Dean Kahn

Get off your couch and walk the history of ‘Old Sehome’ (couch tour also optional)

The home of Robert Morse, founder of Morse Hardware Co., was built in the late 1800s. The plan for the house at 1014 N. Garden St. came from a catalog, with construction supervised by Alfred Lee, the architect who designed Bellingham’s first city hall now part of Whatcom Museum.
The home of Robert Morse, founder of Morse Hardware Co., was built in the late 1800s. The plan for the house at 1014 N. Garden St. came from a catalog, with construction supervised by Alfred Lee, the architect who designed Bellingham’s first city hall now part of Whatcom Museum. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Did you know that Robert Morse kept a black bear in a wire pen outside of his hardware store on North State Street?

Or that an onion dome adorned the corner turret of the building that houses Toth’s Custom Upholstery?

Or that bowlers enjoyed their sport in the building that’s now home to NYP Bar and Grill?

Those are just a few things I learned while perusing the city of Bellingham’s newest self-guided walking tour for history-minded pedestrians.

Years ago, the city created an online-only photo guide to the route of old Highway 99 through Bellingham. Last year, the city released a walking tour of downtown that is available both online and in booklet form.

The town of Sehome was settled in 1853, spurred by the discovery of coal near Bellingham Bay.

The newest addition to the tour library covers “Old Sehome,” what is now the south end of downtown, and the nearby residential area on Sehome Hill.

Whether you walk the 1.5-mile tour yourself, or read the booklet from the comfort of home, you’re certain to learn something about the city’s history, lament the loss of some beautiful buildings, and appreciate that many have survived, even flourished. The guide is full of then-and-now photo pairs, and concise histories with golden nuggets of detail.

The new tour is timely because North State Street is the focus of extra city attention these days. The city recently held a Kapow! Design Competition for North State. One winning idea envisions a record-setting hopscotch course with stops at breweries.

Design concepts for North State also are being generated, and the city plans to install diagonal parking on the east side of the street for four blocks, from Chestnut Street south to Berry Street, near the roundabout to Boulevard.

Sehome was one of four pioneer towns that, over time, became one city on the bay. The other three were Whatcom, located in today’s Old Town area; Fairhaven, where the historic commercial district still flourishes; and Bellingham, near today’s Boulevard Park.

Fairhaven developers bought Bellingham in 1890, and Whatcom and Sehome merged a year later. In 1903, voters in Whatcom and Fairhaven agreed to make their cities one and to call it Bellingham.

Sehome had been settled in 1853, spurred by the discovery of coal, with a mine entrance near what is now the intersection of Laurel Street and Railroad Avenue. After mining petered out in 1878, logging, land development and street construction took hold in Sehome.

A house built in 1870 at 901 N. State served as the office and home of the superintendent of Bellingham Bay Coal Co., and later was headquarters for Bellingham Bay Improvement Co. The house was torn down in 1949, but some of the original fruit trees on the property survive today at the aptly named Orchard Terrace Apartments.

The by-the-numbers route begins at the Pacific Building, 1057 N. State, and ends at the Daylight Building, 1205 N. State. Overall, the tour explores the area bounded roughly by Chestnut on the north, the roundabout at State and Boulevard on the south, State on the west, and High Street on east, with Sehome Hill National Historic District also part of the package.

Old Sehome Historic Walking Tour

The “Old Sehome” tour booklet is free at Bellingham Public Library and the Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism visitor centers on Potter and Commercial streets, and can be purchased for $5 at Whatcom Museum’s gift shop.

The tour also is available as an interactive map online, an audio mpa, and in printable form at the city of Bellingham website. Go to cob.org and search for “historic tours.”

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