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For untold millennia, the region that would come to be known as Whatcom was occupied by the indigenous conglomerate of tribes known as the Salish, who were peaceful and civilized. The Nooksack, who are a part of the Coast Salish, spent their time fishing, building canoes, weaving, and farming. In the 1850s, that began to change as the native peoples had to learn to co-exist with a new incursion of settlers—hardy people from the Eastern states and as far away as Europe.
They came to the region with the lure of inexpensive land ownership that had been made possible by the Homestead Act. A few had drifted in earlier when false rumors of gold were sounded, those early explorations revealing arable land and an abundance of natural resources.
Early homesteaders found the resources both sustaining and at times, daunting. For example, the trees themselves were so enormous that felling them was perilous, and logjams were frequent, cutting off the river’s flow. The winters were harsh and the summers, bug-infested. But families like the Galbraiths (the author’s ancestors) were hardy and determined. By the early 1900s, a thriving town had been established.
Readers who think of the early 20th century as ancient times will be surprised by Hellyer’s lively account of how an organized and industrious outpost developed out of a nearly uninhabited wilderness. Not long after the first settlers arrived, cabins and then houses soon bloomed into handsome estates, some of which still stand today in Acme and elsewhere. Along with the settlers came schools and school districts. Roads changed from dirt trails to cement highways, while railroads transported logs and shingles out and new visitors in. Modern conveniences such as a town water system, churches, electricity, and the postal service arrived to make life easier. Readers will be amused by the telephones, with party lines that allowed everyone in the community to know everyone else’s business.
People of Acme had to travel to a dentist, and, for a while, the town had a doctor who dealt with a variety of contagious diseases, delivered babies, and reattached severed fingers. At one time, citizens also had access to a local pharmacy to help with their aches and pains. Acme’s General Merchandise store sold everything from dry goods to salt meats, run by the Zobrist family, original settlers of the South Fork region. Recreation for the fully established town included hiking trips, concerts, and dances open to “woodmen and the general public.”
Hellyer was born in Whatcom County and has remained, pursuing a career in graphic design while enjoying a personal interest in photography and writing about local history. Her family photos and recollections are a small but significant part of this story. Illustrated with black and white images on nearly every page, Hellyer’s historical account of the settling of the South Fork will enthrall both a regional audience and those curious about American pioneering in the Great Pacific Northwest.