Whatcom County, Washington

Whatcom County /ˈwɒtkəm/ is located in the U.S. state of Washington. As of the 2010 census, the population was 201,140.[1] It is bordered by Canada on the north, Okanogan County on the east, Skagit County on the south, and the Strait of Georgia on the west. The county seat and largest city is Bellingham.[2]

Whatcom County
Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham

Location within the U.S. state of Washington

Washington's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 48°50′N 121°54′W
Country United States
State Washington
FoundedMarch 9, 1854
Largest cityBellingham
  Total2,503 sq mi (6,480 km2)
  Land2,107 sq mi (5,460 km2)
  Water397 sq mi (1,030 km2)  16%%
  Density103/sq mi (40/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific)
  Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
Congressional districts1st, 2nd

The county was created from Island County by the Washington Territorial Legislature in March 1854. It originally included the territory of present-day San Juan and Skagit Counties, which were later organized after additional settlement.[3] Its name derives from the Lummi word Xwotʼqom, meaning "noisy water."[4][5]

Whatcom County comprises the Bellingham, WA Metropolitan Statistical Area.


The Whatcom County area has known human habitation for at least twelve millennia. At least three aboriginal tribes have been identified in the area: Lummi (San Juan Islands, between Point Whitehorn and Chuckanut Bay), Nooksack (the northern portion, near Blaine), and Semiahmoo (between Lynden and Maple Falls).[6]

This area was part of the Oregon Country at the start of the nineteenth century, inhabited both by fur prospectors from Canada, and Americans seeking land for agricultural and mineral-extraction opportunities. Unable to resolve which country should control this vast area, the Treaty of 1818 provided for joint control. In 1827 the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Langley near present Lynden.[6]

By 1843, the Provisional Government of Oregon had been established, although at first there were questions as to its authority and extent.[7] During its existence, that provisional government formed the area north of the Columbia River first into the Washington Territory, and then (December 19, 1845) into two vast counties: Clark and Lewis. In 1852, a portion of Lewis County was partitioned off to form Thurston County, and in 1853 a portion of the new county was partitioned off to form Island County.

The Washington Territory was formed as a separate governing entity in 1853.[8] In 1854, that legislature carved several counties out of the existing counties, including Whatcom County on March 9, 1854, with area taken from Island County. The original county boundary was reduced in 1873 by the formation of San Juan County, and again in 1883 by the formation of Skagit County.

A Nooksack chief is the namesake of Whatcom County, taken from the word in the Nooksack language for "noisy water."[6]

In 1855 the settlers erected a blockhouse west of Whatcom Creek, to protect against forays from the aboriginal inhabitants who were attempting to defend their homelands. That year the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed, which assigned the Lummi and Semiahmoo peoples a greatly-restricted reserved area.[6]

The short-lived Fraser Canyon Gold Rush (1857–58) caused a short-term increase in the county's population, which briefly swelled to over 10,000 before the bubble burst.[6]

In 1857 the federal government began the field work necessary to establish the national border between the United States and Canada, which had been agreed on as the forty-ninth parallel in this area, and which would also mark the north line of Whatcom County. As the work moved east, several of the workers chose to remain in the area as settlers.[6]

Border crossings

Whatcom County's northern border is the Canada–US border with the Canadian province of British Columbia. Adjoining the county on the north (from west to east) are the metropolitan Vancouver's suburbs of Delta, Surrey, Langley, the central Fraser Valley city of Abbotsford and the rural Fraser Valley Regional District.

The border crossing points are (from west to east):[9]

Several shopping malls and other services in Bellingham and elsewhere in the county are geared to cross-border shopping and recreation.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,503 square miles (6,480 km2), of which 2,107 square miles (5,460 km2) is land and 397 square miles (1,030 km2) (16%) is covered by water.[11]

The county includes Lake Whatcom, which empties into Bellingham Bay by way of Whatcom Creek. Physiographically, Whatcom County is an extension of the Fraser Valley or "Lower Mainland" area of British Columbia, essentially the lowland delta plain of the Fraser River. At some periods in the past, one of the Fraser River's lower arms entered Bellingham Bay near Bellingham via what is now the mouth of the Nooksack River.

A small part of the county, Point Roberts, about 5 square miles (13 km2), is an extension of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, which is bisected by the Canada–US border along the 49th parallel. The highest point in the county is the peak of the active volcano Mount Baker at 10,778 feet (3,285 m) above sea level. The lowest points are at sea level along the Pacific Ocean.

Geographic features

National protected areas

State protected areas

Major highways

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Est. 2018225,685[12]12.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[13]
1790–1960[14] 1900–1990[15]
1990–2000[16] 2010–2018[1]

2000 census

As of the census[17] of 2000, 166,814 people, 64,446 households, and 41,116 families resided in the county. The population density was 79 people per square mile (30/km²). The 73,893 housing units averaged 35 per square mile (13/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 88.41% White, 0.69% Black or African American, 2.82% Native American, 2.78% Asian, 0.14% Pacific Islander, 2.49% from other races, and 2.66% from two or more races. About 5.21% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race. Of people of European ancestry, 15.5% identified as German, 9.2% as English, 8.2% as Dutch, 7.9% as Irish, 7.0% as Norwegian, and 6.6% as United States or American ancestry.

Of the 64,446 households, 30.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.20% were married couples living together, 8.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.20% were not families. About 25.60% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.40% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the county, the population was distributed as 24.10% under the age of 18, 14.20% from 18 to 24, 27.50% from 25 to 44, 22.50% from 45 to 64, and 11.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.10 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.00 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $40,005, and for a family was $49,325. Males had a median income of $37,589 versus $26,193 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,025. About 7.80% of families and 14.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.20% of those under age 18 and 8.30% of those age 65 or over.

2010 census

As of the 2010 United States Census, 201,140 people, 80,370 households, and 48,862 families resided in the county.[18] The population density was 95.5 inhabitants per square mile (36.9/km2). The 90,665 housing units averaged 43.0 per square mile (16.6/km2).[19] The racial makeup of the county was 85.4% White, 3.5% Asian, 2.8% American Indian, 1.0% Black or African American, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 3.3% from other races, and 3.8% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 7.8% of the population.[17] In terms of ancestry, 20.8% were German, 12.8% were Irish, 12.6% were English, 8.0% were Dutch, 6.9% were Norwegian, and 4.4% were American.[20]

Of the 80,370 households, 28.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.0% were married couples living together, 8.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 39.2% were not families, and 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.43, and the average family size was 2.97. The median age was 36.6 years.[17]

The median income for a household in the county was $49,031 and for a family was $64,586. Males had a median income of $47,109 versus $34,690 for females. The per capita income for the county was $25,407. About 7.8% of families and 15.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.9% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.[21]


The Whatcom County government is a municipal corporation operating under a county charter approved in 1978; it acts as a county constitution. Whatcom County is one of four Washington counties to use the home rule charter provision of state law.[22] Local government is split between the county, incorporated cities and towns, and special-purpose districts. These local governments are established and operate according to state law, and operate independently from the county government.

County government

The charter establishes the structure of Whatcom County government. The Whatcom County Council holds legislative powers granted to counties. The council consists of seven members elected for a term of four years. Council members are elected at the general election in November of odd-numbered years. Three council members are elected one year before a presidential election; four council members are elected one year after a presidential election. Two members are elected from each of three districts; the seventh member is elected at-large, which favors candidates who can command a majority of voters. The county council also serves as the county board of health.[23]

The executive branch consists of six elected officials, a county executive, and five department heads. The county executive is similar to a mayor or governor. The assessor, auditor, prosecuting attorney, sheriff, and treasurer are elected independently from the county executive and council. These six officials serve four-year terms.[24][25] The county council establishes various departments by ordinance. The county council or county executive appoint department heads. These departments include administrative services, health, medical examiner, planning and development services, parks and recreation, and public works.[26]

The judicial branch consists of a district court and superior court. The district court is a court of limited jurisdiction which handles civil and criminal cases. Criminal cases are limited to adults charged with misdemeanor and/or gross misdemeanor offenses. State law specifies what cases are in the district court's jurisdiction. The district court operates a small claims court to resolve civil cases involving monetary damages not exceeding $5,000. No attorneys are permitted to appear in small claims court. Cases are heard using less formal procedures.[27] The district court has two judges, a court commissioner, and a support staff.

The superior court is a court of general jurisdiction.[24][27] Superior court hears civil cases exceeding $75,000 or requesting non-monetary remedies.[28] Superior court hears all juvenile criminal cases and all adult felony cases. Superior court also hears appeals from district court and municipal courts.[28] Superior court staff include three judges, three full-time court commissioners, two part-time court commissioners, and support staff. District and superior court judges are elected by the county voters for a term of four years. Court commissioners are appointed by elected judges; commissioners have powers and responsibilities equal to elected judges.


Presidential elections results
Presidential elections results[29]
Year Republican Democratic Third parties
2016 35.8% 40,599 53.2% 60,340 10.9% 12,400
2012 41.1% 42,703 55.0% 57,089 3.9% 3,996
2008 39.8% 40,205 57.7% 58,236 2.4% 2,465
2004 44.6% 40,296 53.4% 48,268 2.0% 1,830
2000 46.5% 34,287 46.1% 34,033 7.4% 5,437
1996 42.1% 27,153 45.1% 29,074 12.8% 8,283
1992 37.4% 23,801 41.8% 26,619 20.8% 13,259
1988 47.6% 23,820 51.1% 25,571 1.4% 703
1984 53.7% 27,228 44.7% 22,670 1.6% 788
1980 46.4% 21,371 40.0% 18,430 13.6% 6,256
1976 48.0% 20,007 47.4% 19,739 4.6% 1,933
1972 58.2% 22,585 38.7% 15,027 3.1% 1,189
1968 47.1% 14,695 44.9% 14,003 8.0% 2,501
1964 34.7% 10,900 64.6% 20,297 0.7% 225
1960 52.8% 16,651 45.4% 14,298 1.8% 577
1956 54.1% 17,414 45.2% 14,533 0.8% 244
1952 57.1% 17,590 41.8% 12,877 1.2% 361
1948 46.8% 12,850 46.4% 12,736 6.8% 1,865
1944 45.9% 12,890 52.6% 14,787 1.5% 421
1940 46.3% 13,351 51.6% 14,877 2.1% 606
1936 35.1% 9,035 59.9% 15,428 5.0% 1,293
1932 41.1% 9,254 50.4% 11,355 8.5% 1,902
1928 76.9% 14,621 21.6% 4,100 1.6% 300
1924 57.2% 9,214 5.8% 927 37.1% 5,969
1920 57.5% 9,157 14.4% 2,288 28.1% 4,475
1916 48.2% 7,632 35.5% 5,629 16.3% 2,581
1912 27.9% 4,187 18.5% 2,773 53.6% 8,045
1908 57.5% 4,955 27.8% 2,398 14.7% 1,268
1904 70.4% 5,410 15.3% 1,174 14.3% 1,100
1900 56.6% 2,952 32.6% 1,700 10.8% 562
1896 46.2% 1,971 52.2% 2,227 1.7% 72
1892 41.5% 1,709 28.2% 1,161 30.3% 1,248

Cities and towns

Incorporated cities and towns provide municipal services. Each city or town has an elected council and mayor.

Special purpose districts

Special-purpose districts include cemetery, fire, hospital, library, school, and water and sewer districts. Each special district is governed by officials elected by voters within that jurisdiction.

Fire districts

Eleven fire districts, two city fire departments, and a regional fire authority provide fire prevention, fire fighting, and emergency medical services. Each fire district is governed by an elected board of commissioners. Most districts have three commissioners. Fire districts receive most of their revenue from property taxes. All of the fire districts and the regional fire authority have volunteer or paid-call firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), as does the City of Lynden Fire Department.

The City of Bellingham is an all-career department. Some of the districts also have full-time firefighter/EMTs. All fire districts use 9-1-1 for emergency calls. Whatcom County has one 9-1-1 call center located in Bellingham. Fire/EMS calls are processed and dispatched at a second public safety answering point called Prospect, located at a fire station in Bellingham. Additional dispatching locations provide backup capacity to answer emergency calls.

Whatcom County Fire Districts are:[30]

° Outside Lynden city limits only, also, the district contracts for services with Fire Dist 4. The Lynden Fire Department serves Lynden.


Coal mines, a sawmill, and a military fort were established on Bellingham Bay in the 1850s. Logging was the principal economic activity at first, and agriculture developed as land was cleared by logging activity. Canneries, both of fish and crops, shipped the county's products far and wide.

Pacific American Fisheries organized in 1899 in Fairhaven, and became the world's largest canning operation, employing over 1,000 Chinese and 4,500 "white persons". Smaller canneries at Semiahmoo also produced 2,000 cases of canned salmon daily. The Fairhaven Shipyard constructed fleets of fishing ships, and also produced freighters during World War I.[6]

Whatcom County is the top producer of raspberries in the state.[31]

Cross border activity is a significant driver of the economy.


Primary and secondary education

Whatcom County residents are served by public and private schools, providing preschool, primary (K-5), and secondary (6–12) education. Public schools are operated by eight school districts. Each school district is an independent local government managed by an elected school board. Seven districts serve the western portion of Whatcom County.[32] One district serves the southeast corner of Whatcom County. The remaining portion of the county is national forest or national park land, which has no permanent residents.

These districts are:

Numerous private schools operate in Whatcom County including Assumption Catholic School, St. Paul's Academy, Lynden Christian Schools, Bellingham Christian Schools, and the Waldorf School.

Higher education

Whatcom County hosts five institutions of higher education. Western Washington University (Western) is the third-largest public university in Washington. Western offers bachelor's and master's degrees through seven colleges, and enrolls more than 15,000 students. Whatcom Community College is a public community college offering academic certificate programs and associate degrees. Two universities and two colleges are located in Bellingham. One college is located on the Lummi Nation (Lummi Reservation) west of Bellingham. Bellingham Technical College is a public technical and vocational college located in Bellingham. Trinity Western University (TWU) is a private, Christian university based in Langley, BC about 25 miles north of Bellingham. TWU operates a branch campus in Bellingham offering undergraduate courses and supports TWU's bachelor's degree completion program.

Northwest Indian College is a college supported by the Lummi Nation and serves the Native American community. Northwest Indian College is located on the Lummi Nation (Lummi Reservation) about five miles west of Bellingham.



Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Ghost town

Notable people

See also


  1. "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  2. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  3. "Milestones for Washington State History — Part 2: 1851 to 1900". HistoryLink.org. March 6, 2003.
  4. Oakley, Janet (July 3, 2005). "Whatcom County — Thumbnail History". HistoryLink.org.
  5. Johnson, Annie (2004). "Shifting Shorelines".
  6. Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry
  7. Brown, J. Henry (1892). Brown's Political History of Oregon: Provisional Government. Portland: Wiley B. Allen. LCCN rc01000356. OCLC 422191413.
  8. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Volume 48, p. 397, March 3, 1853.
  9. https://theimtc.com/data/
  10. https://www.straight.com/life/just-across-border-north-cascades-national-park-beckons
  11. "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2015.
  12. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  13. "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  14. "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  15. "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  16. "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  17. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
  18. "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  19. "Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density: 2010 – County". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  20. "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States – 2006–2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  21. "Selected Economic Characteristics – 2006–2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  22. "History - Whatcom County, WA - Official Website". www.whatcomcounty.us. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  23. "County Council - Whatcom County, WA - Official Website". www.co.whatcom.wa.us. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  24. "County Elected Officials". Archived from the original on May 27, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  25. "County Code and Charter". Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  26. "Complete List of County Departments & Offices - Whatcom County, WA - Official Website". www.whatcomcounty.us. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  27. "District Court - Whatcom County, WA - Official Website". www.whatcomcounty.us. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  28. "Whatcom County Superior Court". Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  29. Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  30. "Whatcom County Fire Districts map". Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  31. Seattle Times
  32. "School Districts in Whatcom County". Retrieved August 19, 2017.

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