Klipsun Magazine

Down Devils Row: Marking Fairhaven Milestones.

Story by Coral Garnick // Photos by Eric Schmitz

Harris Avenue History

Two young women walk down Harris Avenue as the sun sets on Bellingham Bay. After passing the row of businesses, one of the girls notices something to her left. Turning her head to get a better look she stops, does an about-face, stares at the ground and erupts into laughter.

"What the heck," she yells to her friend a few feet ahead. "'No Chinese allowed beyond this point, 1898-1908.' Come look at this!"

However, another sign grabs her friend's attention.

"Here is where Mathew was cut in two by a streetcar - 1891'," she yells. "What are these?" They spend the next ten minutes running down Harris Ave. reading off more plaques and speculating about the stories that inspired them.

It's the reaction Tyrone Tillson was hoping for when he installed 45 historic markers with information dating as far back as 1500 B.C. He wanted to catch people's attention with the plaques, and share his passion for Fairhaven's history with everyone, says Penny Tillson, Tyrone's widow.

Tyrone fell in love with Fairhaven's rich history when he moved here to attend Western in 1959. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, he poured all his energy into learning everything he could about Fairhaven's past, Penny says.

"Every small town has its excitements," Penny says. "Fairhaven just has so many layers, once you get started investigating its past you can't stop-it's so deep; so full. It hooks you."

In 1988, the Old Fairhaven Association (OFA) received a $5,000 grant for citizens to use to make community improvements.

Tyrone thought the sidewalk markers would be a quaint, casual way to call attention to Fairhaven's history, Penny says. The OFA received another grant in 1994. With the extra funding, Tyrone was able to add the 20 historic markers south of Ninth Street, including the 'Chinese Deadline' that catches so many people's attention, Penny says.

Chinese Deadline - No Chinese allowed beyond this point

In the 1890s the world's largest salmon cannery was located at the end of Harris Avenue in Fairhaven. A Chinese man named Goon Dip was hired to contract 600 other Chinese men to work at the cannery. Because Fairhaven residents weren't accustomed to seeing Chinese people, there was an unspoken law that the Chinese workers weren't allowed north of Seventh Street. However, after a few years the Fairhaven community was accustomed to the Chinese workers, and disregarded the Deadline, Penny says.

Unknown dead man displayed here

In 1901, a man by the name of J.G. Bollong found a dead body. After inspecting the body, the town marshal determined the man had committed suicide by blowing himself up with a stick of dynamite that he had in his pocket. The body was placed on the corner of 10th and Harris, "Dead Man's Corner," for others to identify. From that point on, the corner was to identify dead bodies, Penny says.

Dirty Dan's Cabin

Daniel Jeff erson Harris, aka Dirty Dan, was a whaler from New England who founded Fairhaven. When he arrived in Washington in 1853, he named the area he landed in after Fairhaven, Mass. Known for wearing red long-johns, one boot, one shoe and a crooked hat, he earned the moniker Dirty Dan when living on the beach with pigs that dug clam shells for him. When people started showing up in Fairhaven for the lumber and the coal, he platted the land and sold it, Penny says.

"It's good to have a legend. Vancouver has Gassy Jack and we have Dirty Dan," Penny says. "It's good to put a human face on things, and the more character they have, the better."

Jailhouse Boat Here -giving prisoners whiskey meant 25 days on chaingang

Th e fi rst jailhouse in Fairhaven was a broken down scow beached and anchored above the tide line in the lagoon on Sixth Street. Before the County Council came up with the arrangement, the town sheriff would take prisoners home with him and handcuff them to his kitchen stove for the night. Th e McGinty, a cramped, four-celled barge incarcerated men couldn't even stand up in, was used as the jailhouse for a year until a new jail-fi rehouse was constructed, Penny says.

Junction Saloon - nothing of interest happened here
March 17, 1893

The Junction Saloon, on Fourth and Harris, is where the Fairhaven marshal would park his wagon when the railroad workers showed up for their weekend drinking. Th e marshal would wait outside the saloon for the fi ghting to start, and when it did, he would load the men into his wagon and take them to the jailhouse for the night to sleep it off .

This marker is the only one with a complete date, but Penny says the day and month, March 17, don't actually correspond to the date the saloon was erected. Penny calls it the Tillson Family Secret. One day, she'll tell people what the date means, she says, but not yet.

Unknown Saloon

In the spring of 1993, one of the saloon historic markers was stolen. Under the saloon's name, the caption said, "Mr. Noel wore a dress and welcomed the guests." Mr. Noel was the greeter at the saloon, and because he was a transvestite, he was usually wearing a dress, Penny says.

The Tillsons found the missing block across the road in the creek, so they went home, grabbed a shovel and reset the stone in the side walk. Th e block went missing again a few days later, but that time, they were unable to locate it.

"Someone, somewhere, has a very large paper weight," Penny says. "They must not have liked Mr. Noel very much."

Throughout his years researching Fairhaven, Tyrone collected more than 20 banker boxes of its history, now in storage. Tyrone hoped to have his work copied and bound, so other history connoisseurs could access it easily. He planned to give a copy to Western, the state archives, the museum and the library, Penny says.

"Ty and I never wanted this history to be lost; having it all in storage is a waste," Penny says. "We want people to have access to it. It's time to tell the whole story."

It has been six years since Tyrone passed away, but everyday she drives through town, Penny is reminded of his contributions to the community

"Now that she is retired, Penny plans to bind and distribute Tyrone's research among the community like he wanted."

© 2008 Klipsun Magazine