Before becoming part of Bellingham, Fairhaven grew up along railway lines. The town boomed with the region’s industries — fishing, lumber, and mining — into the 1870s, seeking the Northern Pacific Railway terminus. After the railway instead went to Tacoma, in 1873, multiple economic panics drove Fairhaven into a depression by the 1890s. However, Fairhaven soon found economic revitalization in what would become the largest salmon cannery in the world: Pacific American Fisheries.

Whatcom County’s early settlers viewed the salmon crowding every stream as an almost inexhaustible resource. Fisheries would prepare salmon fresh, dried, salted, or smoked, but turned most into hog feed and fertilizer. Whatcom County had 11 large canneries by 1899, but many shuttered within years due to mismanagement.

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