Despite his numerous successes throughout his lifetime and his contribution to Fairhaven history as the original founder, the story of Daniel Jefferson Harris (affectionately referred to as “Dirty Dan”) is not one that has a just ending. He started out as an East Coaster who left home as a teenager and embarked on the Pacific, traveling as far as Honolulu and eventually making his way to Victoria, B.C., becoming a skilled harpooner along the way.
Upon arriving in Bellingham Bay, Harris befriended John Thomas, helping him build a log cabin before Thomas died of consumption, leaving the project incomplete. Harris took over the endeavor and was eventually awarded the patent to this land in 1871.
Harris slowly acquired more and more properties surrounding the land Thomas had originally claimed through various trading ventures. He decidedly called the land “Fairhaven” for an Indian name, see-see-lich-em, meaning safe port or fair haven.
Come 1883, Harris began selling lots of this land for gold. To accommodate this new business venture, he built a three-story hotel at the foot of aptly named Harris Avenue with an adjoining ocean dock.
“Dirty Dan” was quite a literal nickname acquired from frequently soiled clothing and lack of personal hygiene. However, as his real estate profits grew, his personal hygiene improved, as did his social standing in the community. This newfound popularity among the community included the ladies, prompting Dan to consider marriage. A courtship of Miss Bertha Wasmer was followed shortly by marriage as was customary for the times on October 16, 1885.
Three years into their marriage, Harris sold most of his Fairhaven property, as well as the newly incorporated Fairhaven Land Company, allowing him to purchase a home in Los Angeles and begin a life of luxury in retirement. Unfortunately, before the couple could settle into their new home and enjoy the fruits of Harris’ labor, his wife died on November 20, 1888.
After his wife’s death, “Dirty Dan” became known as “Grease Pot Dan” in Los Angeles. As he grew older, he was befriended by a young couple—Dr. A.S. Shorb and his wife. Harris was sadly swindled by this couple, who took advantage of his generosity and milked him of most of his fortune. After Harris’ death on August 19, 1890, his nephew and sole heir attempted to sue the Shorbs, but was unsuccessful. Harris’ remaining properties in Whatcom County were unluckily sold at the height of the Great Depression for a meager $900—just a fraction of their former value. Despite profitability of Harris’ endeavors during his lifetime, his heirs received nothing after legal fees were settled.