Frederick Lane—Pillar on a Spit

Lane Spit Drive is not an exercise in street naming redundancy. Just like Beach Store Cafe is not named for the beach, nor is Blizard Road about a storm. But those are other tales. This is a story about the Lane of Lane Spit.

Rush to Adventure

Frederick F. Lane attended Yale before traveling in a covered wagon to the goldfields of California in the rush of 1849. Later, on his way to the Cariboo gold rush in British Columbia, he stopped in Whatcom County to serve a term as sheriff in 1859-1860. 

After prospecting in the Cascades, Lane voyaged to Shanghai and on around the world. Whether inadvertently or as an epic draft dodge, he happened to stay abroad during the entire Civil War.

Sheriff Lane's courthouse & jail. 1308 E. Street, Bellingham

Sheriff Lane's courthouse & jail.
1308 E. Street, Bellingham

Lane was 34. It was time to settle down. In 1866 he returned to live in Marietta, between the present Bellingham Airport and Nooksack River. Whatcom—there was no Bellingham yet—was done using log cabins for its courtroom and jail. The old T.G. Richards building was now the first brick courthouse in all of Washington. Lane signed on as sheriff again—and coroner...

"Go get my friend"

Jim Carr was dying of pneumonia. He was concerned about his wife and child. His wife Nellie was to get on the horse and find his neighbor and gold rush partner, Sheriff Fred Lane. 

“Go get my friend. I want to see him before I die. I want to tell him something.” 

She found Lane near where he tethered his horse. Seeing Nellie’s distressed face, he asked what was wrong and she gave him the message. 

When Lane arrived at Carr’s cabin, his friend told him, “I’m dying. I want you to take good care of my wife and baby.” 

This was not a simple request. To return home to her mother at Math’qui village near the Fraser River demanded that she find someone to canoe her up the river to Squahalich (now Lynden), then find a Nooksack guide willing to take her north into Sto:lo country (now Sumas and Chilliwack). The trip would take days. It was late winter 1867 and the weather could make the normally arduous journey a killer, especially with a baby. 

Nellie was 13 years old.

There was another twist that Carr might have been worried about. His marriage was illegal, and not because of his wife's age.

The Color Act

Washington Territory passed the Color Act in 1855, banning marriages between "whites" and "Indians." This was miscegenation. Taking up with a native woman—even if married by Indian custom—could result in arrest for "open and notorious fornication."

1855 also saw the Treaty of Point Elliott. Natives used to ranging from the San Juans to Mount Baker now stayed on a peninsula of land near Lummi Island. The last twelve years—almost all of Nellie's life—had been difficult for the natives. She had no rights where she lived, her child was illegitimate, and they might not survive the return to her people in Canada.

What was a law man to do? He married her. 

The Color Act was repealed in 1868, the year after Carr died. Lane could honor his friend's last request and start a new family. And a big one, they had 12 children together.

Legacy of Lane's navigation light.

Legacy of Lane's navigation light.

To Lummi Island

In 1880 they moved to Lummi Island near Lane Spit. They were the third family to permanently settle on the Island.

Lane tended a kerosene-burning navigation light on the tip of the spit. He helped establish school district #32 on the island and was the first school superintendent. From 1887 to 1890 he was postmaster. After the official post office opened in 1892 he delivered mail between the island and Fairhaven in a small sailboat.

You can still find the black walnut tree planted by Frederick Lane on North Nugent near Blizard Road. The tree is unique in that it straddles the ditch. When Lane planted the tree there may have been a trail, but no county road and no ditch. The tree still thrives because the road crew elected to tunnel under the tree rather than remove it. 

But another tree would be his undoing.

Pioneer Killed

He was 77. Lane was clearing land near his home on February 21, 1909 when a rolling log crushed and instantly killed him. His obituary called him “one of the most historic characters in the northwest.”

The Vancouver World , February 22, 1909

The Vancouver World, February 22, 1909


Lane Lines

The 1910 census lists the surviving Lanes as "Indian Population." The census taker was Frank Taft who founded The Willows.

1910 U.S. Census for Indian Population on Lummi Island  Go here for full interactive form.

1910 U.S. Census for Indian Population on Lummi Island
Go here for full interactive form.

The Lanes eventually moved across Hale Passage into Lummi Nation and beyond, with many descendants figuring prominently in tribal leadership and activism.

Vernon Lane (left)  The Sedelia Democrat,  February 7, 1971

Vernon Lane (left)
The Sedelia Democrat, February 7, 1971

Namesake Freddy Lane (right) interviewing for the Totem Pole Journey in 2015.

Namesake Freddy Lane (right) interviewing for the Totem Pole Journey in 2015.

The Ebb Flow of Industry

Lummi Bay Packing Co. in 1914 at Lane Spit with packing label for the cannery

A shingle mill operated on Lane Spit from 1895 to 1910, then was rebuilt as a salmon cannery. In 1915 the Lummi Bay Packing Company, the new owners of the spit, employed about 20 people here at $2 a day. 

Salmon barbecue at Lane Spit

Salmon barbecue at Lane Spit

Claude Wade of Lummi Bay Packing Co. didn't jive with the local legacy.

“Don't call it Lane Spit anymore. The right name of this public picnic and pleasure ground is Lummi Park.”

Islanders and tourists gathered at Lummi Park every Saturday summer night for a salmon barbecue and dance at the “Swamp” dance hall. The Salmon Barbecue tradition continues on as an annual event at the Grange Hall.

Despite Wade's efforts at branding, "Lane Spit" persisted as the locals' name for the place. In 2007 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names finally determined that islanders had been right all along. "Lane Spit" would be the designation forever more.

Today Lane Spit is a quiet neighborhood and the beaches are privately owned. A basic street sign heralds Frederick Lane's contribution to Lummi Island. 

View from the north side of the spit

View from the north side of the spit

Credits & Sources:
Whatcom County Library System, Island Library
Candace Wellman, The Peace Weavers: Cross-Cultural Marriages at the Edge of the Salish Sea
Lucy Lane Handeyside, Lummi Elders Speak
John A. Tennant, Farm Journal
Peyton Kane, The Whatcom County Nine: Legal and Political Ramifications of Metis Family Life in Washington Territory