The Lynden Department Store is historically significant under criteria A an representative example of a highly significant phenomenon in the history of commerce in rural western towns in the United States – that of the independent, small-town department store that served as a social and commercial landmark in these towns. Although the story of the “big city” department store is well documented, equally important to large segments of the U.S. population living in rural centers in the first half of the twentieth century is the lesser-known development of the small town, locally-owned department store. The Lynden Department Store was a classic example of this commercial and social town center, anchoring the town with a centrally-located emporium of goods ranging from farm and “city” clothing, to dishware, to groceries, to farm equipment, to grain, to horse buggies (and eventually an early form of rural automobile dealership). The nomination does an excellent job presenting this larger context.
The Lynden Department Store is also significant under criteria “B” for its connection to William H. “Billy” Waples. Waples was the driving force behind the Lynden Department Store, an operation that spanned seven decades. Waples was a constant promoter of the community of Lynden and owned several side business including the Lynden Mill & Light Company which established the first electric light service in Lynden in 1903. As town promoter Waples was also instrumental in bringing passenger and freight rail service to Lynden in 1904 – and in starting the Northwest Washington Fair.
Waples and a partner founded the Lynden Department Store in the late 1880’s as a modest general store in the farming and logging community of Lynden. With a small amount of borrowed money and goods, working initially within the limitations of a horse-and-wagon transportation network, he eventually built his Lynden enterprise using successively larger store spaces and innovative merchandising and credit practices. Waples traded with an expanding network of national suppliers to bring an unusually rich variety of goods to the small agricultural center of Lynden. Not only could the farmer stock up on grain at the Lynden Department Store, the men could shop for the latest styles in ties, jackets and topcoats from Chicago. And the ladies of Lynden could find “art linens”, shoes and dresses that were shipped from New York – plus stop by the Ladies’ Lounge in the Balcony.
Through the continual development of connections with the community and business network of Lynden, Billy Waples placed himself and the Lynden Department Store in the center of the commercial and social life of the town. His seasonal sales and events throughout the year became part of the community calendar, announced through the Lynden Tribune and in store flyers. And his prizes and promotions were part of an overall marketing effort. One example is the weekly clock promotion. Each week Waples would wind a Lynden Department Store clock, re-set the time and cover the clock. Customers who came into the store (with a certain minimum purchase) could write down their guess as to the hidden time on the clock. The closest guess would win the weekly prize – with a piano as the prize in a particularly grand round of the clock game.
By extending large sums of money in Lynden Department Store credit on generous terms, Waples helped carry many households in the Lynden community through the worst years of the Great Depression.
The nominated building dates to 1914 with a 1928 addition, and is a concrete and heavy timber structure that replaced a former building destroyed by fire in 1913. The current building was also severely damaged in a fire in 2008 and currently has no roof. However, the building retains a relatively high degree of integrity in all of its original exterior reinforced concrete walls and openings, its original cornice, its internal reinforced concrete wall and heavy timber construction.