There is a slice of Victoria history - admittedly, not a large slice, bit significant nonetheless - close to the waterfront on Bellingham Bay.
It's a small brick building that was built in 1858 and stands today as a testament to a boom that was over before it began.
The building was designed as the T.G. Richards store and warehouse, but served as the Whatcom County courthouse for a quarter of a century before Washington became a state.
For decades, the building at 1308 E St. was allowed to deteriorate, but in recent years it has been lovingly restored, becoming a showpiece in Bellingham's Old Town historic district.
Next Saturday, the Whatcom County Historical Society will once again have an open house there, helping to celebrate Bellingham's brief connection with the Fraser River gold rush 154 years ago.
That gold rush sparked a huge influx of people into both Bellingham - known as Whatcom back then - and Victoria. The populations exploded in both communities. The only real difference was that while Victoria continued to grow and prosper, Bellingham's boom collapsed in a matter of weeks.
One constant in Bellingham through the peaks and valleys of all of the years has been the existence of the Richards building, not as close to the water as it once was, even though the building hasn't budged. It's considered to be the oldest brick building in the state.
Its story begins in the spring of 1858. The Hudson's Bay Company had sent, from its base in Victoria, some gold it had obtained from New Caledonia, as mainland British Columbia was known at the time.
When the gold arrived at San Francisco, which was our most important connection with the outside world, it created pandemonium among the underemployed miners who had gathered there after the California gold rush had petered out.
"The recent discovery of rich gold diggings in Washington territory and in the adjacent British possessions is confirmed and thousands are rushing to the new El Dorado," the San Francisco Weekly Gleaner reported in April 1858.
That month, the gold rush brought the Commodore, filled with about 450 miners and prospective merchants, here from San Francisco, and dozens of other ships followed through the spring and summer.
Some of them unloaded men and materials here, while others went on the Bellingham Bay, Port Townsend or other communities in Washington territory. Miners heading to the gold fields on the Fraser - north of the Fraser Canyon, past Lytton - could take a boat from Victoria to the mainland to start their journey, or go to a place such as Bellingham and cut out a couple of days of travel time.
It was the logical point of access to the Fraser rush, so entrepreneurs such as the three partners Thomas G. Richards, his brother Charles, and John Hyatt rushed up from San Francisco to start their business just above the tidal flat of Bellingham Bay.
Theirs would not be just another building tossed up in a hurry to make a quick buck. They planned for a building that would stand the test of time - even if it meant importing bricks to build it.
So in July 1858, the ship Ann Parry arrived in Victoria, with a load of miners, and then carried on to Bellingham with another 200 passengers as well as its load of bricks for the Richards brothers and Hyatt.
After the bricks arrived on July 16, the partners wasted no time putting up a fine two-storey building. By the end of August, they were looking for customers through an advertisement in the Whatcom Northern Light.
There was just one little problem.
In July, James Douglas, the governor of Vancouver Island, had declared that all miners heading to the Fraser River needed to have a permit, and that permit would only be available in Victoria.
Strictly speaking, the decree meant nothing, since Douglas had no legal authority over the mainland at the time. It was enough, however, to divert the flow of wannabe-miners from Bellingham to Victoria.
Once on Vancouver Island, they would stock up for their trip to the Interior. No need to stop in Bellingham, not when the local Hudson's Bay Company stores (run by, of course James Douglas) could fill their needs.
The boom in Whatcom went bust as quickly as it had started. By the fall of 1858, the Northern Light editor reported, as he prepared to move back to San Francisco, that most of the best buildings there were being dismantled and shipped to Victoria, where the entrepreneurial types could slap them together and try again.
That left the Richards store, the most impressive block on the Whatcom skyline, as a sad reminder of the boom that passed like a flash in a gold miner's pan.
By 1861, the partnership was over, and Charles Richards owned the store and the building outright. In 1863, he sold the building to the county for use as a courthouse. It was, effectively, the home of the Whatcom county government for the next quarter-century, until Washington became a state in 1889.
Before the end of the 19th century, the tidal flats were filled in, and the level of the street running past the building was raised. That meant the first floor of the Richards building was now the basement, and the second floor became the first. A window was replaced with a door to provide access from the new, higher street. A pitched roof was built over the original flat one.
Over the years, the building has seen many uses. It housed newspapers, a Civil War veterans group, a church, a taxidermy shop and an outdoor supplies shop.
Its important ties to the past have been recognized for years. It 1934, it became the first building in the north Puget Sound region to be documented as an important historical place.
The Whatcom County Historical Society acquired the building in 2004, and has been working ever since on the restoration work. It has taken eight years and about $550,000 to make the building a showpiece once again, based on the oldest drawings that could be found.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the old courthouse will be the star attraction of Old Town Days, a celebration of Bellingham's past that will also include tours of the Pickett House, the oldest wood house in Washington that is still on its original foundation.
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