This past month saw the installation of two more sidewalk plaques in Fairhaven, adding to the historical markers visible on a walk through the village. Located just off the corner of 12th and Harris Ave, these plaques mark two of Fairhaven’s most well known historical figures, at least by name. Though Mark Twain and Frances Payne Larrabee are known by name, many people may not know the details of their time in Fairhaven, and why they are worth commemorating. In this post I want to shed some light on these two famous figures, so that when you walk past those sidewalk plaques, you know who’s who.
First, Frances Payne Larrabee. Frances Payne was born in 1867, in St. Louis, Missouri. She spent much of her young adulthood as a pianist, first studying at the Mary Institute in St. Louis before travelling to study in Boston and later for a year in Berlin. In 1890, her family lost most of their wealth, and she supported herself by teaching piano lessons and playing organ in the church. It was at this time that she met Charles Larrabee, a wealthy man who made his fortune as a banker, mining prospector, and land developer out west. Though Charles was nearly twice her age, they married and moved out west to Fairhaven, arriving in 1892. The two lived in the Fairhaven Hotel, owned by Charles, and would spend the entirety of their marriage there. Though the couple later built the home now known as the Lairmont Manor, Charles died before construction was finished.
Frances’ legacy is built upon the time she spent in Fairhaven. From the outset, she focused on helping those less fortunate than she. She helped found the Bellingham Bay Home for Children, which served as a refuge for homeless youth throughout the region. Larrabee was very involved in the local church as well. She served as church treasurer, and helped organize the construction of a new building by raising funds and donating four city lots to the cause. Frances’ most powerful achievement during her time in Fairhaven was the establishment of the Bellingham chapter of the YWCA, or Young Women’s Christian Association. The building was designed by Carl Gould, the same architect who designed Lairmont Manor, and was donated by the Larrabees.
Frances Larrabee was also involved in a number of other clubs, including the Bellingham Woman’s Music Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Washington State Historical Society, among others. After Charles died in 1914, Frances took over the family business, running a vast estate that spanned three states and held significant financial assets. In a period of history when women in business were few and far between, Frances Larrabee flourished in her role. She made another significant donation to the local area in 1915 when the Larrabee family donated land to form Larrabee State Park, the first State Park in Washington.
Frances Larrabee died in 1941, at the age of 74. She lived her life with dedication to the betterment of her community, which can be seen in her numerous donations of time, money, and spirit over the years.
The second sidewalk plaque immortalizes a very different Fairhaven visitor in almost every way, though he is tied to the Larrabees. In 1895, Mark Twain stayed at the Fairhaven Hotel, owned by Charles and Frances. Twain was in the midst of a year-long worldwide speaking tour, and his performance in New Whatcom (New Whatcom and Fairhaven would merge in 1903 to form Bellingham) was the last American stop on his tour. Twain, born Samuel Clemens, was deeply in debt in 1895. Approaching his 60th birthday, Twain was struggling to make money. A decade off of writing Huckleberry Finn and nearly two decades since Tom Sawyer was published, Twain figured that the best way to pay off some of his debt was to embark on a speaking tour.
Fresh off a raucous performance in Seattle the night before, Twain arrived in Fairhaven on August 14th, scheduled to perform that night at Lighthouse Hall in New Whatcom, at the corner of Holly and Cornwall Streets. Though his voice was hoarse and raspy due to the onset of a cold and significant wildfire smoke in the air, Twain entertained the crowd of nearly 700 people enough that they stood and called for an encore at the end of his show. A copy of the programme shows the setlist ranged in topics from “About a Deceased Person,” and “The Jumping Frog,” to “The Terrible German Language,” and “Small Pox, etc.” Tickets for the show sold for $0.75 and $1.00.
After the show, Twain wished to retire to the hotel for a cigar and a drink. The only problem was that Charles Larrabee was a Teetotaler, and had banned alcohol from the hotel premises. Larrabee was kind enough to make other arrangements however, and Twain was hosted at the private Cascade Club across the street. Prominent members of the community were invited for an after party of cigars, hot toddies, and Twain’s stories. The next day, Twain traveled up to Vancouver, British Columbia, his final stop on the North American leg of the tour. Almost a year later, he finished in Capetown, South Africa, after 120 performances. The tour resulted in a book, Following the Equator, and reinvigorated Mark Twain with creativity.
Mark Twain is immortalized in Fairhaven with a bronze statue in front of Village Books, erected in 2018. The site is just a couple of blocks from the 12th and Harris former location of the Fairhaven Hotel and Cascade Club, where he famously downed whiskey. The statue was built by Gary Lee Price and donated by Michael Botwin.
Mark Twain Lectures at Lighthouse Hall in New Whatcom (later Bellingham) on August 14, 1895, by Phil Dougherty. www.HistoryLink.org
Mark Twain’s Visit to Bellingham Bay. www.Fairhavenhistory.com
Charles “X” Larrabee, www.fairhavenhistory.com
Who was Frances Larrabee? www.edgemoorneighborhood.com
Frances Payne Larrabee, www.fairhavenhistory.com