The historical civic group that manages Pickett House in Bellingham expressed their displeasure at last week’s removal of directional signs leading to the museum, saying they had not been notified prior to the removal.
Last Friday city officials removed signs identifying the Pickett Bridge at Prospect and Dupont streets along with directional signs leading to Pickett House, 910 Bancroft St., in response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va. between a group identified as white supremacists and counter-protesters, and some local disapproval over the name of the bridge.
Capt. George E. Pickett was a U.S. Army officer who built Fort Bellingham in the 1850s and supervised construction of the first bridge across Whatcom Creek. He left the area in 1861 to fight for his home state of Virginia in the Civil War. Pickett later became a general in the Confederate States Army.
Edradine Hovde, vice president of the Daughters of Pioneers Washington, Whatcom Chapter No. 5 – the group that owns, operates and maintains Pickett House – said she would have liked to have had a conversation with city officials before the signs directing people to the museum were removed. Hovde said there are other directional signs leading to other museums throughout the city, and just because Pickett House is privately owned doesn’t mean the city should take down the signs.
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“Just because we don’t like the history behind a name doesn’t mean it should be changed,” Hovde said. “It was simply named that originally and by changing the name it only erases history for future people. Our children and grandchildren deserve to know the history of the town they live in and the state they live in.”
Mayor Kelli Linville said the directional signs were removed over concerns of vandalism to Pickett House.
“The directional signs to me are something different than the actual naming of the bridge, but right now at the wishes of the (City) Council, we’re letting that discussion happen first before we make a determination about those,” Linville said. “It was done for their protection.”
Linville acknowledged it could impact visitorship to Pickett House if the signs were to stay down, adding she would like to see the signs go back up – the signs could go back up within the next three weeks if Linville brings the issue up to council members.
“Because they are directions to the Pickett House, the city is not doing anything, they’re just saying this is how you find the private residence or private piece of property; it’s not honoring Gen. Pickett, which our council does not want to do,” Linville said. “At the time they came down though, there was concern about any activity that might happen right as we had the Charlottesville protest. It was probably overly-cautious, but I would rather be overly-cautious than underly-cautious.”
The house was built sometime around 1856 by John Peabody, brother of Russell Peabody who co-owned Roeder’s lumber mill with Henry Roeder, Hovde said. Planks from the mill were used to build the house which was the second building in Whatcom County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is also the oldest wooden structure on its original site in Washington state, and the oldest building in Bellingham. Pickett lived in the house until 1861. Some time later, after Hattie Strother lived in the house for 47 years, she willed the property to the Washington State Historical Society after her death in 1932. The historical society then deeded the house in trust to the Daughters of Pioneers who have maintained the house, which became a certified museum in 1941.
“I think it’s important to preserve the history and know where we come from and why so that we can improve the future,” Hovde said. “It is our history and we need to know what happened here before we came on scene. Everybody should know a little about their own personal history and a little bit of history before moving here.”
Hovde said she hopes the directional signs to the Pickett House will be put back up. She said if people don’t know where to find the house, they won’t come, which could jeopardize the museum’s visitorship. Public tours are given on the second Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m. The next tour will be Sept. 10.
“The house he (Pickett) lived in is still standing and should be a value to everybody who wants to know about the history of our area. And because later on he became a general in the Confederacy it doesn’t change that he was a captain in the U.S. Army when he lived here. We’re not honoring him, we’re saying this house is a treasured gem of history because it is the oldest or one of the oldest and is one block away from the oldest brick building in the state of Washington. People interested in history know these things,” Hovde said. “Their history should not be erased just because we don’t like it. Those were different times, different values. If we erase it and not learn from it then we repeat it.”