Special Reports

Village at river's edge grew into Lynden

A gentle slope ran less than 100 hundred yards from the edge of the Nooksack Ridge to the treeline, where willows, alders and vine maples grew in the shadow of giant fir, cedar and pine.

A muddy track from canoes at the river's edge dried slowly in the spring sun. Beyond the trees, a fire emitting a curl of smoke warded off the day's chill in the Nooksack Indian village of Sq'ah'alish.

Amidst the bustle of the village, an odd face emerged from a low, rush-roofed house. Unlike the other villagers, he was pale white.

Col. James Patterson arrived in the Nooksack village in the mid 1850s, empty-handed from the gold rush in the Canadian Cascades. He'd hoped to make his fortune among the northern gold mines, just as he had in the Californian gold fields in 1849.

Now, nearly penniless, he'd landed at the village on Fishtrap Creek. Once there, he met and married a tribal princess and settled down to start a family. Patterson and his bride soon had two daughters.

Over the next few years his homestead grew as he raised dairy cattle and traded milk in New Whatcom, Sehome and Fairhaven, new towns growing quickly on Bellingham Bay. But Patterson's relations with his wife soured, so she left him and her daughters behind to seek safety among tribes to the north.

Judsons arrive

Patterson related that tale often to Phoebe Judson and her husband, Holden, while in Olympia selling cattle. The Judsons had settled there to farm after a grueling cross-country trip on the Oregon Trail.

Patterson asked the Judsons to care for his daughters. They kept declining, until one night when he offered them his home as well. The Judsons had been looking for better land to farm. On Patterson's next visit to Olympia, the Judsons struck a deal.

Within the month, Phoebe Judson accompanied the two young girls up Puget Sound and up the Nooksack River to their home. The Judsons settled on the river's north bank in late 1870.

Soon after came the family of Thomas Coupe Jr., who stayed with the Judsons until they built their own homestead to the west. Two years later the Hawleys arrived to homestead to the east, followed soon by the Bertrands.

So many homesteaders followed that the settlement at the bend in the river was platted in 1884 and incorporated seven years later.

During the early years, in 1876, Phoebe Judson and Mrs. M.D. Smith of New Whatcom raised money for a notable venture - removing the three-quarter-mile-long logjam north of Ferndale. John Plaster was paid $450 to tear out, blow up and burn out the barrier, opening the Nooksack to boat traffic further upstream.

The town soon became known as Lynden, named by Phoebe Judson after the Dutch poem "The Linden Tree." She spelled Linden with a "Y," she said, because "tis much prettier spelled so."

Dutch haven

In the early 1890s, Herman Oordt, Dowe Zjilstra and Gerrit Veleke - three Dutchmen in search of broad fields to farm - stumbled upon Lynden. Struck by the natural beauty of the area, they bought land and moved from Oak Harbor to Lynden, the start of a sizable wave of Hollanders who made Lynden their home.

By 1900, the First Christian Reformed Church had been built on Front Street. A decade later, the first Christian school in Lynden was built on Grover Street. Together, they helped anchor Lynden as a center for Dutch tradition in the Northwest.

Lynden grew as people came to seek home and fortune. In 1897, Billy Waples and Andrew Smith invested $100, much of it borrowed, to start Lynden Department Store, a business that gained a national reputation for service and variety before it closed in 1978. Sol Lewis arrived in 1908 to make the Lynden Tribune one of the finest weekly newspapers in the state.

Lynden prospered and grew, due in part to the rich farmland nearby. From the early 1900s to World War II, Lynden became the agricultural center of Whatcom County.

Whatcom Dairyman's Association, later Darigold, turned a small cooperative dairy into the world's largest dried-milk plant. Washington Egg and Poultry Cooperative Association dominated poultry farming through the 1960s. Lynden became known for turning out what people considered the best chicken noodle dinner to ever grace a can.

In the early 1950s, Hispanics began to arrive in Lynden in growing numbers. At first, they came to work at dairies, raspberry farms and other businesses. In time, more and more Hispanic families arrived to settle, leading to the vibrant Hispanic community growing in Lynden today.