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 centennial Herald Masthead 
  home > news > centennial front > Monday, October 20, 2003 

Immigrants peopled early bay cities
Andro Mardesich (right) came from the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea to open South Bellingham Grocery in 1913. The business at 1108 11th St., catered to fishers, supplying their boats and homes with olives, olive oil, tomato sauce, Romano cheese, pasta and garlic. Much of the business was done on credit, with fishers paying at the end of the season. GALEN BIERY COLLECTION

ost people who lived in the cities of Fairhaven and New Whatcom in 1900 were born in another country, or had foreign parents.

That was true of just under half the population by 1910 - seven years after the two cities merged to form Bellingham.

The newcomers tended to be from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and Germany, in that order, a trend that continued for most of the 20th century.

The same countries, with Germany at the front, were the most common homelands of foreign parents.

Scandinavians started moving to the Puget Sound area at the end of the 19th century after initially settling in other states, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

Early arrivals and ethnic newspapers persuaded others to follow. Transplants found good farming, and a climate, mountains, trees and fish that reminded them of Scandinavia.

As more arrived, there was also a welcoming community, complete with established Lutheran churches and people who spoke their language. Most Scandinavians worked as fishers, farmers and loggers.

In the 2000 census, the biggest places of ancestry for Bellingham residents were Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.

There were more people claiming ancestry from each of these places than total Asians. All but Swedish ancestry outnumbered Hispanics.

Bellingham's foreign-born population is much smaller these days, and includes more Asians and Europeans.

- Aubrey Cohen

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