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Pacific Northwest | October 24, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober, 24, 2004seattletimes.com home Home delivery

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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
ON FITNESS
TASTE
NORTHWEST
LIVING
SUNDAY PUNCH
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT
 
A Brick Boom Box


COURTESY OF GALEN BIERY
The oldest brick building in Washington Territory has gone through some changes in 146 years. Principally, the street has been raised, putting the entrance at the top floor, and the old flat roof has been capped with a sloping one. In 1955 Carl and Nicki Akers bought the building for their taxidermy, and they still own and watch over this unique state landmark.
 
COURTESY OF JEAN SHERRARD

THAT THE RICHARDS Building, tucked into the south side of E Street near the mouth of Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, is the oldest brick structure in Washington state is an old claim. Now here comes Matthew Aamot, president of the Whatcom County Historical Society — one of its bulwarks — with the goods. Below I've lifted some highlights of Aamot's research on the T.G. Richards Building. (Readers who wish to read his rich disclosure will find it at www.whatcomhistory.net/history.doc)

For a few months Whatcom, Washington Territory (one of the four communities that would eventually join as Bellingham), was expected to become the "San Francisco of the Northwest." The Fraser River Gold Rush funneled about 10,000 miners through Whatcom in 1858, and a rush of entrepreneurs followed them. Brothers Charles and T.G. Richards of San Francisco were among them, and built the brick building for a store and warehouse.

But then the governor of British Columbia decreed that miners hurrying to the Fraser would have to stop in Victoria to get a permit — cutting Whatcom out of the loop. "The boom in Whatcom went abust almost as soon as it began," Aamot notes. The Richards enterprise hung on for a few years but eventually folded, and the building passed into new hands. It served as the Whatcom County Courthouse (from 1863 to 1888) as we see it here. The two small signs announce that the Western Union office and the U.S. Land Office were also here. Among the building's other residents have been the Jehovah's Witnesses, two lodges, a drug store and two newspapers. That's how I remember it from 1970, when I visited the combined office and layout room of the weekly tabloid The Northwest Passage in the basement that was once the county jail.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.


 

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