Dean Kahn

Lace up your walking shoes and explore Bellingham history

The Oakland Block, home to Old Town Cafe on West Holly Street in Bellingham, was built in 1890. It housed city offices until a City Hall building was erected nearby on Prospect Street. The building, shown March 30, 2016, is mentioned in a history tour in “Walking Washington’s History” by Judy Bentley of Seattle.
The Oakland Block, home to Old Town Cafe on West Holly Street in Bellingham, was built in 1890. It housed city offices until a City Hall building was erected nearby on Prospect Street. The building, shown March 30, 2016, is mentioned in a history tour in “Walking Washington’s History” by Judy Bentley of Seattle. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Bellingham has lots of people who love the outdoors and lots of folks interested in local history, so a new book from University of Washington Press may well be of interest to them.

“Walking Washington’s History,” by Judy Bentley of Seattle, gives an overview of the history of 10 cities in the state, including Bellingham, plus maps and route details for people who like to combine walking with learning about history.

“The walking piques your curiosity,” she said, “and it also gives you a feeling for the land.”

Other cities covered in the book are Vancouver, Olympia, Walla Walla, Tacoma, Seattle, Everett, Yakima, Spokane and Bellevue.

I always had that urge to get out and walk around.

Judy Bentley, author, ‘Walking Washington’s History’

As is often the case, it can take a relative newcomer to explore an area well. Bentley grew up in Indiana, went to college in Ohio, and lived and worked in New York City before she moved to the Seattle area in the early 1980s. Easy access to the outdoors was a big reason she moved, and walking was a good way to explore her new hometown.

“I always had that urge to get out and walk around,” she said.

She taught composition, literature and Northwest history for more than 20 years at South Seattle College. In her classes, she often assigned students to research a small area – a square block in a city, a square mile in the country – to learn the research skills needed to dig deeply into a locale’s history.

Bentley has written biographies and books on contemporary issues for young adults, and earlier combined her love of hiking and history in “Hiking Washington’s History,” a guide to historic trails, also from University of Washington Press.

Bentley’s initial introduction to Bellingham history was “The Living,” a fictional account of pioneer life on Bellingham Bay by Annie Dillard, who used to live in Bellingham. For her “Ten Cities” chapter on Bellingham, she researched old newspaper articles and standard history references, including “The Fourth Corner” by Lelah Jackson Edson.

Each chapter in the book starts with an overview of the city’s history. Her nine-page Bellingham overview is a concise synopsis of the search for water power, timber, coal, salmon, land development and railroad connections that fueled the early boom-and-bust growth of the small towns along Bellingham Bay that eventually coalesced into a city called Bellingham.

I came across a few errors in the Bellingham chapter, but none of them were earth-shaking, and it wasn’t all that surprising, given that summarizing local history goes quickly, while researchers’ work clarifying and correcting history is a much slower process.

The city has done a good job making walking history really pleasant.

Judy Bentley, author, ‘Walking Washington’s History’

The walking guide portion of the Bellingham chapter features text and maps for a downtown loop, a route to and around Fairhaven, and a side route to Western Washington University.

Her maps include icons noting points of interest, including historic sites, parking and, thoughtfully, restrooms. Bold-face names in the text signify something historic that is still visible. In other words, Bentley endeavors to make her book as useful as possible while toting it along on a history-minded walk.

She walked the Bellingham routes herself and had other people walk them to check her details. She was especially taken by South Bay Trail, which runs from downtown to Boulevard Park, and Old Village Trail, which links Old Town with Elizabeth Park.

“The city has done a good job making walking history really pleasant,” she said.

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

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