Seniors & Aging

Retired doctor wants park to honor Alonzo Poe forevermore

Retired physician Warren Bergholz enjoys a sunny day at Marine Park in Fairhaven in August 2015. He says the park should be renamed to honor Alonzo Poe, an active pioneer who once owned the land.
Retired physician Warren Bergholz enjoys a sunny day at Marine Park in Fairhaven in August 2015. He says the park should be renamed to honor Alonzo Poe, an active pioneer who once owned the land. The Bellingham Herald

For decades, retired Bellingham physician Warren Bergholz has been seeking recognition for a pioneer whose name seemingly dropped off the map.

In 1853, Alonzo M. Poe, an ambitious Northwest pioneer and civil engineer, was granted 303 acres, covering what is now Marine Park through Edgemoor. Poe became active locally, serving as a provisional auditor for Whatcom County, a county commissioner and a surveyor. There is no doubt to Bergholz that Poe should be remembered on the Fairhaven point that once bore his name.

Bergholz, 98, began his quest after curiosity made him wonder why the area of Marine Park, where Poe’s cabin had stood, became known as Post Point after being called Poe’s Point.

The actual Post Point, farther south, once sported a 16-foot white post for ship navigation around the shallows. Somewhere along the way, Alonzo Poe’s legacy was lost.

“I became aware of him when people talked about Post Point and the fact that it had been Poe’s Point for four decades,” Bergholz says. “His work was a significant thing in this area for a long time. There is nothing about him left here.”

Well, almost nothing. Today, the Marine Park sign at the entrance to the park includes the name Post Point, with Poe’s Point below that in parentheses.

As a civil engineer in 1858, Poe platted the town of Whatcom for Henry Roeder. (For comparison, famous “Dirty Dan” Harris platted Fairhaven 30 years later.)

Poe’s cabin, where locals came to vote, sat on a high lookout point that was alternately known as Graveyard Point, Deadman’s Point, and Commercial Point, depending on whether it was before or after 64 bodies were moved to Bayview Cemetery in preparation to flatten the hill. An 1890 map still called it Poe’s Point.

Bergholz has spent years in his quest to have Poe’s name officially restored to the point. It’s not an easy fix, and over the years he’s lobbied local, state, and national agencies.

“Poe was involved all over the state,” Bergholz says. “He’s listed on a monument in Longview honoring the men who created the Washington Territory. Just because he didn’t spend his whole life here doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be remembered. It feels like a significant history of Bellingham Bay is missing.”

While retired from medical practice, Bergholz remains busy with family and his cabin in Canada. He is surprisingly active and sharp for a man nearly a century old.

“I’ve had a great time,” he says. “I bought a little hunk of Canada and built a cabin on it, and got a sailboat that number-two son still has.”

Born in Chicago in 1917, he grew up in Portland, Ore., helping in the family’s bakery.

“I like to say I spent half my life as a baker and half as a doctor,” he jokes.

It isn’t far from the truth. Bergholz dropped out of school after falling asleep too much from late-night bakery work. He spent part of World War II working in the military’s bakery in Australia. He was demoted for marrying an officer, a nurse named Dee, with whom he would have three children and stay married for 57 years. She died in 2000.

Bergholz graduated with the second medical school class at the University of Washington, start pre-med in 1940 and finished his degree in 1951. Two years later, he joined a Bellingham medical office on Holly Street to replace a doctor felled by polio. Bergholz says he sometimes cared for patients even though they lacked the money to pay him.

“There were docs that wouldn’t accept people without money on the table,” he says.

He now lives with his second wife, Jean, and a friendly dog on a quiet county road.

“I’ve known Jean for over 50 years and I had delivered all of her children,” he says. “I like to say she saved me from ‘books, dog hair and dust.’”

Taimi Dunn Gorman is a Bellingham writer.