Fairhaven Historic District is considerably more sedate today than its original incarnation. You can see its old buildings and Victorian homes in a walking tour. Maps are available from the visitors bureau (904 Potter St., 360/671-3990) and various Fairhaven shops and restaurants.
The boomtown of Fairhaven grew to prominence in the late 1880s, when rumors circulated that it would be the western terminus for the Great Northern Railroad. At its peak, the town hummed with 35 hotels and boardinghouses, seven saloons, an opera house, and 11 real estate offices. Despite the large number of hotels, many men were forced to sleep in tents along the beach.
The selection of Tacoma as the Great Northern’s terminus sent Fairhaven into a tailspin, but the arrival of a smaller line — the Fairhaven and Southern Railroad — brought service from Skagit Valley. Men working on the railroad would follow the tracks back to 9th Street for an evening’s entertainment; rowdy bars and hotels such as Miss Reno’s provided much more than just a bed for their patrons — Fairhaven had quite a hot reputation. One unidentified man romanced himself into a state of exhaustion and dropped dead while walking up 9th Street. Another, John Moore, had a few too many at the Gilt Edge Saloon and decided to sleep it off on the tracks — poor John never heard the 2:30 a.m. train pulling into town.
In 1903, the cluster of four towns — Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven — was consolidated to form Bellingham, but only after a long battle between the two main rivals, Fairhaven and Whatcom; residents of each demanded that theirs be the new town’s name.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition