Shop, Cox Brothers, Inc., printers; Bellingham Herald.

Read about the Larrabee Home, Lairmont, on Hawthorn Road, now Fieldston road. In 1914, Larrabee began overseeing the construction of the family's first private home in what would become the exclusive residential district of Edgemoor. Photo courtesy of Al Currier.

      Journal ed. note: I owe so many wonderful people who have helped me learn about those very early days of Fairhaven, many details of which have become lost over time. Brian Griffin is writing his own book and we have been swapping information for going on a decade now. Joel Douglas, who owns the Larrabee Edgemoor property, Lairmont, and is a descendant of a family headed by Joseph F. Dwelley and his wife, Angeline Wells, 1870 pioneers to Puget sound. Donna Sand can literally find anything in historical records, as she has for the Journal many times, for the many genealogical patrons of the public library and for all the people who read the cemetery statistics that she and her husband, Bob, complied over the years. John Servais has been a very helpful guide through his website. Ken and Brad Imus have provided both perspective of old Fairhaven as it was when they began restoring buildings there in the 1970s, and how Southside Bellingham could be reborn out of the fading old buildings of the boom. And Gordy Tweit is once again a repository of knowledge. If you are a serious student of Whatcom history, stop by the Fairhaven Pharmacy someday — directly across the street from the Fairhaven Hotel site — and ask if Gordy is downstairs in the basement in his unique museum to all things pharmaceutical and Fairhaven. We have idled away hours there and always leave with a smile.

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Story posted on Dec. 29, 2911
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This article originally appeared in Issue 59 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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