Steetcar system pushed city’s expansion

Routes led from city core out into sparsely populated fringes ripe for development

Before heading to Garden Avenue, the North Street trolley pauses in front of Arthur Watts’ house at 2530 Dock St. (Cornwall Avenue) in 1909.

whatcom historical society
   In July 1905, Louis H. Bean arrived in Bellingham to accept his promotion as the new manager of Whatcom County Railway & Light (WCRy&L), the company that operated the city’s electric trolley system.
   Before the proliferation of automobiles, Bellingham’s growth followed the lead of its street railway into sparsely-populated sections of town. As the trolley tracks reached the city’s outlying stump fields, new "streetcar suburbs" sprung up along the new routes. Mr. Bean was to orchestrate the greatest expansion of trolley service in Bellingham history.
   During six years with the Seattle Electric Company, Bean had risen through the ranks of the streetcar division. Seattle Electric and WCRy&L were both part of the utilities empire of Charles A. Stone and Edwin S. Webster. A Boston-based firm, “Stone & Webster” owned streetcar and power companies in more than 30 U.S. cities, including those in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle and Tacoma. Stone & Webster made it "a rule to advance competent young men" such as Bean.
   A month after moving here, Mr. Bean returned to Seattle and married his fiancée, Irene Graham, on Sept. 7, 1905. Back in Bellingham, the young couple became the toast of local society. The Beans bought the Timson Mansion at 530 N. Garden, a large and beautiful home in which to entertain guests. Equally important was the house’s location on the Garden Street trolley line, meaning Mr. Bean could take the streetcar to work!
   In 1906, Bean got busy. Four new trolleys were added to the Lake (Whatcom) Line, which was given a $21,000 upgrade that included a series of turnouts. The improved service would be needed when the $100,000 amusement park, or “White City,” opened that summer at Silver Beach.

On Holly Street, the York Addition trolley passes L. H. Bean’s Fairyland Rink in 1907. Tracks for the Garden Street trolley turn across the foreground.

   The Garden Street Line was extended from Cedar to 16th Street. This was done by blasting a 225’ cut through a sandstone ridge that in some parts was 10 feet deep. With the expanded trolley service, the Bellingham Bay Improvement Co. opened another “fine section of the city to settlement.” Marketed at the time as “Bellingham Heights,” today this is the neighborhood of South Garden and South Forest streets.
   Coinciding with the Garden Street improvements, a five-block extension of tracks on Dock Street (Cornwall Ave.) pushed that line’s terminus from Kentucky Street to E. North. The new “North Street Line” opened up the 65-acre Broadway Park plat for development by the Bellingham Bay Improvement Co. and a combination trolley-waiting-station and real estate office was constructed at Dock Street and S. Park Drive. Arthur Watts, the B.B.I. Co. land agent, built his family’s new home on a corner of E. North and Dock in 1907. While selling lots in the area, Watts could point over to his own house as proof of his faith in the neighborhood’s future.
   In Nov. 1906, Mr. Bean announced his intentions to build a $10,000 roller skating rink on the northeast corner of Holly and Garden streets. Designed by Bellingham architect T. F. Doan, the new rink was strategically located at the junction of the Garden Street and York Addition trolley lines. The Main Line, running between Eldridge and Harris avenues, also passed a mere two blocks down from the rink on Elk (State) Street. For sheer accessibility, proximity to a streetcar line created the prime business location.
   Bean’s "pleasure resort" boasted the largest open floor space in Bellingham, a 96-125-foot expanse of hardwood. For the Fairyland orchestra, a 10-by12-foot platform was suspended by heavy chains from the ceiling. Once the band was on their perch, the ladder was removed “so that no obstruction will be in the way of the skaters.”
   Fairyland opened on Dec. 31, 1906, with a big New Year’s Eve bash. The next day, Nellie Appleby described the occasion in the Herald’s "Social and Personal" column:
   "The opening of Fairyland, the new roller skating rink, was one of the most thoroughly delightful events of the evening. A blaze of electric lights within, and the inviting electric sign across Holly and Garden streets, reflecting the name of ‘Fairyland’ across the snow, made the scene one long to be remembered. Devotees of this winter’s fad thronged the new rink, and with their light-hearted, swift skating set the Old Year a pace indeed."
   In 1908, Bean had a special sprinkler trolley built to tame the blinding dust that each summer plagued the downtown streets. Loaded with a large water tank, the sprinkler trolley doused Bellingham’s thoroughfares with 9,920 gallons of water an hour.
   With the routes added in 1906 proving popular, Bean was ready for his next round of expansions. Bean’s banner year was 1909, when WCRy&L constructed more than fifty blocks of new trolley tracks.
   The Garden Street Line was lengthened again, this time up 16th St. to Knox Ave. Bean’s report to Stone & Webster accurately predicted that the Garden Street extension would "cause the building of many new homes along the hillside which overlooks the beautiful waters and islands to the west." The trolley up Dock Sreet was turned east onto North Street and new tracks ran 25 blocks to St. Clair Street at the foot of Alabama Hill. The North Street Line sent streetcars into the rural Eureka and Alabama Additions, once more triggering a boom in housing starts along the way.

In 1906, families pass the combination trolley waiting station and real estate office while touring the new residential lots on S. Park Drive.

   Tracks were also laid south down the long pier to Sehome Wharf and the enormous Bellingham Bay Lumber Co. mill. Though it was the shortest streetcar route, the "Dock Line" was a vital link between the waterfront and downtown. It allowed trolleys to meet the “mosquito fleet” of Puget Sound passenger steamers and deliver mill employees to and from work.
   In the same year, Magnolia Street was double-tracked between Dock and Elk (State) streets to reroute some of the streetcar traffic off Holly.
   On Harris Ave., the Happy Valley trolley had run between 4th and 21st streets since 1892. Bean agreed with Southside residents that it was high time to extend the route. In 1909, the Happy Valley Line was pushed all the way to 33rd Street and Lindsey Avenue via 23rd Street, Donovan Avenue, 32nd Street, and Cowgill Avenue. The new end of the line was so far out among the elm saplings and cow pastures that motormen and conductors nicknamed it the "Lonesome Hole."
   In the summer of 1909, the Young Men’s Commercial Club enlisted the help of Mr. Bean in starting a "Seeing Bellingham" trolley. This special streetcar took tourists, and curious locals, on sightseeing excursions throughout the metropolis. Club members with megaphones described and pointed out the many wonders and promise of charming Bellingham.
   Bean’s final triumph was to inspire local funding for Stone & Webster’s "Bellingham-Skagit Interurban Railway." His successful campaign led the citizens of Bellingham to purchase $400,000 of stock in the project. Bean was proclaimed the "Author of the Big Interurban Project," but he would not remain in town to see it completed.
   Stone & Webster rewarded Bean with a promotion that transferred him to Tacoma in the spring of 1910. There he was given charge of Tacoma Railway & Power, which operated the municipal street railway as well as the Puget Sound Electric Railway, which ran an interurban between Seattle and Tacoma.
   On Nov. 10, 1910, work finally began on a 28-mile interurban from Bellingham to Mt. Vernon, with a 5-mile branch line between Burlington and Sedro-Woolley. At a cost of $2 million, the interurban was completed and had its inaugural run on Aug. 31, 1912. Passenger service on Pacific Northwest Traction’s interurban operated until October 1928. Its right-of-way in Happy Valley and along Chuckanut is today’s popular Interurban Trail.
   Fairyland would remain a skating rink until 1917, when it was converted into a meeting hall. It was the scene of Bellingham’s first "Automobile Show," held in early April 1919. In the 1920s, the old rink became Joe Goodwin’s Holly-Garden Garage along with Clarence and Ethel Leach’s grocery store. The building was torn down in March 1936 to make way for a Standard gas station. Kinko’s Copies now stands on the site at 501 E. Holly.
   Bellingham’s trolleys were replaced by buses at the end of 1938. Mr. Bean passed away on Christmas Eve, 1953, at his home in Tidewater, Va., where he had retired shortly after World War II.


Related Stories