Whatcom Magazine

Fairhaven area given fresh new history website

Neelie Nelson, left, and Gayle Helgoe, seated at the J.J. Donovan statue, have created a website dedicated to the history of Fairhaven.
Neelie Nelson, left, and Gayle Helgoe, seated at the J.J. Donovan statue, have created a website dedicated to the history of Fairhaven. The Bellingham Herald

It might not be fate that brought Gayle Helgoe and Neelie Nelson together to create a website about Fairhaven history, but it seems that way.

Of the two, Helgoe is more deeply rooted in the community. A reference librarian, she retired a decade ago as Bellingham Public Library’s assistant director after 34 years there. Nelson, a retired officer manager, moved to Bellingham from California eight years ago with her husband, Steve.

Soon after, Nelson and Helgoe met while walking in South Hill neighborhood near the 123-year-old Gamwell House. They chatted about the history of the neighborhood and went on their way.

They next bumped into each other at the archives at Western Washington University. Nelson was pursuing her budding interest in the historic buildings of Fairhaven. Helgoe, who knows how to research properties, pitched in to help.

Over time they agreed to put together a new history website, fairhavenhistory.com. The site quietly went live a year ago while Nelson continued to fine-tune the technical side and to research Fairhaven’s history from the 1960s. Helgoe focuses her research on earlier times.

“Everything is very seriously and accurately documented,” Helgoe says. “It’s my post-retirement project.”

The site encapsulates the history of early Fairhaven buildings, ones still standing as well as ones long gone; profiles historic Fairhaven people; details landmarks; and provides links to additional resources, including videos.

Fortunately, old-time Fairhaven was a well-photographed community. Many of those photos, now archived at Whatcom Museum, are used to flesh out the website, along with newer images and “then-and-now” pairings.

“History is more interesting when you can attach a visual,” Nelson says.

Nelson and Helgoe plan to add more content, and they might add interactive maps, so visitors to Fairhaven who are curious about a building could use a smartphone to click on the map and quickly learn the building’s history.

Their website joins a growing list of resources for people interested in local history, including the recently revamped website for Whatcom County Historical Society.

“A website is a perfect place to set up history,” Nelson says. “The big surprise is, for this little area, how deep the information is.”

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