Billy Waples

In the late 1890s, Billy Waples purchased land near what is now Lynden’s Main Street foot bridge. (Photo courtesy Lynden Pioneer Museum)


Billy Waples is best known for starting the Lynden Department Store that quickly became the center of Lynden Commerce.

Billy was a full-speed-ahead kind of fellow and was often described as a man walking into a hurricane because he walked fast and leaning forward. It was difficult for people to keep up.

Billy would do much more than just create a nationally famous general store though. His innovations continuously made Lynden a modern city instead of just a farm town.

William Waples, known as Billy, came to Washington in 1888 with his family. Here he graduated from high school in Monsanto and found his way north to Bellingham.

While working at the Fair Meat and Grocery company he met his wife-to-be Arvilla Cissna, the daughter of Charles Cissna who owned the Fair Meat and Grocery Company.

A dream was born there, and Billy pursued that dream vigorously. He set out to create the best general store in Whatcom County.

In 1897, his dream was realized, and the Lynden Department Store was born.

But that was not the only part of his dream. His vision included helping to make Lynden a jewel of the fourth corner; a modern town replete with all the modern amenities such as a railway, statewide commerce and electricity.

In the late 1890s, Billy Waples purchased land near what is now the Main Street foot bridge.

On this site, he put his new Lynden Shingle Mill, which would supply lumber for buildings in the quickly growing Whatcom county and Pacific Northwest.

This may not sound much different than the hundreds of other mills around Whatcom County and Washington state, but Billy, always one to dream big, saw his mill in a different light.

In 1903 Billy Waples and Ed Edson went into business producing power for Lynden.

The name of the mill changed to Lynden Mill and Light company and supplied power to the downtown of Lynden.

The entrepreneurs determined to use the sawdust from the milling to power the electrical generator.

Lynden became a glowing example of a modern city.

Streetlamps lit the boardwalks at night (not all night though) for the first time and the small farming hamlet of Lynden was one of very few rural communities to have a functioning electrical plant.

Unfortunately, the mill, light plant and original foot bridge no longer exist, but the legacy of Billy Waples and Ed Edson lives on every time a light is turned on in Lynden.

-- Troy Luginbill is director and curator of the Lynden Pioneer Museum.