is the county seat of Whatcom County in the U.S. state of Washington. It is situated on Bellingham Bay, which is protected by Lummi Island, Portage Island, and the Lummi Peninsula, and opens onto the Strait of Georgia. It lies west of Mount Baker and Lake Whatcom (from which it gets its drinking water) and north of the Chuckanut Mountains and Skagit Valley. Whatcom Creek runs through the center of the city.
Census Bureau estimate placed Bellingham's 2003 population at 71,289, and a recent calculation pushes it to 74,770. Bellingham has recently experienced an increase in real estate prices. As of Fall 2006, real estate prices seem to be leveling out.
The boundaries of the city encompass the former towns of Fairhaven (now home to the southern ferry terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System), New Whatcom, and others. Bellingham is home to Whatcom Community College; Bellingham Technical College; and Western Washington University, which includes, among others, Fairhaven College, Huxley College, and the Woodring College of Education.
The Bellingham International Airport serves regularly scheduled commuter flights to and from Seattle, Salt Lake City, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada and now Palm Springs, CA. As of August, 2004, the airport is home of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's first Air and Marine Operations Center, to assist with border surveillance. Amtrak Cascades provides Bellingham with regularly scheduled passenger rail service to Seattle and Vancouver, BC.
Whatcom Creek, South Downtown Bellingham, and Sehome Hill as seen from Maritime Heritage Park. The mouth of Whatcom Creek is obscured to the lower right.
The name of Bellingham is derived from the bay which the city is situated on. George Vancouver, who visited the area in June 1792, named the bay for Sir William Bellingham, the controller of the storekeeper's account of the Royal Navy.
The first white settlers reached the area in 1854. Local history and legend credit one "Blanket" Bill Jarman as the first white man to reside in the area . The original settlement was named Whatcom, located where Whatcom Creek empties into the bay. In 1858, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush caused thousands of miners, storekeepers, and scalawags to head north from California. Whatcom grew overnight from a small northwest mill town to a bustling seaport, the basetown for the Whatcom Trail, which led to the Fraser Canyon goldfields, used in open defiance of colonial Governor James Douglas's edict that all entry to the gold colony be made via Victoria, British Columbia. The first brick building in Washington was built at this time, the T.G. Richards brick warehouse. The first newspaper in Whatcom County, the Northern Light, was published by William Bausman during the boom. Just as soon as it started, the boom went bust with the miners being forced to stop at Victoria, B.C. for a permit before heading to the mining fields. Whatcom's population dropped almost as quickly as it had grown, and the sleepy little town on the bay returned.
was commonplace near town, with the Blue Canyon mine at Lake Whatcom being the site of Washington's worst industrial accident, which occurred April 8, 1895. In time, the mines were closed down and sealed off.
Bellingham was officially incorporated on November 4, 1903. It was the result of the consolidation of four towns initially situated around Bellingham Bay: Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven. A fictionalized account of the history of Bellingham in this era is "The Living" by Annie Dillard.
The corner of Railroad and Holly Street in historic downtown Bellingham as it appeared in 2004
In the early 1890s, three railroad lines arrived, connecting the bay cities to a nationwide market of builders. The foothills around Bellingham were clearcut after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to help provide the lumber for the rebuilding of San Francisco. In time, lumber and shingle mills sprang up all over the county to accommodate the byproduct of their work.
The Bellingham Riots occurred on September 5, 1907. A group of 400-500 white men with intentions to exclude East Indian immigrants from the local work force mobbed waterfront barracks.
Fishing has also played an important part in the development of the region. By 1925, eight salmon canneries were doing business in Whatcom County - two on Bellingham Bay, the rest at Lummi Island, Semiahmoo and Chuckanut Bay. Together, they packed nearly a half-million cases of salmon one year
Increased efficiency in the canneries, combined with the cold efficiency of the fish traps, decimated the area's salmon runs. Traps were banned in the 1930s, prompting canneries to move their fish-catching operations to Alaska, where salmon were still abundant and traps were still legal.
Bellingham's proximity to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and to the Inside Passage to Alaska helped keep some cannery operations here. P.A.F., for example, shipped empty cans to Alaska, where they were packed with fish and shipped back for storage.
In March 2005, Kiplinger's Personal Finance named Bellingham one of the top retirement cities in the nation. Purchase price of homes has risen, however rent has remained relatively stable. Many of the condominiums recently built as a result of the demand for affordable housing have subsequently become rental units.
Bellingham has seen a resurgence of real-estate development as house prices climb, caused in part by new residents moving in to the community. In order to accommodate this growth, new properties have sprung up all over the city, including the Downtown, Fairhaven, Happy Valley, Cordata, and Barkley neighborhoods. The city has reiterated their commitment to developing a wide range of housing options for all income categories, while retaining the integrity of existing communities. Annexation of surrounding farmland and county wilderness has been kept to a minimum due to public concern for environmental preservation, but several controversies have risen over the city's decisions to counteract the loss of land by allowing taller buildings in the city core, major new development on previously undeveloped land, and a lack of parks and open spaces in some of the more recently developed areas.
The Bellingham waterfront has served as an industrial center for the past century, most notably the area encompassing the former Georgia-Pacific mill. G-P purchased the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company in 1963 and operated a pulp mill on the central downtown waterfront until 2001. In 1965, G-P built a Chlor-Alkali facility, which became a source of mercury contamination in the Whatcom Waterway and on the uplands of the site for decades. The site has since been purchased by the Port of Bellingham chiefly to create a marina in the 37-acre wastewater lagoon. The Port of Bellingham purchased the G-P site for $10 with the understanding they would assume liability for the contamination. The City of Bellingham and the Port of Bellingham entered into several interlocal agreements in which the City agreed to pay for all infrastructure costs, and the Port would create a marina, clean up the site, and retain all zoning.
Prior to the purchase, the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot (a group of 14 tribes, community leaders, and agencies) created an Environmental Impact Statement that recommended the dredging of contaminants from the Whatcom Waterway. However, the Port of Bellingham continues to insist that the area slated for deposition of contaminants be used for a mega-yacht marina. Despite growing concerns over the presence of mercury in the Whatcom Waterway and the uplands of the site, the Port plans to leave the mercury behind (capping rather than following the recommendation of the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot). The Port has received unilateral support from the City of Bellingham, the Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, the Bellingham Yacht Club, and the Bellingham Herald.
The City and Port have entered into a partnership to redevelop the property, which has been unofficially renamed New Whatcom after the township of which the area was originally a part. A general plan for the city's waterfront was developed by the Waterfront Futures Group, and the new Waterfront Advisory Group has been convening to develop a more detailed plan focused on this particular site.
The draft plan includes "a new city neighborhood with homes, shops, offices and light industry, as well as parks and promenades, a healthy shoreline habitat along Bellingham Bay..." Concern over the fast pace, vague approach, and worry over a lack of substantive public participation in the redevelopment of the waterfront led to the formation of the Bellingham Bay Foundation in 2005 (http://www.bbayf.org/). During the summer of 2006, the Bellingham Bay Foundation formed People for a Healthy Bay (http://www.ahealthybay.org/) over a concern that many of the areas slated for development contained high mercury levels (as high as 12,500ppm) in the soil under the former Chlor-Alkali facility. People for a Healthy Bay launched an initiative that would have required the City of Bellingham to advocate for removal of mercury to the highest practical level. Despite 6400 signatures gathered in 20 days and overwhelming public support for the initative, the City successfully sued to keep the initiative off the ballot. The intiative reflected polling data performed by the Foundation that the citizens of Bellingham care most that their waterfront is clean and safe. The Board of the Bellingham Bay Foundation is made up of environmental leaders, business owners, developers, authors, and scientists, and it includes an area-wide membership of doctors, teachers, realtors, and artists.
ReSources (http://www.re-sources.org/) is another organization in Bellingham focused on the cleanup of Bellingham Bay. They are the stewards of the Baykeeper program. They are currently advocating for the full removal of all mercury contamination present in the nearshore areas of Bellingham Bay.
The Washington State Department of Ecology is currently reviewing public comment for the Port's cleanup documents of the Whatcom Waterway. The Bellingham Bay Foundation, through a Public Particpation Grant of the Department of Ecology, is working toward public education and outreach about the issues surrounding cleanup.
Ecology will host a second public comment period for the Cleanup Action Plan, at which time the specifics of the cleanup will be discussed and decided. The City of Bellingham and the Port of Bellingham will develop a Master Plan and implement tax-increment financing for the City's portion of funding of infrastructure. Infrastructure alone is expected to cost roughly $200 million. Whatcom County has declined participation in the financing, citing unmet gaps in funding, a lack of benefit to the County, and the need for County taxes to go toward emergency, jail, and mental health services. The County Council also had many concerns about the City and Port's desire to develop contaminated property without a plan to remediate it effectively before construction, as well as the need for tax-increment financing given that the Port profits directly from all development on the former mill site.
Information Courtesey of Wikipedia