Waterfront District History

An important aspect of the Port's redevelopment of Bellingham's downtown waterfront is the interpretation of historic resources salvaged from Georgia-Pacific's Pulp and Paper Mill to tell about the rich industrial history of the waterfront. The Heritage Trail Concept Plan describes the long-range vision for interpretive opportunities at Bellingham's Waterfront District.

Prior to 1920, Whatcom County's extensive timber resources were primarily used to produce lumber and shingles at numerous sawmills throughout the county. In 1926, Ossian Anderson opened the San Juan Pulp Company using waste wood from local sawmills to make pulp to supply a new paper mill in town. The success of San Juan Pulp led to the ambitious plans of Anderson in 1937 to expand his company into a state of the art Pulp and Paper mill. By 1949, Puget Sound Pulp & Timber operated one of the most productive, efficient and visually elegant wood pulp production facilities in the world. In the early 1960's, Georgia-Pacific acquired this facility, added a chemical plant and expanded operations. In 2001, Georgia-Pacific shut down the Pulp Mill due to changing market conditions and rising electricity costs brought about by the Enron energy scandal. The loss of traditional, natural-resource based employers like Georgia-Pacific dealt a major blow to the regional economy. 

In 2003, the Port and City appointed a citizen-led task force called the Waterfront Futures Group to take a fresh and independent look at the future of the waterfront. The Waterfront Futures Group's Vision and Framework Plan recommended the 137-acre heavy industrial Georgia-Pacific property be acquired by a public entity and redeveloped into a mixed-use neighborhood combining commercial, institutional, educational, retail services, and residential uses. In 2005, the Port acquired the Georgia-Pacific property to rebuild the waterfront economy, restore the health of land and water, and improve public access to the water. 

For more details about the amazing history of Bellingham's downtown waterfront, read the Historic Resources report and Cultural Resources Assessment  prepared in support of the Waterfront District master planning process.