The Earles Family in front of Wardner's Castle early 1900s
Courtesy Whatcom Museum Photo Archives

Wardner's Castle (1890)
1103 15th Street

 South Hill Neighborhood

James F. Wardner, born in Milwaukee in 1846, arrived in Fairhaven in 1889, encouraged by promoter, Nelson Bennett, to invest in the future of this promising young town on Bellingham Bay.

Over the years, Wardner had accumulated and lost several fortunes.  With his most recent fortune, resulting from one of the more profitable silver mines in Idaho, Wardner invested heavily in Fairhaven real estate.  He is also noted for organizing the Fairhaven Water-works Company, the Fairhaven Electric Light Co., the Samish Lake Logging & Milling Co., the Cascade Club, and two Fairhaven banks.
Wardner also bought the coal claim at Blue Canyon on Lake Whatcom in 1890, which he soon sold to a Montana syndicate that was represented in Fairhaven by J.H. Bloedel and J.J. Donovan.

Noted for his good humor and whimsical nature, Wardner launched one of the more outrageous hoaxes of his day.  Joking with a young reporter from the Fairhaven Herald, Wardner announced a new venture on Eliza Island to raise black cats, selling their pelts for a profit on the fur market.  He called his venture the Consolidated Black Cat Co., Ltd.  Due to Wardner’s reputation, the story was spread in media across the nation, and a number of investors lined up with the hope of cashing in on this novel venture.  Sadly, the only riches spawned were the incipient seeds of legend.

Wardner lived in Fairhaven for only a few short years, but he made an indelible mark on the growing community.  One of his lasting legacies was a grand residence built in 1890 on the southeast corner of 15th Street and Knox Avenue.

Designed by architect, Kirtland K. Cutter of Spokane, with site supervision by local architects, Longstaff and Black, the Queen Anne style house consisted of twenty-three rooms, seven of which were bedrooms for his large family.  Six fireplaces, three on the first floor and three on the second floor, were embellished with a carved wood mantelpiece.  Colored glass windows, ceramic tiles, Handel lamps and fir and oak woodwork provided a grand interior.  A porte-cochere offered a sheltered entry for visitors, and a 12-foot turret room provided a breathtaking view of Puget Sound and surrounding islands.

The Wardner family occupied their mansion for only one year before Jim Wardner decided to pursue more lucrative ventures--reading signs of an approaching end to the Fairhaven boom.  Selling his castle to Peter Larson, investor and partner of Bloedel and Donovan, Wardner took his family on a grand world tour before embarking on further adventures and misadventures.  James F. Wardner died in El Paso, Texas, in 1905 (Bellingham Herald, March 30, 1905.)

Wardner’s Castle was occupied for many years by the family of John Earles, vice-president of Puget Sound Mills & Timber.  They lived here until the early 1930s.  From 1947 to 1955, the property was a restaurant known as Hilltop House.  Since then, the house has been a private home and a bed and breakfast. 

The house has undergone extensive renovations, completely in 2018.  It is unknown what interior features are original to the 1890 building.  The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.


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