An Enormous Piece Of Whatcom County Railroad History Awaits An Uncertain Future

A railroad turntable sitting upon two sets of wheels on tracks in the forest
A railroad turntable sitting upon two sets of wheels on tracks in the forest
Sidelined by a broken dream, this unusual hulk of riveted iron patiently waits in loneliness for a more hospitable, functional place to call home. (D. Spangler)

Hiding under damp maples in a gloomy and forgotten, forested byway of Whatcom County, WA, and far removed from the self-absorbed roar of the freeway, the myopic hustle of box store parking lots and frenetic busy-bee intersections, is this incredible piece of railroad equipment. Some readers will recognize it as an antique railroad turntable. A remarkable relic, I happened upon it on a rainy, autumn history outing in 2020, down the sodden, sagging Lake Whatcom Railway tracks.

Deep in that drenched, woodland valley, it looms larger than life, cradled upon two temporary sets of railroad wheels known as “trucks.” It…


The Roeder Home’s Lost Water Features May Have Left Us A Few Clues

old, black and white photo of the Roeder Home with pond in the front yard
old, black and white photo of the Roeder Home with pond in the front yard
The Arts and Crafts Roeder Home at the tail end of its construction. Note the unfinished front steps. The pond and its companion rock feature at the rear are already in place. Photo courtesy of Whatcom Museum Archives

The stately, historic Roeder Home in Bellingham, WA, wasn’t only surrounded by green lawns, an orchard, and charming gardens in its early years. Built by local banker Victor A. Roeder in 1910, the house was once also graced with a charming goldfish pond and perhaps even one or two water fountains, proving once again that even the grand can lose something poignant along the way.

After only a couple of owners since its completion, the beautiful, eclectic Arts and Crafts home, with its garden grounds, was deeded to Whatcom County in 1969, becoming a county park in 1971. Listed on…


In a Neighborhood of Rectangles, One Venerable Garage Stands Out

A round fronted, stand-alone garage with a curved rolling door and shingled sides facing an alley.
A round fronted, stand-alone garage with a curved rolling door and shingled sides facing an alley.
A fascinating, non-conformist concept from yesteryear stands along a quiet alley. Since the doors disappear like magic into the little building, it is unknown how the inside walls were originally addressed. I hope to meet the owner someday to get an enlightening peek at its construction.

While Bellingham, WA is flush with vintage Arts and Crafts houses and their well-seasoned counterpart garages, one thing that is not common is a round-fronted garage. This highly unusual example in the above photo happens to be one that came back from neglect. I first noticed it years ago when I was walking down a Cornwall Neighborhood alley, and it was the only one I had ever seen. Being the oddity that it was, it piqued my interest.

Though uncomplicated in appearance, it is certainly a unique structure to marvel at. Half of the structure meets the alley in a…


Still Standing On Sehome Hill, Three Forgotten Utility Poles Leave Only Guesses

Riddled from decades of lineworkers “gaffing” up and down the pole followed by the deeper holes of opportunistic woodpeckers, this relic lives on, more tree than a utility pole. In contrast to its youthful bottom half still ready for its first day at work, its upper half is a mere skeleton in the sun. “Pole steps,” the spikes used for ascending and descending the pole, are still nailed into its sides.

Piercing the forested scalp of Sehome Hill Arboretum, in Bellingham, WA, are several old utility poles. While it is evident that many public local agencies have used the hill as their telecommunications and utility pole pin cushion as far back as 1950, and perhaps even earlier, just how old these particular sentinels are is a mystery.

Along the Tunnel Ridge Trail, at the crest of Sehome Hill, was the first pole to grab my attention. I have hiked past it for decades and hardly paid it any mind, assuming it was active, modern, and unworthy of note. At that time…


Only Traces of the Recently Dismantled Pedestrian Bridge Remain — For Now

A paved trail dead-ends at a barricade with a new fence and bay in the background
A paved trail dead-ends at a barricade with a new fence and bay in the background
Heading off into the wild grey yonder, this once-active, pedestrian park path now leads to, at the very least, a dead-end, at the very most a panorama of the bay. An eager set of newer steps trots down with its tail wagging to meet the overpass, only to find the bridge has left for good. A plastic orange and white barricade — the rent-a-cop of the barricade world — does all it can to keep park users from strolling over the brand new fence, through the barbed-wire tangle of blackberries, and off the cliff into a moving railroad coal car.

Many remnants I highlight in my blog are the historical fingerprints of greater things that disappeared long ago. However, in this post are some details from a younger Bellingham WA feature, which departed quite recently.

Up until 2019, at Boulevard Park, there was a weathered, pedestrian trestle overpass and stair tower that connected pedestrians on the bluff above with the park below. Its existence dates back to the impassioned birth of the park itself during the 1970s. After citizens campaigned for the land in the vicinity to be developed as a park for all, the city, reluctant at first, eventually…


A Short Pedestrian Tunnel Reveals Both An Earlier Purpose And The Closing Of An Era

A shaded path leads through a mossy, rocky tunnel to the inviting sunshine just beyond.
A shaded path leads through a mossy, rocky tunnel to the inviting sunshine just beyond.
A view of the south-eastern entrance. Adorned with moss and crowned with an old sign that states only rust, this wonderful little shaded tunnel lives on at the top of the hill. Sadly, it has recently been closed for safety reasons.

I had not lived in Bellingham, WA, for a week when I first walked through this tunnel. Residing as I was at the top of Liberty Street with the forested mountain of Sehome Hill Arboretumin in my backyard, it was only a matter of days after settling in before I hit the trail. A mild and green month of June was all around me as I hiked up one of the hill’s ridge paths, and, in the breadth of a moment, I ended up at this alluring hole in the hill.

The tunnel had an old, small white sign painted…


A Missing Hill And Its Library Leave Us Something To Remember

An exterior wall with the shape and remains of sandstone hill still embedded
An exterior wall with the shape and remains of sandstone hill still embedded
Entombed in concrete at Commercial and Champion Streets, a small sample of a greater hill that once existed stands out in full relief. Thankfully, this rocky profile was not also painted lavender.

In 1908, the second Carnegie Library in Bellingham, WA, was built atop a rocky sandstone ridge that downtown buildings and streets nearby had carved themselves out of during the late 19th and early 20th century. The library and the hill upon which it sat existed for 45 years at the edge of Bellingham’s rapidly growing downtown and witnessed great changes during its life as the urban core matured into a new century. Most notably, these changes were the construction of the large, four-storied Montague & McHugh department store (Crown Plaza Building) next door in 1926 and the transformation of the…


Two Tantalizing Remnants Hint At A Lost Set Of Homes

Old newel post and buried old steps with ivy crawling over the top next to a tree.
Old newel post and buried old steps with ivy crawling over the top next to a tree.
Draped in ivy and forgotten, this magnificent and partially buried stair entrance stands as a portal to an earlier era on High Street. While the right-side newel post stands firm against more favorable odds, the one on the left lost the battle with an unyielding tree long ago.

It is interesting when big civic changes of the past throw history enthusiasts of the future a bone. Two leftovers along one block of High Street in Bellingham, WA — an old set of steps with its ball-topped newel post and a long, rock wall — are indeed a couple of wonderful bones to chew.

Remnants like these are some of those surprising details left after a neighborhood undergoes an invasive but necessary city improvement. I usually expect a big project to eliminate every detail that existed, leaving behind nothing for us to ponder. Time can be so thorough when…


Over Three Decades After Closure, The Fading Remains Tell Of A Campground Lost

An enormous Douglas fir tree laying in the river among other old trees, still attached to its rootball.
An enormous Douglas fir tree laying in the river among other old trees, still attached to its rootball.
The once high and dry Nooksack campground becomes the river once again. Remains of the flat plain of campsites can be seen upper right. Stripped of their limbs, mighty old-growth trees that once stood tall and healthy less than a decade ago, succumb to the river’s fascinating and inevitable cycle.

It is hard to convey just how much the slithering rush of the Nooksack River has taken from what once was, but I will try. Even thirty years ago, during my first visit to this particular site in the early 1990s, much had already disappeared.

Like the other campgrounds up Whatcom County’s Nooksack valley — Douglas Fir, Excelsior, and Silver Fir — the former Nooksack Campground likely had similar beginnings, but information regarding its background is scant. Mt-Baker.com, a local information site, mentions that the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) started in 1933 building roads, lookouts, trails, and campgrounds in the…

David Spangler

History can be connective. Since I am moved by what remains, I am documenting and sharing remnants of Pacific Northwest history before they vanish forever.

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