The Human History of Sehome Hill

1850: Mining

In the 1850's, coal-mining claims were made on the land known today as Fairhaven and Sehome Hill. Two scouts for Henry Roeder's lumber mill, Henry Hewitt and William Brown, found coal on the hill. Following this discovery, the Bellingham Bay Coal Company was created and mining officially began in 1855.

Since rights to the land were sold to a San Francisco company, a city developed to support a community working to ship the coal from Washington State to California. Homes, stores, sailing schooners, and a dock sprung up around the mine and were the essence of the newly established town of Sehome.

In the height of production, the mine employed 125 workers. This number diminished dramatically as fires, cave-ins, floods, unreachable coal layers, and a volatile economy caused the mine to intermittently close and reopen until its permanent abandonment in 1878. The town's population fell to 100 people in the beginning of the 1880's.

1891: Donating & Surveying Land

Beginning with C. X. Larrabee's donation, parcels of land were donated cooperatively to the two towns of Fairhaven and New Whatcom in 1891. This donated land overlapped the city limits of the two towns.

Many city leaders supported the idea of creating a park area out of Sehome Hill. J. J. Donovan, of the Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mills, surveyed the land to get and understanding of the Hill's potential.

1904: Logging Ceased

Logging depleted most of Sehome Hill's old growth ecosystem, but this practice ceased in 1904, allowing the Hill once more to be covered with various species of tree.

1914 View of Sehome Hill behind the Normal School (Old Main)

1915: the Normal School

After sixteen years of educating, the Normal School (presently Western Washington University) found itself surrounded by the growing Sehome Hill Park. In 1915, the school purchased the area behind its building (today Old Main). With that acquisition, the Normal School established partial-control over Sehome Park.

1922: Developing the Parks Amenities

Huntoon Drive, which was explored in 1922 by the group including Mathes members of the Bellingham Park Board, eventually was extended to the Sehome Hill Summit. This extension created a looped road starting right behind the Normal School and returning back on what is currently Arboretum Drive.

The Drive included a hand-dug tunnel and a parking area at the summit with an unobstructed view of the Canadian mountains and Bellingham Bay. The parking area quickly became known as the destination to take your sweetheart.

Tree Tunnel
1923: Tunnel Through Time

For over 90 years, large Douglas Firs have stood watch over this tunnel and whitnessed many changes. In 1923, workman chiseled the tunnel by hand through the sandstone for Huntoon Road. Model-T Fords sputtered in and out on Sunday drives.

In 1967, the Huntoon Road was closed to cars, and Sehome Hill became an arboretum. Now the tunnel walls echo with the symphony of bird calls and the voices of people enjoying this sanctuary in the middle of Bellingham.

Presently, this road is the main walking path from Western Washington University to the top of Sehome Hill.

1961: Landslide

In 1961, a large landslide destroyed part of Huntoon Drive just behind the Normal School campus. During repairs, the road was widened into a two-way road and the area near the landslide section created into a walking path.

1969: Arboretum Established

Also in the 1960s, prospective loggers found a Hill lush with overgrown trees, as the forest had not been harvested since 1904. Faced with the proposition of logging, the Parks overseers realized the importance of transforming the Hill into a protected arboretum to thwart another clear-cutting.

May 1969 saw the college board of trustee's approval of creating an arboretum out of Sehome Hill Park. Initially, 38 acres were set aside for the project; then in 1974, 100 acres were officially intended for arboretum land. Also, an arboretum board of governors was established to look after the interests of the Hill; this included three representatives from the city, one student from the college, and three at-large members.