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Experience a time when only the sheer strength of lumberjacks felled enormous trees

Using historic black and white photographs from the archives, as well as early forestry artifacts from the museum’s collection, visitors will relive the history of logging in this corner of the Pacific Northwest at a new exhibit at Old City Hall that tells the history of logging in the region.
Using historic black and white photographs from the archives, as well as early forestry artifacts from the museum’s collection, visitors will relive the history of logging in this corner of the Pacific Northwest at a new exhibit at Old City Hall that tells the history of logging in the region. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

We all know that logging is one of the earliest industries in the Pacific Northwest. The region was covered by old-growth forests reaching from the mountains to the sea. These giants became the foundation of Bellingham and Whatcom County’s economic future, as the need for lumber grew rapidly. In 1880 about 160 million board feet of timber was harvested from Washington forests. Now, almost 140 years later, more than 15 billion board feet of timber is harvested, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall is highlighting the economic and conservation history of forestry in a new exhibit, “Green Gold: Logging the Pacific Northwest.” Using historic black and white photographs from the archives, as well as early forestry artifacts from the museum’s collection, visitors will relive the history of logging in this corner of the Pacific Northwest. Historic video footage takes visitors back to a time when only the sheer strength of lumberjacks felled enormous trees.

And those lumberjacks needed a large caloric intake to do the demanding physical labor 10-12 hours per day. Loggers could burn between 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, and so logging camps provided plentiful meals. A well-fed worker was a happy worker. It behooved the camps of the late 1800s through the early 1900s to provide delicious and plentiful food to ensure worker satisfaction. A visit to the exhibit offers more information about the food at a logging camp, and the types of items served.

Logging has its challenges too, such as the environmental impact and degradation of old-growth forests. Since 1891, the U.S. government has established various reserves, provisions and conservation measures to balance economic gains with the protection of natural resources. Even as economic and political times evolve, the legacy and symbolism of Pacific Northwest forests will continue.

History Trivia: Did you know that Old City Hall was almost demolished twice? Before the building became the Bellingham Public Museum Society in 1941, the city considered tearing down the building, believing it would be costly to maintain once the new city hall on Lottie Street was in operation. In 1962 an electrical fire damaged Old City Hall’s clock tower and upper levels. After extensive fundraising by committed community members, the building was restored and reopened in 1968 as the Whatcom Museum of History and Art.

Christina M. Claassen is Whatcom Museum’s marketing and public relations manager. Reach her at cmclaassen@cob.org. Victoria Blackwell contributed to this column.

Whatcom Museum

The non-profit Whatcom Museum is operated by the Whatcom Museum Foundation and the city of Bellingham. The Old City Hall building at 121 Prospect St. and the Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St. are open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. The Family Interactive Gallery, located inside the Lightcatcher, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission, good for all sites in a day, is $10 general, $8 youth (6-17 years) and student, senior or military, $5 children (2-5 years). Memberships start at $50 and include free museum admission.

The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature and Northwest history. Its collections contain more than 200,000 artifacts and art of regional importance, including a photographic archive. The museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

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