Victorian on Garden restored to 1890s style

Banker James W. Morgan built the mansion during Bellingham’s boom

The picturesque Victorian house at 1200 N. Garden St., with its distinctive turret topped by a bell-shaped dome, has been a Bellingham landmark for more than a century.

Built in 1890 for banker James W. Morgan, the design came from a Robert Shoppell pattern book. It was a monument to Morgan’s new pecuniary status during the halcyon days of the Bellingham Bay boom.

J. W. Morgan was cashier of the Bellingham Bay National Bank, chartered in February 1889, with F.M. Wade of Tacoma as president and Edward Eldridge, the Whatcom pioneer, as vice-president. As cashier, Morgan was in charge of the bank’s daily transactions.

Morgan had his beautiful “modern” home built exactly two blocks up from the Bellingham Bay (B.B.) National, which was located in the Slade Building on the northeast corner of Elk (State) and Chestnut streets. His pedestrian commute to work would have taken less than two minutes! The hike back home probably took a little longer.

During the railroad boom, the future looked rosy for the B.B. National and Morgan. In 1891 the bank built its own office building on the northeast corner of Holly and Elk streets. With two sides made of Chuckanut sandstone, the three-story 50 foot by 125 foot business block cost a princely $59,000.

In June 1893, a collapse on the New York stock market was followed by heavy withdrawals from New York banks. The withering of Eastern capital choked investments in the West and, within a few months, nine banks on Bellingham Bay failed.

On Monday morning, July 31, 1893, Morgan opened the B.B. National’s doors to begin the business week and was met by a panicked mob demanding their cash. The run cleaned out the bank before lunch.

The B.B. National attempted a comeback, reopening in January 1894 with an infusion of new money. The reorganized bank lasted until Nov. 4, 1895, when it was again visited by a cash-starved horde. Depositors were paid 15 cents on the dollar.

Wiped out, Morgan sold 1200 N. Garden in August 1898 to bankers William G. Brown, Jr. and Louis P. White. Brown and White, both from West Virginia, had started the Bank of Whatcom in Nov. 1897. With eight children, Louis White and wife Mary needed a house the size of 1200 N. Garden.

The Bank of Whatcom was an investment for W.G. Brown and he soon returned to the East where he had extensive assets. He’d eventually be elected to three terms in Congress as a representative from West Virginia.

Snow-covered 1200 N. Garden as Victorian ornament in a winter wonderland, c. 1916. Photo by J.J. Donovan #1995.6.12, Whatcom Museum of History & Art.
Snow-covered 1200 N. Garden as Victorian ornament in a winter wonderland, c. 1916. Photo by J.J. Donovan #1995.6.12, Whatcom Museum of History & Art.

In addition to banking, the Brown and White partnership would found the wholesale Washington Grocery Co., as well as invest heavily in the Pacific Oil Wells Co. when it began drilling in Happy Valley. Mary White’s brother, George B. Burke, was cashier for the Bank of Whatcom.

Darlings of the Society column, the Whites hosted elaborate dinners, parlor dances, and card parties that were always “most recherché and artistic” with “choice table decorations,” “tasteful hand-painted place cards” and “dainty favors.” Their guests included the business elite of New Whatcom and Fairhaven.

The White’s teenage daughter, Jessie, had her own chaperoned social calendar and often entertained the “younger set” in a “most charming style” with music, dancing, and refreshments.

In June 1899, construction began at the Charles E. Fulton shipyard on a 200 – foot, four-masted lumber schooner for the Bellingham Bay Improvement Co. As the tall ship neared completion, Jessie White was elected the privilege of christening the new schooner Sehome on Dec. 30, 1899.

On July 4, 1903, a picture of the White’s four-year old daughter, Virginia, won Resinol Soap’s national photographic contest. The top honor among 160 finalists came with a $50 prize and use of Miss White’s image in Resinol advertisements! Louis White, however, wasn’t home to celebrate with his youngest child.

Mr. White had gone to Terra Alta, West Virginia, in early June to visit his mother. He’d been ill since January and it was hoped that the trip would improve his health. But on July 9, 1903, Louis White died.

Mary White remarried in 1906 and sold 1200 N. Garden to Simon and Mae Craft. Mary moved with her children and new husband, Frederick Schuh, to the historic Billy Utter House at 2007 G Street. The Crafts, like the Whites before them, liked to entertain and had a domestic staff to keep their home guest-ready.

Simon Craft was proprietor of the “Famous Shoe House,” which he had established in Fairhaven in 1889. He’d relocated to New Whatcom in 1891, opening at the northwest corner of Railroad and Holly “with the largest and most complete lines of footwear in the city.”

Mr. Craft was a “great patron of sports” and an automobile enthusiast. His shoe store sponsored the “famous” baseball team that had “distinguished itself on the diamond.” At a time when there were maybe a dozen automobiles in all of Whatcom County, Craft was making news with his “long tours” about the countryside “in his new machine.”

In May 1906, the Crafts made a 500-mile trip into British Columbia and that July made it all the way to Chehalis and back, via Everson and Wickersham, on a thousand-mile safari. Simon reported that “some rough stretches of road were encountered and many times the auto was in the midst of stumps and deep ruts.” But the family’s car ride was “very enjoyable” and without mishap thanks to the motoring skill of chauffeur Mark Scovill.

Mrs. Craft and her next-door neighbor Delia Crites, of 1208 N. Garden, headed the Garden Street Five Hundred Club and the Craft’s living room regularly had up to eight tables of cards at play.

In February 1907, 1200 N. Garden was featured as No. 17 in the Bellingham Herald’s “Beautiful Bellingham Home” series. The house was described as having an “irregular outline rising three stories” with “quaint old tower giving added height and dignity.” The front veranda was “overhung with ivy.” A balcony on the second story made “a pleasant observatory,” but the best view was from “the open tower where entrance is given from the third floor.”

Upon entering the front door, there was a wide hall, open staircase with finely carved maple railing and a fireplace with a “beautiful mantle.” To the right was the big living room and library with alcove windows. The dining room was to the left of the library, from which a butler’s pantry led to the kitchen that was “complete in all its furnishing and plumbing.”

The second floor had four large rooms as well as a nursery and a maid’s room and bath, while the third floor had three smaller chambers and an “immense billiard room.”

Selling the house to Daniel and Clara DeCan in 1912, the Crafts moved to 1120 N. Garden Street. Mr. DeCan was president of the Washington Wood Distilling Co. with a lovely home at 2610 Eldridge Ave. (now a bed and breakfast). Why the DeCan family moved across town to 1200 N. Garden is a mystery, but Daniel DeCan died on Oct. 5, 1913. Mrs. DeCan, despite taking in boarders, couldn’t stay.

Rev. William Reagor, pastor of the First Christian Church, and family moved into 1200 N. Garden in 1916. That year, while the Reagors were attending Easter services, thieves broke into the house, ransacked it, and took silverware and jewelry valued at $200. The Reagors moved a short time later to 2001 G St., next door to Fred and Mary Schuh!

From 1918 to 1955, 1200 N. Garden was the home and rooming house of Margaret B. Grant. Over the decades, Mrs. Grant’s boarders included many clerks, cashiers, and widows.

After Mrs. Grant passed away in October 1957, the big house became a college men’s residence known as “Poplar Hall” owned by Adolph and Mary Erchinger. A few years later, the Erchingers, who lived on South Forest Street, made 1200 N. Garden into the “Poplar Terrace” apartments. They also ran the Garden Street Dairy Drive-In and Donut Shop at 1222 N. Garden.

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