Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shifting Landscapes and Shifting Values

While coal played a role in Bellingham’s history and landscape, the presence of a waterfall flowing into a tidal estuary was the feature that started the settlement of the area by Europeans and Americans. The waterfall meant energy and the estuary meant easy transport of wood and ships. A saw mill was built at the mouth of the creek and base of the falls in 1853. From that initial start a town developed around the mill on the northeast shore of Bellingham Bay. First Nation towns already existed of course, but this was a new kind of development. Whatcom means noisy water. And the waterfall does make noise at flows over the Chuckanut Formation sandstone at the top of the bluff down to the estuary below.

Colony Saw Mill, approximately 1875

The old town on west side of Whatcom Creek estuary, possibly late 1850s

The old town on west side of Whatcom Creek estuary has built up by 1885
By 1892, the estuary is completely urban. The mill is in the center behind the trees.

The Whatcom Creek estuary has certainly seen a number of transformations. I recently walked down to the mouth of the creek along the creek side trail to take a look at the old mill site. It’s a nice walk from my office as I am only a half block from the creek and walk across the creek every day. The weather had been rainy so the creek was flowing very high. More than enough flow to run the saws in the old mill.

Great heron at the old mill site

Upper falls, a nice feature to have in your downtown

View up the estuary from the Holly Street Bridge

There is very little evidence left of the mill and the site is now part of a city park. Over the past view years significant restoration has taken place along the banks of the stream. The site was initially valued by First Nation people as great fishing spot. Salmon still swim up the falls and its a great spot to watch for jumping fish in the fall. When the mill began operation, it was a lonely outpost of industrial development surrounded by a landscape covered with forest and natural resources. Now the reverse is true, the site is now a small natural area surrounded by an urban landscape. The change to a more natural stream estuary may reflect a change in values, but it also represents the shifting of the value of the resource. Natural areas in a city setting are a rare commodity and thus more valuable, and water powered saw mills and water transport are no longer as valuable as they once were due to electrical power and the presence of rail and roads.


Silver Fox said...

Nice! I especially like that you managed to photograph a blue heron at the millsite. They are one of my favorite birds.

Dan McShane said...

The heron was a nice touch and pure luck.