uring the height of the Fraser River
gold rush in the summer of 1858 the firm of T.G. Richards designed this
brick structure as a combination general store, bank and warehouse. This was
not only the first brick building in Bellingham or Washington State, but the
first one north of San Francisco. The brick was constructed in Philadelphia
and shipped from San Francisco along with the iron and glass on the same
ship bringing miners to the gold fields. The final cost of construction was
The tent-city that had been thrown up on Bellingham Bay disappeared as
fast as it was built when the Fraser gold rush ended in the fall of 1858.
Those merchants who had sold their goods under tent or wood structures
easily dismantled their businesses and moved along with the miners. The
brick Richards Building was stuck. The business continued to fail after
being passed into the hands of Charles E. Richards and John G. Hyatt until
they finally sold it to Whatcom County for $2,000.
The county used the building as a courthouse until 1884 when a new one
was constructed. In the early 1880's the courthouse was seriously
overcrowded. Frequently, prisoners had to be sent to Seattle because the
jail facilities lacked room. The courthouse was declared unfit for use in
1885 and until other facilities were available the U.S. district court had
to use the opera house.
Aside from replacing the original flat roof with a gabled one and adding
a more ornate gabled false front, the actual structure has seen little
change in its simple pioneer style. However, due to the creation of E Street
that required filling in a section of Bellingham Bay the apparent height of
the building has changed. The second story is now at street level, which
required enlarging a second story window into a front door, and the buried
first floor has become the basement.
After Whatcom County abandoned the building, a number of other tenants
have put it to use. The Courthouse passed into private hands in 1903, in
1906 the county deeded it to the local Grand Army of the Republic chapter.
In 1926 it was acquired by the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, in
1947 by the Security Benefit Association, and in 1950 by a Bellingham church
group. Following a taxidermy shop and Base Camp outdoor equipment firm, and
was later occupied by Limited Editions Woodwork Custom Furniture.
For more information see the
Territorial Courthouse National Register of Historic Places Nomination.