Daniel J. Harris
Fairhaven Founder
 Painting by Lanny Little
from Village Green Mural

Daniel Jefferson Harris ("Dirty Dan”), acknowledged as the founder of the town of Fairhaven, is one of those characters whose lore and legend make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.  Even his birth place and date of birth are shrouded in uncertainty.

The sobriquet, "Dirty Dan”, was acquired from his appearance in soiled clothing and lack of personal hygiene.  His reputation as a colorful character of distinctive qualities was based on his many serio-comic exploits.    
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Harris was born on Long Island, New York, either in Pachogue, Sag Harbor or, perhaps, Bridgehampton in the year 1832.  Some accounts record 1826 or 1830.  It is definite that Dan went to sea as a teenager, sailed the waters of the Pacific on a whaler and became an expert harpooner.  He left the ship in Honolulu and made his way to Victoria, B.C.


Again there is disagreement about the date of his arrival in Bellingham Bay.  It was either 1853 or possibly 1854.  Upon his arrival, he befriended John Thomas who had filed a donation land claim in the area along Padden Creek.  He helped Thomas build a log cabin here, but before it was finished, Thomas died of consumption.  Harris took over the cabin and succeeded to the land claimed by Thomas.  The patent to this land was issued to Harris in 1871.

Meanwhile, Harris was involved in a number of trading ventures (and misadventures) that allowed him to acquire additional properties surrounding the Thomas claim.  Harris named this area "Fairhaven” from an Indian name, see-see-lich-em, meaning safe port or fair haven.  Some say the name came from a whaling port in Maine, which was also cited as yet another possible birth place.

In any event, Harris platted his property in 1883 and began selling lots for gold.  He built a three-story hotel at the foot of Harris Avenue that sported fine furnishings with an adjoining ocean dock.

As his real estate profits grew, his hygiene improved, and his social standing in the community rose along with his profits. Women were no longer repulsed, and his new popularity allowed Dan to consider marriage.  He courted Miss Bertha Wasmer, elder sister of Mrs. Charles Schering (see Schering Block) and Mrs. Edgar Cowgill, (see Cowgill House) whom he married on October 16, 1885.

In 1888, Harris sold most of his property in Fairhaven to Nelson Bennett and the newly incorporated Fairhaven Land Company.  With these proceeds, he purchased a lavish retirement home in Los Angeles, but before they could enjoy these new surroundings, his wife died on November 20, 1888.

After Bertha's death, "Dirty Dan” Harris reverted to type and became known in Los Angeles as "Grease Pot Dan”.  He was befriended in his waning years by a young Dr. A.S. Shorb and his wife.  This couple soon took advantage of Dan’s generosity and milked Harris of most of his fortune.  After his death on August 19, 1890, Dan’s nephew and heir sued the Shorbs, but he was unsuccessful.  The remaining Harris properties in Whatcom County were sold in the ensuing depression for a $900, a fraction of their former value.  The heirs received nothing after legal fees were settled.

For a detailed account of the life and times of Daniel Jefferson Harris, visit an excellent site by the late Ralph Thacker.



Dirty Dan's Final Resting Place



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