Special Reports

Immigrants peopled early bay cities

Most people who lived in the cities of Fairhaven and New Whatcom in 1900 were born in another country, or had foreign parents.

That was true of just under half the population by 1910 - seven years after the two cities merged to form Bellingham.

The newcomers tended to be from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and Germany, in that order, a trend that continued for most of the 20th century.

The same countries, with Germany at the front, were the most common homelands of foreign parents.

Scandinavians started moving to the Puget Sound area at the end of the 19th century after initially settling in other states, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

Early arrivals and ethnic newspapers persuaded others to follow. Transplants found good farming, and a climate, mountains, trees and fish that reminded them of Scandinavia.

As more arrived, there was also a welcoming community, complete with established Lutheran churches and people who spoke their language. Most Scandinavians worked as fishers, farmers and loggers.

In the 2000 census, the biggest places of ancestry for Bellingham residents were Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.

There were more people claiming ancestry from each of these places than total Asians. All but Swedish ancestry outnumbered Hispanics.

Bellingham's foreign-born population is much smaller these days, and includes more Asians and Europeans.