Nelson Block:  Additional Information

The Nelson Block occupies two lots at Harris and 11th and was built for James Purdy (J. P.) Nelson. The two-story structure is considered Fairhaven’s most well-designed historic building, enjoying its second 100 years remarkably well-preserved. 

It is frequently referred to as "The Bank Building" as BANK is predominately inscribed on the building’s corner exterior.  Some folks still call it Nickels Bank which was once a restaurant located in this building, never a financial institution. 

The 1900 date inscribed at the top of the building notes the year the Nelson Block was completed, but doesn’t tell the full story. In 1891, well-known architect William Blackstone designed a building at this corner anticipated to be the handsomest building constructed by an individual on the Bay. The corner room would contain a vault and be used for banking purposes. The owner of the property at that time was Malcolm McKechnie.

Construction began on June 20, 1891. The basement was excavated and the foundation of Chuckanut sandstone was laid to the height of the ground floor. However, when Fairhaven’s boom started to wane, McKechnie changed his mind. Construction stopped and the foundation was boarded over.

Fast forward almost ten years to May 11, 1900. Headlines in the Daily Reville boasted "THE BEST CORNER SOLD”. "The most important real estate transaction that has occurred in Fairhaven this year was the purchase late yesterday afternoon of the most valuable corner in that city by Mr. J. P. Nelson, of Whatcom.” The possibilities of what to do with this empty lot had been the topic of frequent discussion. Nelson paid $9,000, which was reportedly what McKechnie had already spent on the building.

Construction was financed with money made when Nelson sold his successful fish traps to Roland Onffroy, owner of Pacific American Fisheries. Nelson’s financi
al windfall was described by newspaperman Frank Teck in the Bellingham Bee: "How Onffroy Made Princes Out of Fish Trap Barons or from Stupendous Struggle to the Lap of Ease by the Fish Trap Route." J. P. Nelson was known as being one of those princes. In 1900, a successful fish trap could fetch close to $100,000, equivalent to $2.75 million tax free today.



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