The Eldridge Avenue Historical District is a gracious residential area situated on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bay. Character is imparted mainly by the impressive concentration of a substantial number of houses built between 1885-1910 and by the quiet suburban street vistas canopied with mature hardwoods and firs. Also in the district is an Episcopal Church campus with the original 1884 frame and a charming two-square-block park.
The district was platted in 1881 and 1884 on land originally claimed under the Oregon Land Bill (Donation Claim Law), 1850-1860; the western portion by Edward Eldridge and the eastern by Henry Roeder. The two claims included about 130 acres that are within the existing Historic District. Approximately 50 city blocks and 900 structures, including garages and outbuildings, are within the district. The streets running north-south were for the most part named for Roeder family members and the east-west streets were named for presidents.
Architectural styles in the district range from the more common Stick, Queen Anne, Eastlake, Bungaloid (Mission), and Shingle to two monumental examples of Neo-Classical Revival. Many houses contain elements from several styles: Queen Anne bays and turrets on Stick construction, Eastlake brackets on Shingle roofs, Mansard roofs and Oreil windows on Eastlake.
The entire district is constructed of the plentiful Northwest timber, except for the unique brick Victorian Bolster house, and is a tour de force of carpenter skills. Much unique mill and structural work are evident and the use of shingle products is ubiquitous.
A sign of status in the neighborhoods was to import finished pieces–mantels, hardwood flooring, doors, stairwells, pediments and the like–from back East and Europe. Most of these pieces are still intact within the original homes.
Also, of note is the repeated use of art glass in differing forms throughout the neighborhood: stained, etched, leaded or beveled in windows, doors and lighting pieces. Adding to the district’s compatibility is the recurring use of Chuckanut sandstone whenever stone work was required. Foundations, chimneys, stanchions and retaining walls throughout the district are of this rough-faced gray stone which was cut from the Roeder-Roth Quarry on Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham. This quarry, worked between 1856-1916, was used extensively in Romanesque buildings and supplied stone for some National Register buildings, including the Portland, Oregon Customs House and Whatcom Museum of History & Art. The quarry was important because it supplied the Puget Sound area with non-wood material before the advent of iron and structural concrete techniques (Ca. 1913).
Trees and green space play an important part in the neighborhood. No doubt influenced by the City Beautiful Movement, Henry Roeder donated two square blocks for a park that was beautifully landscaped in 1906 and named for Roeder’s wife, Elizabeth. Although the pond fountain, bandstand, well-maintained annual beds and ornamental metal work are no longer extant, visitors are struck by the variety of carefully chosen contrasting deciduous and evergreen trees and by the delightful use of open and covered landscaping space.
Two trees in the neighborhood deserve note: the mature copper beech at the Pettibone house (1711 Eldridge) grown from a slip said to have been brought from England and the large elm tree at the Mason house (1621 Eldridge) taken from the Washington Elm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bellingham Herald, n.d. (1976, “Bicentennial Note”).
Also, serving to differentiate the district from the rest of Bellingham is, of course, the bluff on the south with its magnificent views of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands and Squalicum Creek, with its imposing ravine, on the west.
The following selected sites illustrate a variety of styles and give an idea of the concentration of historic sites in the district:
Austin House 1504 Washington Street
This large two story Neo-Classical home was built before 1890 on ground purchased by the Austin Family about 1884, and recently restored. It stands out in the district as the only example of a very distinguished regional style that is unusual in the Northwest.
Bolster House 2820 Eldridge Avenue
Tradition has it that Mr. Bolster, who had an interest in a local brickyard, built this house as a showplace to advertise the practicality of brick as a building material since it would allow the most elegant of style and be fire proof as well. James E. Bolster built the two and one half story Queen Anne house in 1890. Now painted purple, the red brick used to construct the house can be seen in the two chimneys.
Canfield House 2215 Williams Street
Channcey Canfield, the owner of a large implement store, built this Queen Anne style two and one half story dwelling in 1892. Canfield also built the triangle building in downtown Bellingham. This house still stands on nearly the same size lot as it did when it was built, which gives one a good idea of what the area was like before grounds became subdivisions.
Charles Cissna House 1810 Eldridge Avenue
When this spacious Bungaloid style home was completed in 1908 at a cost of $10,000 the Bellingham Herald ran a 6″x9″ photo and a story describing the wall murals and rooms. It was the height of fashion and Charles Cissna, a Bellingham capitalist, proved that the Eldridge Avenue Area was still the most desirable residential district in the City after more than thirty years with that distinction.
Eckhardt House 2300 Utter Street
W. A. Eckhardt, a bookkeeper, completed this Queen Anne Style home before 1900. It reflects many handmade touches with its turret porch, ornamental latticework dormer, round windows and scrolled brackets. This house has been on the Eldridge Historical Society’s House Tour and recent restoration took out all of the Formica and aluminum in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Hamilton House 1905 Eldridge Avenue
T. S. Hamilton came to Bellingham Bay in 1889 and began selling furniture. He built this Bungaloid style home in 1904. His B & B furniture building, downtown Bellingham’s Flatiron Building, is on the National Historic Register.
Handschy House 2331 Elm Street
F. F. Handschy built this two and one half story shingle style residence in 1904. He and his neighbor, Victor Roeder, founded the Bellingham National Bank. Across Monroe Street from his house on Elm stood the Roth Mansion, which was probably the most impressive private residence ever built in the district. Handschy served as Whatcom County Treasurer at the turn of the century. His house has been carefully worked on in recent years.
Keyes House 2230 Henry Street
The final touches were added to this house in 1893, and restoration work was done recently. They included scalloped shingle work under the arch-bracketed eaves and tall bay windows on the ground floor. The Victorian structure was first lived in by New Whatcom City Treasurer Philip M. Isensee, but fell into the hands of Dr. William Keyes in 1904. It was used as a combination clinic and residence for many years, and then was neglected by later owners.
Loggie House 2203 Utter Street
Though not built by Lumberman George Loggie, his family name has been associated with this house for over three-quarters of a century. His daughter, Helen Loggie, achieved acclaim for the fine etchings and prints she produced while living in this unusual house. It remains one of the most interesting homes in the district, with its mishmash of styles (Eastlake, second Empire, Queen Anne), its overgrown appearance, and its rugged elegance. The interior of the house was almost unchanged when Helen Loggie died in 1976.
Mason House 1621 Eldridge Avenue
Joseph R. Mason, the builder of this two-story Queen Anne home, was director of the Bellingham National Bank and an investor in the City’s downtown area. The house was finished in 1897 and the design makes full use of the rear view. As in many of the district’s homes, the Mason house has some fine stained glass windows.
Neterer House 1700 Eldridge Avenue
Judge Jeremiah Neterer constructed this two-story Bungaloid Style home in 1904. After serving as City Attorney during the early 1890’s, Judge Neterer sat on the Superior Court and was U.S. District Judge in Bellingham. This large house of modest style is typical of a day when large families determined size.
Pettibone House 1711 Eldridge Avenue
Of the several homes in the district dating from the 1880’s, this house continues to add to the area without being significantly changed or remodeled. A. W. Pettibone built it in 1887 not long after his arrival here to take up part of the Pioneer Peabody Estate. Pettibone engaged in business and real estate for the remainder of his life.
Schramm House 2601 West Street
Perhaps more than any other house in the district, the Schramm house illustrates the many influences on Northwest Architecture. Bernard Schramm was a builder by trade. He combined Russian American influence with classical lines. One has to wonder if Schramm ever visited Alaska during the Pre-Klondike Era when Russian architecture abounded. The house was finished in 1895; the cupola and roof have been re-shingled.
Siemons House 2617 Eldridge Avenue
Siemon Hike Siemons and his family built three shingle and lumber mills on or near Squalicum Creek. He and his six sons worked and lived in the Eldridge Avenue Area producing the materials to build many of the homes. In 1903 they built their own home overlooking their mill on Eldridge. It is not working class and it is not leisure class, instead it is a family dwelling constructed by a family of lumbermen in the classic box style.
Van Zandt 1717 Eldridge Avenue
Dr. Euclid Van Zandt came to Bellingham Bay with the Historic Washington Colony in 1881. By 1890 the doctor had become county health officer as well as keeping up a surgical practice. In 1902 he had this shingle style two-story home built for his family. The house shows no signs of ever having been neglected.
Although the historic feeling or character of the Eldridge District is mainly imparted by the larger more elaborate homes built before 1909 there are an equal number of carefully built smaller structures which carryout the neighborhood’s established ambiance. The majority of these structures were built prior to 1925 and are in a comparatively modest bungalow, Stick, or simple wood frame style. The small number of remaining homes were constructed in the years before the Second World War. The buildings of this time differ from the older homes in that most were built on single lots where the larger older houses usually straddled two or more.
The “Golden Age” of massive carefully crafted mansions in Bellingham was also coming to an end with the proliferation of specialty lumber mills, which standardized building materials and consequently construction techniques. The fifty years of age criteria applied to National Historic Sites would exclude only about ten percent of the structures in the Eldridge District.
Once the area’s desirability was established property owners had an incentive to sell off single lots being used only as lawns or grounds. The smaller houses built on these single lots reflected a change in taste concerning residential architecture. These newer, more modest buildings continued to utilize the local abundance of lumber and wooden building materials but they no longer emphasized the elaborate hand tooled details so important in the older, larger homes. They did not however conflict aesthetically with their senior counterparts, instead they filled in the neighborhood until by 1925 the scene looked much as it does today.
Elizabeth Park, in the heart of the district, is the oldest public park in the county. It was created by city father Henry Roeder in 1884 and is named for his wife. It was renovated about 1900 along plans drawn by the Olmstead Brothers Firm, which did another park in the city and were under contract at the time. For many years it featured a bandstand, fountain, and waterway system. In conjunction with the district’s historic preservation sentiment the city parks department restored it.
The existing Columbia school was built in 1928 to replace the previous school building that burned. The school yard today, as it has in the past, provides the young people of the area with many memories and the schools students have gone on to achieve in business, government, art, and several other endeavors. Both the present building and its predecessor are well documented in local writings and histories.
Without exception the early pioneer-promoters of North Bellingham chose to build their “career’s best” houses in the Eldridge District. These houses stand today as elegant object lessons in Victorian attitudes towards architecture, community boosterism, beautification and style. Men whose names grace local streets, schools, and parks all built their largest houses here using the latest styles and finest finished pieces to come in from Europe, the East and California.
The economy and population growth of Bellingham Bay itself ambled along fitfully from its founding as a sawmill site in 1853 until 1881 when the co-called “Washington Colony” was founded. This organization was a typical Western improvement society, formed by the leading men in the area for the purpose of community boosterism and economic development. Besides pooling resources to rebuild the 1853 mill and starting to advertise in the prairie states, the men also decided that Bellingham needed a showplace residential district. Shortly after Henry Roeder and Edward Eldridge each platted and started selling portions of the free land they had acquired under the Oregon Land Bill of 1850-1855.
Within twenty years of the founding of the Washington Colony all of the founders, along with many newcomers, had impressive houses within the district and, almost in strict accordance with net worth, each house befitted its owner. The bounty of Victorian architectural styles filtering in from back East was translated into fir and shingle vernacular. The neighborhood has an unusually large representative sample of Victorian styles and is an extravagant display of the differing way wood can be shaped. Roofs are high gabled, cross-gabled, mansard or domed. Eaves have projected rafters, boxed cornices, and every variation in between. Windows, especially those on the top floors are oval, round, square and every shape describable. But despite all this variety the neighborhood remains cohesive.
Although the district deserves note primarily for its impressive architecture and local historical reasons, two houses in the neighborhood deserve recognition for nationally important reasons: the George Bacon House (2001 Eldridge) and the Helen Loggie House (2203 Utter). George Bacon’s cousin and nationally famous neo-classical architect Robert Bacon, who designed the Lincoln memorial, designed the Bacon House. The Loggie House was the lifelong home of nationally known artist Helen Loggie and would be individually eligible for Register status.
Social life in the 1885-1910 years paralleled economic life closely. Men who financed buildings downtown or banks or mines in Whatcom County all lived and entertained together in their Eldridge Area homes. Contemporary newspapers give rich accounts of these proceedings between the congressmen, bankers, mayors and businessmen of the county, and although the social life was a bit exclusive, there was no exclusiveness whatsoever in limits to house size or social class within the district. Side lots of the mansions were freely sold off to less prosperous newcomers from the Midwest, who were welcomed for the population growth and prosperity they represented.
Even with its smaller structures and less prosperous citizens, the neighborhood remained the most desirable place to live in Bellingham well into the 1920’s. The district was eclipsed somewhat from the period 1930-1960 when the railroad switch yard below the bluff gave the neighborhood the reputation of being loud due to the noise of the new diesel locomotives.
The historical consciousness of the neighborhood is advanced and researched by the Eldridge Historical Society, many members of which are life-long residents. An active and knowledgeable Eldridge Avenue Residents Association concerns itself with upgrading the neighborhood through local political action. Since the bicentennial year, the residents have conducted a successful annual home tour, which draws attention and pride to the district.