Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bayocean Park's First Sale

Francis Mitchell always claimed that he was the first to buy a lot on Bayocean. I accepted the claim as had others until I read an unpublished letter to the editor of the Oregon Journal at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum (TCPM) from Kaaren Ann Kottages dated May 12, 1949, that was critical of Mitchell in many respects, including: "He did not buy the first lot here it was given to him and he was supposed to sell lots for the company." 

To check on this, I visited Tillamook County Clerk Tassi O'Neil's office. Chief Deputy Clerk Christy Biggs introduced me to their record systems (Susan Holmes, Teresa Marshall, and Robyn Jolly and Tassi have all been helpful during the days I've spent there since this first visit). The direct index lists land ownership transfers alphabetically by the last name of the seller, indirect indexes list transactions by the last name of the buyer, and both refer to the page in a deed book where the entire transaction is detailed. 


Deed Book 7, Page 473 
Tillamook County Clerk's office
 Bayocean Park's first sale
by Potter-Chapin Realty 
Direct Index Book P, Section 10
Tillamook County Clerk's office
   The first Potter-Chapin Realty Company sale of Bayocean Park lots was recorded April 8, 1908. The buyer was Darrell Davis from Portland, Oregon. He bought lots 19 and 20 in block 122 for $120 ($3000 in 2015 dollars). The Mitchells eventually bought many lots, but the first deed recorded for them was on July 18, 1910 (Deed Book 18, p.1). However, when Potter-Chapin first started selling lots on July 29, 1907, they were all by contracts that were not recorded in the deed books until paid off. T.B. Potter Realty Company (Potter-Chapin successor) vs. Mitchell (1914-1916, Tillamook Circuit Court Case # 1503) involved a contract on lot A of block 59 that was said to have been signed on July 30, 1908, in the Amended Complaint, the date being one of the corrections, having been initially given as July 30, 1907. Unfortunately, the original contract itself was not in the file at the Oregon State Archives. With the huge publicity preceding it, I would be surprised if they didn't sell the first lot the day sales opened, July 29th. The first contract TCPM has a ledger for is numbered 370. Until number 1 shows, up we just won't know for sure who bought the first lot. 

Getting back to Darrell Davis. Who was he? The 1910 US Census indicates that he was from Iowa and twenty-seven years old, so only twenty-five when he bought the lots two years earlier. He worked as a furniture maker, and boarded at house number 128 on 14th Street. Portland city directories show Davis moving a lot during the next eight years, but he continued working in the same field. The last  listing (1918) shows that he had married (Emma) and was living at 192 Porter. I could find no additional information about him. 


Oregon Journal, August 25, 1907, p19
Davis' $120 bought a 100' x 100' spot on the southeast corner of Mound Street and 24th Avenue; though the streets were never built, nor anything else near this location at the north end of the spit. It's about 700' N30W of Bayocean Park's "Initial Point". Today, the land has trees and thick underbrush, but in 1907 it was bare, low-elevation, sand dunes. Davis most likely did not see his property before he bought it. He would have been sold a contract in the Potter-Chapin Realty Company office at 402 Couch Building, 109 Fourth Street, Portland, Oregon. 

In their initial push, during the last half of 1907, Potter-Chapin was running two or three ads per week in both the Oregonian and the Oregon Journal. Some guaranteed buyers they'd double their money. Others said twenty times their investment was more likely. They suggested buying two lots and selling one later for the price they paid for both and keeping the second to enjoy for themselves. Many writers have used these ads as evidence that Potter and Chapin were aggressive to the point of dishonesty; but Davis actually proved them right.

In 1910 Davis sold lot 20 for $650 ($15,925 in 2015 dollars; Deed Book 16, pp. 303-304). In 1913 he sold lot 19 for $300 ($7115 in 2015 dollars; Deed Book 26, pp. 86-87). So, in just five years Davis made about seven times his investment, and did so with sand lots out in the hinterlands. Not bad. On other hand, whoever last owned these lots lost everything, because they were eventually foreclosed on by Tillamook County for non-payment of taxes. This is the sad story shared by most folks who ever owned property on Bayocean. But the fault was unbalanced jetty construction, not Potter-Chapin sales tactics. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Artisans' Co-Operative Community

The Great Depression hit Bayocean as hard as anywhere else. The town had just emerged from a bankruptcy war with the Potters, and a road finally built to it, when tourism was killed by the stock market and banking collapse. Tourism had declined to the point that Francis and Ida Mitchell simply closed down the Bayside Hotel in 1930. So, it must have greatly lifted their spirits when the sixteen men and women of the Artisans' Co-operative Community drove up in a couple rickety vehicles on February 16, 1934. They only had $20 and some lofty ideals in their pockets, but the Mitchells offered them free use of the hotel in exchange for much needed repairs. ( October 6, 1935 Oregonian is the primary source for much of what follows). 


Within two years, the Artisans was a lively community of forty-nine men, women, and children. Members fished, dug clams and caught crabs; then canned the meat and sold it up and down the Willamette Valley, mostly at farmers markets. They were purchasing the Mitchells' Bayside hotel and had a net worth of $5000. 
Scan of Artisan script in the possession of Joyce Loftis, daughter of Alvin and Blanche Sweger

The Artisans were mostly Salem residents who had first tried communal living at Black Rock, which had been located just above Falls City. After it broke up, Bert and Louise Smith led them to Bayocean. Louise worked out a deal with Marion County to trade the Artisans' canned seafood for fresh fruit and other commodities. She emphasized the Artisans weren't communists; they were people who had lost their jobs and wanted to pool their skills to support themselves. (Oregon Statesman, May 26, 1934) 

In April 1935, with the help of Senator Steiwer, the  Artisans received a Federal Emergency Relief Administration grant of $3900. That may seem small, but in today's dollars it's $68,000. FERA also gave them free use of the the Larch, a 65' cutter which had been docked in Astoria. They planned to use it to catch tuna off the coast. They used the money to buy more fishing boats and gear, and a printing press, which they used to print their own currency and stationary at 1231 Edgewater Street in Salem. Glenn Hammaker ran it (Oregon Statesman, May 16, 1935). 


When the Artisans were inspected by Albert Wieland of the Self-Help Cooperative Division of FERA, he told the Tillamook Headlight Herald (Aug 8, 1935) that "everything was very satisfactory and stated that it is now the only cooperative of the kind in the United States which is not on relief." In a report filed by the administrator of the program in 1936 there were 214 cooperatives listed. 

After interviewing Francis Mitchell for his article "Coney Island For Clams" in the May 18, 1949 Oregon Journal,  Charles Oluf Olsen reported that, "In the depression an artisan colony breathed a spark of life into Bayocean surroundings. That project was 'killed' by more prosperous times." In a letter to the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum dated October 21, 1970, Charles Carson fondly recalls operating a crab market on Bayocean's dock from 1912 through 1915. He was sorry to see that the place was already "dead" when he returned for a visit in 1924, adding that it was "only to be rejuvenated for a short time by the WPA fiasco during the depression." 
Photo and names provided by Joyce Loftis
I found out what Mitchell and Carson meant from Joyce Loftis, whose parents met at the community in October of 1934. Alvin (Al) Sweger was already there, having grown weary of riding the rails with his friend Glenn Hammaker to find work. Blanche Parrish came from dust-ravaged South Dakota in a truck with her brother Derewood, his wife Angy, and their parents Harry and Ethel. 

Blanche wrote in her diary that she loved Bayocean, having her own room in the Bayside Hotel, and dancing and playing games at night in the living room with the many people who had been drawn by word of the Artisans' success. But some of them didn't want to work as hard as others, which caused resentment and bickering. The men had to work based on tide tables, and that meant getting up at odd hours. They would be woken by children playing, and in turn would wake up others as they prepared to go out. Not enough sleep exacerbated the conflicts. Harry and Ethel only put up with it for a few months. Al and Blanche held out until October 1935. By then they were in love and Al found a good job in Portland. Blanche stayed with her parents in Forest Grove until they were married December 1, 1935. Derewood and Angy left some time in 1936 after giving birth to Elvin at the Tillamook hospital in January.