Among the abundant natural resources found along Bellingham Bay are substantial coal seams running
through the Chuckanut formation. The deposits cover nearly 300 square miles and consist primarily of low to medium grade coal.
The existence of the coal was known to local natives and was a major draw for early settlement in the 1850s. Mining in the area
began in October of 1852, when William Pattle discovered coal on the shore of Bellingham Bay, near what is now the foot of Taylor
Avenue in Fairhaven. In an attempt to capitalize on the booming San Francisco market, Pattle quickly filed what proved to be the
first land claim in the area and began the search for partners to fund his mining enterprise. Later in the year, he returned to
with partners, James Morrison and John Thomas, to establish mining operations. In 1853, the partnership sent the first shipment
of 150 tons of to San Francisco. Pattle's mine continued to operate for several years with only moderate profits. Considerably
more successful, was the Sehome Coal Mine, formed from a coal seam discovered on land adjacent to the claim of Captain Henry Roeder.
The site of the mine was near the present location of Laurel Street in downtown Bellingham. The potential mine site was sold to a
group of San Francisco investors who organized the Bellingham Bay Coal Company to exploit the find. Despite considerable investment,
the venture generated little profit, and it was not until 1859--when a properly surveyed mine shaft, coal bunkers and a wharf were
constructed--that profits were realized to any significant degree. It was claimed that in 1860 alone, the mine had generated
$300,000 and employed over 100 men. This stimulated many other fortune-seekers to explore adjacent coal seams, all of which failed
to be commercially successful. In the 1860s and 1870s, profits diminished considerably, and in 1878 the Bellingham Bay Coal
Company closed the Sehome mine due to dangerous conditions and lack of profit.
Unlike the Sehome mine, which is historically considered a failed business venture, the Blue Canyon
Mine purchased by Idaho silver mine magnate James Wardner, was well funded and efficiently managed. Despite better administration,
this mine too would be judged a failure due to unsteady markets and the difficult terrain of its Lake Whatcom location. Organized
by the Blue Canyon Mining Company, the Blue Canyon Mine opened in 1891 and operated for 25 years until closure in 1917. The
company's most important client was the US Navy which used the ore to supply units in the North Pacific Fleet. In later years,
the mine generated only enough coal to supply the local Bellingham Bay market. In 1895, Blue Canyon was the site of an explosion
which killed twenty-three miners and is still considered one of the most serious mining disasters in state history.
Ultimately, coal mining proved of marginal importance to the Bellingham Bay economy due to the low
grade of coal available and the fact that, time and again, the cost of extraction exceeded the value of the product produced. Yet
mining was always an integral part of the character of the region and many tried to make their fortunes through this livelihood.
Gold Mining and other mineral resources
Whatcom County prospectors have searched for gold and a variety of miscellaneous metals, including
copper, lead and zinc, mined since the discovery of placer gold along Ruby Creek in the 1870's. Placer mining dominated well
into the 1890's as miners panned alluvial deposits along Ruby and Slate Creeks and other streams in the southeastern section of
the county. In the 1890's, prospectors staked claims on important lode finds discovered in the Mount Baker and Slate Creek
mining districts. One of the best known lode mines in the county was the Lone Jack Mine in the Mt. Baker district. The Lone
Jack mine was discovered by R.S. Lambert, Jack Post, and L.G. Valkenberg in 1897. This mine, located near Silesia Creek, was
worked until 1924 and contributed gold ore valued at roughly $500,000.
One of the significant non-metallic minerals mined near Bellingham was Chuckanut sandstone.
The highly sought after sandstone became one of the most important sources of building stone for the construction of public
and commercial buildings along the West Coast. Local limestone deposits were also important to the development of the cement
industry in the Whatcom County after World War I.
For additional primary sources on mining see the finding aids to the following archival collections at the Center for Pacific