Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bayocean Park's First Sale

Francis Mitchell always claimed to have been the first to buy a lot on Bayocean. I accepted that until I read an unpublished letter to the editor of the Oregon Journal at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum (TCPM) from Kaaren Ann Kottages dated May 12, 1949, that was critical of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. 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 on 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 was corrected to July 30, 1907. Unfortunately, the original contract itself was not in the file. But it could not have been the first purchase because many people must have bought lots on the first day due to publicity. 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, but it wasn't Francis Mitchell. 

So, who was Darrell Davis? The 1910 Census on indicates he was from Iowa and twenty-seven years old, so 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 at show Davis moving a lot over the next eight years, but he continued working in the same field. The last listing (1918) shows him married to Emma and living at 192 Porter. I could find no additional information about him. 

Oregon Journal, August 25, 1907, p19

Davis' $120 bought him a 100' x 100' spot on the southeast corner of Mound Street and 24th Avenue; 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 would not have known that when he bought the lot 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 they were correct in Darrell's case.

In 1910 Davis sold lot 20 for $650 ($15,925 in 2015 dollars according to Deed Book 16, pp. 303-304. In 1913 he sold lot 19 for $300 ($7115 in 2015 dollars per Deed Book 26, pp. 86-87. So, in just five years Davis made about seven times his investment. Unfortunately, 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 owned property on Bayocean. 

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. It must have lifted the spirits of locals, especially the Mitchells, when 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 they were offered free use of the Bayside Inn in exchange for much-needed repairs (October 6, 1935, Oregonian). 

Within several months, the Artisans had grown to a 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 Bayside Inn and had a net worth of $5000. 
Scan of Artisan script in the possession of Joyce Loftis, daughter of Alvin and Blanche Sweger

Artisans were mostly Salem residents who had first tried communal living at Black Rock, which had been located just above Falls City. Bert and Louise Smith led disgruntled members away and found their way to Bayocean by luck. 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. 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 May 18, 1949,  article "Coney Island For Clams," 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 on December 1, 1935. Derewood, Angy, and six-month-old Elvin left with a few remaining members in July 1936.