In a peaceful, serene setting, rests an uninhabited village known as Pioneer Park, far enough away from the hum of I-5 traffic that you can step back in time and get a sense of what life was like for the early European settlers to this region of Washington State.
The village is an impressive collection of 12 original cedar slab log cabins built by the pioneers of the 1800s in old-growth forests and clearings throughout Whatcom County. The grassy park was purchased as a 4-acre cedar grove near downtown Ferndale, WA by the Whatcom Old Settlers’ Association in 1901. Gradually, over the next century, each of the cabins was moved to Pioneer Park by volunteers to be preserved.
Today, Pioneer Park is owned by the City of Ferndale, and the cabins are interpreted by the Ferndale Heritage Society and listed on the Washington State Heritage Register. Tours of the cabins are available May 15 – Sept. 15. You’ll want to inhale deeply inside the historic structures, which are permeated with the wonderful smell of their building material – Western Red Cedar.
The cabins are interpreted to reflect various professions of their time. There’s the Van Buren Post Office, built in 1891, outfitted to represent a 19th-century bank, and Parker House, which dates back to 1879 and functions as a general store and the place where visitors purchase their $5 tickets for guided tours. In the Granary, built in 1887, there are farm tools. Lopas House, from 1879, features antique printing equipment. Check out the schoolroom inside Holeman House, from 1890. The implements may look old fashioned, but the rules of the day – respect for others – remain relevant.
For those who enjoy ghost-hunting, there are two haunted cabins on the site, says Julie Aamot, a Pioneer Park tour guide who has been involved in the park for 12 years. One is Jenni House, built in 1873. It’s a beautiful home that was once used as a dance hall, stagecoach inn and residence, and you can see the loving care invested in the home in the ornate ceilings, wallpaper and furniture. “The ghost in this cabin is friendly and not intimidating,” said Aamot. She noted that an orb is frequently seen in Jenni House, always moving in the same direction and never leaving fear or discomfort in its visitors.
The same is not true of the ghost inside Shields House, built in 1885. Shields House was home to a Mr. Shields and his family. Shields fought in the Civil War and came back suffering from ‘soldiers heart,’ the name-at-the-time for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His ‘man-cave’ was his study, and some of the wallpaper therein bears evidence of the gold he found as a gold-panner in the post-Civil War years.
“You couldn’t pay me enough to go into that house at night,” Aamot said. She described entering Shields House early one morning to turn off the alarm (each cabin is alarmed and locked to safeguard against burglary and vandalism on the site) and feeling something rush past her and roughly bump her shoulder. “The activity is highest at night and in the early morning,” she said.
I entered with skepticism and spotted no ghosts on my early afternoon visit on a sunny day. Whatever ghostly presence haunts this space makes its need for privacy clear even from the ‘other side.’ The Shields House is the largest cabin in the park. It is outfitted as a pioneer residence, with a spacious kitchen, sitting room and multiple bedrooms, meticulously tended to by Ferndale Heritage Society volunteers.
Visitors can easily spend an afternoon at Pioneer Park, deeply immersed in history. In the veteran’s museum, located inside Rogers House, you can view an American soldier’s uniform from World War 1 and other items from military life, including ‘trench art,’ art that was literally made by soldiers in the trenches when they weren’t engaged in battle. There’s also the uniform of Aaron Aamot, Julie’s son, who perished at age 22 in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving his country. There’s history in this museum, but a lot of heartaches, too.
The Larson Cabin, built in 1893 by a Finnish family that returned to Finland soon after, is outfitted as a trapper’s cabin. Its log walls have adz marks, a type of scarring used so that plaster would stick to the walls, allowing them to be painted. The cabin is a recent addition to the park, as is the Mt. View School house.
Each cabin tells its own story, and if you pay for a guided tour you get some of the ‘inside stories’ you wouldn’t learn of otherwise. Pioneer Park is truly a historical treasure chest in Whatcom County, an outdoor museum where the past lingers tangibly and where visitors of all ages will enjoy a vivid, memorable lesson in history.
Pioneer Park, located at 2004 Cherry Street in Ferndale, is open for tours 11:30-4:30 May 15 through September 15.
Info: ferndaleheritagesociety.com or call 360. 384-6461.