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The Historic Pacific Highway
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Chuckanut Drive

State Road 6, 1905 - 1922
Waterfront Road, 1907 - 1912
Pacific Highway, 1913 - 1931
State Road 1, 1923 - 1936
US Route 99, 1926 - 1931
U.S. Route 99 Alternate, 1931 - 1970
Primary State Highway 1, 1937 - 1967
Secondary State Highway 1F, 1967 - 1970
State Route 11, 1970 - present

History of Chuckanut Drive

The completion of this road helped usher a new era of transportation for the region. In addition to providing needed access for farmers and local residents to the city of Bellingham, it also offered a unique opportunity to view some of the most spectacular scenic views anywhere in Washington State. By the time the road opened, the route was becoming known as Chuckanut Drive.

In the 1860s there had been a road of sorts but it was more like a trail through the Skagit County section between Fairhaven and Blanchard. In 1892 the road, at least in Skagit County, had followed a route similar to today's Chuckanut Drive, although calling it a "road" is generous as people traveling on it near the water were often blocked by high tide and had to wait until it dropped enough to let them pass. 

In 1895 parts of modern SR 11 were already a part of the state highway system in Washington and the road from Blanchard to Whatcom County became a state-maintained roadway. In 1896 a logging access road between Bellingham and Bow was built to replace the original road,  but for its first 10 years, it really couldn't be called a road either. 

Although only a one lane dirt logging road with deep ruts, this was the first time communities in Whatcom County had been connected by land to the Skagit Valley. In 1901 amidst controversy Skagit County sold a 3 mile section of the road to the Great Northern Railroad and the road became impassable.

In 1905 The fledgling Washington State legislature allocated funds to pave Chuckanut Drive from Bellingham to Bow. Funding ran out after only a few miles of road had been paved. Also in 1905 The road became State Road 6.In 1907 it was named the Waterfront Road.

In 1907 Entrepreneur, Charles Larrabee, and his partner, Cyrus Gates, surveyed the cliff-side road and, due to persuasive lobbying efforts in Olympia, succeeded in constructing the Fairhaven section of Chuckanut Drive. 

Also in 1907 wealthy Bellingham resident Charles X. Larrabee stepped in. Larrabee had a vision of a scenic drive running along the Samish and Chuckanut bays, and, aided by his business partner Cyrus Gates, surveyed parts of the road. 

In 1907 Due to persuasive lobbying efforts in Olympia Larrabee also obtained funding to build the Fairhaven section of the road and succeeded in constructing and paving the Fairhaven section of Chuckanut Drive. In 1909 the legislature appropriated money for further improvements of what was then known as the Waterfront Road.

In 1910 convicts from local jails are put to work on the road monitored by armed guards began construction. The convicts were not skilled at road construction, and the road was hard to build anyway. 

Parts of the roadbed had to be blasted out of the cliffs overlooking the water. Still, the convicts completed more than five miles of roadway along its southern end in Skagit County. 

In 1913 the legislature appropriated money for more roadwork. That same year, the not-quite-finished road was designated part of the Pacific Highway, a designation that remained until 1931. 

But there were problems with this final round of work, which was initially handled by a private company, Quigg Construction. This part of the road was directly above Great Northern Railway's track, and its construction caused frequent landslides that rained down on the rails below, causing big headaches for both state and railway officials. 

The state highway department eventually took over the completion of the road, and it opened in the spring of 1916.In the 1920's, the Rockpoint Oyster Company was started on Samish Bay by E. N. Steele and J. C. Barnes. 

During the Great Depression, the market for fresh oysters fell and so a shack was built on Washington State's first scenic highway, Chuckanut Drive, where oysters were sold by the plant manager Zenzabaro Maekawa to the travelers that passed by. 

The little stand did so well that it was soon enclosed, a lunch counter was added and the Rockpoint Oyster Restaurant was born. The Maekawa family was interned during World War II and the restaurant sat empty from 1942-1946.

In 1921 Paving of Chuckanut Drive between Fairhaven and Blanchard is completed.  In 1923 the State restructured the highway system and The Pacific Highway became State Road 1. 

In Skagit County, the Pacific Highway utilized the pre-existing State Road 6 and due to the restructuring State Road 6 was completely replaced by State Road 1.In 1926 the U.S. route system was formed and the Pacific Highway became US 99. 

In 1931 it became U.S. Route 99 Alternate. US 99 Alternate became the Chuckanut Drive branch of the main highway, running from Burlington to downtown as an inland bypass via Lake Samish was added to State Road closely following the route of Interstate-5 and Chuckanut Drive became a scenic highway.

In 1937 US 99 became Primary State Highway 1.In 1964 a new renumbering system was introduced for sign routes that was scheduled to go into effect in 1970. 

In 1967, Secondary State Highway 1F was established, connecting US 99 Alternate to US 99 via Fairhaven. During the same year, I-5 replaced US 99, leading to the removal of the US 99 alternate designation from what would become SR 11. In 1970, the SR 11 designation went into effect, running from Burlington to Downtown Bellingham.

Today it is still designated as State Route-11 and it is now a Washington State Scenic Byway.

 


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