The Bayocean Story In Brief

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.

By 1906, Kansas native Thomas Benton (T.B.) Potter had made a fortune developing subdivisions in Kansas City, Portland, and Half Moon Bay, CA. When his son Thomas Irving (T.I.) returned from hunting ducks on “the spit” at Tillamook, talking excitedly about its prospects as a resort, he decided to invest a substantial part of it there, hoping to 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 rights to the original homesteads, brought in his real estate partner and surveyor, Harkness Lucius (H.L.) Chapin, to draw up a plat map, and started selling lots on July 29, 1907. 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. Clearing up probate records and waiting for a law suit to settle delayed the start of construction until 1909. Yet 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 let his son T.I. take over.

Buyers started building homes in 1911. The long-awaited arrival of the railroad later that year gave Bayocean just what it needed to become a destination resort. The Bayocean Hotel Annex (called that because it was to serve as servant quarters after the Grand Hotel was built) sat at the highest point, with the most elaborate homes built nearby, and south from there along the southern ridge. On the beach below a dance hall and Natatorium, with warm water year-round, 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 far out into the bay where ships arrived through a channel dug 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 just 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, many of whom had purchased them as an investment. The Potters discovered it was easier selling than collecting money fast enough to pay for construction made more expensive by having to ship everything by sea and extravagances like the Bayocean yacht built to impress prospective buyers on the way there. Construction slowed, and payment of county property taxes delayed. Wealthy and politically powerful landowners who had purchased lots at premium prices based on a long list of improvements took the Potters to court for not honoring those promises in a timely fashion. A judge forced them into receivership in 2017—and construction stopped. Collecting payments became even more difficult for the first receiver, S.B. Vincent. He foreclosed on buyers en masse and offered lots for resale. He found few willing to buy land that others didn’t think worth keeping on a development with bad press. Sales ground to a complete stop when the Great Depression hit and the ocean started undercutting cottages.

The same year T.B. Potter Realty went into receivership, the US Army Corps of Engineers finished 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 merchants had lobbied for decades to get a jetty, so they were pleased when construction started in 1914. By the early 1920s, residents of Bayocean started noticing beach erosion. At first, they thought it might just be a natural cycle. Some moved their cottages to lots farther from the sea, but some fell. The Natatorium couldn't be moved and losing its sidewalk didn't seem too problematic. But while the jetty was being lengthened from 1931-1933, erosion escalated. The foundation of the Natatorium was so badly undermined in 1932 that it had to be closed. More homes fell 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. The destruction became a tourist attraction of its own. When a road was finally built from 1926-1928, families would drive out there on weekends to take photos. This didn't help sell Bayocean to the public and some visitors looted and vandalized vacant homes, accelerating the destruction.

Bayocean landowners were convinced the single (north) jetty was the problem because erosion seemed tied to its construction and expansion. Studies by oceanographers at Oregon State University in the 1970s confirmed their suspicions. 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 that used to replenish the beach accumulated north of the jetty. The Corps of Engineers had originally recommended building a south jetty and said they could not predict the outcome of building just one.  The ports of Tillamook Bay (that were required to share the cost) said they couldn't afford both, so asked the Corps to build just the north regardless of the warnings. 

Twenty years later the players on each side were new and the original positions forgotten. The Corps became the scapegoat for Bayocean erosion. The studies they made concluded that the erosion destroying Bayocean was part of a natural cycle unrelated to the north jetty construction. They calculated the cost of building a south jetty at many times greater than the total value of all assessed property on Bayocean and pointed out that they had no legal authority to save private homes from destruction. Corps projects are always expensive and funding them is always a challenge. With the Corps itself recommending against building the south jetty, political leaders found it impossible to grant their Bayocean constituents’ request.

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 would 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. Travel through the north inlet became very difficult.

Now that coastal commerce and navigation was threatened, the Corp’s mandate was engaged. Design began but funding by local ports again became a challenge. Tax votes failed initially. In 1956 the Corps finally got approval and funding to build a breakwater to close the gap. Back pressure caused by the breakwater 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. Meares Lake filled the gap between the new beach and the breakwater.
The breakwater did not solve the problem caused by the north jetty, so the beach continued to erode north and south of the gap plugged by the breakwater. The few buildings that hadn't been burnt down by the Corps to enable leveling of the area near the town center and those closest to the ocean in Cape Meares continued to fall. The last building on Bayocean proper (a garage) fell in 1971, ironically, just as the first stage of the long-awaited solution to the problem - the south jetty - was completed. By the time the third stage was completed in 1979, the beaches of Bayocean had begun to rebuild. Loss of south jetty length from the constant pounding of the sea, which will likely as get worse as it rises from as global warming, could reverse gains made. The dune separating Cape Meares Lake from the ocean is only 200' wide where Bayocean School once stood. 

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.