Small town Department Store in WA

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington
Date added: November 15, 2023 Categories: Washington Retail Department Store
68th Anniversary (1965)

The Lynden Department Store is an excellent representative example of a highly significant phenomenon in the history of commerce in rural western towns in the United States; that of the independent, small-town department store that served as a social and commercial landmark in these towns. Although the story of the "big city' department store is well documented, equally important to large segments of the U.S. population living in rural centers in the first half of the twentieth century is the lesser-known development of the small town, locally-owned department store. The Lynden Department Store was a classic example of this commercial and social town center, anchoring the town with a centrally located emporium of goods ranging from farm and city clothing, to dishware, to groceries, to farm equipment, to grain, to horse buggies (and eventually an early form of rural automobile dealership). The Lynden Department Store is also the largest (and sole surviving) building developed by William H. "Billy" Waples. Mr. Waples was the driving force behind the Lynden Department Store, his operation that spanned seven decades. Billy Waples also founded and co-owned the Lynden Mill and Light Company and established the first electric light service in Lynden in 1903. Waples was also instrumental in bringing passenger and freight rail service to Lynden in 1904, and in starting the Northwest Washington Fair, still thriving and still one of the largest and most successful country fairs in the Northwest. Mr. Waples and a partner founded the Lynden Department Store in the late 1880s as a modest general store in the farming and logging community of Lynden. With a small amount of borrowed money and goods, working initially within the limitations of a horse-and-wagon transportation network, he eventually built his Lynden enterprise using successively larger store spaces and innovative merchandising and credit practices. Waples traded with an expanding network of national suppliers to bring an unusually rich variety of goods to the small agricultural center of Lynden. By extending large sums of money in Lynden Department Store credit on generous terms, Mr. Waples helped carry many households in the Lynden community through the worst years of the Great Depression. Billy Waples and the Lynden Department Store are remembered as playing pivotal roles in maintaining Lynden's economic and social life in challenging times and in promoting Lynden as a center of rural commerce.

Between the late nineteenth century and the 1950s, the independently owned, small-town department store served rural communities as a major social and commercial anchor for many main-street rural American towns. As opposed to their big urban counterparts (the "palaces of consumption" that defined big city shopping in this period) the successful small-town department stores found their niche in different but characteristic ways - and the Lynden Department Store is an excellent example of this model. These small-town department store enterprises were typically started by local shop keepers who first operated rural general stores in the late nineteenth century in their respective towns. But to achieve expanded success as a department store in these locations, several necessary elements had to follow. Besides general business acumen and capital necessary for the success of any competitive business, a key ingredient to the next stage of success for these stores was the presence of a reliable rail connection for the shipment and receipt of goods from far-flung locations. Next, the general town economy and its region needed to be an economically viable community. The town would typically be located far enough away from a major/larger town or city (with its own department stores) such that the small-town customers would have strong local demand for the store's goods without substantial competition. And the small town department store operation would be maintained, developed, and promoted by an individual or individuals who had strong ties to and connections with the social network of the town and surrounding area. All of these ingredients were orchestrated by W.H. "Billy" Waples in his contributions to Lynden and in his development of the Lynden Department Store.

Billy Waples co-founded the Lynden Department Store and opened its first location at Front Street and Fifth Street on November 1, 1897. Waples' friend and associate Andrew Smith had first enticed Waples to come to Lynden to start a new trading business. The two men formed a partnership, with Smith bringing a team of mules and a wagon, and Waples contributing $100 worth of merchandise he had acquired on credit to the new company. The company's first storefront was in a small subleased space in the Judson Building, on the building site that would eventually be the location of the larger, expanded Lynden Department Store. This small space measured only 12-1/2 feet by 40 feet and was half of the space owned by the Edward Edson Drug Store. Despite the small area of the shop, the partners adopted the ambitious name of the "Lynden Department Store" for the enterprise. By 1899, Edson had moved his drug store to a new location he had built across the street and the department store expanded to fill the entire Judson Building. Waples and Smith also moved a separate building to the adjacent site located east of the Judson building and added it as an annex. The department store quickly became a local center of retail activity, with early marketing campaigns that included such promotions as clearance sales where customers would be driven from far-flung locations to the store in horse and wagon caravans. Sidewalk Sales of merchandise were also used to promote the store.

By 1903, Waples had purchased the interests of Andrew Smith to become the sole owner of the company. From that point forward "Billy" Waples was known as the personality and driving force behind the Lynden Department Store. Waples soon bought the Judson Building and continued to expand the space by adding to the existing assemblage at Front and Fifth Streets. The Lynden Department Store was incorporated in 1909 with W.H. Waples as president, John P. Boerhave (1876-1944) as secretary and P.J. Van Hemert as treasurer.

Through the efforts of Billy Waples and a committee of Lynden boosters, the first rail connections reached Lynden in 1904. At that point, Lynden was connected with the rail system and telegraph network that reached Vancouver and Seattle and by extension all points south and east and shipping connections via Puget Sound. This was crucial for the development of the Lynden Department Store as a source for a wide variety of goods that could be obtained relatively quickly and reliably from sources throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Lynden Department Store could then effectively become part of a developing, national transportation and information system. This link to rail (and the telegraph that went with rail) was a necessary component for the development of small-town department stores located throughout the country. Also, connections between small western department stores with larger scale department store companies in the East and Midwest created opportunities for merchandising and financing partnerships for these small-town department stores.

With increased business fueled by rail connections and growing demand, by 1906 the Lynden Department Store was running out of sales and storage space. In that year Waples purchased the larger Miller Building, a grand brick structure located one block east (at Front and Fourth Streets) to house the dry goods, hardware and grocery trade, while using the Judson assemblage for storage. The new store could advertise that it had "The Most Complete Line in the County" of hats, clothing, hardware, paints, groceries, stoves, wagons and buggies (with or without decorative fringe on the tops).

In 1913, a fire destroyed the Lynden Department Store storage facilities at the old Judson Store, at Front and Fifth Streets. By July of 1914, Billy Waples was far along in the construction of a new, larger, more modern reinforced concrete and heavy timber structure to replace the burned storage facilities at the corner of Front and Fifth. The Lynden Tribune included an announcement that summer that "Roo & VanLeeuwen's Big Four-Horse Team of Blacks and Grays" were delivering "7,000 feet of 2x6's for floors in the new Waples Building." By this time the Lynden Department Store had for several years been placing large, prominent advertisements in the Lynden Tribune, with elaborate descriptions of the huge inventory available at the store. The stores ads through this period indicate a marketing sensibility and use of graphics and imagery that were in tune with big city advertising of the time, some using late art nouveau-inspired imagery and styling. The ads made it clear that virtually anything available across the country could be ordered through the store and picked up in Lynden, including early Apperson "Jack Rabbit" automobiles through the store's dealership.

By the Autumn of 1914 the store began advertising clearance and moving sales and announcing the construction of its new department store building at Front and Fifth. On October 22, 1914, in a prominent advertisement in the Lynden Tribune the store announced that it had now moved into "Our New Home" in a "Modern New Building" where the feed department would be at the rear and that in a "short time we hope to do feed grinding." Contrasting with this, there would be a "Ladies Rest Room" on the "Balcony Floor" which they "intend to fix up cozily, and we extend a cordial invitation to all ladies to make use of this room at any time they wish to do so." There would also be a "Bargain Basement" where they would sell "5, 10 and 15 cent goods, graniteware, chinaware, crockery, kitchenware, etc." And wheat was on sale through the store ("f.o.b. our warehouse and subject to market changes") at $33.25/ton. All from the "Lynden Department Store - The Home of Hart Schaffner & Marx Clothes." Not only could the farmer stock up on grain at the Lynden Department Store, the men could shop for the latest styles in ties, jackets, and topcoats from Chicago. And the ladies of Lynden could find "art linens", shoes and dresses that were shipped from New York, plus stop by the Ladies' Lounge in the Balcony.

Through the continual development of connections with the community and business network of Lynden, Billy Waples placed himself and the Lynden Department Store in the center of the commercial and social life of the town. His seasonal sales and events throughout the year became part of the community calendar, announced through the Lynden Tribune and in-store flyers. And his prizes and promotions were part of an overall marketing effort. One example is the weekly clock promotion. Each week Billy Waples would wind a Lynden Department Store clock, re-set the time and cover the clock. Customers who came into the store (with a certain minimum purchase) could write down their guess as to the hidden time on the clock. The closest guess would win the weekly prize, with a piano as the prize in a particularly grand round-of-the-clock promotion.

The interior photograph below shows the main floor at Christmas time, apparently taken at some point in the 1920's (with a small flocked tree above the display cases). The main floor evidently included a wide variety of grocery and dry goods items. The heavy timber framing was painted a light color. The storefronts were glazed and natural lighting also came through the high west windows. Lighting was with pendant-mounted globes. The fir tongue and groove flooring was already showing use.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Main Floor looking north (1920)
Main Floor looking north (1920)

A slightly earlier view, apparently at the east side of the main floor, certainly prior to the 1928 expansion. It appears that the mezzanine is at the rear. If so, this is a view looking north. A sales counter with stools is at right and the sales clerk is assisting a female customer in ordering items. The very high floor to ceiling spaces here are used to insert high storage shelving and a rolling ladder system.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Main Floor Looking east (1915)
Main Floor Looking east (1915)

The interior view below was apparently taken c. 1920 or earlier and evidently is a view taken in the basement level, given the lower ceiling heights. Also, light wells are cut into the ceiling to bring light down into the windowless space. Men's clothing was the focus of this area of the store. A wood-burning stove is at rear.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Basement Interior view (1915)
Basement Interior view (1915)

A 1920's view seen below also appears to be in the basement level, given the ceiling heights. Exuberant displays of what appear to be handkerchiefs are arranged in arcs. At left, a long sales counter with shining top runs nearly the entire length of the floor. At right are display cases and high shelving, with another wood-burning stove in the rear.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Basement Interior view (1920)
Basement Interior view (1920)

In less than twenty years, the Lynden Department Store had grown from a small general store on a mud road, using mule and wagon transportation to stock minimal items for a small logging and farming town, to a bustling small town department store that connected this remote rural town to a rapidly expanding, national consumer network.

An October 30th, 1925, photograph shows the Lynden Department Store at center, three bays wide on Front Street prior to its second phase expansion. The Lynden Opera House still stands to the left in the photograph, across Fifth Street (wood frame building with diamond window in gable with Palladian window below; now demolished). The streets are paved and concrete sidewalks installed. Horses and buggies are gone from view by then, replaced by automobiles. The pediment says "The Waples Building".

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street (1925)
Front Street (1925)

By 1928, Billy Waples had purchased the State Bank Building on the lot adjacent and to the east of the 1914 store (frame building to the right, behind the power pole) and demolished it for an expansion of the main store. Two photos from the 1940s show the newly expanded building. In the first photo below, a view west on Front Street includes the Lynden Department Store at right. The next photo shows a view looking east on Front Street, taken during the Lynden Pioneer Parade in 1941. The newly added bay expansion repeated the 1914 window openings and window types in the bay, rebuilding the street awning to extend in both the east and west directions. The south elevation parapet was now reconfigured so that the pediment was centered on the expanded Front Street facade. This pediment included the new version of the "Waples Building" lettering mounted on the facade.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street looking west (1940)
Front Street looking west (1940)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street looking east, Pioneer Parade (1941)
Front Street looking east, Pioneer Parade (1941)

In the 1920s, Waples had also built a commercial fertilizer plant to complement the store's farm equipment and supply business. In 1947, Waples purchased additional building space for use on the block (not part of the store), eventually expanding the Lynden Department Store and warehouse/fertilizer operations to exceed 75,000 square feet of usable space. By the 1940s, the basic urban form and architectural assemblage in downtown Lynden's Front Street commercial district were essentially in place and continues to today. The Lynden Department Store was (and still remains) the largest commercial building in Downtown Lynden.

Small-town summer parades tend to center around the main commercial intersection and major "main street' buildings. This is the case in Lynden, as shown in the image above, dating from the summer of 1941 when the Lynden Pioneer Parade photographer focuses on the Front/Fifth Streets intersection and the Lynden Department Store, a symbol of Lynden's community. It anchored the town as a commercial center within the Front Street community.

With disruptions of World War II, the expansion of automobile use and highway construction, and the development of large regional shopping centers, most rural department stores faced increasing pressure and competition. In towns like Lynden that were more remote from major urban centers, this decline was delayed, longer and more gradual than in many other small "main street" towns. The Lynden Department Store business continued to grow through the 1940s and into the 1950s. Mr. Waples retired in 1960, at which point his son-in-law Lyman Judson (1900-1980) and Waple's grandson Richard Judson assumed the management of the company.

After Billy Waples death in 1962, the business fortunes of the Lynden Department Store declined. A 1965 photograph, taken during the store's "68th Anniversary Sale" shows the exterior of the historic store basically intact. However, the lettering on the "Waples Building" signage has largely fallen down. A 1970 photograph shows the "Waples Building" lettering completely removed, but the building appears to be in good condition.

In 1975, the store was sold to Community Stores, Inc. but was sold again the next year to Wilson and Miller, an Idaho company. Community Stores, Inc. (renamed Pioneer Enterprises) repurchased the store in 1977 but the financial condition of the enterprise had seriously declined by that time. John P. Boerhave, son of an original store manager and secretary of the company, in announcing a liquidation sale that commenced on April 26, 1979 stated that the company wished "to thank our many loyal customers who have always supported us. We sincerely regret that our valued relationship must come to an end."

The Lynden Department Store building was eventually reconfigured as a collection of shops under the name "Delft Square", with a reopening on June 23, 1983. An arson fire was set on the top floor of the building on June 8, 2008. The building's heavy timber internal structure and reinforced concrete exterior construction helped to largely contain the fire to the roof and top floor posts of the building. The store has been empty since the fire. New owners have stabilized the building and are planning an adaptive reuse.

History of Lynden, Washington

Lynden is located in the north Puget Sound region of western Washington, in the northwestern section of Whatcom County. Lynden is the second largest city in Whatcom County (after Bellingham), with approximately 12,000 residents and is located five miles south of the Canadian border. Fifteen miles to the west is the city of Bellingham and Puget Sound. To the east are the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, near Lynden's city limits. The town is located on the Nooksack River, which originates in the Cascades and is central to the history and development of Lynden and its abundant river valley agriculture. The area now populated as Lynden was settled and occupied for thousands of years by native peoples related to the Puget Sound Salish tribes. The group known as the Nooksack tribe had lived in the area they refer to as "Squahalish" for many generations before the first encounters with Euro-American explorers in the early nineteenth century.

The first permanent, non-native settler in the area of the town of Lynden was James Alexander Patterson, a Tennessean who arrived in 1860. In that same year Patterson built the first Euro-American structure, a log cabin that stood at what would eventually be Front Street and Sixth Street (one block from the eventual location of the Lynden Department Store). Lynden's first post office was established in 1873 with Holden Judson as postmaster. Judson's wife Phoebe was asked to name the town and she chose a name based on the poem "Hohenlinden" by Thomas Campbell, changing the spelling to "Lynden". Holden Judson platted the town in 1884. The Northwest Normal School (later Western Washington University) was founded in Lynden in the late 1880's, and eventually re-established in Bellingham. Although Lynden's initial commercial activity centered on logging, by the end of the nineteenth-century agriculture was already in strong development, which continues to today, owing to the rich soils of the Nooksack River Valley. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing until the 1950s, because of its agriculture and social network of immigrants, Lynden became known as a welcoming center for Dutch settlers, including those leaving Europe after World War II. Many of its downtown commercial buildings have been designed (or altered) with Dutch architectural elements. Today the town remains known for the largest community of Dutch residents in Washington State.

Billy Waples and Early years in the Lynden Community

William H. Billy Waples was born in Delmar, Delaware on December 1, 1876, the son of Anna and Magnus Waples. The Waples family moved to Chicago prior to the family's move to Montesano, Grays Harbor County, Washington in 1888. Known as Billy throughout his life, Waples briefly studied law before moving as a young man to Bellingham, the bustling county seat of Whatcom County, Washington in the late 1880's. This move marked his first (and life-long) connection with retailing and department store commerce. He was hired as a store clerk by Charles Cissna to work in the Fair Department Store in what was then known as the town of Whatcom (consolidated by 1904 with three other towns to form Bellingham), where he was soon placed in charge of the wholesale department which sold goods to small country general stores in the Whatcom area, providing Waples with a valuable introduction to merchandising in this specialized rural commercial network of towns.

Waples worked for several years with the Fair Department Store before health issues caused him to move from the city to work in a rural environment. While working as a farm hand, he met Andrew R. Smith of Lynden, who also owned a mule team. Waples and Smith agreed on forming a partnership to sell goods in Lynden and Waples approached his former boss Charles Cissna for a loan to help initiate the new venture. Cissna offered to underwrite a new company but Waples preferred instead to take $100 worth of goods on credit from Cissna. By 1897, the two had joined forces in a partnership based in Lynden, with each contributing cash and goods and the use of Smith's mule team. As described above, the two opened the first (ambitiously-named) "Lynden Department Store" on November 1, 1897 in a 500 square foot rented space, located in a false-front frame building located at the corner of Front and Fifth Streets.

In the years before rail service extended to Lynden, the new company was forced to rely on the use of Smith's mule team and wagon to supply the new store. Four times per week, the wagon team made arduous buying trips to and from the warehouse district in what is now known as Bellingham's "Old Town" - a nearly 30-mile round trip over mud road, plus a ferry trip across the Nooksack River. These trips would typically start by 4 am in Lynden, with Smith and his team returning from Bellingham to Lynden at 9 pm with two tons of goods to sell in the tiny Front Street store.

In January of 1900, Waples married Arvilla Cissna in Bellingham. By 1903, Waples had purchased Smith's ownership in the Lynden Department Store and from that point on the company rapidly expanded and outgrew its store locations several times. By relentlessly promoting the new business and its place in Lynden, through the careful use of credit and by expanding his earlier connections with larger stores and wholesalers, Waples rapidly increased the sales volume of the Lynden Department Store in the first years of the twentieth century.

Billy and Arvilla Waples, the Lynden Department Store and the Lynden Mill & Light Company

Billy Waples saw early on that the success of the Lynden Department Store would ultimately depend upon the modernization of Lynden's infrastructure, on a growing commercial economy in the town and (perhaps most importantly) on bringing a railroad line extension into Lynden. In turn, the presence of a successful department store in Lynden would spur additional development of the economic and social networks of this emerging rural town.

On April 18, 1903, the Fairhaven Times announced that "W. J. WAPLES, Mrs. Arvilla WAPLES and Edward EDSON of Lynden have incorporated the Lynden Mill & Light Co. with $6,000 capital and are arranging to establish a large saw and shingle mill and an electric lighting plant in the Gem City [Lynden] this year." Billy and Arvilla Waples soon bought out Edson's stake in the company Edward Edson would be pivotal in the history of Lynden, building an important shake mill on Fishtrap Creek, just outside of Lynden. More significantly, the Lynden Mill & Light Company was also the first utility to deliver electricity to power Lynden and its street lighting. The company was eventually sold by the Waples to Puget Sound Power and Light Company, now known as Puget Sound Energy. Waples installed a new boiler and electric generator at the mill, followed by the installation of arc lights in Front Street (where the Waples store was located), with incandescent lighting first installed in several of the side streets, replacing the "dismal nights of kerosene and lantern." Lynden's streets were still unpaved at that time. The street lights were turned on at sunset and turned off at midnight, except for special late-night events.

The Lynden Department Store was not the only enterprise that illustrates Billy Waples ability to think strategically. By 1907, the Lynden and Whatcom County area were in a severe economic downturn. Except for the Lynden Mill & Light Company's shake mill at Fishtrap Creek, and most other mills had closed, at least temporarily. Waples entered into a series of agreements with mill workers to continue working in the mill - and with the farmers who supplied most of the shake bolt material to continue to provide material to Waples - in exchange for a special Lynden Department Store scrip that he would trade for their supply and labor. This scrip was used to purchase merchandise and groceries at the Lynden store. This was apparently the first significant use of the Lynden Department Store scrip and store credits that would become a significant tool for the growth of the store (as it was in other rural department stores in the U.S.). Even though demand was low for the shakes at the time of the 1907 depression, Waples continued to mill the shakes and store the material in a variety of barns and other storage spaces scattered throughout the Lynden area, also in trade for Lynden Department Store scrip. When the economy recovered, demand accelerated quickly. Waples was one of the few shake suppliers in the region who could satisfy the demand and capitalize on the increased prices.

By linking the fledgling Lynden Department Store and its supply of food and clothing with the shake mill business and its network of suppliers and employees, Waples demonstrated in the economic downturn of 1907 a creative ability to serve the cash-strapped and struggling families of Lynden and expand his business enterprise at the same time. This was a forecast of the Lynden Department Store credit system that would also be important in Lynden during the Great Depression of the 1930's.

As historian Vicki Howard points out in her analysis of the early rural department stores, these social and economic connections between the small-town department stores and their communities were important in their success and distinguished these stores from most of their big-city counterparts. Author Henry Klassen also notes in his research on the Montana firm of T.C. Power & Bro., that in order to be successful these Western department store entrepreneurs needed to diversify and connect very precisely with the specialized needs of their customers and suppliers.

Billy Waples and Bringing the Railroad to Lynden

The huge expansion of railroad lines into and throughout the rural west in last years of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century had major implications for retail and wholesale supply. Railroad location decisions could make or break a town. This was especially true for the emerging department stores in the rural west, given their dependence on the rapid and regular supply of goods from distant suppliers and wholesalers." Waples saw that the railroad line locations would be crucial for the development of Lynden and the Lynden Department Store.

At the same time that the Lynden Mill & Light Company was formed, Waples was working in 1903 with a small group of Lynden business owners to pool funds and resources to secure a railroad line extension to Lynden. This group consisted of Billy Waples, Edward Edson (Waples' landlord), A.L Swim, Simon Kildall and B.W. Loring. Where railroad rights of way could not be obtained by donation, this committee arranged for investments to purchase access rights.

By 1904, Waples and his group of Lynden colleagues succeeded in extending the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad into Lynden, linking this small rural town with Hampden, Washington, and in turn with the Canadian and U.S. national railroad networks. With this 1904 rail connection, the Lynden Department Store could greatly expand its supply of goods to sell to the Lynden community and vastly improve its delivery system beyond the store's existing mule teams and wagons.

Waples' and Kildall's New Year's Eve Parties and the Celebration of the Railroad's Arrival in Lynden

With the news of their success in bringing the railroad to Lynden, Billy Waples (owner of the Lynden Department Store) and Simon Kildall (owner of the Kildall Mercantile Company) each decided to host enormous New Year's Eve parties to usher in the year 1904 at their respective shops in Lynden - each located at opposite corners of the intersection at Front and Fifth Streets. Kildall's building also housed the Judson Opera Hall upstairs.

For Waples' party in the Lynden Department Store and the Kildall party across the street, the "Pacific Pilot" newspaper reported that a total of 3,000 people crowded into and through the two buildings and into the street. Oysters, sandwiches, cake, pickles and sweet cider were served, with entertainment by the Rohrbacher Orchestra of Bellingham performing at the Kildall buildings and a performance by the Morgan Negro Jubilee Company at the Lynden Department Store.

Waples and the Founding of the Northwest Washington Fair

Billy Waples saw that the town of Lynden's success was a prerequisite for the success of the Lynden Department Store and his other enterprises. By 1904, he was sole owner of the Lynden Department Store, co-owner with Arvilla Waples of the Lynden Mill & Light Company and had been instrumental in bringing the railroad to Lynden. In 1905, Waples and his former employer Charles Cissna joined forces to build the first brick building in Lynden for a new state bank that they were organizing.

In June of 1911, Waples and a separate group of Lynden boosters decided that, rather than plan for just another July 4th party and parade, what Lynden needed in addition to that was a "first class fair." Within a period of only four months, this first group managed to complete all of the following: they organized an entity called the "Whatcom County Fair', sold shares in the enterprise to raise building funds, purchased a 20-acre site at the edge of town, cleared it, milled and sold the lumber to raise additional funds, built grandstands, cattle sheds, a horse and pony track and the exhibition hall; and opened the first fair on October 17, 1911."

An October, 1925 photograph shows Billy Waples with other members of the fair association. The Whatcom County Fair is now known as the "Northwest Washington Fair" and in five days in August 2010 attracted over 215,000 visitors to Lynden. The Whatcom County Fair is still held on the 20-acre site on the edge of town that was purchased for that purpose by Billy Waples and his colleagues in 1911.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington W.H. Waples (seated at right) with Whatcom County Fair Association (1925)
W.H. Waples (seated at right) with Whatcom County Fair Association (1925)

Waples and the Lynden Department Store in the Depression Years

In 2004, during renovations of the Lynden Department Store Building, a series of unclaimed boxes were discovered in storage spaces in the building. Containing detailed credit ledgers from the store's history between 1909 and 1978, the accounting seems to substantiate a major part of Lynden's folklore: that especially during the 1930s, Billy Waples and his Lynden Department Store had played a central role in helping many of Lynden's citizens feed and clothe their families through the worst years of the Depression.

The ledgers show that in a seven-year period in the early 1930's, Waples' company extended a total of as much as $30 million in credit to Lynden area individuals, families, and businesses (equal to approximately $120 million in 2010 dollars) allowing those without available cash to finance groceries, clothing, feed, and other necessary goods through the store. The Lynden Department Store acted as a social and economic anchor for this hard-pressed agricultural town during extremely challenging times. This required ongoing and intensive efforts on the part of Waples in securing financing of his own for his various operations during those difficult years, likely from lending institutions and sources who did not necessarily share Waples' interests in the welfare of his fellow Lynden citizens and its surrounding farms. As head of the company, the Lynden Department Store's role as a reliable source of store credit would not have been possible without Billy Waples' vision of the store as a central player in the social and economic life of Lynden and its citizens.

Billy Waples' Later Years

Waples continued to expand the business of the Lynden Department Store and its affiliated activities through the 1940s and 1950s. One photograph of Mr. Waples taken in the Lynden Department Store on the occasion of the company's 50th anniversary in 1947 shows him with other members of his sales team in 1947 (Waples third from left). Another photograph of Mr. Waples taken that same day shows him standing alone in the store. Although by the late 1950's the fortunes of the company had declined (along with other rural, independently owned department stores across the country), it appears that Mr. Waples' stature in the community was undiminished. Waples retired in 1960 after being the driving force behind the Lynden Department Store for more than sixty years. He had long been one of Lynden's and Whatcom County's most energetic and active citizens, a highly significant figure in the history of that region.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Store Managers at 50<sup>th</sup> anniversary (1947)
Store Managers at 50th anniversary (1947)

When he died in 1962, Mr. Waples obituary and photograph were prominent on page one of The Lynden, Tribune. The obituary stated that William H. Waples was one of Lynden's "pioneer merchants and outstanding citizens."

Building Description

The Lynden Department Store is the largest and most prominent commercial structure in the downtown shopping area of Lynden, Washington. Lynden is located on the Nooksack River near the foothills of Washington's Cascade Mountains and within five miles of the Canadian border. The town is characterized by its compact, main street downtown, its Dutch settler heritage and its rich surrounding farmlands. The initial construction for the Lynden Department Store structure was completed in 1914 by W.H. Billy Waples. Mr. Waples is a highly significant figure in the history of Whatcom County and Lynden, owner of both the Lynden Department Store and the Lynden Mill and Light Company, which operated a lumber mill in town and first brought electric lighting to Lynden's streets. Mr. Waples was also instrumental in the effort to bring the first railroad to Lynden. The Lynden Department Store is a notable example of the independently owned department store, a store type that developed out of the general store and was significant in the history of commerce in small-town America in the first half of the twentieth century. The structure is also an example of reinforced concrete exterior wall construction in a commercial building, unusual for a small western town. The interior structure also includes a longitudinal reinforced concrete wall that runs the length of the building, together with heavy timber post and beam construction. Measuring roughly 100 feet by 140 feet on the upper two levels, and with a high floor basement level below, the total floor area of the building is approximately 38,000 square feet. The building is prominently located on the corner of Front Street and Fifth Street in the center of Lynden's commercial main street. The building was constructed in two phases, with the majority constructed in 1914 and one bay added in 1928. The building retains a relatively high degree of integrity in all of its original exterior reinforced concrete walls and openings, its original cornice, its internal reinforced concrete wall and the great majority of its original heavy timber construction from these two building phases, with the exception of the low-slope roof and the top floor columns, which were destroyed in a fire in 2008. The building is currently vacant. The Lynden Department Store continues to be the largest and most prominent commercial structure in this prosperous agricultural town.

The Lynden Department Store building is prominently located on Front Street in Lynden, Washington. The building occupies the northeast corner of the intersection of Front and Fifth Streets. The Lynden Department Store building was completed and opened for business in October of 1914. The building retains its original basic configuration from the two phases of construction (1914 and 1928), built out to the property lines on three sides, with an alley to the north. The structure is the tallest building on Front Street, as well as the largest commercial building in downtown Lynden.

Lynden's Front Street was first developed in the 1880's. Front Street today is largely made up of buildings that were initially constructed in the first two decades of the twentieth century, although several of the Front Street facades have been significantly altered.

The Lynden Department Store exterior retains its basic architectural facade elements and is composed of two tall floors above street grade, with a single tall basement level below. The building is made up of repetitive bays, nine bays in the long dimension along Fifth Street and four bays wide along Front Street. The original 1914 construction was three bays wide along Front Street, with the fourth bay added in 1928. The building was constructed with storefront assemblies at each of the Front Street bays. A wide fixed awning covered the Front Street sidewalk in the 1914 construction, modified in the 1928 expansion. The Fifth Street elevation has an irregular series of openings on the street level and a repetitive series of openings at the second level above the street. Both the alley elevation to the north and the party wall elevation to the east are characterized by irregular openings in the reinforced concrete walls. A portion of the party wall is built in brick masonry.

The original 1914/1928 projecting metal cornice assemblies remain in place above the second-floor windows, along the entire length of both Front Street and Fifth Street. The high, reinforced concrete parapet walls are also intact and in their original configuration, as is the partial masonry party wall at the east. Besides the 1928 expansion, no horizontal or vertical floor plan expansions or additions have ever been added to the exterior of the original 1914 building.

Approximate Building Dimensions:
1. Basement Plan: 74 feet X 140 feet, plus 54.5 feet X 26 feet = 11,836 square feet
2. Main Floor (street level) Plan: 100 feet X 140 feet = 14,000 square feet
3. Mezzanine Plan: (varies in plan) approx. 30 feet X 100 feet = 3,000 square feet
4. Upper Floor Plan: 100 feet X 140 feet = 14,000 square feet
Total Building Area: 42,836 square feet

Interior Building Heights (floor to ceiling):
Basement Height: approx. 9'-8"
Main Floor Height: ranges from 9'-5" under mezzanine to 17'-8" in main floor area
Mezzanine Height: 7'-8"
Upper Level Height: from 10'-2" at alley side to 13'-2" at Front Street side

Exterior Building Heights from existing grade:
At North, West Elevations: approximately 35 feet to top of parapet
At East party wall: approximately 30 feet to top of parapet
At South Elevation (Front Street) ranges from 35 feet to 42 feet max. at top of segmental pediment parapet

The Lynden Department Store site configuration is essentially unchanged since the two-phase 1914/1928 building programs. The building's historical relationship within the center of the downtown Lynden shopping area is also largely unchanged. Although there has been considerable development in the blocks surrounding Front Street since 1914, the town of Lynden has retained a relatively compact form, bounded mainly by agricultural land to the west and north, by the Nooksack River valley to the south and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to the east.

W.H. "Billy" Waples formed the Lynden Department Store with his associate Andrew Smith in 1897. The store first occupied a small leased space measuring 12-1/2 feet X 30 feet in the wood frame Judson Building, located on the same Front Street corner site as the later 1914/1928 Lynden Department Store structure. The remainder of the building was occupied by Ed Edson's (1860-1944) City Drug Store. By 1899, Edson had relocated the City Drug Store and the Lynden Department Store use was expanded to fill the entire Judson Building. Waples and Smith also moved a second building onto the site to the east, using it as an annex to the existing building. After buying out Smith's interests in 1903, in 1906 Waples relocated the Lynden Department Store retail operations to the recently constructed (and much larger) Miller Building, which had been constructed in brick one block away at Front Street and Fourth. Waples continued to use the Judson Building assemblage at Front and Fifth Streets for storage.

In 1913, the wood frame buildings at the Fifth and Front Street site were destroyed in a fire. In their place, in October of 1914, Waples completed the construction of an entirely new structure for the expanded Lynden Department Store, with reinforced concrete exterior walls on three sides, mixed concrete and brick masonry at the party wall and a heavy timber interior structure. Given the relative sophistication of the multi-story reinforced concrete construction and heavy timber detailing in the building, it is likely there was an architect or structural engineer involved with the design of the project. However, neither the architect nor builder of the Lynden Department Store are identified in City of Lynden records, archival documents, newspaper accounts or local historical accounts.

Immediately east of the new Waples Building / Lynden Department Store stood the two-story wood frame First National Bank Building. By 1928, Waples had purchased this bank structure, demolished it and added the east bay to the Lynden Department Store building, repeating the window openings and window types, rebuilding the street awning to extend in both the east and west directions, and reconfiguring the south elevation parapet so that the segmental pediment was centered on the expanded Front Street facade. This is essentially the building structure that remains on site today, except that at some point between 1970 and 1989 the street awning was removed and reconfigured.

Mr. Waples died in 1962. The Lynden Department Store operation was dissolved and the store closed its doors in April of 1979. The property was then sold to an unrelated party and the building was reconfigured as "Delft Square" (named in recognition of Lynden's Dutch heritage). Several separate retailers operated in a variety of commercial spaces within the building until June 9, 2008, when an arson fire destroyed the roof, roof structure and the upper-level columns. The building has been vacant since that date. However, in 2009 a new owner group (Front Street Development Group LLC) acquired the property with the plan to complete a rehabilitation of the building.

The Front Street elevation is the primary building facade for the Lynden Department Store. Front Street is the main street of Lynden's downtown shopping area, as it has been since the late nineteenth century. The Lynden Department Store was built in two phases, with the three western bays completed in 1914 and the final (eastern) bay completed in 1928. The Front Street facade is constructed mainly of cast-in-place reinforced concrete, rising two tall stories above the street level. This facade is capped with a high segmental parapet, with a maximum parapet height of approximately 42 feet. Each of the four bays has an opening that originally featured a separate but similar storefront assembly, apparently constructed of wood, glass and miscellaneous metals. All of these storefronts were significantly altered in varying degrees up through the 1990s. No original storefront components remain. Above the lower storefront level and below the first-floor transom windows, in both the 1914 construction and the 1928 expansion, a continuous fixed sidewalk awning ran across the entire Front Street elevation, supported by iron rods or cables mounted on the building. The awning was apparently framed in steel and wood with wood fascia and store lettering mounted within the fascia. This awning was removed at some point between 1970 and 1989. Above the awning, a continuous series of wood and glass transom windows were installed, possibly hopper type or awning windows. All of these windows were replaced between 1970 and 1989 with aluminum framed window units, each with a fixed pane of glass above and a horizontal sliding unit below. During this same time period, a new sloped awning with standing metal seam roofing was mounted on the building just above these transom level windows. This sloped awning remains in place, in damaged condition, including plywood sheathing that was installed after the building roof fire. At the second floor, at each of the four bays, there were originally two sets of two double-hung wood windows, one over one. These window sets were set within a slightly recessed panel within each bay. None of these windows remain, although the recessed bays and the original openings all remain. A continuous metal-clad cornice remains, original to the 1914 and 1928 building phases, running above these windows and wrapping the corners at both ends of this facade. This cornice shows some limited (but repairable) damage from the 2008 fire. Above the cornice line is the original high parapet wall with a three-sided segmental pediment extension centered on this facade, with metal capping and flashing.

The Fifth Street elevation of the building is the longest facade of the building but has historically been secondary to the Front Street elevation. This west elevation has two street-level door service openings and a storefront window opening (partially infilled) at the Front Street corner, but otherwise has no pedestrian level door or window openings. The facade is composed of a series of nine bays marked by the structural frame of this cast-in-place reinforced concrete exterior wall. Beginning at the north end of this facade, the first five bays each included a pair of high windows (wood double hung, one over one) at the street level, with their sills set at approximately 10 feet above the sidewalk grade. These windows have all been removed, although their projecting sills and openings remain. At the second floor, at each of the nine bays, there were originally two double-hung wood windows, one over one. These windows were set within a slightly recessed panel within each bay. None of these windows remain, although the recessed bays, the original openings and the projecting sills all remain. The wall surfaces are currently painted, as they were historically. A continuous metal-clad cornice, original to the 1914 and 1928 building phases, runs above these windows and wraps the corners at both ends of this west facade, a continuation of the Front Street cornice line. This cornice also shows some damage from the 2008 fire. Above the cornice line is a parapet wall with metal capping and flashing.

The alley elevation is a tertiary facade that has historically served as a service access from the alley and a source of very limited light and air. The facade is constructed of cast-in-place reinforced concrete, with the board forming clearly visible here, with a painted finish. As opposed to the Front Street and Fifth Street facades, there is no articulation of the structural bays on this elevation. The facade has a limited series of window openings in an irregular pattern. Beginning at the alley level, there are four irregularly shaped doorway openings, with doors that are outside of the period of significance. At this level there are also five window openings, all currently boarded. No windows in this facade are from the period of significance. Above the alley grade level, at the interior mezzanine level, there are five additional window openings, also boarded. At the second floor level, there are two additional window openings. Roof scuppers and downspouts are located in for locations on this facade, together with electrical service equipment. The alley also includes the power distribution system and a timber power pole framework is located within inches of this facade. At the west end of this facade, the metal cornice (dating from 1914) wraps the corner and extends across a portion of the alley elevation, with a raised parapet wall in that location.

The east elevation of the Lynden Department store dates from the 1928 expansion of the store. The majority of this party wall elevation is covered by the adjacent building to the east. As with the alley facade, there is no exterior articulation of the structural bays in this elevation. Although primarily constructed of reinforced concrete, the south portion of this party wall was constructed in brick, now painted white. Apparently the brick party wall that adjoined the building to the east was left in place and that brick wall was extended vertically to the height of the addition. There are no openings at the first level in this facade. At the mezzanine level, there is a pair of tall narrow windows (now boarded over, windows removed). Also at the mezzanine level are three large window openings with heavily deteriorated steel sash, multipane windows in this elevation, with the date of installation unknown. Above this level, at the second full level above grade, there is a series of five tall windows, each with deteriorated remnants of steel sash, multipane windows. The facade also has an electrical service panel and rigid conduit installed at the north corner.

The Lynden Department Store's main floor is at the level of Front and Fifth Streets. As described above, the building was constructed in two phases, with the west three bays constructed in 1914 and the final (east) bay constructed in 1928. The original cast-in-place reinforced concrete wall (formerly the east exterior party wall prior to the 1928 expansion) remains in place, running north-south for the length and height of the building. These walls vary in thickness from 12 to 18 inches. Several new openings were cut into this wall in connection with the 1928 expansion. The Front Street elevation originally had wood/metal/glass storefront assemblies in each of the four bays (now all removed), with high transom windows above (also removed). The Fifth Street (west) interior elevation also included a series of high windows to the north of the building. The original 1914 structural bays for this floor level each measure approximately 24.5 feet X 15.5 feet, while the east (1928) bays each measure approximately 26.25 feet X 15.5 feet. The floor-to-ceiling height in the main floor areas measures 17'-8", reduced to 9'-5" in the areas under the rear mezzanine (described below). The structural system of the building and the main floor consists of reinforced concrete exterior walls (except for the south portion of the party wall, built in brick masonry), plus the intermediate north-south 1914 concrete wall, varying in thickness from 12 inches to 18 inches. The structural bays include heavy timber (12X12 inch) columns and 18-inch deep fir beams above, joined with cast iron beam-column connectors. The floor structure is typically 2x6 inch decking on edge, set face-to-face, with 1-3/4 inch X 3-1/2 inch tongue and groove decking above. In the three 1914 (west) bays, a full basement level is located below the main floor. Accordingly, the main floor deck in this area is heavy timber with joists and tongue-and groove fir decking. Areas of this original decking survive, although in a damaged state). A large opening in the floor was originally installed in the center of the 1914 building in the locations where a wood-structured stair originally connected the main floor with the basement level of the building (see Fig. 28). This stair structure was removed under prior ownership. In the 1928 (east) bays, there is only a partial basement below, located near the center of the building. The main floor in these newer bays is partially concrete slab on grade (in areas where there is no basement below) and heavy timber with joists, decking and concrete topping above in the area where the basement exists below.

A mezzanine with stair occupies most of the rear (north) bays of the main floor, apparently installed with the 1914 and 1928 construction phases. This mezzanine remains in place in an altered state today and is constructed in heavy timber with wood joists and decking. The mezzanine level has two wood-structured stairways connecting this level with the main floor level, with one of these stairs (at the northwest corner of the building) continuing up to the second level of the building. All partitions in the mezzanine were removed under prior ownership. The mezzanine level continues from the 1914 construction through the concrete wall into the 1928 construction. An opening in the mezzanine floor at the northeast bay C-D in the plan was apparently used for hauling goods between the floor levels. Window openings at the mezzanine level are located at the west elevation, the north elevation and the east elevation, as described above in the exterior building descriptions.

The basement level of the Lynden Department Store occupies the entire plan area of the 1914 building, plus a portion of the 1928 expansion. The basement interior height measures approximately 9'-8" from floor to ceiling. The floor surface in this entire basement level is concrete slab on grade. The major structural bays in the 1914 building phase vary from approximately 25 feet X 16 feet to 24.5 feet X 15.5 feet. The columns marking these bays are typically 12X12 inch fir posts, with 18-inch deep fir beams above running in the north-south direction. This floor level is unique in its inclusion of a second series of 8x8-inch fir posts located at mid-point in each bay in each of the east-west column lines, with 14-inch deep fir beams running east-west above. The ceiling/floor structure above is typically 2x6 inch decking on edge, set face-to-face, with 1-3/4 inch X 3-1/2 inch tongue and groove decking above. All column-beam connections are original cast iron components. Basement walls are the cast-in-place reinforced concrete walls, original to the 1914 and 1928 building phases. A single doorway opening was cut into the east (1914) party wall to connect the basement to the 1928-phase basement area.

The Lynden Department Store upper level was historically used as storage space serving the lower two retail levels. The roof structure above and the wood columns at this level were destroyed in the 2008 fire which occurred at this upper level. Prior to that fire, the columns were apparently located in plan in the same location as the grid of columns located below at the main floor level. Presumably, these upper-level columns were smaller in plan than the 12 X 12 inch columns below. The exterior reinforced concrete walls in the upper level all remain in place and are in good structural condition, as is the intermediate reinforced concrete wall between the 1914 and 1928 phases. The floor decking at this level is 2x4 on edge face-to-face, although the tongue and groove decking above was destroyed in the fire. All original window openings remain in place from the 1914 and 1928 building phases. The upper level floor deck is currently protected by heavy tarp weighted with sandbags, with drainage through the existing exterior scuppers and downspouts.

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street (1925)
Front Street (1925)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Site Plan (2010)
Site Plan (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street looking east (2010)
Front Street looking east (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street looking west (2010)
Front Street looking west (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street looking east (2010)
Front Street looking east (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Basement Plan (2010)
Basement Plan (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Main Floor Plan (2010)
Main Floor Plan (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Upper Floor Plan (2010)
Upper Floor Plan (2010)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Front Street looking east (1930)
Front Street looking east (1930)

Lynden Department Store, Lynden Washington Waples Building (1940)
Waples Building (1940)