Friday, August 7, 2015

Locating Bayocean School

One of the buildings Bert and Margie Webber did not locate on their drawings in Bayocean: The Oregon Town that Fell Into the Sea was the Bayocean School. Written reports said it was close to Cape Meares, and Perry Reeder pointed to the area on the original Bayocean Park plat map where the narrow southern section of the spit started to widen out, but I wanted to find the exact location so I can stand there like I can the Bayocean Hotel

When I met Mike Watkins, he remembered that the school had been just a little northwest of the west end of A.G. Beals' dike. The dike had a one-way gate that let Coleman Creek flow out at low tide, but kept Tillamook Bay water from coming back in at high tide. This changed wetland into additional meadow for his dairy cows to graze. When he came to believe the ocean would eventually take the spit, Beals sold his Bayocean/Cape Meares holdings to Mike's grandfather, Robert W. Watkins. The land at the east end of the dike passed down to Mike and his siblings, which is why he's so familiar with it. When the dike that is now Dike Road sealed the breach in 1957, the ocean beach reformed (east of its previous location) and created Cape Meares Lake. Though the meadow and dike are now submerged, Mike said that remnants of the dike were still visible and could be used to point to where the school had been. 

USACE aerial photograph # 39-1546, cropped. 
I then looked at 1939 aerial photographs from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Because it was earthen, the dike is lighter in color and stands out against the grey background. By zooming in, I saw the schoolhouse just northwest (up and left in the photograph) of where the dike ends at the spit, confirming Mike's recollection. I also noticed that the school was in line with 4th Street, which is the road at the bottom of the photograph running south (down) from Bayocean (or Meares) Rd which runs east to west (left to right). Since 4th Street still exists, this gave me two sight lines, which were the same today as in the past, that I could use to find where the school had been on today's landscape. 

That would have good enough, but then while looking at the Tillamook County Tax Map - for other reasons - I noticed an active tax lot in the area. The Summary Report for lot #1200 shows it's owned by Tillamook County School District #9. Like many other landowners, they'd kept ownership over the years. ORMAP and other GIS mapping systems project county tax lot layers onto modern aerial landscape views and provide GPS coordinates where a cursor is placed. Coordinates at the center of the school lot are 45.505136, -123.958691. The school may not have been at the center of the lot, but since the tax lot is only 100' x100' (.23 acres) it couldn't have been far from it. Now I had two ways to locate the school. 

The next step was a field trip. Mike was gracious enough to lead me down a trail (viewing deer and an eagle along the way) to what had been the east end of Beals' dike. From there we were able to sight the west end using dike remnants. We then hiked out on the spit. Siting south to 4th street, and east along the dike, we ended up at huge old stump on the foredune. The coordinates matched. We were there! The spot is just 1/10 mile north of the parking space at the end of Bayocean Road, so easy to reach, and the stump makes it hard to miss. If the ocean reclaims or moves the stump, or moves, the coordinates will still get you there. Based on the aerial photograph and county tax map, the road to out Bayocean from Cape Meares would have been about 500' west of the spot. Average high tide in 1939 would have been about 1000' out. 

Left to right: James Bennett, Rosemarie Bennett, Barbara Parker,
Russell Parker; photo from Tillamook County Pioneer Museum

When I asked, Mike recalled the school grounds being about 10-15' above sea/bay level. After leaving Mike, I saw Harold Bennett in his yard. He had attended Bayocean School, so I stopped to let him know about the stump, and asked him what he thought the school elevation had been - without divulging Mike's estimate. His answer was the same as Mike's. Because the spot is a few feet above sea level, the school grounds would have been just 5-10' above it. When you stand there, listen for the yells of children at play. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this history. It is priceless.

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