The Southside. That’s what I remember Fairhaven fondly being referred to.

Thirty-ish years ago — when I began to spend many of my waking hours there — the Southside and Fairhaven seemed almost interchangeable. Though technically part of Bellingham (beginning in 1903, when Fairhaven became part of the city), the area somehow felt a long way away. Neither Bellingham nor Fairhaven have moved, but somehow they now feel closer. I no longer hear Fairhaven referred to as the Southside; although it’s still the southernmost part of Bellingham, it seems to have lost that nickname.

I first began spending significant time in Bellingham in the early 1990s. My parents had purchased a little house on 10th and Donovan to be the office for their growing construction company. The attic office space in our home had been outgrown and Mom said that if she was heading to town for work, she was going to Fairhaven.

I was around 10 years old, so I don’t know for sure, but I think she liked Fairhaven’s quirkiness. Way down on the Southside, it was home to little shops, rich-smelling restaurants, and residents who didn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of Bellingham. Bellingham was an industrial town, and Fairhaven was where the eccentrics went to do art and drink coffee, before doing art and drinking coffee was in vogue.

The cobbled alley remains in Fairhaven, offering what always felt like a secret path between 11th Street and Harris. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

I was a little kid from the East County who hadn’t spent much time in town. The first thing I noticed was that right next door to the office was a yellow house filled with kids. This was incredible, as kids were hard to come by where I lived — and here I was with a whole houseful next door. To be honest, I don’t remember how many kids there were, and I can’t be sure if the house was actually yellow, but that’s how I remember it.

What I do know is that there was a giant weeping willow in between that we played in. A black tire swing hung from its big branches, and a rope draped down the trunk allowed a child to ascend the tree. I loved playing with those kids in the summer when my mom and dad were inside working. I know the memory of the willow tree is accurate because its giant trunk and billowing leaves are still there today.

My childhood view of this giant willow tree provided hours of summer fun. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

As I spent more time in Fairhaven, I explored beyond the two little houses and started experiencing all that this intriguing place had to offer.

When at the grocery store with my mom, we would frequently get stopped by a passerby saying, “You must be Paul’s wife.” They could tell because I looked so much like my dad.

One of my favorite adventures was heading south on the Interurban trail along Padden Creek, past the salmon ladder to Fairhaven Park. It had an incredible playground with one of those structures made of creosote logs that, while they may have been poisoning me, were the most fun to play on. Amazingly, aside from a more responsible playground, little else has changed about the park or the trail leading to it.

The Padden Creek salmon ladder feels unchanged along the Interurban Trail, running from 10th Street to Fairhaven Park. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

If we were really going to have an outing, we would head to Boulevard Park for a picnic. This park also had a great log playground, but even more intriguing were what seemed like giant rocks with smooth, polished faces cut into them. One was flat like a table, and the other stood straight up with just enough space at the top to sit should a kid make their way to the peak.

Going into “downtown Fairhaven” was always exciting as we wandered past the old buildings and little shops. Incredibly — and a testament to the vibrancy of Fairhaven — some of these shops still exist today. The sole goal of this outing was to talk my parents into an ice cream cone or candy. Both were in abundance and although I was already a hyper kid, somehow my parents were willing to handle the sugar-filled version of me.

While it’s now more than 30 years later and Fairhaven has grown up a bit, it somehow feels the same. It’s still the walkable Southside it was when I was a kid.

The rocks at Boulevard Park still overlook Bellingham Bay today. The little notch in the big rock gives the illusion of an easy ascent, but I always needed a boost from my Dad. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

At times, it feels less quirky. But when you really look around, the uniqueness still exists. The trails are still there, leading people from the town center to the parks and back again. The brick buildings, while more abundant, are a reminder of the little town 30 years ago — and a hundred years before that. The memories for me are running around on the streets on summer weekdays when Fairhaven could feel almost empty and on the weekends when festivals would pack the streets with vendors and patrons.

Long gone are the yellow house and the kids I played with, but the memories remain. For me, Fairhaven will always be the Southside. A place that is Bellingham but also, somehow, a place of its own. I have continued the tradition of heading to Fairhaven to work. I still walk the trails and frequent the shops, and now it’s my daughter coaxing treats from her parents as she takes in the town on the southside called Fairhaven.

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