Bellingham Railway Museum
The sound of children at play filled the Bellingham Railway Museum, along with the recorded sound of a train engine at full speed. The model trains took up a large majority of the room, as they made a circuit through the miniature landscape, highly detailed with trees, stations and logging equipment.
Michael Lower, president of the board for the museum, said that the models are all made by museum members and volunteers. The trains are models from around the world.
Lower, nearly 80, has been with the museum since 2007, when he first came to Bellingham after living in the San Juan Islands for many years. “I happened to be on Commercial Street, and I needed a place to store my model trains,” Lower said. He happened upon the museum, came in and asked if it was OK if he ran some of his own trains on their track, since they were the same scale. The museum agreed, and has been Lower’s sanctum for his hobby ever since.
The museum was founded in 2003, when a club of train enthusiasts decided they needed a space to call their own. The museum board formed the museum as a non-profit the same year. Some members of the Bellingham Society of Model Engineers wanted to use larger trains, so they split off and formed their own organization.
The museum board also wanted to educate people about the role of trains in Whatcom County. The history of Bellingham is the history of its railways, said Lower. In fact, four communities—Whatcom, Sehome, Fairhaven, and Bellingham—were settled along Bellingham Bay, with people drawn by logging, salmon, coal and the excitement of a proposed transcontinental railroad terminus. But it never happened. The area lost out to first Tacoma, then Seattle, and the towns eventually consolidated into one. A museum wall hosts an array of photos from the late 1800s that show the burgeoning communities of Bellingham, with the railroad tracks, as well as the street cars that used to be in service.
Eventually, Bellingham’s location between British Columbia and Seattle made it ideally suited to be a hub for the railroad, said Dale Jones, a founder and the historian for the museum. “Trains opened up the West, and Bellingham was part of that.”
The museum is open for all sorts of groups and gatherings in addition to the general public. “Birthday parties, school trips, senior centers, we get all kinds,” said Jones.
1320 Commercial St., Bellingham
360.393.7540 | bellinghamrailwaymuseum.org