Geographic Background
of Whatcom County

A county, lake, creek, and former city, were all named for an Indian chief. While a portion of the present city of Bellingham still bore the name of Whatcom, H. H. Bancroft wrote: "It was named after a chief of the Nooksacks, whose grave is a mile above the Bellingham Bay Coal mine." (Works, Vol. XXXI, page 367.) Henry Gannett, of the United States Geological Survey, wrote of Whatcom: "An Indian word said to mean 'noisy water.'" (Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States, 1905, page 392.) George Gibbs, on March 1, 1854,wrote: "A considerable stream, the outlet of a lake, falls into Bellingham Bay. This which is called Whatcom Lake, is said by Mr. Kelly, a citizen who explored it, to be from twelve to fifteen miles in length, lying northeast and southwest, and is very deep. Its mouth affords a very fine waterpower, on which a saw-mill has been erected.: (Pacific Railroad Reports, Vol I, p. 471.) The act of the Territorial Legislature creating Whatcom County was approved on March 9, 1854. For a time during the Fraser River gold excitement of 1858, the town of Whatcom had 10,000 inhabitants. It soon declined but in later years rose again and was finally merged into the present prosperous county seat of Whatcom County.

Barrett Lake
It was named in honor of Henry M. Barrett, who owned land there. (Fred L. Whiting, in Names MSS, Letter 156.)
Early settlement near Nooksack River, 1 mile east of Ferndale, west central Whatcom County. In 1874, it was first named Trudder by homesteader Thomas E Barrett, for his home town in Ireland. In 1876, the name was changed to that of the homesteader. (From Place Names of Washington by Robert Hitchman Washington State Historical Society, 1985)

A town on the eastern shore of Lummi Island, Whatcom County. It was named in honor of Wade H. Beach, who filed on his land claim there on November 20, 1884. (Mrs. Pauline A. Buchholz, in Names MSS, Letter 507.

A city on the bay of the same name in Whatcom County. The first white man to enter the bay was the Spaniard Eliza, 1791, who named it Swno de Gaston of Gulf of Gaston. On June 11, 1792, the bay was surveyed by Joseph Whidbey in a boat excursion under Vancouver. The later, on receiving his officer's report, charted the name Bellingham Bay. He does not say for whom the name was given, but he frequently associated the surnames and Christian names of those honored by giving them to nearby or related geographic features. He gave the name of Point William to the prominent point south of the entrance to the bay. In studying up his contemporaries, it was found that Sir William Bellingham checked over Vancouver's supplies and accounts as he was leaving England. There is very little doubt that Sir william Bellingham was the man thus honored. In that same year, 1792, the Spaniards of the "Sutil y Mexicana" Expedition again charted the bay and sought to retain a form of the Spanish name by calling it Bahia de Gaston. The Spanish charts were not published for years, while the British charts appeared promptly and fixed the name permanently. David Thompson of the North-West Company of Montreal referred to the bay as "Ballsam Bay." The United States Coast Survey in 1854 showed the northern portion of the bay as "Gaston Bay," a partial recognition of the older Spanish name. The first town on the bay was given the Indian name Whatcom. Later there were established the town of Sehome and Fairhaven. There were several combinations of rival settlements, all of which later joined in the on city of Bellingham. Mrs. Ella Higginson, the poet, says she has had the distinction of having lived in three cities of Washington --Sehome, New Whatcom, and Bellingham--without having moved out of her house.

The word is Greek in origin and has come to mean the highest point of achievement or of excellence. Charles F. Elsbree (Names MSS, Letter 195) writes that Thomas Stephens and Samuel Parks sent East for a couple of Acme hymnals and were joked for so doing. About 1887 Parks was sent to Bellingham with a petition for a new postoffice. No name was in the petition. He asked if Acme would do and on receiving an affirmative answer that name was written into the records.

A city in Whatcom County at the Canadian boundary. It was named by Cain Brothers on April 23, 1885, in honor of James Blaine, Republican nominee for President the year before. (J.W. Sheets, Names MSS, Letter 349.)

Chuckanut Bay
A part of Bellingham Bay in Whatcom County. It was named by Henry Roeder on December 1, 1852. It was supposed to be an old Indian name (Hugh Eldridge, in Names MSS, Letter 136.) A valuable quarry of building stone would ordinarily have supported an independent community. As it is, it is counted a part of Bellingham. On the Spanish charts of Eliza, 1791, and Galiano and Valdes, 1792, the bay is shown as "Puerto del Socorro."

Birch Bay
Located in Whatcom county, near the Canadian boundary. In June, 1792, Vancouver made this bay an anchorage from which he sent out exploring parties in small boats. When describing the trees found on shore, he said: "and black birch; which latter grew in such abundance that it obtained the name of Birch Bay." Spaniards, Galiano and Valdes, of the "Sutil y Mexicana" expedition had already named it Ensenada de Garzon as they record meeting the Vancouver ships there on the evening of June 12, 1792. George Davidson (Pacific Coast Pilot, page 575) says the Indian name for the place was "Tsan-wuch."
Birch Point, north cape of Birch Bay. The name arose from the older name of Birch Bay. The Spanish, Eliza, 1791, seems to have char ted this point as "Punta de Senor Jose." The admiralty Chart known as Richard, 1858-59, shows point as "South Bluff."

Formerly a shingle-manufacturing town, now a scattered community with small farms in Whatcom County. Settlers named the place for A. W. Custer, a pioneer who operated a store and was the first postmaster in 1886. (From Place Names of Washington by Robert Hitchman Washington State Historical Society, 1985)

A town in Whatcom county, named in honor of George Deming, the first postmaster. (Postmaster at Deming, in NAES MSS. Letter 522.)

A town in the northern part of Whatcom county. It was named in honor of Ever Everson, the first white settler north of the Nooksack River. (Lydia M. Rouls, in Names MSS, Letter 146.)

A town on the Nooksack River in Whatcom County. In 1872, about fifteen families had settled in the locality and began. Miss Eldridge from Bellingham Bay was the first teacher. She and a Mrs. Tawes went over to see the little log schoolhouse in a fern patch. They decided to call it Ferndale. (Fred L. Whiting, in Names MSS, Letter 156.)

A town in the northern part of Whatcom county. It was named for a large glacier on the nearby Mount Baker (Lucy S. Drake of Glacier, in Names MSS, Letter 142.)

A town near Sumas in the north central part of Whatcom county, named for Laura Blankenship, daughter of the mill owner there at that time. (Postmaster at Lawrence, in Names MSS, Letter 272.)

A town in the northern part of Whatcom county. It was named in 1870 by Mrs. Phoebe N. Judson, the first white woman living in Whatcom county north of Bellingham. She liked the name in the old poem, "On Linden when the sun was low" and changed the "i" to "y" as she thought it made a prettier name. (Phoebe Newton Judson, in Names MSS, Letter 187.)

Mount Baker
The mountain is in the central part of Whatcom county. Elevation, 10,750 feet. (U.S. Geological Survey.) The Indian name is said to be "Kulshan". The Spaniards called it "Montana del Carmelo." The explorer, Vancouver, wrote on April 30, 1792: "The high distant land formed, as already observed, like detached islands, amongst which the lofty mountain, discovered in the afternoon by the third lieutenant, and in compliment to him call Mount Baker, rose a very conspicuous object.: (Captain George Vancouver: A Voyage of Discovery, second edition, Vol. II, page 56.) The third lieutenant was Joseph Baker for a biography of whom see Edmond S. Meany's Vancouver's Discovery of Puget Sound, pages82-3.

An Indian word used as the name of a river and a town in Whatcom county. The Handbook of American Indians, Part 2, page 81, shows many spellings in use but all are evident efforts to express the same sounds. The same work declares that those Indians were mountain men living in small bands on the river of the same name. Dr. Charles M. Buchanan is quoted as saying that Nook or Nooh means people and sa-ak means the edible root of bracken or fern. (J. H. Williams' edition of Winthrop's The Canoe and the Saddle, note on page 280.) In the same region is the town of Ferndale whose name may be thought of as a sort of synonym of the Indian name of Nooksack. One of the early appearances of the river's name was on the map by the Surveyor General of Washington Territory for 1857. (United States Public Documents serial number 877, Senate Executive Doc. No. 5)

A town in the west central part of Whatcom County. It was named on April 16, 1890 for A.F. Noon. (Hugh Eldridge, of Bellingham, in Names MSS. Letter 136.

A town on Lake Whatcom in the southwestern part of Whatcom county named in honor of Charles Park, a pioneer of the place. (J.D. Custer, in Names MSS, Letter 209)

Point Roberts
Named by Captain George Vancouver on June 12, 1792, "after my esteemed friend and predecessor in the Discovery." That entry points directly to Captain Henry Roberts of the British Navy. (Meany's Vancouver's Discovery of Puget Sound, page 182 & note.) Its location gives it peculiar prominence, lying at the end of a peninsula across which runs the international boundary. The point thus becomes the northwestern extremity of Whatcom county. The point attracted the attention of the Spanish explorers. Captain Eliza, in 1791, thought it an island and called it "Isla de Zepeda" and Captains Galliano and Valdes, in 1792, called it "Punta Cepeda." One other form of the Spanish word wad "Cesseda." (U.S. Public Doc, Serial No. 1557, charts K & L and Pacific Railroad Reports, Vol. XII, Part I, chapter XV, page 305.)

Now a part of Bellingham, Whatcom county, the original town of Sehome was laid off by E.C. Fitzhugh, James Tilton and C. Vail in 1858 on the land claim of Vail & De Lancy. The name was from that of a chief of the Samish tribe. (H. H. Bancroft: Works, Vol. XXXI, page 367.)

The name of a stream, of mountains,and a town, in the northern part of Whatcom county at the international boundary. The name is derived from that of a Cowichan tribe of Indians who lived in that vicinity. (Bureau of American Ethnology, Handbook of American Indians, Vol. II, page 649.

Van Zandt
A town in the west central part of Whatcom county. It was named in February, 1892, for J. M. Van Zandt, the first postmaster there. (John H. Turrell, of Van Zandt, in Names MSS. Letter 137.

Wiser Lake
Near Ferndale in the northwestern part of Whatcom county, the lake was named for Jack Wiser the first settler on the shores of the lake. (Phoebe Newton Judson in Names MSS. Letter 187.) A community is listed in the county directory for 1901-1902, with a couple of dozen families.

Source: Meany, Edmond S. Origin of Washington Geographic Names. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1923. (Republished: Detroit: Gale, 1968) Meany collected these descriptions from many sources including letters collected in Names MSS or Names Manuscripts. These letters were written in response to Meany's request for information. 608 responses useful replies were numbered and used in his book. Publication was begun as a series of articles in the Washington Historical Quarterly starting in October 1917. Meany's sources are in parens.