Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bellingham's Waterfront (former)

The oldest part of Bellingham has two modest buildings that I consider absolute treasures. One is Pickett’s House. George Pickett was assigned to Fort Bellingham in 1856. He erected a small fort in case of attack from First Nations people as immigration (emigration depending on perspective) was causing some resentment. He also married a First Nations woman and built a home on the bluff overlooking the early settlement on the shore of Bellingham Bay.
Pickett's House, 910 Bancroft Street

Pickett never did fight any First Nation peoples, but a neighbor dispute over a pig eating potatoes nearly got Pickett into a battle with British forces in 1859. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 had set the border between U.S. and British territory as the 49th parallel. However, control over the San Juan Islands was not settled and the said pig dispute between a British citizen and an American citizen led to Pickett leading a force of American soldiers to San Juan Island to counter a similar move by the British. Fortunately discipline and common sense prevailed and Pickett avoided battle.

Pickett got more fight than he ever wanted four years later at Gettysburg where he commanded a full division that was ordered to charge the Union lines. Everything I ever read about that charge was that it was a terrible slaughter and should never have been done. Pickett’s division showed great bravery, but it was a lost cause.

The other historic building is the oldest brick building in Washington State. The building was built on 1859 serving initially as a Courthouse. The bricks were shipped from Philadelphia by boat. Given the fate of many of the splendid historic buildings in Bellingham, it is amazing that this building survived. A splendid stone courthouse building built in 1890 was sold in 1953 and torn down.
First brick building in Washington State, 1308 E Street

Courthouse demolished in 1953

Fortunately, Carl Akers purchased the original courthouse building in 1955 and along with the an old historic school building he purchased saved a little bit of Bellingham’s history so that Bellingham not only can claim the first brick building, Bellingham can take pride, thanks to the Akers family, in that the building is still standing. One can only wish a similar approach had been taken with other buildings.

The old brick building location allows for some perspective on how the Bellingham water front has changed. Initially the building was built essentially right on the shoreline and was two stories tall. Later the area was filled in with a combination of soils from graded hill slopes, dredge spoils for navigation and garbage. Yes, Bellingham used its tide lands as garbage dumps all the way up till the 1970s! The location of the old brick building on the shore is an historic marker showing how much Bellingham’s shoreline has accreted. Essentially all that accretion has been man made.

View of Old Whatcom from the water.
The courthouse building is the left two-story building.
Old two-story courthouse right against water.

The building is undergoing repair and the soil around the former first floor has been removed.

Virtually all the land between the old courthouse and water (green) is fill.
The large building to the southwest in the picture is the largest foot print building north of Everett.
The large building caps an old municipal garbage dump.

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