Captain Henry Roeder (1824 - 1902) is often heralded as the most influential of the figures
that shaped European-American settlement and development in the towns that became Bellingham. Born in Herstadt, Germany,
Henry Roeder moved with his family to Vermillion, Ohio in 1830. He began his career as a sailor on the Great Lakes, before
traveling in 1850 to pursue economic interests in California. In San Francisco, where he operated a store, Roeder established
a longtime business partnership with Russell Peabody, with whom he continued to work in Sacramento after acquiring stock in
the Sacramento Fishing Company. In 1852, Roeder and Peabody traveled north to Portland, intending initially to pursue their
fortunes in the fishing business. Given the rising demands and prices for lumber in San Francisco, however, (lumber was needed
to rebuild parts of the city destroyed by fire) they decided instead to devote their efforts to establishing a sawmill in the
In Olympia and Port Townsend, Washington, Roeder and Peabody learned of the existence of the
falls on Whatcom Creek. They were later guided to this location, arriving on December 15, 1852, where - according to Lottie
Roeder Roth- "Chief Chowitzit not only gave them the Falls and the land surrounding it, but promised to send some of his men
to help raise the mill." What the Lummi's really thought of Roeder's enterprise is lost to history, but certainly with the
assistance of local Native Americans, and additional men, supplies and machinery from San Francisco, the Roeder-Peabody was
constructed and made operational by the following year.
The early fortunes of the mill owners and the "Whatcom Milling Company" were diminished by the
need to buy supplies, falling lumber prices in California and productivity loss caused by low levels of water at the falls.
Although the Roeder -Peabody mill continued to operate until its destruction by fire in 1873, most of the timber it produced
was sold locally. Henry Roeder, however, continued to engage in a variety of economic ventures. He established connections
to lumber yards in Victoria to which timber from the mill could be shipped and in 1854 constructed the schooner-rigged scow
H.C. Page - the first such maritime vessel to be built in Bellingham Bay.
Roeder was actively involved in the consolidation and industrial development of property around
Whatcom Creek and Bellingham Bay. In 1853, Roeder purchased 93 acres of land along Chuckanut shoreline, from which he operated
the Chuckanut Stone Quarry (later the Roth Stone Quarry). Property containing coal seams was sold by Roeder, Henry Hewitt and
William Brown to the San Francisco-based Bellingham Bay Coal Company in 1854, which opened the Sehome Mine the following year.
Roeder also staked donation land claims of 1600 acres in Whatcom (reaching from present day Holly to G streets) in 1855, and
owned property on Whidbey Island and other San Juan Island.
Following the destruction of the Roeder-Peabody mill in 1873, early settlers including Roeder
and Eldridge sought to encourage further settlement and development of the lands around Whatcom and Squalicum Creeks. In fall
1881, in the hope of attracting more families to Bellingham Bay, Roeder persuaded individuals from a utopian colony in Kansas
to travel to the Puget Sound and re-settle at the site of the mill. Members of the Washington Colony rebuilt the sawmill and
constructed a wharf into Bellingham Bay, although lack of incoming migrants ultimately led to the colony's closure in 1885.
Henry Roeder engaged in some of the earliest political and judicial institutions in the area,
serving on Whatcom County's first grand jury in October 1854, and as county commissioner in 1855-56, 1857-61 and 1874-75.
He was also among the individuals who drafted a charter to incorporate Whatcom and Sehome in October 1883.
Roeder married Elizabeth Austin of Ohio in late 1854. The Roeders had four children: John
Nicholas (1856-1886), Henry, Jr. (1859-1877), Victor Austin (1861-1939) and Charlotte "Lottie" Tuttle (1864-1933). Elmheim,
the family home, was completed in 1896, and was located at 2401 Elm Street.