John Joseph Donovan came to Bellingham in 1888 as chief engineer of the Fairhaven and Southern Railroad and became an influential figure in shaping the area. Donovan platted the town of Fairhaven and constructed its wharves, opened the Skagit River coal mines, and later became chief engineer for the Blue Canyon Coal Mining Company. Another venture Donovan entered was the lumber business with long time friend Julius H. Bloedel. Donovan and Bloedel, along with Peter Larson, started the Lake Whatcom Logging company in 1898 and by 1913 they were one of the largest lumber firms in the Northwest.
Bloedel started the construction of this house on North Garden Street in 1890, but sold it to his partner Donovan after completing three-fourths of it. The house is one and one-half story with a wood frame constructed with lumber from Donovan’s mill. The boards used in the house are of exceptionally high quality, very expensive and hard to find today.
A few years ago the Donovan home had the misfortune of being hit on the Southeast corner by an out of control car, the minimal damage done to the wood frame was easier to repair than to replace. The house was remodeled in the Tudor Revival Style. Today, blue stuccoed walls with exposed timber painted off-white replace the original dark painted wood siding. Great care is given to restore many details of the Donovan home and to preserve others, such as the original window locks.
The property continued to be a private residence for a short while after the Donovan family moved out. For a period of about twenty-five years after that, Western Washington University used it has the Donovan Hall dormitory for women. For the past fifteen years, the ground floor of the Donovan home has been used as a dentist’s office, while apartments fill up the rest. The Donovan house was placed on the National Historic Registry list in 1983.
For more information see the J.J. Donovan House National Register of Historic Places Nomination.