Building a Military Road

In the late 1850's there was active military in Bellingham and on the Puget Sound. Potential military conflict was aggravated by the dispute between the US and the British over the San Juan Islands. Locally, Captain George Pickett and his Infantry slashed a road along the shoreline to Squalicum Creek. After bridging the creek the trail went uphill onto present day F Street and along the bluff crossing Whatcom Creek about one block north of present day Dupont Street. A wooden bridge, called Military Bridge, was built in 1858 to cross Whatcom Creek. A plaque on the East Side of the present reinforced concrete bridge commemorates the first wooden version as Old Pickett Bridge. From the bridge the road went past the present city center and turned south at the corner of State and Holly Street.

Nationally, in March of 1857 a Congressional Act was passed to build a Military Road from Fort Steilacoom, south of Tacoma, to Bellingham Bay. The purpose of the road was for the movement of troops and supplies in case of Indian raids. The path of the road was filled with such dense vegetation that pack animals could not be used in the construction. By 1859 the construction contracts were given out and the trail was started.

The Army's head topographical engineer, Colonel J.J. Albert, said in 1859 that the building of the Military Road was a "necessity," and went on to say "its completion would also induce settlement along the shore of Puget Sound." For those purposes, $50,000 was asked for in 1860 to improve Military Road in addition to the original cost estimate of $42,500.

Even with the additional funds, Military Road remained incomplete. Ultimately, Whatcom County took control of Military Road, maintaining it for several years. Although the majority of the road's travelers were on foot, there were occasional horses and even wagons. This makes Military Road the first wagon passable road in the Northwest.

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



Copyright 2000. City of Bellingham