The Cabins of Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park was created from 4 acres of uncut Western Red Cedar trees purchased by the Whatcom Old Settlers Association in 1901 for the purpose of holding its annual pioneer picnic, a continuing tradition that is today considered one of the oldest celebrations of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. In 1925, a dance hall building and a headquarters building were constructed at the entrance to the park. With an interest in preserving local pioneer history, the Old Settlers Association has gradually moved abandoned pioneer structures to the park beginning in 1935. The slab cedar houses at Pioneer Park, built in the late 1800s, have all been relocated here from their original sites of construction at various locations around Whatcom County. Today these preserved cabins are the most important assemblage of this distinctive regional style of rustic pioneer architecture.
On June 1, 1972, the Old Settlers Association turned the property over to the City of Ferndale to be operated as a public park. In 1993, the Ferndale Heritage Society was formed to assist in managing the cabins and opening them to the public. In 1999, the park was placed on the Washington State Heritage Register. The following descriptions of the pioneer park cabins are excerpts of information compiled by Bob Nelson for the website www.whatcomoldsettlers.com, which has extensive additional information.
Pioneer Headquarters Building was constructed at Pioneer Park in 1925. The building houses the office for the Ferndale Heritage Society and the Old Settler’s Association. It also serves as the registration booth for the annual Old Settlers Picnic.
Congregational Church was built in 1876 on California Creek, close to the corner of Loomis Trail Road near Blaine. This was the first church built in Whatcom County. In his 80th year, the Reverend W.M. Stewart visited his son in Whatcom County and quickly decided to move here and build a church. He had led an active life. From 1914 to 1955, the Tom Snow family lived in the Church. It was moved to Pioneer Park in 1968 under the sponsorship of Elmer and Edna Pike. Meetings are still held in the church from spring to fall and it is growing as a popular location for small weddings.
The Granary was built by John Gischer in 1887 on Marine Drive in Birch Bay. Gischer was one of the earliest settlers of the Birch Bay area. It was moved to Pioneer Park in the 1970s. The building was originally intended to be a house but ended up as a granary and now holds many of the tools that Mr. Gischer used on his homestead. One of the earliest dragsaws manufactured in Bellingham is displayed in the Granary. These types of saws were designed to be drug from tree to tree by the sheer will of the operator. The large red dragsaw on the west wall had a sign on the underside, whereon the company that manufactured it in 1846 boasted that this was the ultimate invention for sawing wood and couldn’t be matched. An early grain fanning mill constructed of crabapple wood by Mr. Gischer in 1872 or 1873 and more modern grain fanning mill run by stationary engine or tractor are located in the back of the building.
Foster House, originally constructed in 1895 near Squalicum Lake, was the first cabin moved to Pioneer Park in 1935. It was a somewhat crude example of split-cedar log house construction, but its 24-inch thick log walls and two-story height amply demonstrated the general size of regional pioneer log houses. The Foster House was donated by D. Ross and moved by long time Old Settler Association member William Scrimsher. The building was dismantled, carried to the park as a log truckload and reassembled into a dovetailed pen on a slab concrete pad. A new frame roof and cedar shingles were added. The successful reconstruction of the Foster House displayed the possibility of saving the buildings in a meaningful way. Today, the Foster House is filled with photographs, letters and other reminders of the past including a handmade license plate, shovel-nosed canoe, a plank from one of the plank roads and a bell from the Ferndale Nooksack River ferry crossing (prior to any bridges).
Shields House was built on the Old Guide Road south of Wiser Lake in 1885. It was the second building moved to Pioneer Park in 1950 by the Whatcom Old Settlers Association. The two-story Shields house is a monument to craftsmanship of the early pioneers and specifically to Conrad Shields who constructed the house. Cedar trees were cut down, bucked into the proper lengths, and pulled by three ox teams belonging to Shields and his neighbors. Each log, some thirty feet long were split and mortised and dovetailed so precisely that no nails are needed to hold them together. Weather boarding came from the old Shelter mill on Deer Creek, and the inside ceiling and wall lumber was hand split, hand dressed and tongue and grooved by hand until it looked like the millwork. The house is furnished as it may have been years ago. The wicker lamp in the parlor dates to the 1920s and the wallpaper is thought to be from the 1940s. The dress displayed on the mannequin inside the house belonged to Mrs. Cora Shields.
Parker House was built in 1879 across the river from Pioneer Park and was one of East Ferndale's original buildings. According to George LaBounty, who later bought the house, Eugene Parker lived in the house for 52 years. During 1882-83 it served as Charlie Dowden’s Hotel and was frequently filled to overflowing with incoming, land hungry, settlers who slept on mattresses put down on the floor. This house was donated to the Whatcom County Parks Department by owner Dr. Greg Harvey in 1974 and was stored at Hovander Homestead Park for some time. It was completely dismantled in 1979 and moved to Pioneer Park sans any photos, plans or system of numbering the pieces. Fortunately, Fred Sutcliffe the City of Ferndale’s Parks Maintenance Supervisor could remember exactly how the building looked and reassembled the building over a period of a month. The Parker House is set up as a country store, which at one time it was. Pioneers often set up a store in the corner of their house, sometimes just a few shelves, selling whatever was surplus amongst their own supplies. Freight came infrequently and it behooved the prudent to order as much as they could afford at one time.
Rogers House was built in 1877 across the Nooksack River from Ferndale. LeRoy Rogers later moved the house to Portal Way and Grandview. It was also used as a dance hall and hotel. John Young purchased the building in 1952 from Charles Cowden and sold it later to Al Jensen. The house was to be burned down in the 1970s. Pioneer Park was given one week to get it moved off of the property or it would have burned. There were three separate, unrelated sets of Rogers brothers among the early settlers -- one at Blaine, Everson and Ferndale. According to Jeffcott, in 1881 when Arthur Rogers first arrived, just three log buildings existed in all of east Ferndale. The Rogers House currently functions as a Veteran’s Museum, displaying uniforms and military memorabilia donated by a variety of local veterans. The two W.W.II Japanese flags on display are one of the most interesting exhibits. A local man married a Japanese woman who was so impressed with the Ferndale Pumpkin Growing Contest she sent some pumpkin seeds home to Japan. Eventually, a group of friends and relatives from Japan visited Pioneer Park. While they were being shown the buildings, they walked into the Veterans Museum and were visibly shaken by the two flags, especially the one signed by their countrymen. It was their belief that the spirits of the men who signed the flag will never be at rest until the flag is returned, yet on the other hand, the museum had been entrusted to keep the captured flag at the park in Ferndale. Through some often delicate and diplomatic negotiations, the flags remain as artifacts in the park. The hometown of the signatories of the flags has since become a sister City of Ferndale.
Van Buren Post Office, circa. 1879, was originally located on Van Buren Road. It was first established as a post office 3 miles north of Everson on the Milwaukee Rail Road on October 2, 1891. It served as a post office until November 14, 1918. The post office had four postmasters during its history: William Van Buren, Andrew Kirkman, Allen Holstein, and Mary Acikinson. It was later moved to Berthusen Park in Lynden and, in 1994, was brought to Pioneer Park in pieces. Local Eagle Scouts and the City of Ferndale Park Maintenance Supervisor reassembled the building.
Jenni House was built in 1873 near Laurel on the old Northwest Diagonal Road, which was at that time, only a trail. This road was eventually planked and made accessible to wagons by 1885. It connected Bellingham to Ferndale and eventually Canada. The house was used as a stagecoach stop where travelers could refresh themselves with a meal or an overnight stay. At one time a community dance hall was located on the second floor. The first sawmill located north of Whatcom was built in 1882 on a portion of Jacob Jenni’s 160 acre parcel. The fir table in the back room is from a solid piece of wood, 8 feet long 4 1/2 feet wide and 6 1/2 inches thick. It was the mill owner’s conference table. Jacob Jenni donated 5 acres of property for the Woodlawn Cemetery on Northwest Road and was the first to be buried there. He died in 1886 at the age of 56. The Old Settlers had the building moved to Pioneer Park in 1989. The upper portion of the building had to be detached during its relocation to the park. Doing so was required so that it could pass beneath the railroad trestle on Main Street. It is currently being shown as a residence. The tin ceiling is not original to the building, but is typical of the time and was made by W.F. Norman & Sons of Nevada, using original molds.
Lopas House is a small one-story cabin built by Edwin Lopas in 1878. Lopas was a former stove molder from Illinois who located his homestead on a high knoll in the Mountain View area of Ferndale. He was a very active community member, and was Postmaster at the Mountain View Post Office from 1899 to 1908. Afterwards he successfully operated a shingle mill on his property. The two story cabin was remodeled several times to accommodate his growing family. Intalco Aluminum Corporation bought the original site and moved the cabin to their employee recreation area. In 1990, Intalco donated the cabin to Pioneer Park, where it now displays newspaper and printing memorabilia. The linotype equipment on display in the cabin was a process first used in 1866 and is still used on occasion to print newspapers and other items. Some of the printing equipment in the cabin is still functional and is occasionally run for demonstration purposes.
Barrett House. Thomas E. Barrett, who came from Ireland in 1868, built this house in 1874. He was one of the earliest white settlers to the area. He took a native wife and they raised seven children in this single-story 18’ x 20’ cabin. When more space was needed, a lean-to was added to the building to accommodate the overflow of family members. According to Chet Speziale, Mr. Barrett was a day late and a dollar short in nearly everything he tackled. He explored for gold in the foothills of Mt. Baker, worked as a clerk at the Sehome Coal Mines, and ran a tavern in Fairhaven where he had an enigmatic reputation for being a "genial Irishman." Barrett retired on his claim on the shores of Barrett Lake, then called Trudder. He set up a Post Office and all mail to the Ferndale area was addressed to the individual in care of Trudder Post Office, Whatcom County, Washington Territory. Frequently, the first settler on the scene would setup a post office, since it only required one government form and a few dollars. They then encouraged others to come, making it sound more like a town existed there. They sold the newcomers part of their land donation claim and used the proceeds to finance clearing and other improvements on the remainder of the property. Thomas Barrett was the clerk of the Ferndale School District, which had 50-60 pupils on November 13, 1875. He was also part of the delegation for statehood in 1889. He died on October 13, 1889 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery. Thomas Barrett had ten children, six boys and four girls with his wife Fanny. The Barrett House was donated to the Old Settlers Association by Pete and Sandie Hanson and moved to Pioneer Park in 1989. Today, the house displays Post Office memorabilia collected by and in memory of retired Postmaster Chet Speziale. A horse drawn Postal carrier’s wagon dominates the center of the cabin.
Holeman House, built in 1890, was donated to Pioneer Park in 1985. This building, located on Mountain View Road, was covered with blackberry brambles, and the bottom logs were so completely rotted that they were left behind when the building was disassembled to be moved. John Holeman was a logger and farmer who claimed Daniel Boone as an ancestor. The cabin is an example of some of the more primitive cabin building skills of the early pioneers. The Holeman House is used to depict a typical one room school setting. Early log cabin schools had few windows and no electric light, leaving the interior shrouded in gloom on cloudy days. Neither did they have plumbing. Washing up was completed outside, drinking was from a communal dipper and outhouses, usually one for each gender, were located out back. A metal railing to protect students and provide a place to dry wet mittens and clothes surrounded the woodstove. Since many in the surrounding community set their clocks by the school bell, it behooved the teacher to have a good watch for she was soundly criticized if her timing was off.
Barr Barn, circa 1890s, was originally located on Main Street in Ferndale on the site of today’s Haggen Foods Grocery Store. The homestead on which it was located had relatively few owners over its history. The 32’ X 50’ barn was donated by Haggen Foods and moved to Pioneer Park by the Old Settlers Association when the grocery store was constructed in 1996. The barn features mortise and tennon construction with wooden pegging, and is indicative of the barns of the period. It has a walk in man door on the east gable wall and two large sets of sliding doors centered on the north and south walls. There are no windows. It has vertical board and batten siding. It has a single cupola on top of the gable roof. The large sliding doors enable a hay wagon to be driven in one side to unload hay, and out the opposite side once unloaded. The current loft floor and stairs on the west half of the barn was added by the Old Settlers Association for storage. The barn also had a shed roof type lean-to, extending form an "L-shape" from the northwest corner of the main structure.
Lynden Jail was constructed in the early 1880s near Lynden, WA. It has two cells. The original location of the 10’ X 12’ building is still somewhat of a mystery. In the 1930s or so, the building was moved to private property where it was used for storage. The building was then moved to Berthusen Park in Lynden where it remained for several years. The jail was moved to Pioneer Park by members of the Lynden Antique Tractor Association in 1996.
The Larsen Cabin is said to have been built by Johann Jern in 1893. It was located on the West Badger Road. The Cabin's architecture, precise cuts of the cedar with large square nails on each corner, can be traced back to early Scandinavian and English techniques also used in the Hudson Bay area. In 1909 it was purchased by Chris Larsen. In 2007 the owners contacted some of the stakeholders of Pioneer Park and donated the Cabin. The two room cabin has a unique plank ceiling and is displayed as a trapper cabin.