Submitted by: Historic Fairhaven Association, written by Hilary Friedrich

April—we welcome you and the beautiful days of spring. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, the days are getting longer and preparations for the 17th annual Dirty Dan Harris Festival are well underway. This year the event takes place on Sunday, April 28 from 10am-5pm on the Fairhaven Village Green.

I will share more details of the event in a moment but first we would like to thank those that renovated the weed-infested plot into an amazing city park we refer to as the Fairhaven Village Green. The project was led by nine private citizens and was completed in 2003. Monies were raised from private donators, the City of Bellingham and the sales of engraved bricks, paving stones and benches. The Bellingham Parks Department and the Fairhaven Village Green committee turned the vacant lot into the park that is such a wonderful  gathering place for many Fairhaven events, including summer movies, and of course, the Dirty Dan Harris Festival. It is also home to the bronze statue of Dirty Dan Harris himself.

Period costumes add to the festival’s fun. Photo credit: Peter James Photo Gallery

Dan Harris arrived on the shore of Bellingham Bay as a 21-year-old adventurer in 1854. He became a legend as a homesteader, land owner, smuggler, hotel owner, and seaman, who founded Fairhaven in 1883. He also picked up the colorful nickname “Dirty Dan” due to his infrequent bathing.

The Dirty Dan Harris Festival is a nod to celebrate Dan’s amazing feats and is a casual family-oriented environment. There are always plenty of people in costume as well as the Bellingham Steampunk Society to bring out the spirit of the era and even share a story or two about the history of Fairhaven. Period costumes are always encouraged but not necessary. And you never know—you might just win the costume contest.

The Dirty Dan Harris Rowing Race will be held at 10 am at Marine Park this year and is inspired by Dan’s cross-border rum-rowing adventures traveling by rowboat between Fairhaven and Victoria, B.C.—sometimes successful and other times not.  Make sure you go check this out!

The absolute crowd favorite is the uphill piano race. The three teams of four people and one piano each compete for the prize. Two runners start at the top of the hill at 10th and Harris and run down the hill to meet up with their partners and pianos. Then the fun really begins as they compete to pull the pianos back up the hill. The action takes place at high noon—but plan on being there for a good spot to watch by about 11:45am as sometimes the race happens early and it happens fast! Crowds line the sidewalks on Harris just below 10th St for the best viewing. Legend says that Dan once rolled his piano out of the Fairhaven Hotel in 1890 and straight down Harris Avenue into the bay after the hotel’s new owner wouldn’t pay for it. 

The uphill piano race is an annual crowd favorite. Photo credit: Peter James Photo Gallery

Other family friendly events are the Peoples Bank fish toss at 12:30pm, the Rocket Donut donut eating contest at 3:30pm and the legendary Dirty Dan look-a-like and 1800’sdress contests at 4:30pm. Signups for these contests are on a first come first serve basis the morning of the event.

The ever popular Chuckanut Chili cook off takes place from 1:30-3:30pm (tickets on sale at 1pm; cost of the ticket covers a taste of each chili on hand, a bowl of your favorite for the People’s Choice award and a yummy piece of bread. We have some great contenders this year and have in the past had remarks at the wonderful array of flavors.  Please check our facebook page—Historic Fairhaven Festivals—for updates on our contestants.

Dirty Dan Harris himself would most likely be found in the Sidewalk Saloon if he were still around. A selection of wine and beer will be available for purchase by the glass. The saloon has become a favorite gathering place to sit and sip and listen to the music. 

Speaking of music—Ryan Sandholm will be performing during the day on the Village Stage. I love the sight of the kids (and adults) dancing on the green. Amazing street, craft and food vendors will be housed under the Village Green Pergolas and is always an assortment of one of a kind treasures, face painting and delicious food. Our vendors do a fantastic job!

We look forward to seeing you all at this family- and dog-friendly event! There is never an entry fee into the event. And rain or shine the festival goes on!

For more information please check our event page at and make sure to like and follow our Historic Fairhaven Festivals Facebook page for event updates.

The Dirty Dan Day Harris Festival is produced annually by the Historic Fairhaven Association.

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