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History lesson: June a tough, sad month for fires in Lynden

Firefighters battle a blaze at Delft Square, the historic Lynden Department Store building on Front Street, June 9, 2008.
Firefighters battle a blaze at Delft Square, the historic Lynden Department Store building on Front Street, June 9, 2008. The Bellingham Herald

When it comes to fires, June is a month that Lynden residents with a sense of history would rather forget.

Consider:

▪ On June 9, 2008, an arson fire blazed through Delft Square, the historic Lynden Department Store building at 444 Front St. Two boys, 13 and 14, later pleaded guilty to starting the fire.

Lynden Department Store was the widely admired business started by Billy Waples in 1897. Coincidentally, his earlier store at Front and Fourth streets was destroyed by fire in 1913.

The Delft Square site has been recently remodeled and renamed the Waples Mercantile Building. Businesses there include The Inn at Lynden, Avenue Bread and Village Books.

▪ On June 7, 1904, an early-morning fire suspected to be arson destroyed a block of Lynden’s business district along Front Street between Third and Fourth streets. No one was hurt, but the fire destroyed a hotel, mercantile business, law office, and several other shops and homes.

Lynden didn’t have a fire department or public water source, so residents fought the blaze with buckets and hand-held fire extinguishers, according to a story at HistoryLink.org.

Residents’ efforts saved adjacent blocks from the blaze, so Lynden’s nearby town hall and telephone company, and other structures, were unscathed. Rebuilding got underway that afternoon, including a group of men who rebuilt a blacksmith shop that was the only source of income for its recently widowed owner.

Lynden learned its lesson. The city soon after purchased fire engines, approved spending for a water system, and established a fire department.

A saloon was destroyed in the fire, but the HistoryLink story makes no mention of residents making heroic efforts to save the booze inside, unlike the thirsty folks who fought a big fire in the Bellingham Bay town of Whatcom in 1885.

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

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