Dirty Dan Harris
Daniel Jefferson Harris, was born in Patchogue,
Long Island in 1826. After a family quarrel, Harris left home
for Sag Harbor, New York, where he boarded an Alaskan Whaler for a
life at sea. In 1852, he deserted his ship in Honolulu,
eventually reaching Victoria and later Bellingham Bay in 1853.
Harris quickly befriended John Thomas, who in 1853 had taken up a
donation claim covering what was later the location of much of
the Fairhaven town site. Thomas hired Harris to help build a
cabin on the beach at Padden Creek near the present location of 7th
and Harris Streets. Thomas died before the cabin was complete,
but Harris finished the structure and made it his home while Thomas'
estate languished in probate. In 1861, Harris officially took
over the Thomas donation claim.
Harris was a large individual
compared to most men of his day. He stood nearly six feet tall
and weighed 200 pounds. He typically wore a red undershirt,
frock coat, unlaced boots, and a top hat. His unkempt appearance
earned him the nickname of "Dirty Dan." He had an
independent spirit and declined to work in the Roeder Mill or the
Sehome Mine where many of the early settlers earned their wages.
Instead, Harris made countless trips rowing his dory between Victoria
and Bellingham carrying local produce and other agricultural goods to
Victoria and returning with rice, millinery, notions, and whiskey for
the community. In the early days, smuggling was not considered
an serious offense and Harris was only reprimanded once by Edward
Eldridge who sold his cargo at public auction in Port Townsend. During
the Civil War, the price of a gallon of whiskey increased tenfold
Harris' smuggling business turned quite profitable.
In 1861, Harris purchased a tract of 43 acres from Americus Poe
covering the present site of southwestern Fairhaven and northern Post
Point for the sum of $53.75. In 1877, working alone, Harris cleared
and graded a road from Sehome to Lake Whatcom to move supplies and
machinery to the newly established Blue Canyon Mine. In 1881, the
Kansas Colony re-established the mill at Whatcom Creek and the
community anticipated an economic revival following the decline
precipitated by the closure of the Sehome Mine in 1878.
Harris platted the town site of Fairhaven and Harris became a real
estate magnate and promoter. He demanded a fixed payment in cash
only and soon had more money than anyone else in town. It
is estimated that Dan realized $32,000 from the sale of lots created
from his property holdings. With the money he built the Northern
Hotel at the foot of Harris Avenue and constructed a deep water dock
adjacent to the hotel.
In 1883, Harris married Bertha Wasmer and the couple relocated to
Los Angeles. A few yearsl later, Harris sold his Fairhaven property to I.M. Wilson,
E.L. Cowgill and Nelson Bennett for $70,000. Bertha died in 1888
and Harris lived the rest of his life in alone in Los Angeles.
In the last years of his life he was befriended by Dr. A.S. Shorb
whose interest in Dan Harris was primary financial. Harris died
in 1890 practically penniless.