During the height of the Fraser River gold rush in the summer of 1858 the firm of T.G. Richards designed this brick structure as a combination general store, bank and warehouse. This was not only the first brick building in Bellingham or Washington State, but the first one north of San Francisco. The brick was constructed in Philadelphia and shipped from San Francisco along with the iron and glass on the same ship bringing miners to the gold fields. The final cost of construction was $8,000.
The tent-city that had been thrown up on Bellingham Bay disappeared as fast as it was built when the Fraser gold rush ended in the fall of 1858. Those merchants who had sold their goods under tent or wood structures easily dismantled their businesses and moved along with the miners. The brick Richards Building was stuck. The business continued to fail after being passed into the hands of Charles E. Richards and John G. Hyatt until they finally sold it to Whatcom County for $2,000.
The county used the building as a courthouse until 1884 when a new one was constructed. In the early 1880’s the courthouse was seriously overcrowded. Frequently, prisoners had to be sent to Seattle because the jail facilities lacked room. The courthouse was declared unfit for use in 1885 and until other facilities were available the U.S. district court had to use the opera house.
Aside from replacing the original flat roof with a gabled one and adding a more ornate gabled false front, the actual structure has seen little change in its simple pioneer style. However, due to the creation of E Street that required filling in a section of Bellingham Bay the apparent height of the building has changed. The second story is now at street level, which required enlarging a second story window into a front door, and the buried first floor has become the basement.
After Whatcom County abandoned the building, a number of other tenants have put it to use. The Courthouse passed into private hands in 1903, in 1906 the county deeded it to the local Grand Army of the Republic chapter. In 1926 it was acquired by the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, in 1947 by the Security Benefit Association, and in 1950 by a Bellingham church group. Following a taxidermy shop and Base Camp outdoor equipment firm, and was later occupied by Limited Editions Woodwork Custom Furniture.
For more information see the Territorial Courthouse National Register of Historic Places Nomination.