Park History Website

Ferndale: A Brief History

Whatcom Old Settlers Association

Ferndale Heritage Society

Overview of Pioneer Park

Overview of Slab Cedar Buildings

The Significance of Pioneer Park

The Buildings of Pioneer Park

Pioneer Headquarters Building

Congregational Church


Foster House

Shields House

Parker House

Grandview Rogers House

Van Buren Post Office

Jenni House

Lopas House

Barrett House

Holeman House

Lynden Jail

Barr Barn

Tillicum House

Sources of Information

Ferndale: A Brief History

The site of the City of Ferndale was originally known to the Lummi Indians as Te-tas-um. Early white settlers called the area near the Nooksack River the .lower crossing. to distinguish it from the principal crossing of the river at Everson.

Billy Clark, a Texan who came to the northwest during the Gold Rush, was the first resident of Ferndale. He lived here with his wife and family for over a decade.

When Billy sought to prove the ownership of his property, he was stunned to learn that he could not. Some years earlier, he had relinquished his American citizenship in order to be employed at the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Langley, Canada. Therefore, because he was now an English citizen, Billy Clark was not eligible to claim title to the property. He sought help from an old friend, Darius Rogers, who was employed at the Bellingham Coal Mine. Rogers promptly filed claim to the 174 acre site, which made him the first legal owner of the property. Billy Clark eventually left and built a new homestead at East Sound on Orcas Island.

When Rogers secured his claim in 1882, there were only a few white neighbors; Thomas Barrett, who lived by the lake that bears his name, Thomas Wynn and John Tennant, both with Native American wives, and perhaps a dozen other settlers in the area.

John Tennant helped. to organize the first school and establish the first church. Thomas Wynn established the first blacksmith shop and brought in the first wagon to the area. The settlement was now referred to as .Jam. during this time due to a large log jam on the Nooksack River.

Most of the settlers of the area in the 1870s based their operations at locations near the river. There were no roads; meandering, muddy trails wound through the woods, and the people used the river as their highway.

The strength of resources for fishing and lumbering brought early settlers, many from Scandinavia. A multitude of small mills were built along the Nooksack and gradually the forests receded to reveal the fertile soil beneath. Agriculture soon became an important industry and has remained key to the area.

In 1884, the Northwest Diagonal Road was opened up to Ferndale, and connected up with a road that ran through Custer to Blaine. Wooden plank roads were also developed to aid in travel through the muddy terrain. In 1886, the Guide Meridian Road was opened, but Whatcom County remained rustic and isolated until 1893, when the Great Northern built its railway line across the western part of the County, through Ferndale, to Blaine, and on to Vancouver, British Columbia.

The city of Ferndale was also shaped by a number of other outside events. The Treaty of 1846, fixing the boundary between American and English soil, brought a large crew to survey the 49th parallel, clearing a 40 foot gap along the line. The San Francisco fire caused the price of lumber to skyrocket, which resulted in the building of the first sawmill in Bellingham. The Fraser River gold Rush of 1858 brought thousands of prospectors through the area, on what they hoped would be the road to wealth. The race to build a telegraph line to Europe via Seattle, Alaska, the Bering Sea and Asia dragged a trail across the County and left fragments of the Telegraph Road that still remain today. A generation ago, it was almost impossible to foresee that Ferndale would house the location of two large oil refineries, which process oil from Alaska and other continents. No less remarkable, is the fact that the shipment of Alumina from Australia brought Intalco Aluminum, once the County’s largest employer.

Ferndale began its existence as a “town” under Washington law when it was incorporated in 1907.

Ferndale’s 1998 population was 7,620, making it the 3rd largest community in Whatcom County and 68th among Washington’s 278 incorporated municipalities.

The Whatcom Old Settlers Association

The origins of Pioneer Park are interconnected with the creation of the Old Settlers Association in 1895. The Old Settlers Association is a Western Washington social organization with roots in the families of early settlers in the Nooksack River valley. The Old Settlers Association was born out of a widely held sense, at the turn of the 19th century, that an important time in Pacific Northwest history was coming to an end. The organization defined its purpose in the preface to its articles of incorporation.

The time seems ripe for the recording of historical facts of the pioneers of Whatcom County. In order to preserve the history of this county, and maintain an accurate record of the men and women who braved every danger and withstood the vicissitudes incident with pioneer life, the officers and members of the Old Settlers Association of Whatcom County, Washington bequeath this legacy and trust, that future generations will preserve it intact..

The proximity of Whatcom County to British Columbia, Canada heightened the organization’s interests in American historical events and associations such as passages over the Oregon Trail, engagement in the Pig War fought between the U.S. and Britain and post Hudson’s Bay Company settlement. It did not however, assume the same intense patriotism as Chapters of the Daughter of the American Revolution or Civil War Veteran organizations did at the time.

Paralleling, in a folk cultural way, the notion of historian Fredrick Jackson Turner that the frontier was coming to an end in the west, the Old Settlers Association was agrarian in its historical perspective but broadly rural and urban in its membership and social and educational efforts. It borrowed from the grange movement, revival meetings, church socials and county fairs in its general purpose but added a particular emphasis on regional history, cross generation interaction between old and young and a sense of close community supported by a shared heritage. There was no overriding religious or political principal behind the organization, instead it focused on longstanding social interactions and a common idea of respect for the localized past. The names of the organization’s founding members read like a who’s who of territorial era characters including:

Charles Tawes, son of McKinley and Mary Bird who arrived at the settlement on Bellingham Bay in 1858, Mrs. Tawes being at the time only the fifth woman of non-native descent in the region. Coming from the California gold fields, Tawes worked at the Sehome Coal Mines then homesteaded 160 acres near Ferndale in 1862. McKinley Tawes lived until 1897 and was typical of the early settlers the organization intended to revere.

Victor Roeder, son of Captain Henry Roeder who led the first settlement party to Bellingham Bay in 1853, the same period the Denny Party was settling in Alki Point and in Seattle. He came from one of the most esteemed families in the Pacific Northwest and lead efforts to make written records of pioneer recollections.

John Tarte Jr., who’s family built the first salmon cannery on Semi-ah-moo which later became the massive Alaska Packers Association Puget Sound headquarters and employed the first large numbers of Chinese contract laborers in that industry. John was also the nephew of Captain James Tarte, Northwest coast pilot of the legendary side-wheeled steamer Eliza Anderson that operated on Puget Sound from 1958 until its demise in Alaska during the Klondike gold rush.

John and Thomas Slater, who’s father George had come “around the Horn” in 1853, worked the mines in western Canada and settled in the Nooksack valley in 1873.

John Tennant, a State Legislator who’s family ties with the Nooksack and Lummi people through his native wife brought early native American membership to the Association.

Thomas Wynn a veteran of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858 and ancient long-lived pioneer equaled only by Ezra Meeker in character and life span.

The organization first held meetings in New Whatcom (Bellingham after 1903) and in 1896 originated the notion of large picnics as an occasion for assembling old settlers as special guests. The first picnic was held at Birch Bay near the Canadian border. Within a few years the organization started looking for a permanent picnic location. The summertime social events drew Governors, Native American elders, school children and foreign visitors. By 1900, the outdoor summer events and history collecting.

Endeavors to gain new association members had attracted several hundred people. To become a member, the association required a prospective new member to have 10 years residency and 50 cents.

In 1901, the Old Settler’s purchased 4 acres of uncut cedar on the western bank of the Nooksack River just downstream from the center of Ferndale. The property was of particular interest for its location abutting that of a former storied log jam. The log jam blocked the upper Nooksack River to navigation before 1877. That year John Tennant and a group of local residents used explosives to break up the obstacle and clear the river. The community based at the bend in the river changed its name from Jam to Ferndale as a result.

The $200 purchase of land seeded the ambitions of the organization and it was formally incorporated that same year. The Whatcom County Pioneer Picnic was first held on the property in 1901 and in the following few years both the event and the property were shaped into a tradition. From the very inception, the park was handled as a pocket of untouched landscape with no more complex master plan than the organization’s intent to keep the trees and surroundings as original as possible. The conservation of this landscape is one of the lasting purposes of the Old Settlers Association and it served as a preamble to the Picnic developments to come.

During the pre World War I period, the Pioneer Picnic, held on the last weekend in July, presented speeches from dignitaries, musical programs, footraces and baseball games and the central ceremonial presentation of the Judge Neterer Cup to a recognized pioneer of Washington State. Guests such as Ezra Meeker from Puyallup, surviving Civil War veterans, and pioneering women were honored guests presented with ribbons and commemorative gifts from the Association. The annual meeting of the organization and election of officers was held at the picnic and in the evening a Vaudeville program was presented followed by a dance.

During the 1920s and into the Depression, the picnic began to grow in attendance as automobiles made it possible for people to come from greater distances. The events of the day expanded to include not only footraces and baseball games but pie eating contests, horseshoe tournaments, candidates debates, storytelling an musical contests. Programs were organized for children to listen to the reminiscing of elders and demonstrations of pioneer activities such as butter churning, shake splitting, and thread spinning. A bandstand was built in the park and the entertainment program was expanded to include orchestra recitals, performing animals, roller skating acts and as a grand finale in 1941, a 60 piece accordion band concert. The outskirts of the park were used for camping and the event dominated summer planning in the lower Nooksack valley. The picnic is considered one of the oldest celebrations of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1944 and 1945 members purchased an additional 6 1/2 acres of land from Frank Imhoff and developed a half mile race track at the park.

Although somewhat secondary to the social events of the association in the early years, the collection of written history and historical objects began to emerge as a meaningful part of the organization’s activity. The records and archives of the Old Settlers Association have aided in research and publication of several highly regarded books, most notably Nooksack Tales and Trails by former Association president Percival R. Jeffcott, 1949. Other titles are: Sedro-Wolley Courier-Times, A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home by Phoebe Judson, 1955, and The Fourth Corner by Lelah Jackson Edson, 1968, Craftsman Press.

In May 1972, the Old Settlers Association voted more than two to one to turn Pioneer Park over to public ownership. The City of Ferndale became legal owner of the park on June 1, 1972. Since that time a partnership has been actively operating as stewards for the park and its rich historic assets. The social underpinning of Pioneer Park is still revived each July when the Whatcom County Pioneer Picnic is held and remains as vital as ever. In 1999, the Washington Recreation and Park Association recognized the valuable contributions of the Whatcom Old Settlers Association by presenting them with their Organizational Citation of Merit Award. Also in 1999, the park received state and national recognition as the City of Ferndale’s campaign to include Pioneer Park on the Washington State Heritage Register was successful. The park is identified as a historically significant site not only for the collection of cabins and park area a place for social interaction, but also for the early preservation ethic demonstrated by the Whatcom Old Settlers Association. Amid the ancient cedars and the assembly of historic buildings there is a sense that a century later, the original goals are continuing to be met.

The Ferndale Heritage Society

The Ferndale Heritage Society is another community group interwoven with the Whatcom Old Settlers Association and actively involved in the management and operation of Pioneer Park. The Ferndale Heritage Society was established in March of 1993. It is made up of citizens seeking to help preserve Pioneer Park, the log cabins and the Heritage of the early settlers of Whatcom County. Some of the goals of the organization are: 1). Improve the maintenance of the park, cabins and displays inside the cabins. 2.) Catalog the collection of antiques. 3.) Create educational programs, workshops and working exhibits. 4.) Promote tourism. 5.) Bring together people who are interested in the community to collectively explore the past and improve the future of Whatcom County’s history.

In 1993, the Heritage Society began the Pioneer Park Education Program. Every spring and fall costumed volunteers lead the education program which allows third graders the opportunity to participate in hands on pioneer activities including: splitting wood, making candles, writing with a quill, and baking bread.

To expand the educational opportunities the park affords, and to help increase awareness of the park, the Heritage Society markets and conducts costumed tours of the cabins at Pioneer Park. The park averages 2,000 visitors a year.

The Heritage Society also coordinates the “Old fashioned Christmas” at Pioneer Park. This December event features horse drawn carriage rides, Caroling, traditional Christmas decorations throughout the park, Santa Claus, costumed guides, hot cider and fresh baked bread. They are also co-sponsors of the Mystery in the Park. A September dinner theatre mystery which involves audience participation to figure out .who done it..

One of the larger tasks of the Heritage Society is the cleaning and maintenance of the cabin interiors. Originally, when the monumental task of cleaning and organizing the artifacts was undertaken, artifacts were stored in boxes or sometimes strewn about in the cabins. Members are continually researching, identifying, organizing and cataloging artifacts and updating the displays in the cabins. This is an ongoing process as new artifacts are continually discovered and donated to the park. (Please Note: Donations of artifacts and period antiques is welcomed and encouraged, however, due to limited storage space please contact us in writing first, prior to donating, via our Old Settlers Association P.O. Box listed elsewhere on this website. We are also always looking for new cabins too, to add to our existing collection already in the park. Locating new cabins to move into the park is an on going mission carried out by several individuals in the membership. Once cabins, such as the ones in the park are gone, we will never see them again due to the old growth timber and lost methods used to make them. If you know the whereabouts of such a cabin that needs to be rescued please contact us).

Overview of Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park was created from 4 acres of land purchased in 1901 from Mary and R. Clinton Smith. The property was graced with a grove of healthy Western Red Cedar trees and it was determined that they would be retained along with the other larger trees as a reminder of the native landscape. Because the river bottomland is excellent for agriculture, most of the land in the lower Nooksack valley, unlike the park site, had been cleared for farming by 1900. Early settlers often selected the old growth cedar groves along the river bottom that bore specific names as sheltered native fishing camps or as home sites, such as the park. But once roads and wagons replaced footpaths and river travel, the farmsteads grew in size and complexity. The groves were either logged off or thinned back and the original rustic houses were replaced or relocated to make room for a house and barn compound oriented toward a section road or highway.

Because the Pioneer Park parcel was owned and developed by a social organization rather than a public agency or municipality, it was shaped by volunteers and groups of workers in barn-raising fashion. Some thinning of smaller trees was done around the ancient cedars and the land was cleared, overlain with topsoil as needed and planted with grass. The grove was maintained by occasional topping of the big trees over the years and by the addition of several Big Leaf Maples, Sitka Spruce and Grand Fir specimens.

The original grandstand was built in the park using the stump of one of the cedar trees. It was later replaced by a formal grandstand/outdoor stage building. In 1940 a skating rink was also built on the northern edge of the park. The grandstand was eventually replaced with the current grandstand. The original skating rink burned in 1967 and was replaced by the current building which houses the Ferndale Boy’s and Girls Club (It was used as a skating rink prior to being used by the Boy’s and Girls Club). The organization also constructed a meeting/dance hall and restroom building in 1925. The restroom building was demolished in the mid-1970s but the hall, called the Tillicum House is still in good condition and used for Old Settlers Association meetings. In 1925 the Old Settlers Association also constructed a log “Headquarters Building”, just south of the Tillicum House. The Headquarters building currently serves as office space for park/association staff and for registration during the Pioneer Picnic in July. This small cabin was constructed of round logs, which bore no resemblance in style to the split log cabins that now reside in the park. However, it launched an idea of using the grove of trees in the park for a back drop to house cabins built of architecture of a bygone era.

About 1935, the Foster House, originally constructed in l895 near Squalicum Lake about 15 miles away, was moved to the park. It was a somewhat crude example of split-cedar log house construction but its 24-inch thick log walls and two-story height amply demonstrated the general size of regional pioneer log houses. The building was dismantled and carried to the park as a log truckload. The logs were reassembled into a dovetailed pen on a slab concrete pad and a new frame roof and cedar shingles were added.

The Old Settlers Association and other historic interests such as author Percival Jeffcott began to realize that as farms and rural landowners expanded and improved their agricultural operations, early pioneer buildings were being lost. The large sturdy slab cedar houses were being replaced by stick-frame farmhouses and large nearby barns. The older structures were cut apart into bolts for making cedar shakes or relocated as tool and feed sheds. Some were relegated to use as machinery garages. Others were simply disassembled and stacked up for firewood or burned on site. Because the massive split-cedar parts of a house or cabin could be disassembled so easily, they were readily moved around a farm or across a road to accommodate divided property and changing life and times. The split-cedar buildings proved remarkably durable and resilient to rot setting in, poor foundations and bad roofs, barring of course that they didn’t catch fire and burn.

The successful reconstruction of the Foster House displayed the possibility of saving the buildings in a meaningful way and the credibility of the Old Settlers Association gave the buildings value and historical importance two generations before Washington State historic preservation programs even existed. In 1950, the Old Settlers Association, with encouragement from Jeffcott, purchased the Conrad Shields house from owners who planned to replace it with a modern home. Like the Foster House, it was relocated to Pioneer Park but unlike the other cedar buildings, this house was a crafted paragon of the slab cedar vernacular. The large two-story residence built with .T. shaped floor plan displayed every flourish an 1885 hand built cedar structure might offer. The compound dovetailing was uniformly fitted at each corner. There were mortise and tennon wall joints and covered porches front and rear. Interior walls were planed and filled to accommodate fine wallpaper and detailed window and door casings and frames. Built entirely with hand tools, the building displays the craftsmanship of a fine sailing vessel or furniture piece and it set the stage for the assembly of buildings that followed.

In 1968, the Zion Congregational Church building was reassembled at the park. This building was constructed on California Creek near Blaine in 1876 and was assembled with the most basic of tools (as were most), an ax, a whipsaw and an adz. It was relocated and converted into a house about 1900, then abandoned until being moved into the park by sponsors, for reconstruction. In the 1970s, during the celebration of the American bicentennial, three more slab cedar buildings were moved to the park. They include the following: the Grandview Rogers House (l877), the Granary (cira. 1875) and the Parker House (1879). During the 1980s the Holeman House (1890), the Jenni House (1873) and the Barrett House (1874) were added. In 1990 the Lopas House (1879) was moved to the park. The Van Buren Post Office (1870) was moved to the park in 1994 after standing at Berthusen Park in Lynden for many years following its removal from its original site in the north of Whatcom County. The two newest additions to Pioneer Park are the Barr Barn and Lynden Jail, which were both introduced to the park in 1996.

Overview of Slab Cedar Buildings

The broad Nooksack River valley, which flows into Puget Sound between Bellingham, Washington and the Canadian border, is spotted with a fading number of log buildings which date from the last half of the 19th century. Among the scattering of early pioneer structures is a largely overlooked and unstudied type of unique rustic building. They are shelters crafted from exceptionally large sections of evergreen trees and in both their making and material, they are unique to only the native range of the Western Red Cedar. The most important assemblage of this style of buildings is shaded by a riverside grove of ancient cedars in Pioneer Park.

Marking the first homesteads and farms in the region are about forty known slab cedar houses and rural buildings that display a distinctive regional style of architecture. The buildings blend traditional elements of European and American log cabins with the recognized form and scale of earlier Hudson Bay Company and Russian American Company fur trade fortifications and blockhouses. The style also included elements of local architecture employed for centuries by Coastal Salish peoples of Puget Sound and the first nations people as far North as the Aleutians Islands. The deceptively simple, yet functional and durable pioneer structures represent a unique type of early building in the Pacific Northwest.

From the earliest era of white settlement through the mid 1890s, builders and craftsmen followed the native Salish people’s lead in using Western Red Cedar as a preferred, almost exclusive, material for permanent shelter. Red cedar was long ago discovered by natives to have natural qualities such as straight grain for true splitting and warp resistance, a natural insecticide fragrance which kept the enclosure redolent under the most crowded circumstances, and a very efficient temperature and humidity insulation value.

The Euro-American settlers readily adopted the local wood and adapted it into their own building techniques and technologies. The earliest results were very crude but functional notched corner log-pens, which could be built by one strong person using only an ax. As skills and available tools improved, refinements were quickly made and the overall scale of the buildings and the size of the log parts increased dramatically. By the late 1870s, giant slabs of cedar, weighing a ton or more, were wedge-split from the massive trees much like stone is quarried. Slabs a foot thick, up to three feet high and up to 40 feet in length were dovetailed at the corners and then stacked into the walls of buildings that often were two stories in height. The roof shakes, roof frame, door and window trim, flooring and even ornamentation was crafted from split cedar. In some cases an entire building was shaped from a single ancient tree.

In Whatcom County, a dwindling number of early cedar buildings continue to exhibit their endurance on the fertile farmland around Ferndale, Lynden and Sumas but as their functional value recedes they are being either forgotten, neglected or destroyed. The single coherent effort being made to preserve these buildings is at Pioneer Park in Ferndale, where, over a seventy year period, threatened slab cedar buildings have been relocated to a grove of first growth red cedars.

The Significance of Pioneer Park

The slab cedar houses at Pioneer Park have all been relocated from their original sites of construction at various locations around Wbatcom County. The original locations have largely been cleared and converted to agricultural land since the 19th century. In most cases, removal was the only preservation alternative since the practical needs of modern farming began to displace unused rural pioneer buildings such as houses and barns in the 1920s and 30s. During this period, many if not most of the early slab cedar buildings were relocated from their original locations, to permit new primary farmhouses with modern fixtures and amenities.

Slab cedar houses, particularly the larger examples, were usually built very near the primary source of building material, Western Red Cedar groves. As the land and forests were cleared, the original context was lost and the buildings became lone markers on a dramatically changed landscape. At the time of relocation to Pioneer Park, most of the buildings displayed little, if any, connection with their original surroundings. More than half of the buildings had already been moved from their original locations prior to being relocated to Pioneer Park.

As the 20th Century has come to an end the 4 acre site at Pioneer Park can be considered one of the very few first-growth Red Cedar groves remaining within the populated areas of Whatcom County. The park is dominated by the presence of 48 towering Western Red Cedar trees, the oldest being about 300 years old. This historical and botanical context is an important element in the physical logic and interpretation of the Pioneer Park collection of slab cedar houses. The relationship to the Nooksack River is an additional asset to the meaning of the site in terms of historical settlement patterns and natural history. The opportunity to understand and observe living, mature Western Cedars in immediate proximity to the buildings is an invaluable and unique asset of the park and an important contribution to its historic significance.

The central focus of the park is the assembly of slab cedar houses, all of which are set on concrete slab foundations. In the variety of scale, date of construction and sophistication of craftsmanship, they are a catalog of this distinct regional rustic style. In a contemporary description of how cedar houses were built in the discrete range of the Western Red Cedar Enoch Hawley wrote this account of constructing a store.

On February 1st 1882, we started clearing this land. As soon as enough of these tall trees were burned down, which stood close to buildings to be dangerous in a high wind, plans were made for a store building twenty four by forty feet with two stories and a basement. Hewed logs were used for this building, which were six inches thick, by twelve to twenty four inches in width. The trees were hewed in the woods just were they fell, and then one was loaded on the ox sled, with the other end dragging on the ground.

Rafters were made from fir poles about five inches in diameter, hewn on one side, over which, was laid sheeting of split cedar. The shingles were made by hand; and an experienced man used to the work could turn out about a thousand a day. After the building was up, the hardest work started, as openings had to be cut through for doors and windows, and the frames made for them. The floor was of split fir, one and a half inches thick, all “vertical” grained and tongue and grooved by hand. Counters and shelves were made of split cedar. The whole building, with the exception of the upper flooring was made by hand. This lumber (for the second floor) was shipped from Seattle and brought up the river in canoes.

The basic method for constructing a building from slab cedar varied little in its basic approach. Small to mid sized cedar buildings could easily be constructed entirely from one tree using split cedar planks for flooring and framing, split beams for the roof frame and cedar shakes for the roof. A building of this type could be assembled by two or three people with a minimum of tools beyond an ax. As time, manpower, tools and craftsmanship allowed, very large two story houses and buildings were built. The sill or base slabs were telltale indications of building size and the skill of the builder. The largest slabs were at the base to reduce lifting, resist dry rot and carry overall weight. The notching and planing on the base logs required very fine tolerances to set the square of the building and hold the “log pen” tightly at the base. Sill logs could be 12 to 16 inches in wall thickness, up to 36 inches in height and in at least one case almost fifty feet long. They could weigh several tons apiece.

The notching of the logs at the corners was a primary indication of builder skill and ethnic influence. Massive red cedar logs were by necessity split down into workable, naturally formed squared slabs by driving metal wedges into the butts of logs as required to obtain the desired thickness of slab (of course today, instead of splitting, we “rip” saw logs to make dimensional lumber. Additionally, most modern trees don’t have near fine enough grain/growth rings and uninterrupted straight length to be accurately split like old growth trees did. Some old growth trees had growth rings as small as 1/32 of an inch or less). These square slab pieces could not be saddle notched like smaller round logs in order to hold the walls together. Instead the massive weight of the members and the flat facing surfaces between logs kept them in place. Early Hudson Bay NPS Company buildings and southern European settlers employed square notches that did not interlock so the building could be disassembled and moved with ease. Russian American trappers and later Northern European builders brought with them the technique of dovetailing the corner notches so that once the building was assembled it was interlocked at the corners. In the northwest’s rainy climate however dovetail notches drained water on the narrow section of the dovetailed tendon creating a weakness even in moisture resistant cedar. As a result, the most carefully constructed slab cedar buildings employ a compound dovetail that drained water away from the corner notching.

Slab cedar buildings did not typically require chinking between logs in the same manner as round log cabins. Attention was usually paid during construction to the planing between log members so that dead weight would provide the walls with a nearly continuous solid thickness. At the seams between logs, oakum and hemp line, lime and plaster, tar or clay-mud was used to create a moisture barrier.

The cedar buildings were originally set with fixed pane or casement windows set in split-cedar frames but as double hung sash became available most houses were retrofit. A variety of methods for refitting windows can be seen in the buildings at Pioneer Park.

The individual cedar houses at Pioneer Park each display variations in age, construction methods, intended use and overall scale. They represent the most significant architectural collection of cedar slab construction in the world.

The Buildings of Pioneer Park

[pic] Pioneer Headquarters Building (1925) was constructed on site of roughly 6″ diameter logs in a “log pen” that measures 15′ X 30′. The cabin is built of round saddle notched logs and has a cedar shake gabled roof. The roof has a projected overhang on the west gable end sheltering two registration windows. The entry door and a window are on the north elevation and a pair of windows light the southern wall. The building houses the registration office for the Pioneer Picnic and the City of Ferndale Parks Maintenance Supervisor’s Office.

[pic] Congregational Church (1876) is a 20′ X 30′ slab building with square notching, with a central door on the western side and three large double hung windows on the north and south sides. The gable roof is cedar shake and supports a bell tower with a 600-lb. bell cast in Cincinnati Ohio. The rear gable end (eastern wall) is covered in clipped shingles. The construction and log finishing was done with relatively crude tools. The church provides an excellent opportunity to view adz marks on the outside walls. The church was the first one built in Whatcom County and was originally located on California Creek, close to the corner of Loomis Trail Road near Blaine. It was moved to Pioneer Park in 1968 under the sponsorship of Elmer and Edna Pike.

In his 80th year, the Reverend W.M. Stewart visited his son in Whatcom County and quickly decided to move here and build a church. He had lead an active life: He was a nephew of President Lincoln, helped to form the Republican Party after the Civil War, and had assisted with the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. The Zion Congregational Church stood peacefully alone along the banks of California Creek until the arrival of the Methodists. Although the two churches had California Creek between them, the waters were not wide enough to mute disagreements between the two congregations. The two churches did finally make peace and unite some years later.

From 1914 to 1955, the Tom Snow family lived in the Church. Virginia Derr (a Snow by birth) recounted a time while living in the church when her parents were away, and she and brother Loren, were home alone. Loren and a visiting friend were playing with a shotgun when it accidentally discharged, peppering the logs in one corner of the room with shot. The friend was so frightened that he ran for home as fast as he could, and Loren begged Virginia not to tell their parents when they came home. Though the walls have since been whitewashed, some holes are still visible. Whitewash, a popular home-grown substitute for paint, was typically made by mixing 50 pounds of hydrated lime, ten gallons water, ten pounds salt, two pounds alum and one bar laundry soap. Formaldehyde could be added to make a disinfectant whitewash. The ingredients were melted and mixed together 24 hours before the whitewash was to be used, and if necessary, more water was added before using; the ideal mixture was the consistency of a thin cream. Meetings are still held in the church from spring to fall and it is growing as a popular location for small weddings.

[pic] Granary (1887) is a one-story 25′ X 30′ foot split log building with hook notched corners and is generally primitive in design. The building has an oversized doorway on the west wall and a small window on the eastern side. The low-pitched roof has board and batten gable ends and is cedar shake. The logs of the building are of small dimension. John Gischer built the Granary on Marine Drive in Birch Bay. Gischer was one of the earliest settlers of the Birch Bay area. It was moved to Pioneer Park in the 1970s. The building was originally intended to be a house but ended up as a granary and now holds many of the tools that Mr. Gischer used on his homestead. One of the earliest dragsaws manufactured in Bellingham is displayed in the Granary. These types of saws were designed to be drug from tree to tree by the sheer will of the operator. The large red dragsaw on the west wall had a sign on the underside, whereon the company that manufactured it in 1846 boasted that this was the ultimate invention for sawing wood and couldn.t be matched. An early grain fanning mill constructed of crabapple wood by Mr. Gischer in 1872 or 1873 and more modern grain fanning mill run by stationary engine or tractor are located in the back of the building. Small mills worked by fanning away the seed hulls, leaving clean, chaff-free grain kernels behind. Also on display is a hand-cranked drill press (known as a post drill in blacksmith terms) and stump puller. Getting rid of the stumps was one of the most difficult jobs the early settlers had to contend with. Among the many small tools displayed in this building is a horn cutting tool. Cutting back the horns of the cattle was a messy, difficult and dangerous job as the horns bled and the cattle usually resisted the procedure.

[pic] Foster House (1895) is a two-story building that measures 25′ X 32′. The building displays very large, roughly split cedar logs measuring between 12 and 24 inches thick with square notched corners. The house has a shed type roof that covers the entries on the west and south ground floors. There are paired windows on the east and west ground floor elevations and a single window on the ground floor south. Additionally there are single windows in the north and south gable ends of the second floor. The cedar shake roof is supported by round log purlins running the length of the structure and frame brackets under the eaves. The Foster House was donated by D. Ross and moved to Pioneer Park in the 1930s by long time Old Settler Association member William Scrimsher. It was the first cabin to be moved to the park. The interior walls were covered with newspaper and have proven to be a valuable tool for dating. We may not know how much earlier the Foster House was built, but we can know for sure that it wasn.t built later than the date on the papers. Commercial wallpaper was only used if it was readily available and the owner could manage the added expense.

The Foster House is filled with photographs, letters and other reminders of the past including a handmade license plate, shovel-nosed canoe, a plank from one of the plank roads and a bell from the Ferndale Nooksack River ferry crossing (prior to any bridges).

[pic] Shields House (1885) is the most carefully crafted building in the park. It is a two-story residential structure built with a .T. floor plan which, accommodates raised, covered porches on the east and west elevations. The building, including porch area, measures 25′ X 34′ which was considered large at the time. The preparation of the logs for this house involved planing on all surfaces, beautiful compound dovetailing at the corners and mortised walls to accomplish the complicated floor plan. There are three windows on both the upper and lower levels of the front west walls, paired windows on both levels of the north side and single windows up and down on the west and south walls. There are entries onto both porches covered by shed type porch roofs. The gable ends are shingled and the roof is cedar shake.

The Shields House was built on the Old Guide Road south of Wiser Lake. It was moved to Pioneer Park in 1950 by the Whatcom Old Settlers Association and represents the second building moved to Pioneer Park. The Shields house is a monument to craftsmanship of the early pioneers and specifically to Conrad Shields who constructed the house. Cedar trees were cut down, bucked into the proper lengths, and pulled by three ox teams belonging to Shields and his neighbors. Each log, some thirty feet long were split and mortised and dovetailed so precisely that no nails are needed to hold them together. Weather boarding came from the old Shelter mill on Deer Creek, and the inside ceiling and wall lumber was hand split, hand dressed and tongue and grooved by hand until it looked like the millwork.

The house is furnished as it may have been years ago. The wicker lamp in the parlor dates to the 1920s and the wallpaper is thought to be from the 1940s. The dress displayed on the mannequin inside the house belonged to Mrs. Cora Shields.

This is the Shields first of four houses. The second Shields house has been converted to the Whatcom Brewery located behind the former Harlin Hovander residence in Ferndale (adjacent to the Ferndale Library). The third Shields House became the Legoe House The fourth Shields House, Mrs. Shields dream house, is the former Harlin Hovander residence across from house number three. Mrs. Shields is reported to have been Whatcom County’s first traffic fatality when she was crossing the street from the third house to the new house of her dreams.

[pic] Parker House (1879) is an “L” shaped building with a two-story main section measuring 25′ X 25′ with an additional one-story 12′ X 12′ foot rear wing. The log slabs are dovetailed at the corners and foursquare planed. The building has a main entry under a shed roof porch on the front west elevation. It has two rear entries on both the main section and the wing. Because it served as a commercial building there are very large storefront type windows flanking the front entry and oversized openings on the other ground floor elevations. The roof is cedar shake.

The Parker House was built across the river from Pioneer Park and was one of East Ferndale’s original buildings. According to George LaBounty, who later bought the house, Eugene Parker lived in the house for 52 years. During 1882-83 it served as Charlie Dowden’s Hotel and was frequently filled to overflowing with incoming, land hungry, settlers who slept on mattresses put down on the floor. This house was donated to the Whatcom County Parks Department by owner Dr. Greg Harvey in 1974 and was stored over at Hovander Homestead Park for some time. It was completely dismantled in 1979 and moved to Pioneer Park sans any photos, plans or system of numbering the pieces. Fortunately, Fred Sutcliffe the City of Ferndale’s Parks Maintenance Supervisor could remember exactly how the building looked and reassembled the building over a period of a month. The Parker House is set up as a country store, which at one time it was. Pioneers often set up a store in the corner of their house, sometimes just a few shelves, selling whatever was surplus amongst their own supplies. Freight came infrequently and it behooved the prudent to order as much as they could afford at one time.

[pic] Grandview Rogers House (1877) is a two-story building measuring 20′ X 40′ with the main entry set in the west gable end elevation. There is a gabled porch with end facing out to repeat the upper main roof gable. The house has two windows on the west ground floor, two on the south and one each on the east and north. In the upper story there is a single centered casement window on the west elevation and pairs on the remaining three sides. This building, more than any other in the group, displays the patching and filling that could be done to slab buildings in order to accommodate varying sizes and types of window replacements. The building displays excellent, very early compound dovetailing. The roof is cedar shake.

The Grandview Rogers House was built across the Nooksack River from Ferndale. LeRoy Rogers later moved the house to Portal Way and Grandview. It was also used as a dance hall and hotel. John Young purchased the building in 1952 from Charles Cowden and sold it later to Al Jensen. The house was to be burned down in the 1970s. Pioneer Park was given one week to get it moved off of the property or it would have burned.

There were three separate, unrelated sets of Rogers brothers among the early settlers . one at Blaine, Everson and Ferndale. According to Jeffcott, in 1881 when Arthur Rogers first arrived, just three log buildings existed in all of east Ferndale.

The Grandview Rogers House currently functions as a Veteran’s Museum, displaying uniforms and military memorabilia donated by a variety of local veterans. The two W.W.II Japanese flags on display are one of the most interesting exhibits. A local man married a Japanese woman who was so impressed with the Ferndale Pumpkin Growing Contest she sent some pumpkin seeds home to Japan. Eventually, a group of friends and relatives from Japan visited Pioneer Park. While they were being shown the buildings, they walked into the Veterans. Museum and were visibly shaken by the two flags, especially the one signed by their countrymen. It was their belief that the spirits of the men who signed the flag will never be at rest until the flag is returned, yet on the other hand, the museum had been entrusted to keep the captured flag at the park in Ferndale. Through some often delicate and diplomatic negotiations, the flags remain as artifacts in the park. The hometown of the signatories of the flags has since become a sister City of Ferndale.

[pic] Van Buren Post Office (circa. 1879) is a very early example of small-scale cedar slab buildings. It is a single story building with simple dovetailed corners and only measures 12′ X 18′. This building was likely constructed from a single tree and probably built by only two people using an ax and crosscut saw. It has a single entry on the west elevation and single windows on the north and east walls. The roof and front gable is cedar shingle.

The Van Buren Post Office was originally located on Van Buren Road. It was first established as a post office 3 miles north of Everson on the Milwaukee Rail Road on October 2, 1891. It served as a post office until November 14, 1918. The post office had four postmasters during its history: William Van Buren, Andrew Kirkman, Allen Holstein, and Mary Acikinson. It was later moved to Berthusen Park in Lynden and, in 1994, was brought to Pioneer Park in pieces. Local Eagle Scouts and the City of Ferndale Park Maintenance Supervisor reassembled the building.

[pic] Jenni House (1873) is a saltbox house with a two-story section in front and a single-story shed type section in the rear. It measures 30′ X 30′ and has a hipped porch roof over a centered front entry. The house has paired windows on the ground floor of every wall and a rear centered entry. The log working on the building is very skilled and employs compound dovetail notches and interior wall tendons There is a single window in the gable end of the upper floor on the south and paired windows on the north. The roof is cedar shake.

Jenni House was built near Laurel on the old Northwest Diagonal Road, which was at that time, only a trail. This road was eventually planked and made accessible to wagons by 1885. It connected Bellingham to Ferndale and eventually Canada. The house was used as a stagecoach stop where travelers could refresh themselves with a meal or an overnight stay. At one time a community dance hail was located on the second floor. The first sawmill located north of Whatcom was built in 1882 on a portion of Jacob Jenni’s 160 acre parcel. The fir table in the back room is from a solid piece of wood, 8 feet long 4 1/2 feet wide and 6 1/2 inches thick. It was the mill owner’s conference table. Jacob Jeni donated 5 acres of property for the Woodlawn Cemetery on Northwest Road and was the first to be buried there. He died in 1886 at the age of 56.

The Old Settlers had the building moved to Pioneer Park in 1989. The upper portion of the building had to be detached during its relocation to the park. Doing so was required so that it could pass beneath the railroad trestle on Main Street. It is currently being shown as a residence. The tin ceiling is not original to the building, but is typical of the time and was made by W.F. Norman & Sons of Nevada, using original molds.

[pic] Lopas House (1878) is a small one-story cabin measures 14′ X 20′ with adz cut slabs, square notched at the corners. The building has a main entry on the east side which opens onto an elevated porch under a shed roof. The building has a second entry, porch and shed roof on the south wall and windows on all but the back. The gable ends are board and batten covered and the roof is cedar shingle.

Edwin Lopas built the House. He was a former stove molder from Illinois. Lopas located his homestead on a high knoll in the Mountain View area. He was a very active communit member, and was Postmaster at the Mountain View Post Office from 1899 to 1908. Afterwards he successfully operated a shingle mill on his property. The two story cabin was remodeled several times to accommodate his growing family. Intalco Aluminum Corporation bought the original site and moved the cabin to their employee recreation area. In 1990 Intalco donated the cabin to Pioneer Park, where it now displays newspaper and printing memorabilia. The linotype equipment on display in the cabin was a process first used in 1866 and is still used on occasion to print newspapers and other items. Some of the printing equipment in the cabin is still functional and is occasionally run for demonstration purposes.

[pic] Barrett House (1874) is a single-story cabin 18′ X 20′ feet with a pair of entries on the north and west sides. Like the Grandview Rogers House, it has window patching in addition to the existing openings on all but the south wall. Like many slab cedar buildings, it was sided over inside and out and was only discovered to be a slab cedar building recently (it was sometimes common to side these types of buildings as an early form of remodeling facelift to bring them current with the times at hand). The notching is dovetailed and the roof is shingle. The building was donated to the Old Settlers Association by Pete and Sandie Hanson and moved to Pioneer Park in 1989.

Thomas E. Barrett, who came from Ireland in 1868, built this House. He was one of the earliest white settlers to the area. He took a native wife and they raised seven children in this cabin. When more space was needed, a lean-to was added to the building to accommodate the overflow of family members. According to Chet Speziale, Mr. Barrett was a day late and a dollar short in nearly everything he tackled. He explored for gold in the foothills of Mt. Baker, worked as a clerk at the Sehome Coal Mines, and ran a tavern in Fairhaven where he had an enigmatic reputation for being an “genial Irishman”.

Barrett was called as a witness for the prosecution, in the trail of Blanket Bill Jarman, on February 27, 1872. Jarman worked as the bartender in the Bellingham Bay Coal Company Store where Barrett was the clerk. Jarman allegedly killed Jim farmer. Jarman must have been acquitted, because on April 25, 1872 he got married and Barrett was a witness at the marriage.

Barrett retired on his claim on the shores of Barrett Lake, then called Trudder. He set up a Post Office and all mail to the Ferndale area was addressed to the individual in care of Trudder Post Office, Whatcom County, Washington Territory. Frequently, the first settler on the scene would setup a post office, since it only required one government form and a few dollars. They then encouraged others to come, making it sound more like a town existed there. They sold the newcomers part of their land donation claim and used the proceeds to finance clearing and other improvements on the remainder of the property.

Thomas Barrett was the clerk of the Ferndale School District, which had 50-60 pupils on November 13, 1875.

It seems probable that the quiet life of the homestead on the lake did not meet the approval of Barrett’s liking, for by the end of 1876 he had leased and rented the Bellingham Bay Coal Company’s Saloon at Sehome. Unfortunately for Barrett, the BB Coal Mines for some time had been losing money and had quietly decided to close up the business. Accordingly, they began disposing of their goods and machinery. Thus Thomas Barrett’s saloon soon became a near desert and his profits dried up with his business.

He then turned toward another field of operations and announced that he would organize a prospecting party to search for the hidden wealth of gold on the upper South Fork. Seems to be quite a gold excitement in the Nooksack River. A Whatcom County newspaper reported that in 1878 Thomas Barrett was sending a prospecting party up the river. The party departed in 1879 and returned six weeks later claiming to have reached a point in the river about 100 miles from the mouth, further than any white man had been known to travel.

Barrett then returned to the farm on the lake and took his place beside his fellow settlers to help boost the interest and development of Ferndale. In 1879 a number of Barrett’s neighbors met at his home to butcher hogs. Among those present was a man by the name of Brown. Brown had filed on the place later taken by William Baer. Brown had a very attractive wife, and a man by the name of Peter Galiger was paying considerable attention to her which created suspicion in Brown’s mind that he was trying to steal her. A quarrel ensued and Brown stabbed Galiger to death with a butchers knife. Brown immediately fled the country and Browns wife later sold the property and left the area.

Thomas Barrett was part of the delegation for statehood in 1889. He died on October 13, 1889 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery. Thomas Barrett had ten children, six boys and four girls with his wife Fanny.

The Barrett House is reported to have had visitors of a different kind. .A friend one day came to visit the house in its new location and although no one was home, the visitor claimed he saw somebody upstairs in the window. Perhaps Mr. Barrett came to visit.. It’s possible that it is a friendly ghost looking over and protecting this wonderful old home from decay and destruction.

The Barrett House displays Post Office memorabilia collected by retired Postmaster Chet Speziale. A horse drawn Postal carrier’s wagon dominates the center of the cabin.

[pic] Holeman House (1890) is a single story 25′ X 35′ foot split round log building with dovetailed corners and very rustic woodwork. The building has entries on the south and west walls and single windows on every side. The building is crudely constructed by comparison to the other cabins located in Pioneer Park.

The Holeman House was either a shack in the woods or once a schoolhouse before it was donated to Pioneer Park in 1985. This building, located on Mountain View Road, was covered with Blackberry brambles, and the bottom logs were so completely rotted that they were left behind when the building was disassembled to be moved. John Holeman was a logger and farmer who claimed Daniel Boone as an ancestor. The cabin is an example of some of the more primitive cabin building skills of the early pioneers. The Holeman House is used to depict a typical one room school setting. Early log cabin schools had few windows and no electric light, leaving the interior shrouded in gloom on cloudy days. Neither did they have plumbing. Washing up was completed outside, drinking was from a communal dipper and outhouses, usually one for each gender, were located out back. A metal railing to protect students and provide a place to dry wet mittens and clothes surrounded the woodstove. Since many in the surrounding community set their clocks by the school bell, it behooved the teacher to have a good watch for she was soundly criticized if her timing was off.

[pic] Lynden Jail (circa early 1900s) the jail was constructed somewhere near Lynden in the early 1900s. It has two cells. The original location of the 10′ X 12′ building is still somewhat of a mystery. In the 1930s or so the building was moved to private property where it was used for storage. The building was then moved to Berthusen Park in Lynden where it remained for several years. The jail was moved to Pioneer Park by the a members of the Lynden Antique Tractor Association in 1996.

[pic] Barr Barn (circa 1890s) the Barr Barn was originally located on Main Street in Ferndale on the site of the Haggen Foods Grocery Store. The homestead on which it was located had relatively few owners over its history. The 32′ X 50′ barn was donated by Haggen Foods and moved to Pioneer Park by the Old Settlers Association when the grocery store was constructed in 1996. The barn features mortise and tennon construction with wooden pegging, and is indicative of the barns of the period. It has a walk in man door on the east gable wall and two large sets of sliding doors centered on the north and south walls. There are no windows. It has vertical board and batten siding. It has a single cupola on top of the gable roof. The large sliding doors enable a hay wagon to be driven in one side to unload hay, and out the opposite side once unloaded. The current loft floor and stairs on the west half of the barn was added by the Old Settlers Association for storage. The barn also had a shed roof type lean-to, extending form an “L-shape” from the northwest corner of the main structure. At this time the lean-to has not been re-erected, however it may be re-erected in the future.

[pic] Tillicum House (1926) is a stick frame building with clapp-board siding. The building was constructed on site. It was built by the Old Settlers Association as a meeting/dance hall. It is a single story building that measures 35′ X 55′ and has a gabled roof with asphalt shingles (originally cedar) and a poured concrete foundation. The main entry is on the west gable wall. Inside it has a kitchen area along the west end, as well as a small bathroom and janitor closet. One the west end of the building is shed-roof type lean-to with a food vending window. There is a door into the lean-to from the kitchen only. The Tillicum House was also intended to provide a place suitable for food service and it still serves as a community center and meeting place for the Old Settlers Association. Tillicum means, .Friend. in Chinook Indian jargon.

Sources of Information

This information was recompiled and edited for use on this website by Bob Nelson 1/16/05 from: “The Pioneer Park Companion”, originally compiled and edited by David Erickson with input from the following people: Micheal Sullivan, Alice Cyr, Fred Sutcliffe, Donna Pollman, Wayne Sorenson, Chet Speziale, Jim doige, Louise Sager, and many others.

Primary Sources Pioneer Park National Register of Historic Places Application, Artifacts Consulting Inc. Michael Sullivan, 1999 Washington State Archives, Olympia and Bellingham Washington State Library, Olympia (card catalog information) Western Washington University, Northwest Collection Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham Whatcom Old Settlers Association Archives

Secondary Sources [DeBow, Samuel P. and Pitter, Edward A., ed.] Who’s Who in Religious, Fraternal, Social, Civic, and Commercial Life on the Pacific Coast, Seattle: Searchlight Pub.Co., 1926-27

Dillard, Annie, The Living, 1992. Harper Collins, New York.

Edson, Lelah Jackson. The Fourth Corner, 1968, Craftsman Press Seattle.

Ficken, Robert E., The Forested Land, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987.

Hawley, Robert Emmett. Skqee Mus, Pioneer Days on the Nooksack, 1945. Miller & Sutherlen Craftsman Press, Seattle.

Jeffcott, Percival, Nooksack Tales and Trails, 1949, Sedro-Wolley Courier-Times.

Judson, Pheobe, A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home, 1955, Washington State Historical Society.

Johnson, Dorothy and Jeffcott, Percival and Sullivan, Michael, John A Tennant Early Pioneer and Preacher, 1978, The Fourth Corner Registry. Bellinham, Washington.

Kirk, Ruth. Exploring Washington’s Past, A Road Guide to History, 1990, University of Washington Press.

Kruckeberg, Arthur R., The Natural History of Puget Sound Country,1991, University of Washington Press.

Meany, Edmond S. History of the State of Washington,1910, MacMillan Company, New York.

Ripley, Thomas Emerson, Green Timber,1968, Palo Alto: American West Pub. Co.

Roth, Lottie Roeder. History of Wlzatcom County, 1926, Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, Chicago.

Schwantes, Carlos A. The Pacific Northwest, An Interpretive History, 1989, University of Nebraska Press.

Snowden, Clinton A. History of Washington: The Rise and Progress of an American State, 1909, Century History Company, New York.

[Washington State Historical Society], The New Washington: A Guide To The Evergreen State, Portland: Binford and Mort, Revised 1950, p. 26 1-277.

[Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation], Built in Washington, 1989, Pullman: Washington State University Press,.

Woodbridge, Sally B. and Montgomery, Roger, A Guide to Architecture in Washington State, 1980, Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Wright, E. W., ed., Lewis and Drydeu’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, 1895, Portland: Lewis and Dryden Printing Co., Superior reprint, 1967.