Blaine incorporates on May 20, 1890.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 6/26/2009
  • Essay 9062
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On May 20, 1890, Blaine incorporates -- for the first time. The incorporation is subsequently challenged by the state attorney general because too much territory is taken by the new city in its incorporation, and in February 1891 the Whatcom County Superior Court grants a petition dissolving the incorporation. Blaine promptly reincorporates, but today (2009) recognizes its original date of incorporation as its official date of incorporation.


Blaine got its start as Semiahmoo in 1858, first as two tiny communities with the same name, but separated by Drayton Harbor. One settlement was on Semiahmoo Spit on the northwestern side of the harbor, and the other was located about a mile across the harbor on its northeastern side, where the city of Blaine is today. In the 1880s the settlement on the harbor’s northeastern side was renamed Concord but soon changed its name to Blaine, in honor of James G. Blaine (1830-1893), a powerful Republican leader who served in both houses of Congress and as secretary of state during the late nineteenth century. The town was platted in 1884 and grew rapidly, and by the 1890 U.S. Census, Blaine had a population of 1,563.  Across the harbor, the community of Semiahmoo lingered into the early twentieth century, but is today part of Blaine.

In April 1890 Blaine residents presented a petition for incorporation, signed by 122 of its citizens, to the Whatcom County Board of Commissioners, and on May 15, Blaine held its first city election, electing James Cain (1839-1914) mayor. (Cain was an early settler in Blaine, arriving in 1871. He and his brothers, Cornelius and George, platted the town and contributed mightily to its early growth.) A five-member city council was also elected, and S. P. Hughes, one of the new city council members, traveled to Olympia to formally file the incorporation papers. Blaine was incorporated on May 20, 1890. On December 2, 1890, there was another election in Blaine and a new mayor and new slate of council members were elected; Blaine residents also voted to advance the town from a town of the fourth class to a city of the third class.


Alas, it turned out that when Blaine incorporated it had taken too much territory. In January 1891, state Attorney General W. C. Jones filed a complaint in Whatcom County Superior Court against Cain and the five original city council members (even though none of these men were still in office), seeking to declare the incorporation illegal.  The Blaine Journal, describing the petition and its effects, explained:

"It is a simple petition to the court to annul the former incorporation of the town of Blaine, because in forming such incorporation too much territory was taken in, thus making the whole procedure illegal … after disintegration [of the original incorporation] shall have been completed there will immediately be a re-incorporation.”

The paper then hissed, “It is hinted to us that the dirty appearance of the above petition is owing to the employment of an Italian attorney” (“Disorganization”).

By the end of February, the court had declared Blaine’s incorporation void. But as promised by the Blaine Journal, its citizens moved fast. A new petition for incorporation was quickly prepared, and was approved by the county commissioners on March 30.  The new incorporation made Blaine a third-class city, gave the mayor greater municipal powers, and provided for seven city council members.

A new election for city officials was held on May 2, 1891. N. A. Cornish, who had been elected mayor in the December 1890 election, was again elected mayor, and four of the five city council members who had been elected the previous December were again elected to the council (the fifth council member, E. S. Clark, ran for mayor against Cornish in the May 1891 election, but lost).

Cain did not run for mayor in this election, and none of the original five council members ran for a position on the new council. The whole re-incorporation affair became an odd hiccup in Blaine’s history, and indeed there is not much mention of it today; Blaine officially lists its date of incorporation as the date of its original incorporation -- on May 20, 1890.


Lottie Roeder Roth, History of Whatcom County, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), 107-108, 260, 793, 801; William Farrand Prosser, A History of the Puget Sound Country, Vol. 2  (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903), 494-495;  “Washington State Historical Decennial Populations for State, County, and City/Town: 1890 to 2000,” website accessed June 10, 2009 (; Find A Grave website accessed June 13, 2009 (; "Incorporation Petition," The Blaine Journal, April 3, 1890;  "Blaine's First City Election," Ibid., May 15, 1890;  Ibid., May 22, 1890;  "Disorganization," Ibid., January 29, 1891; "A Town Incorporated No More," Ibid., February 26, 1891; "Re-Incorporation," Ibid.,  April 2, 1891; "Incorporation Election," Ibid., May 7, 1891 -- all issues of The Blaine Journal available on GenWeb (; “Municipal Records of the City of Blaine,” The Blaine Journal Homeseeker’s Edition, April 1909, p. 20.

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