by Ruth Baacke
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies (photo credit below)
Happy Valley’s 627 acres are bounded on the north by Bill McDonald Parkway, the south by Old Fairhaven Parkway, the east by I-5, and the west by an irregular line from 14th to 20th Streets. Originally part of the Fairhaven Land Company’s 1st and 2nd Additions, and the Gise, Eldridge, Carter and Schering land claims, Happy Valley was comprised of small platted lots close to Fairhaven and larger garden tracts beyond. Streets, continuing from Fairhaven, were named for early settler "Dirty” Dan Harris and area notables involved with the Fairhaven railroad boom that began in 1889: C.X. Larrabee, J. J. Donovan, E.M. Wilson, and Edgar Cowgill.
Many early Happy Valley residents were lumber mill, salmon cannery or mine workers, who represented many different ethnicities: Norwegian, Swedish, Yugoslavian, Croatian, Scottish, Irish, English, German, among others, who rarely intermingled with each other. Many had their own churches. A streetcar line ran down Harris to the Fairhaven waterfront, enabling the workers to get to their jobs. The Fairhaven and Southern Railroad (later the Great Northern) ran through Happy Valley and south along the present Interurban Trail; the railroad roundhouse was at Donovan and 24th and employed mostly Irish workers. They reportedly made their own whiskey and fed the leftover mash to their pigs. Hence the area came to be known as "Happy” Valley.
Until the late 1960’s, Happy Valley was primarily a single family residential area, interspersed with small commercial ventures and small farms. Houses were predominately modest Victorians, Craftsman bungalows and post WWII single story cottages and ranch houses. As Western Washington University grew, Happy Valley increasingly became the location for new, high density student housing (even though WWU is not located in Happy Valley). This trend continues today, as evidenced by significantly higher population and growth rates for Happy Valley as compared to Bellingham as a whole. The impact of this is naturally a concern to the neighborhood, as is the impact of condo building in adjacent Fairhaven.
Happy Valley does still have sizable areas of preserved open space and parkland in the Connelly Creek Nature Area and the Happy Valley Park with a network of trails connecting them. Joe’s Garden at Taylor Avenue and 32nd Street has been a neighborhood institution since 1927. Happy Valley is home to Bellingham’s first co-housing project, consisting of 33 condos on 5 acres at 2600 Donovan Avenue, featuring the peripatetic Cowgill House as their community center.
There are also high quality historic preservation reuse projects in the Old Firehouse Café and performance space at Harris Avenue and 14th Street and the residential/performance space at the old Methodist-Episcopal Church on Mill Avenue at 16th Street.
Happy Valley residents like to think of their neighborhood as a quilt – diverse in terms of its population of students, families and retirees and its housing ranging from high density, multi-family units to single family dwellings, large and small. Parts of the neighborhood feel almost urban, while parts feel rural. Residents hope that in the future the delicate balance of this complex pattern can be maintained.
Galen Biery papers and photographs #3317
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies
Western Libraries Heritage Resources, Western Washington University