Local History with a Waterfront View

Learn about Bellingham’s history from the waterfront perspective.

By Christina Claassen and Colton Redtfeldt

This summer hundreds of people will be boarding the 100-foot Victoria Star boat for the Whatcom Museum’s 35th annual History Sunset Cruises. Everyone aboard will learn about the history of Bellingham from a waterfront perspective, courtesy of two local historians who weave stories and serve as hosts extraordinaire—Doug Starcher and Brian Griffin.

During the cruises, participants get great close-up views of parks, businesses, industry, and neighborhoods from Bellingham Bay. Starcher and Griffin will tie their knowledge of local history with up-to-date facts about bay side 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 to both locals and visitors. Read more

The History of Old City Hall

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Reaching into the sky with its four spires and clock tower, Old City Hall is one of Bellingham’s most iconic landmarks. Everyone in Bellingham has seen the building and many have been inside when they visit the Whatcom Museum, but fewer people know the long and interesting history behind it — and the many secrets that it holds.

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 Street. However, as the government grew, it became evident that the City Council, which had shared the space with a clothing store, a music dealer and a hotel, needed something bigger. They asked local architects to submit plans for a new city hall and 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 council purchased a plot of land on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bluff for $5000 and construction started in February 1892. Construction was 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 and 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.

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A Closer Look at Art of the American West

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

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. As you look to your left, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. But if you look more closely at this painting something else may catch your gaze: two large medals that are 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.

This seems like a peculiar sight. “Medals?” You may ask. “What are these medals for and who awarded them?” The answers to these questions are quite interesting.

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning the great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). Maungwudaus was born circa 1807 on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker. In 1844 he formed a travelling Native American dance troupe, which included members of his own family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform, and the show gained quite the reputation. Maungwudaus had the opportunity to perform for royalty such as the Duke of Wellington, King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium. The group continued to perform for several years in Canada and the US after leaving Europe.

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Historical Society: Local Rock & Roll Bands of the ’50s and ’60s

Wes Gannaway and Kent Holsather will talk about and show photos of local bands and venues for Rock and Roll music from the early 1950s through 1960s in Whatcom County.  Wes Gannaway has been researching history with Kent Holsather for several decades. They are co-authors of four books; Whatcom Then and Now, Bellingham Then and Now, Bays to Bells, and Drive-ins, Drive-ups, and Drive-Thrus.  Kent and Wes worked together at the Atlantic Richfield Refinery from 1971 to 2010, where they found that they had a mutual interest in local history.  Both are continuing to work on projects such as an historical chronology of the County, the sandstone quarries, and the 1858 Richards Building. Co-presented by the Whatcom County Historical Society. $5 suggested donation/Museum & Historical Society members free.

EXHIBITION CLOSES: The Elephant in the Room

Today is the last day to see The Elephant in the Room: The Allure of Ivory and its Tragic Legacy. This exhibition explores the story of ivory from pre-history to modern times, featuring a selection of ivory from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition will cover areas of research in elephant communication, the devastating effects of ivory hunting, and highlight how organizations are trying to save these incredible animals around the world.


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