Sehome Neighborhood the latest slice of Bellingham with its own history survey

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 4, 2013 

Want to travel through time? Walk across Sehome Neighborhood.

Starting on the west side, you'll see J.J. Donovan's large house at 1201 N. Garden, built in 1890; the beautiful Morse family home at 1014 N. Garden, built five years later; and the YWCA, built in 1915 at 1026 N. Forest.

Moving east into the heart of the neighborhood, you'll see middle-class Craftsman-style bungalows and modest cottages, often built by mill workers of Scandinavian descent.

Farther east is auto-oriented Samish Way, a part of Highway 99 starting in the 1930s, when the highway was the main car route into Bellingham before freeways.

The pioneer town of Sehome was platted in 1854 and incorporated 34 years later. Early on, workers trooped to a coal mine at the foot of Sehome Hill. Later, in the 1890s, the state OK'd a teacher's college (now Western Washington University) in Sehome.

There's plenty on history there, and now Sehome is the latest Bellingham district with a formal survey and inventory of historic properties. An Oregon consulting group, Historic Preservation Northwest, recently completed the project with the help of a $15,000 state grant.

Sehome joins a growing roster of Bellingham neighborhoods so surveyed: Cornwall Park, Lettered Streets, South Hill, York, and downtown.

Such surveys can promote thoughtful planning and preservation efforts, and identify buildings and districts that might quality for national, state, and local historic registers.

Any historic building might qualify for flexible treatment under building codes, but being on official registers can make properties eligible for special financial benefits.

Generally, though, being on a historic register is a feel-good honor that can boost civic pride and encourage developers to make new buildings better fit the neighborhood, said Jean Hamilton, president of Sehome Neighborhood Association.

"On the board, we're very excited about it," she said.

For the Sehome survey, 353 mostly residential properties 50 years or older were researched and photographed. Nearly half were built between 1890 and 1910. Many remain relatively unchanged.

The project supplemented two earlier surveys of parts of the neighborhood. A recent downtown history survey included commercial parts of Sehome along Holly and Forest streets. In 2001, a grass-roots effort by residents resulted in 153 properties in the middle of the neighborhood being declared a national historic district.

The latest Sehome survey recommends that 54 properties along North Garden Street, between Oak Street and just short of Holly Street, be named a national historic district. If that idea is to go forward, residents and property owners will need to express their support, said Katie Franks, a development specialist with the city.

Meanwhile, a move is afoot to nominate downtown Bellingham as a national historic district, a move that would bring attention and honor, but would not impose new regulations, Franks said.

MORE INFORMATION

• To see a video presentation about the Sehome history survey, with links to related documents, go to cob.org and search for "Historic Resource Survey & Inventory Projects."

• To learn more about Sehome Neighborhood, borrow the book "At Home on the Hill - A Historical Album of an Early 20th Century Neighborhood on Sehome Hill" from a library, or buy it at Village Books for $30.

• To access the Washington Historic Resource Database, go to dahp.wa.gov, click on "Learn & Research" and then click on "Find a Historic Place."

• To contact Katie Franks, call 360-778-8388 or email kfranks@cob.org.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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