A Brief History of the City of Ferndale, Incorporated in 1907
The site of Ferndale was originally known to the Lummi Indians as “Te-tas-um”. Early European settlers call the area near the Nooksack River the “lower crossing” to distinguish it from the principal river crossing at Everson.
Billy Clark, a Texan who came to the Northwest during the Gold Rush, was the first European full-time resident of what eventually became the City of Ferndale. He lived here with his wife and family for over a decade.
When Billy sought to prove his title to the property, he was stunned to learn that he could not. Some years earlier he had relinquished his American citizenship in order to be employed at the Hudson Bay Company at Langley, Canada. Therefore, because he was now an English citizen, Billy Clark was not eligible to claim title to the property. He sought help from an old friend, Darius Rogers, at the Bellingham Cole Mine. Rogers promptly filed claim to the 174 acres himself, which made him the first legal owner of the property. Billy eventually left and built a new homestead at East Sound on Orcas Island.
When Darius Rogers secured his claim in 1882, there were only a few other white neighbors; Thomas Barrett, who lived by the lake that bears his name, Thomas Wynne and John Tennant, both with Indian wives, and perhaps a dozen other settlers nearby.
John Tennant helped organize the first school, the first Sunday school, and the first church. Thomas Wynne established the first blacksmith shop and brought in the first wagon.
Most of the “settlers of the 1870’s” confined their operations to locations near the river. There were no roads; meandering muddy trails wound through the woods, and the people used the river as their highway.
The strength of resources for fishing and lumbering brought early settlers, many from Scandinavia. A multitude of small mills were built along the Nooksack River and gradually the forests receded to reveal the fertile soil beneath. Agriculture soon became an important industry and has remained key to the area.
In 1884 the Northwest Diagonal Road was opened up to Ferndale, and connected up with a road that ran through Custer to Blaine. In 1886 the Guide Meridian Road was opened, but Whatcom County remained rustic and isolated until 1893 when the Great Northern Railroad built its railway line across the western part of the County, through Ferndale, to Blaine, and on to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Curiously, it is often far away forces that shape the fate of an area. The Treaty of 1846, fixing the boundary between America and English soil, brought a large survey crew to the 49th parallel, clearing a 40-foot gap along the line. The San Francisco fire skyrocketed the price of lumber, which resulted in the building of the first large sawmill in Bellingham.
The Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858 brought thousands of prospectors through the area, on what they hoped would be the road to wealth. The race to build a telegraph line to Europe via Seattle, Alaska, the Bearing Sea, and Asia dragged a trail across the County and left fragments of the Telegraph Road that remain today.
A generation ago, it was almost impossible to foresee that Ferndale would house the location of large oil refineries that processed oil from Alaska and other continents. No less remarkable is the fact that the shipment of alumina from Australia brought Intalco Aluminum to Ferndale.
Incorporated in 1907, Ferndale began its existence as a “town” under Washington law. In 1980 the City became a Non-Charter Code City with the Council-Manager form of government. In 1998 the citizens of Ferndale voted to return to the Mayor-Council form of government, with a special election held on March of 1999 to choose a new Mayor and seven Councilmembers. The third largest community in Whatcom County, Ferndale’s 2007 population was 10,540.