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Cruise ship at sunset

History Sunset Cruises: Local History with a Waterfront View

This summer, hundreds of people will board the 100-foot Victoria Star for the Museum’s 35th annual History Sunset Cruises. Those aboard will learn about the history of Bellingham from a waterfront perspective thanks to local historians Doug Starcher and Brian Griffin.

History Sunset Cruises

During a cruise, attendees get great views of parks, industry, and neighborhoods from Bellingham Bay. Starcher and Griffin tie their knowledge of local history with up-to-date facts. Their narrative of history, trivia, and current events gives guests a new understanding of the area.

Griffin is an active participant and supporter of local art and history. Recently, he sat down to talk about his time volunteering for the Museum, including the History Cruises, which he has hosted for the past 10 years. Griffin said he enjoys telling people about local history while cruising on a boat because of the visual nature of the experience.

“I am able to point to things as I tell the story. It’s easier to tell a story when it’s in front of you,” Griffin said.

Local historian Brian Griffin narrates a History Sunset Cruise.

Griffin has authored multiple books highlighting local history including My Darling Anna, Treasures from the Trunk: The J.J. Donovan Story, Boulevard Park, and Fairhaven: A History, which are available at the Museum Store. After staff read his books, the Museum invited Griffin to narrate the history cruises. In addition to volunteering his time to host the cruises, Griffin is also a volunteer docent at the Museum. In that role, he leads tours of Old City Hall and the People of the Sea and Cedar exhibit at the Lightcatcher building. He also served as a member on the Whatcom Museum Foundation Board of Trustees.

In 2013 Griffin helped curate an 11-month-long museum exhibition about local businessman J.J. Donovan called Treasures from the Trunk: The J.J. Donovan Story. He later went on to write a book about Donovan, inspired by the exhibit.

The Museum appreciates Griffin’s storytelling and looks forward to another year of history cruises together.

The details

Cruises take place Tuesdays, July 10 through September 11. San Juan Cruises’ Victoria Star leaves from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven, 355 Harris Ave. The boat has indoor and outdoor seating on two levels, a snack bar, and a full bar with a selection of beers, wines, and cocktails. Restrooms are available on board. Guests are welcome to bring food and beverages (non-alcoholic) for a picnic-style dinner while cruising. Each sailing boards at 6:15pm, with a prompt 6:30pm sailing, and an 8:30pm return.

Tickets are $35 general; $30 for Museum members; $28 per person for groups of 8 or more people (registered together). Purchase at brownpapertickets.com/event/3380820, by calling 800/838.3006 ext. 1, or by visiting the Museum Store located at 250 Flora St. Proceeds benefit Whatcom Museum exhibitions and educational programs. For more information about the history cruises visit www.whatcommuseum.org/history-sunset-cruise.

–Written by Christina Claassen and Colton Redtfeldt

The History of Old City Hall

Reaching into the sky with its four spires and clock tower, Old City Hall is one of Bellingham’s most iconic landmarks. Most have seen the building and many have been inside during a visit to the Whatcom Museum. But fewer people know the history behind it — and the many secrets it holds.

History of Old City Hall

Interior of Comptroller’s Office, c. 1913 Photographer Unknown: Whatcom Museum #1988.16.19

The story of Old City Hall starts more than 100 years ago. Prior to 1891, the New Whatcom City Council had been housed in the Oakland Block at the corner of Champion and Holly streets. The City Council shared space with a clothing store, a music dealer and a hotel.

However, as the government grew, it became evident that the City Council needed something bigger. They asked local architects to submit plans for a new city hall. In November, the council accepted a design from local architect Alfred Lee.

Lee, a self-taught architect, pulled the designs for the late-Victorian building from various catalogues and combined different plans together.

The beginning

The council purchased a plot of land on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bluff for $5,000. Construction started in February 1892. Construction wrapped up quickly when an economic depression in 1893 caused funds for the project to disappear, leaving the second and third floor interiors unfinished.

One side effect caused by this abrupt stop was that the clock faces that had been installed didn’t actually work. Instead, the city moved the hands on the clock to permanently read seven o’clock. These didn’t last long, however, as strong winds eventually knocked out the clock faces. The city, not having the funds to replace them, simply left them as gaping holes.

The city did install a large, three-feet-in-diameter bell in the tower, which was rung to alert the volunteer fire department whenever there was a fire in the city. The height of the building made it easy to see any fires in the area.

City Hall is finished

As money slowly trickled in, construction continued on the building. The second and third floors’ interiors were finished in 1910. In total, the entire project costed $50,000 (about 1.3 million dollars today). City Council and other city employees slowly began to occupy the various rooms in the building. Today, visitors to Old City Hall can see where these officials worked by looking at the small black text panels that are next to select doors.

Charred tower, 1962: Photo by Galen Biery, Whatcom Museum #1996.10.2245

When New Whatcom and Fairhaven combined to form one town on Bellingham Bay in 1904, the New Whatcom City Hall on Prospect Street became the city hall for Bellingham. It continued to serve as city hall until the local departments physically outgrew the space. A newer, larger, and more modern city hall was built on Lottie Street in 1939, which still serves as Bellingham’s city hall.

Old City Hall sat empty for most of the 1939. There were calls from city councilmen to demolish the building. But the building was saved in November of that year when a group of volunteers led by John M. Edson established the Bellingham Public Museum Society and committed to occupy the building under a five-year lease. The museum officially opened on January 23, 1941.

The Museum

In 1962 a fire caused by faulty wiring ran through the top section of the building and left the main tower and much of the roof a charred frame of what it once was. Many thought that the building would be closed for good as it was no longer suitable for exhibition. A 12-year fundraising drive commenced.

Blueprints for the clock tower portion of the building no longer existed, so builders had to use photographs and sketches to recreate that section of the building. In 1974 the museum was finally reopened to the public. A bedsheet with the words “We Did It” was raised on the flag pole at the top of the tower.

Rebuilding tower, 1974: Photo by Galen Biery, Whatcom Museum #1985.70.8 b

Remnants of the history of Old City Hall can still be seen today. In the basement of the building, which used to serve as the city’s police station, the remains of jail bars over some doors and a padded jail cell can still be seen.

In the first floor photo gallery that is directly in front of the stairs, which used to be the city’s comptroller’s office, the outlines of what was once the comptroller’s vault can be faintly seen in the wall, covered by paint and a photograph. Behind the attendant’s desk, the remnants of the treasurer’s vault can be seen.

If you look up at the clock tower, there is a chance that the hands still read seven o’clock. The clock mechanism was never installed, so occasionally museum staff will climb up to the clock tower and move the hands.

Come discover the history of Old City Hall for yourself! Take a docent-led tour on Sunday afternoons at 12:30pm for more tales from the past.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

A Closer Look at Art of the American West

When you first walk into Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum at the Lightcatcher building, you’re met with a brilliant, colorful painting depicting a Native American man. Next, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. If you look closer, something else may catch your gaze: two large medals affixed to the sash on the chief.

A patron looks at “Portrait of Maungwudaus,” c.1851 by Paul Kane (1810-1871). Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub.

Art of the American West

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). He was born circa 1807 on the shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker.

In 1844, he formed a traveling Native American dance troupe. The troupe included members of his family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform. Maungwudaus had the chance to perform for royalty such as King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium.

During the troupe’s 1845 performance for King Louis Philippe I, Maungwudaus was given a gold medal. Five years later, he was awarded a silver medal from U.S. President Zachary Taylor.

More medals

But the portrait of Maungwudaus isn’t the only one of a Native American man with medals. A nearby portrait shows a Native American man in ceremonial dress. He is holding a feather-endowed pipe, with three peace medals hanging around his neck. The man in the portrait is Naw-Kaw, a Winnebago chief. The portrait is circa 1832 by artist Henry Inman.

Peace medals were awarded by the U.S. government throughout the early colonization of the Americas up until the late 1800s. The medals were awarded to Native American tribes or individuals after almost every formal interaction with the government. The medals served as a way of promising the prospects of peace and trade. For many tribes, being awarded a medal held great pride. These medals were sometimes passed down from generation to generation.

While the medals conveyed a sense of importance and respect, controversy surrounds their use in building relations between the U.S. and Native Americans. Some tribal leaders were critical of US peace medals and their effectiveness in negotiations.

The portraits are only one piece of Art of the American West exhibition. The exhibition gives you a vivid look into the diverse land of the American West.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Events

Historical Society: Annual History Holiday Open Mic

This is a festive and informative evening of local history sharing and holiday goodies! All are welcome—members, friends, and the general public—to listen to or sign up for a 5-minute open-mic session to share a personal story, research, an artifact, or anything else related to local or regional history. Local authors will sell and sign books, and an informational table will provide resources and literature. Co-presented by the Whatcom County Historical Society (WCHS). $5 suggested donation/Museum and WCHS members free


34TH ANNUAL HISTORY SUNSET CRUISES SET SAIL THIS SUMMER

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, May 12, 2017—The Whatcom Museum is pleased to announce the return of its popular summer history cruises along Bellingham Bay, now in its 34th year. For the 2017 season, the Museum is partnering again with San Juan Cruises for tour operation. The weekly cruises, which sail in July and August, will be offered on Tuesday evenings and will be leaving from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven.

Starting Tuesday, July 11, and continuing each Tuesday through August 29, the Whatcom Museum’s popular summer cruises will take locals and visitors aboard the 100-foot Victoria Star tour boat. Participants get great close-up views of parks, businesses, industry, and neighborhoods from Bellingham Bay, with Bellingham historians Brian Griffin or Doug Starcher serving as tour guides. They will tie their knowledge of local history with up-to-date facts about bay activities. Their narrative of history, trivia, and current events makes cruise guests feel they are becoming experts on their community, and gives new understanding of the area.

The Victoria Star leaves from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven. The boat has indoor and outdoor seating on two levels, an on-board snack bar, and a full bar with a selection of Northwest beers, wines, and cocktails. Restrooms are available on board. Guests are welcome to bring dinner, snacks, and beverages (non-alcoholic) for a picnic-style dinner while cruising. Each sailing boards at 6:15pm, with a prompt 6:30pm sailing, and an 8:30pm return.

Tickets go on sale June 1st and are $35 general/$30 for Museum members; $28 per person for groups of 8 or more people. Purchase through Brown Paper Tickets, by calling 800/838.3006 ext. 1, or in-person at the Museum Store located at 250 Flora St. Bellingham, WA 98225. Proceeds benefit Whatcom Museum exhibitions and educational programs.

San Juan Cruises is located at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, 355 Harris Avenue, Suite 104, Bellingham WA 98225. The Port of Bellingham charges $0.50/hour for parking, in the large lot with numbered spaces about 30 yards in front of the terminal building. Overnight parking is $6/day. There is free parking for up to 2 hours in front of the terminal. To learn more about San Juan Cruises visit Whales.com.