Story by Yuki Nakajima // Photo by Jack Carver courtesy of Whatcom Museum
Bellingham was divided in four different towns when this map was made: Fairhaven, Sehome, Whatcom and Bellingham.
In the 1890s, the four cities joined to become the City of Bellingham in 1903. According to a City of Bellingham
ordinance on Feb. 8, 1904, the City Council passed 106 street name changes after the merger to eliminate duplicates.
Jeff Jewell, photo archivist at Whatcom Museum of History and Art, says the city renamed streets to be more consistent but by the time of the merger, realtors platted areas for residential development and gave streets whatever names they wanted.
As the time went by, the areas filled in, and the street names became inconsistent. Jewell says the street name used to change five times within half a mile when people drove down the same street.
Muddled name changes weren't the only problem. All Bellingham streets are laid out on grid system, but the streets
didn't line up well at the town boundary when Bellingham merged with Fairhaven.
"That is the reason for the 'S-shaped' in the road at the North of Fairhaven. It is most noticeable on 12th and 13th streets," says Glenn Eastwood, President of Whatcom County Historical Society.
Because of the numerous name changes, the order of Bellingham streets has patterns. The best example is the York Addition, south of St. Joseph Hospital, Jewell says. When the First Addition, south of the York Addition, was built, the west to east streets were renamed in alphabetical order from Cornwall Avenue, formerly Dock Street. Downtown Sehome streets were also in alphabetical order until Dock Street changed to Cornwall Avenue. All streets that run east to west of Dean Street (an extension of Railroad Avenue) are a state's name, such as Texas Street and Ohio Street, Jewell says.
Until 1926, State Street was named Elk Street when the Bellingham Herald built its current digs. Th e Herald's general
manager held a lot of power in the community during the time, and the Herald changed the street name because it could, Jewell says.
In 1853, Henry Roeder and his business partner, Russell Vallette Peabody started a sawmill business on Whatcom Creek.
Henry Street and Roeder Avenue come from Roeder's name, and Roeder named two streets after his children so that Roeder
named streets "Victor" and "Lottie." "Henry's wife was Elizabeth so what do we have here?" Jewell says while pointing at a park on the map. "Th ere is an Elizabeth Street, and right here is Elizabeth Park."
The unknown meanings behind other street names and patterns may loom in the future, but the mystery might just complement an interesting history.