When it comes to early Fairhaven, Dirty Dan Harris gets most of the love, but if you want the fuller story behind the genesis of the south Bellingham community, there’s a new book out for history fans.
“Fairhaven, a History,” by Brian Griffin of Bellingham, succinctly details the ups and downs, the optimistic booms and the numbing busts, that created today’s beloved historic district.
I wanted to tell the straight story, without too much hoopla. I wanted to tell the flow.
Brian Griffin, author
Several other books have looked at slices of Fairhaven’s past, but Griffin says his book is the first comprehensive look at Fairhaven’s roller-coaster life.
As one of the earliest settlers and promoters, Harris gets his due, but Griffin pays proper close attention to the more traditional businesspeople who worked to turn Fairhaven into a real city, people like Nelson Bennett, Charles X. Larrabee and John Joseph “J.J.” Donovan.
For many residents today, those figures are familiar as southside street and school names. In the first part of his book, Griffin weaves their stories in easily digestible chapters that make clear why the developers came, what they hoped to achieve, and why some of them left while others stayed put as civic leaders.
“I wanted to tell the straight story, without too much hoopla,” Griffin said. “You could write a book on the Fairhaven Hotel or on Dirty Dan Harris. I wanted to tell the flow.”
Legends to recent history
The second part of the book explores a smorgasbord of Fairhaven stories, from the majestic Fairhaven Hotel and the founding of St. Joseph Hospital to the influx of Croatians and assorted local legends.
The book covers recent history, too, from the hippie occupation of Fairhaven in the mid-1960s to the early ’70s, to the commercial resurgence of Fairhaven today, dampened by the recent closure of Fairhaven Pharmacy.
Griffin, an energetic 83, grew up on nearby South Hill. He’s personally familiar with a fair slice of Fairhaven history and has been involved in major efforts to improve Fairhaven and honor its history.
He co-wrote “My Darling Anna,” a look at Fairhaven in the late 1800s through the letters of a young doctor, and wrote “Boulevard Park & Taylor Avenue Dock on the Old Bellingham Waterfront,” which explores early shoreline industry north of Fairhaven and the creation of the popular park where a lumber mill once lined the water’s edge.
Griffin and other members of the Rotary Club of Bellingham played a leading role in the creation of Boulevard Park. He also was deeply involved in the creation of Fairhaven Village Green; the installation of outdoor sculptures of Harris, Larrabee and Donovan in Fairhaven; and the creation of Depot Market Square.
Fairhaven today has such great charm. It’s the most attractive part of Bellingham.
A few years ago, Griffin secured a trove of personal papers, diaries and other artifacts belonging to Donovan, which led to a Whatcom Museum exhibit and a related book, “Treasures From the Trunk,” about Donovan’s many civic contributions. In 2015, Griffin received a “Living Treasure” Award from the Bellingham Arts Commission for his community-minded service.
In other words, Griffin has deep roots in the community and many years under his belt researching and writing about south Bellingham history. It’s not surprising that he was one of several people active in Fairhaven who were recently memorialized by being added to the outdoor mural at the Village Green.
Fairhaven’s charm remains
The early parts of Bellingham where today’s downtown and Old Town are located have their own interesting history, but they lack Fairhaven’s cohesive architectural look.
A core of landmark Fairhaven buildings survived the south end’s sluggish decades — indeed, they may have been left intact because there was no economic incentive to bother with them. Newer buildings blend in well, thanks to architectural design guidelines for Fairhaven. The result is a district that would still be recognizable to the area’s early developers.
“Fairhaven today has such great charm,” Griffin said “It’s the most attractive part of Bellingham.”
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291
“Fairhaven, a History,” $23.95, is available at Village Books, the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher gift shop, and at Greenhouse. Author Brian Griffin will be available to sign copies at these times:
Friday, Dec. 18: 1 to 4 p.m. at Village Books
Saturday, Dec. 19: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Greenhouse and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Village Books
Sunday, Dec. 20: 1 to 4 p.m. at Village Books
Other sources of Fairhaven history:
FairhavenHistory.com - New comprehensive website devoted to the district.
Videotaped oral histories - Conducted by Brian Griffin and available at Bellingham Public Library
Fairhaven history videos - Made by Lanny Little, viewable at YouTube.com