30 years ago we traveled a few miles across town. It was a relatively short distance, but a change of untold consequences. We were leaving a work setting where housing was part of the compensation and culture. It was not quite a commune (and hopefully not a cult). We had two young sons. We were a one-car family. We wanted to be near downtown and near my new place of work. We found an affordable fixer-upper, in an era of high interest rates.
We soon learned that the public school, about two blocks away, was the unofficial center of a tight knit neighborhood. Our new address put us in between the center of downtown and the interstate, about a mile from each. In the three decades we have lived here, we have raised our children, lived in two homes within a half-mile of each other and transitioned through a number of life and career shifts.
Bellingham has continued to morph and grow over the years. We have seen the loss of a major employer with the closing of the pulp mill. We have lived through the coming of a regional mall resulting in the near death and eventual rebirth of downtown. Bellingham may now have more brewpubs, coffee shops, and hipsters per capita than either Portland or Seattle can boast.
Bellingham is home; we love it and have little, if any, interest in living elsewhere. And we love the part of town we live in. Here are ten of the great things about living on Tulip Road, on the north side of Bellingham, Washington.
- Tulip Road was a Tulip Farm. The road and the homes on it were built around 1950. I believe it is the only “road,” as opposed to “street,” in the city limits. Many locals don’t know about it and it’s something of a hidden gem with about a dozen small homes. Most were originally two bedrooms or smaller. Some, including ours, have been added on to over the years. From our front yard we can see the original tulip barn. The barn is now a storage facility behind Yeager’s.
- Yeager’s is Bellingham’s oldest sporting goods store dating back to the 1920s. The store has shifted with changes in the community and the market, finding ways to stay in business while local and national competitors have come and gone. Yeager’s has an eclectic stock and helpful staff. Kids, including our grandkids, love the toy land and tent sale in the summer.
- Our youngest son and his family live about a half-mile away across the street from Columbia Elementary School. Our granddaughter is now in the first grade with the same teacher her brother (now in eighth grade) had—the same teacher their father and uncle had for kindergarten almost 30 years ago.
- I have established a tradition with grandkids in which I meet them at their house and we walk a short distance to catch the WTA bus to downtown. Once downtown we visit the local feed stores. One has endless rows of tropical fish. The second has kittens, birds, rodents, and rabbits along with other seasonal critters. After seeing the animals we walk the downtown area stopping at their favorite doughnut shop before catching the bus home.
- If we skip the bus we can continue our walk from the kids’ house to Paul’s Episcopal Church. Housed in a beautiful building with a warm congregation, St. Paul’s is one of the oldest churches in the town and supports diverse services in the broader community. The church is on a corner, on a bluff with a view of the bay, the university across the water, and the city. We have considered St. Paul’s our church home for a few years. It is the right church for the right time in our lives and journey.
- Within sight of the church is Elizabeth Park, the oldest park in the city with over 100 different species of trees. The relatively small park has space for tennis and basketball courts, play structures, a fountain, and a gazebo. On Thursday evenings in the summer, we enjoy connecting with family and friends for community concerts in the park. All ages converge for music, picnics, socializing, and food truck meals and refreshments.
- From the park we can walk the Old Village Trail toward downtown. The trail winds away from major roads through older neighborhoods with historical homes and commercial buildings, a smattering of open spaces, and a few newer apartments.
- As downtown nears, so does the Pickett House. Before he became famous at Gettysburg in the Civil War, George Pickett lived in Bellingham and was the military leader of Fort Bellingham. While here he took a native wife and fathered a son who became a well-known artist. A few blocks beyond Pickett’s house, we walk past the local Lighthouse Mission, a growing service ministry, and then by an older light industrial area.
- Our walk often ends at Maritime Heritage Park in the heart of Old Town. Whatcom Creek, the site of early lumber mills that were central to the founding of the city in the 1800s, runs through the park, which is as full of life today as it was then. The creek runs thin during warm summer days and rages with the coming of rain. In late fall, the salmon return, dodging fishing lines, hooks, and bait while fighting upstream, making seemingly impossible jumps up waterfalls to spawn in the place that calls from within. Five generations of my family have walked the banks to watch the fall spectacle over the years. There is the fountain statue by Gerard Tsutakawa, who created “the Mitt” outside Safeco park in Seattle, along with a hatchery and training center, beautiful views of the bay and hills around the city, and an amphitheater for local events.
- Beyond the park is Old Town and Downtown. On a bluff above is the museum that was once city hall. Across the street is the infamous Waterfront Tavern, the mysterious hangout of numerous serial killers who made Bellingham home for short periods of time. A short distance away is the site of the old pulp mill that is undergoing a multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation to become a town center for future generations.
I wonder if I would feel as connected if we’d chosen another place to live. I wonder what it is like to move and frequently restart. An honest look reveals significant changes in Bellingham in the 40-plus years since my first visit. Day to day life allows the changes to happen in subtle, almost unnoticeable increments. The occasional long look at where I am and who I am reveals that while I hold some continuing essence, I am always in process. My hope is that we can stay in this place for years to come, accepting and allowing the changes around us and within us with grace for each new day.
Photo by Josh Parrish (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).