On April 22, 2003, an enormous century-old barn and a privy built inside a hollowed-out cedar stump, both located in Berthusen Park three miles northwest of Lynden in Whatcom County near the Canadian border, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The barn and privy are part of a 236-acre park on land donated to the city of Lynden by pioneers Hans Berthusen (1860-1944) and his wife Lida Hawley Berthusen (1864-1943).
Berthusen Park is a 236-acre park (a few accounts say 230 acres) located about three miles northwest of downtown Lynden and less than three miles south of the Canadian border in Northwest Washington. Its beginnings date to 1883, when Hans Berthusen arrived in Whatcom County. Berthusen was born in Norway in 1860 and immigrated to Iowa when he was 4 years old. In 1882 he arrived in Seattle and while there he became friends with Mark Stone (1860-1916). They were both looking for land and in the spring of 1883 they traveled to Ferndale in western Whatcom County a few miles northwest of Bellingham with thoughts of settling in the area. Finding nothing they liked, they proceeded farther north and east to Lynden and met Emmett Hawley (1862-1946) at his family's general store there. Hawley showed them several locations that were available on Bertrand Creek northwest of town. They were so impressed that they obtained adjoining 160-acre tracts.
The two men built and shared a cabin on Berthusen's land. For a few years they ran a shingle business, shaving cedar shingles by hand, until they were co-opted by Emmett Hawley in 1887 when he opened a sawmill that produced machine-made shingles. Stone went to work for Hawley, but Berthusen had other plans. He'd met Lida Hawley -- Emmett Hawley's sister and, like her brother, one of Lynden's earliest pioneers, having settled there with her family in 1872 when she was 8 years old -- shortly after his arrival in Lynden. After a long courtship (made all the longer by Lida's mother Mary, who at first didn't want her daughter marrying the tall Norwegian) the two were married on Christmas Day, 1889. They never had children of their own, though they adopted a baby girl, Olive Jensen, when she was an infant.
Big Red Barn and a Cedar Stump Privy
In 1890 Hans bought another 80 acres, and he and his wife spent the next 50-plus years happily living off the land. They ran a hog business for a few years and they operated a small dairy. Like many of their neighbors, they farmed and hunted. Lida was a crack shot with a rifle, "bringing down many a wild bird for the family table" ("Lynden Pioneer Resident Passes"). If fowl or venison weren't handy, there were fish in Bertrand Creek.
And they fell in love with the place, especially the trees; they loved the trees so much they named some of them. Hans Berthusen deliberately left 20 acres of virgin timber standing as a testament to what the land had looked like before settlers arrived, and it's still there in 2016. It looks startlingly small from the air, but feels far bigger than 20 acres when you're walking through it. Well-marked trails pass under silent cathedral groves of towering cedar trees, and little Bertrand Creek (which originates just over the border in British Columbia) runs placidly through the grove's eastern edge. Always majestic and ethereal, the grove is a powerful reminder of the Western Washington that once was.
Berthusen built his first barn in 1887; an addition in 1901 tripled its size to its present 188 by 128 feet. (Jack Jensen helped Berthusen build the larger barn, and it was his daughter who the Berthusens later adopted after her mother died shortly after giving birth.) At the main peak of the side gabled roof the barn is about 50 feet high. It's painted classic red, with white decorative arches painted on its east side. The 1901 barn itself is unusual for these parts as it has the characteristics of a "bank barn," a type typically found in the northeastern part of the United States, not in Washington. It gets its name because it's built into a bank, or hill, and can be entered from the ground at both its lower and upper level.
The privy is near the southeast part of the barn. It's a hollowed-out, 11-foot-tall cedar stump that is 21 feet in circumference at its base. It has a cone-shaped cedar roof. Inside, the one-holer privy is a comfortable four feet across. Berthusen's brother-in-law Emmett Hawley says in his book Skqee Mus, or Pioneer Days on the Nooksack that Berthusen also built a smokehouse from a hollowed-out cedar stump, but it no longer exists.
The Berthusens spent the final decade of their lives improving the property and turning part of it into a playground and park which in those days was called Berthusen's Grove. Hans enjoyed building boats for his occasional fishing trips and carving toys for local children. Both he and Lida remained hale and hearty for nearly all of their lives, but when Lida died suddenly in November 1943 it was the beginning of the end for Hans too; crushed by her passing, he died less than three months later.
Soon after, Lynden learned that the Berthusens had left their entire property to the city for use as a park. Formally named the Hans C. & Lida H. Berthusen Memorial Park, it became commonly known as Berthusen Park. On April 22, 2003, the park's century-old barn and cedar-stump privy were officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The park offers picnic areas, two kitchens, and open spaces to romp in as well as the grove and the creek to explore. The Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association is housed in a small building south of the barn and has a display of early farm machinery onsite. Every summer since 1972 the association has held its annual threshing bee and tractor show at the park, and it's a fascinating look back at the past.