Bayocean Peninsula forms the western edge of Tillamook Bay on Oregon's northern coast. Many recreate there, enjoying its pristine, natural environment. But it once hosted a thriving, upscale resort town - of which only the name remains.
In 1906, Kansas native Thomas Benton (T.B.) Potter, who had made a small fortune developing subdivisions in Portland and San Francisco, decided to invest a substantial part of it in what was then part of Barnegat after his son Thomas Irving (T.I.) came back from visiting it on a duck hunting trip. T.I. convinced T.B. that he could build the Atlantic City of the West there and increase his wealth substantially in the process. Since both the bay and the ocean could be viewed from its 140' high forested sand dunes, Bayocean Park seemed like a good name. T.B. (with the help of Mrs.) Potter bought out the homesteaders, partnered with realtor/surveyor H.L. Chapin who drew up a plat map, and started selling lots on July 29, 1907, They had to clear up legal issues regarding prior ownership during 1908, so couldn't start construction until 1909. Potter-Chapin Realty Company advertised aggressively in newspapers across the country. They had sales offices in Salem and Spokane as well as Portland - where they had a scale model of the Bayocean Park they envisioned. They were so successful, they ran out of lots to sell in 1910. Potter bought out Chapin the same year but soon fell seriously ill (rumored to be mental stress), left for his home in California, and his son T.I. take over.
|Photos are from the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum unless noted otherwise|
Buyers started building homes in 1911. The long-awaited arrival of the railroad later that year gave Bayocean a real boost as a destination resort. Their Bayocean Hotel Annex (called that because the Bayocean Grand Hotel was soon supposed to dwarf it) sat at the highest point, with the most elaborate homes built nearby, and south from there along the ridge. On the beach below a dance hall and Natatorium, with wave-making machine and movie theater, provided entertainment. Miles of roads were paved with concrete and lit with electric lights. Freshwater was piped from Coleman Creek up on Cape Meares. A dock reached from the town center reached far out into the bay where ships sailed in a channel dug out by dredges. Cabins in Bungalow City were rented to tourists who couldn't afford the hotels. Newspapers across the Northwest ran stories in their society pages listing wealthier citizens vacationing on Bayocean. Many of them sent home postcards and photos of themselves enjoying the beach and riding the "dinky" railroad. By 1914 over 600 people had bought more than 2000 lots. All seemed to be working as T.B. had envisioned.
Unfortunately, 1914 turned out to be the peak of Bayocean Park's prosperity. Many lots had been sold on contract to customers spread across the nation. The Potters were having a hard time collecting money fast enough to keep the coffers full. As they ran low on funds construction slowed and the payment of county property taxes delayed. Wealthy, and politically powerful, landowners had purchased lots at premium prices and built homes on them based on an extensive list of promised improvements. They took the Potters to court for not honoring those promises in a timely fashion. A judge forced them into receivership, and construction stopped. Collecting payments and new sales became very difficult for the receiver, S.B. Vincent, who ended up foreclosing and trying to resell the lots. But who wants to buy land that others don't think worth keeping? Eventually, just as things started to turn around financially, the Great Depression hit and the ocean started wreaking havoc.
The same year T.B. Potter Realty went into receivership, the US Army Corps of Engineers started building a jetty on the north side of the entrance to Tillamook Bay (at Barview). The natural bar was a hazard, and the inlet too shallow, for the shipping of bay area products to be dependable. Lumbermen, dairymen, oystermen, and others had lobbied for a jetty for decades, so they were pleased when it was finished in 1917. But within a few years, residents of Bayocean started noticing beach erosion. At first, they thought it might just be a natural cycle, so they simply moved the few homes that were at risk. The Natatorium couldn't be moved, but losing its sidewalk didn't seem too problematic. Then in 1931, the north jetty was lengthened. Erosion immediately escalated. The foundation of the natatorium was so badly undermined in 1932 that it had to be abandoned. Homes started falling into the sea. The Bayocean Hotel (Annex had been dropped from the name by then) deteriorated initially due to negligent management, but eventually, the sea undercut it as well. By the middle of the 1930s, the beach side of Bayocean was littered with ruins. Many of the motor tourists (a road was finally built in 1926) came to take photos of the destruction and send them home. This didn't help sell Bayocean to the public. Sadly, some visitors looted vacant homes.
By this time Bayocean residents were convinced the single (north) jetty was the problem. Studies in the 1970s confirmed it. Sand scoured from Bayocean's beaches by storms, predominantly from the southwest during winter, would move around in shoals south of the north jetty, until being pushed out to sea by powerful outflows through the narrow Tillamook Bay inlet on low tide. Sand brought back by summer currents from the north was stopped above the existing jetty, so could not replenish Bayocean beaches. The Corps of Engineers had originally recommended building a south jetty because they had no experience building just one jetty at a bay inlet, so couldn't predict the outcome. The ports of Tillamook Bay (who were required to share the cost) couldn't afford both, so they went along with building just one on the north. Twenty years later the players were new and the Corps was the scapegoat for Bayocean erosion. Locals then were sure a south jetty was needed and pushed for it via their political leaders. The Corps believed erosion was part of a natural cycle unrelated to the north jetty construction, calculated that the cost of a south jetty would be many times greater than the total value of all assessed property on Bayocean, and pointed out that their mission was not to save private homes from destruction. So it continued.
After severe storms breached the southern end of the spit in multiple locations during the winter of 1938/1939, the Corps sent engineers to look things over more closely. Local politicians wrote letters to their federal colleagues who wrote legislation to authorize funding that failed. Commissions were established and meetings held. Nothing came of it. The beach would improve for a while, folks become hopeful again, sales rise, and then a new series of storms would destroy more shoreline, take more homes, and breach the spit, scaring everyone into action again. This cycle repeated throughout the 1940s. As the south end of the spit got thinner, and the road harder to maintain, some folks sold their buildings for a pittance to people who moved them to the mainland. A major storm surge on November 13, 1952 was the final blow. It ripped a 3/4 mile gash through the southern section of the spit that got worse over time. Oyster beds were covered with gravel and sand. Levies that maintained dairy farm meadows were breached. Larger boats could no longer move across Tillamook Bay because it was filling up with sand. This threat to coastal commerce was what the Corps needed to justify action, and in 1956 they built a dike that closed the gap.
The back pressure caused by the dike forced sand to settle and reform a beach that reconnected Cape Meares with the northern end of the spit, though east of where it had been. The north beach continued to erode. The few buildings that hadn't been burnt down by the Corps, to enable leveling of the area near the town center, continued to fall into the ocean as winter storms pushed waves across the spit. The last building (a garage) fell in 1971, ironically, just as the first stage of the long-awaited solution to the problem - the south jetty - was completed. When the second stage of that jetty was completed in 1979, the northern shores of Bayocean started coming back - and continue rebuilding today.
There is much more to the story of the Tillamook Peninsula, before, during, and after Bayocean Park, than what's been told in the past (see Outside Reading), and some of what's been told needs updating. That is the primary purpose of this blog, via posts on the Home page. The Index provides a way to find specific topics of interest. I welcome comments on individual posts or via the Comment Form in the right column.