The first European settlement of Bellingham was at the base of Whatcom Creek in 1853. The mouth of Whatcom Creek was also the site of the first lumber mill started by city founders Russell Peabody and Henry Roeder. Along Bellingham Bay four towns blossomed within close proximity of each other: Fairhaven, Sehome, Bellingham and Whatcom. By 1904 all four towns had consolidated to form the City of Bellingham.

In the early Twentieth Century a Washington State group named the Good Roads Association successfully lobbied for a network of “good roads” to better serve the needs of Washington residents. Their efforts resulted in the construction of, among others, Washington’s Primary State Highway 99 also known as Pacific Highway 1, stretching along the West Coast from Mexico to Canada. Highway 99 became the main road to and through Bellingham bringing more people from greater distances than ever before. As a result of the increase in tourism a number of new businesses flourished along the Highway’s path. Gas and service stations catering to the traveler proliferated as did motels, cafes and gift shops. The few remnants from the travel boom of Highway 99 are conspicuously out of place among the changed neighborhoods and provide clues to what Bellingham must have looked like during that period.

Without question, the development of Interstate 5 has changed the land use and shape of Bellingham. Compared to the average of 38,000 daily trips along Highway 99 in 1950, the combined 1997 daily average of 10,500 along the same route speaks volumes of the change. Tourist oriented businesses, and major retail stores such as Fred Meyer and K-mart, have been diverted from the route of Old 99 and now cluster around the interchanges of I-5. Within two years after the freeway was finished, plans to expand the State Road now called Old Fairhaven Parkway (in the south side of Bellingham) to meet I-5 were already under way. Bellingham’s roads and businesses have not only expanded east from downtown to meet with where I-5 was side-stepping the city center, but have jumped onto the other side of I-5. Residential neighborhoods have also spread beyond their previous limits. Amazingly, the downtown area of Bellingham has remained economically healthy despite the inability to even see most of it from the freeway. On the surface the route of Highway 99 through Bellingham seems to have changed little. Closer inspection shows that the numerous gas stations and motels that lined both sides of the road are either gone or converted to other uses. The few that remain, like the Evergreen Motel, the Lions Inn Motel and the main branch of the US Post Office, have almost become historic markers of a period beginning 70 years ago when Highway 99 was first laid down.

Building a Military Road| The Start of The Good Roads Association | Highway 99

The Route of Highway 99 Through Bellingham | Samish Way | East Maple and Ellis Street

Holly Street | Prospect and Dupont | Elm Street and Northwest Avenue

West Maplewood | References and Attribution




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