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Bellingham’s street names follow many conventions: letters, numbers, state names, American founding father names, Coast Salish place names, and more. Others, however, reference historical figures and features that helped make Bellingham what it is today.

As Whatcom Museum archivist Jeff Jewell describes, Fairhaven and New Whatcom both had numbered streets until their 1903–1904 consolidation.

“One of the cardinal rules in street naming is no duplication, otherwise the fire department may not show up at the correct address,” says Jewell. “All the numbered cross-streets in the Lettered Streets had to be named. The city council and mayor could only agree that they should be in alphabetical order, leaving the naming to Lottie Roeder Roth, Bellingham’s leading historian at the time. They start with Astor for the former 14th, 15th became Bancroft, 16th became Clinton, 17th became Dupont, 18th became Ellsworth, 19th became Farragut, 20th became Girard, 21st Halleck, etc. Most of these names were prominent Revolutionary War figures.”

Eileen Nelson of Fairhaven History notes that locals protested 1903 name change proposals for Fairhaven streets, which still bear town founders’ names today.

“The most recent street named after someone is Brian Griffin Lane, in October 2023,” Jewell says. “It intersects Finnegan Way, named (in 1944) after George Finnegan, the Fairhaven pharmacist and community booster.”

In Bellingham, history is always just around the corner.

Old Town Bellingham Founders

Old Town and downtown Bellingham have many a memory lane for city founders.

Eldridge Avenue and Edwards Street in York Neighborhood are named for pioneers Edward and Teresa Eldridge, who built the Eldridge “Castle.”

On Eldridge Avenue, the renowned Eldridge “Castle” bears the same name as the road the family platted. Photo credit: Anna Diehl

Established 1852, the Roeder-Peabody Mill was Bellingham’s first enterprise. Roeder Avenue bears the family name, with Henry Street, Elizabeth Street, and Victor Street named for the captain, his wife, and their son who owned the Roeder Home (c. 1903–1908).

Historian Lottie Roth lends her name to both Lottie Street and Lottie Roth Block.

“Russell Vallette Peabody has the most streets named after him: Russell Street, Vallette Street, Peabody Street,” says Jewell, noting others named for Peabody heirs: Williams Street for Hamlin and Catherine Williams, Jaeger for Ernest and Mary Jaeger. Utter Street is named for millwright William Utter.

Industrial Legacies

Still other street and road names recall vestiges of Bellingham’s distant past.

Railroad Avenue is named for the historic Bellingham railroads that ran through it. The road runs parallel to the remnants of the 1891 trolley system, which operated until 1938 and still has rails embedded in the pavement.

Telegraph Road has a historical marker explaining its name’s origins with the 1865-1867 telegraph line. Photo credit: Anna Diehl

Telegraph Road shares its name with other roads across the country along the Collins Overland Telegraph route. Planned to run through Alaska to Russia, this international telegraph operated from 1865 to 1867 until undersea transatlantic cables usurped it.

Due to the four towns’ mergers and the construction of Interstate 5 in 1966, Bellingham has many divided roads. These include Consolidation Avenue, Ellis Street, Potter Street, Franklin Street, North Street, and McLeod Road.

Roads to Campus

Two roads near Western Washington University bear the full names of significant local figures.

Winding on and around Western’s campus, Bill McDonald Parkway is named after the school’s first Vice President of Student Affairs. He coached basketball from 1946 to 1955, along with football and track and field for years before his retirement in 1977.

Just north of campus, Billy Frank Jr. Street is named for the Native American environmental and treaty rights advocate. As the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman, Billy Frank Jr. led fishing rights movements influencing the 1974 Boldt Decision. In 2015, the city of Bellingham renamed the street (formerly “Indian Street”) to acknowledge Coast Salish history.

Jewell also notes that Mason Street and Newell Street were named after Washington Territorial Governors Charles H. Mason and William A. Newell, respectively. “Likewise,” he says, “Ferry Street [was named] after Elisha P. Ferry, Washington Territorial Governor and first Washington State Governor.”

Old Thoroughfares

Local roads with “Old” in their names follow the historic routes of their intersecting present-day namesakes, as in Old Woburn Street and Old Lakeway Drive near Bayview Cemetery.

In 1936, Samish Way became part of the Pacific Highway (US 99), replacing the late-1800s route to Lake Samish. Running south of Lake Padden, Old Samish Road provides parking access for Arroyo Park, Pine and Cedar Lakes, and other hikes.

Named Valley Parkway in 1972, Old Fairhaven Parkway was renamed in 1987 when it became the northern terminus for State Route 11.

Historic Fairhaven

In Fairhaven, founder “Dirty Dan” Harris named the streets in 1883 and lends his name to main street Harris Avenue.

Prominent businesspeople C.X. and Frances Larrabee, J.J. Donovan, Edgar Cowgill, and E.M. Wilson inspired street names in Fairhaven. Their names also appear in Larrabee State Park, Lairmont Manor, Bloedel-Donovan Park, and Cowgill House.

Statues of J.J. Donovan (pictured), “Dirty Dan” Harris, and C.X. Larrabee can be found in Fairhaven, where they were the source of street names. Photo credit: Anna Diehl

As Nelson describes, names such as McKenzie Avenue have unclear origins. Julia Avenue may refer to Donovan’s wife or sister, or both.

“Bennett Avenue in Fairhaven is named after Nelson Bennett, boomer of Fairhaven,” says Jewell, although Eileen Nelson also notes a Bennett Will. “Bennett Drive in the Birchwood Neighborhood is named for John Bennett, early horticulturalist.”

While Bellingham’s street plan has drastically changed for over a century, the road of its history runs straight ahead.

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