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.
The story began in the summer of 1906 when Thomas Irving Potter returned from a visit to “the spit” and talked his parents, Thomas Benton and Frances Potter, into building a grand resort there. They had done so well in real estate elsewhere that they decided to do just that.
The Potters bought rights to the original homesteads, formed the Potter-Chapin Realty Company (PCRC) with his real estate partner Harkness Lucius Chapin and set up their main headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Since both the bay and the ocean could be viewed from the 100' ridgeline running down the southern half of the spit, they named their project Bayocean Park. They drew up plans and started selling contracts with aggressive advertising and salesmen across the Pacific Northwest in July 1907.
A thousand lots were sold using no down contracts the first three months but then the Panic of 1907 hit which made collection difficult, much less new sales; it took them a year to get back to where they had been. Construction slowed as well. T. Benton bought out Chapin in 1910 to supervise more directly under the name of T. B. Potter Realty Company (TBPRC). He then fell ill, left his son T. Irving in charge, and left for his home in California, never to return.
The first cabins were built in 1911 after streets had been surveyed and graded sufficiently for lots to be located. The long-awaited arrival of a railroad from Portland to Tillamook later that year gave Bayocean Park just what it needed to become a premier destination resort. The Annex, which was originally intended to house employees of the Hotel Bayocean that was never built, sat at the highest point, with the most elaborate homes built nearby, and on the ridge to the south. On the beach below, vacationers enjoyed swimming in the machine-generated waves of a heated, saltwater natatorium that also showed movies there at night. At night, they danced to music in a building across the street with a huge fireplace.
By 1914, several miles of roads had been paved with concrete and sidewalks lit with electric lights. Pipes were delivering fresh water from Coleman Creek high up on Cape Meares. A channel dug along from the bay inlet to a dock reaching far out into the bay brought passengers from ships right into the center of town. Those who couldn’t afford hotel rooms could rent cabins in Tent City. Newspapers across the Pacific Northwest ran stories in their society pages listing wealthier citizens vacationing on Bayocean. These social elites sent home postcards and photos of themselves enjoying the beach and resort facilities, even riding the "dinky" railroad on occasional excursions offered when they weren’t being used to haul construction materials. The Potters’ grand vision appeared to be coming along nicely. Unfortunately, 1914 would be the peak of Bayocean Park's prosperity. After only three years, things would go downhill from there.
Though lot sales had gone well, there were all purchased on contracts initially, with no down and low monthly payments. Easy purchase terms, along with the Potters’ use of projected price increases to get people to “buy now,” led folks from as away as New York to purchase lots on speculation. Inevitably, income from monthly payments were not enough to keep up with extravagant marketing—the best example being the Bayocean yacht they had built to wine and dine prospective buyers all the way from Portland to Tillamook— and higher than anticipated construction costs due to equipment and materials all having to be shipped by sea because the railroad had not arrived.
As construction slowed, some of the wealthy, politically powerful landowners who had purchased lots noticed. They were not seeing Hotel Bayocean, Coney Island-style amusement park, and other improvements being built that had been promised. Many were kept informed by Frances Mitchell who had bought into the Bayocean dream so deeply that he moved there from Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Ida in 1908.
After TBPRC sued Mitchell for a debt not paid and Axel Anderson, a Tillamook local who refused to pay a fee to dock his boat at Bayocean, suits in both directions proliferated. At the end of 1914, a large group of lot owners asked the courts to put Bayocean Park into receivership, which they did in 1915. Construction stopped completely at that point and never restarted. Newspaper coverage of all this made collecting monthly payments very difficult for the first receiver, S.B. Vincent. He foreclosed on buyers en masse and offered the lots for resale but found few willing to buy land that others didn’t think worth keeping and that had received terrible press.
1914 also saw the start of construction of a jetty on the north side of the inlet to Tillamook Bay at Barview by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Locals had urged bar and bay channel improvements for decades but little had been done. But in 1911, a study by USACE engineers concluded that the cost of two jetties at the Tillamook Bay inlet was justified by the benefits they would bring to commerce, but insisted that local ports chipped in, meaning taxes paid by locals. Dairymen and farmers wanted nothing to do with that, but Portland lumbermen, who needed much larger ships to make it profitable to cut and process virgin forests in the area, lobbied for it. Legal battles put two ports (Tillamook and Bayocean) out of business, leaving Bay City on its own. They could only afford one jetty. Though some USACE engineers questioned whether that would do any good, they accepted the reality and went along with it. The north jetty, at Barview, was completed in 1917.
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 to the beach to be swallowed by the waves. The natatorium couldn't be moved and losing its sidewalk didn't seem too problematic. But as the jetty started being lengthened in 1931, erosion escalated. The foundation of the natatorium was so badly undermined in 1932 that it had to be closed and more homes fell into the sea.
By the middle of the 1930s, the shoreline Bayocean was littered with ruins: the debris of fallen cabins until they were removed by waves; and concrete chunks from the natatorium until buried by sand after many years. The destruction became a tourist attraction of its own. When a group of locals called the Tillamook-Bayocean Company (TBC) took over management of Bayocean Park in 1928, the first thing they did was finish building a road to it from Tillamook. Families could then drive out there on weekends to enjoy the beach and resort facilities. Photos they took of the erosion, houses hanging on the edge of the dune, and debris along the shore didn't help sell Bayocean lots. Some of those visitors looted and vandalized vacant homes, accelerating their destruction. TBC failed in just a few years and the principles divvied up what was left of Bayocean Park amongst themselves.
Bayocean landowners eventually became convinced that the single (north) jetty was the problem because erosion seemed clearly linked tied to its construction and expansion. Studies would eventually confirm these suspicion—too late—in the 1970s. but Oceanographers at Oregon State University discovered that sand scoured from Bayocean’s beaches by winter storms approaching predominantly from the southwest 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 started accumulated north of the jetty instead.
After severe storms breached the southern end of the spit in multiple locations during the winter of 1938/1939, worried locals held meetings and set up commissions. Local politicians wrote letters to federal colleagues who managed to get funding for a USACE study. They concluded that the erosion was just part of a natural cycle that would eventually reverse. They also pointed out
|People standing in a breached gap in the spit. Photo No. 205 Tillamook County Pioneer Museum.|
During the 1940s, erosion continued but major breaching of the gaps did not, so the memory of them receded. Francis Mitchell concluded that the USACE had been correct, took hope from the cyle turning positive, and instigated a “Watch Bayocean Grow” campaign, which brought in a few newcomers with no bad memories. Construction of Naval Air Station Tillamook (NAST) to houser blimps during World War II brought an economic boom to the area and some of the new arrivals rented cottages on Bayocean. This would be the first and last time that Bayocean hosted a stereotypical community of working, middle-class Americans.
Meanwhile, the ocean continued wearing away the south end of the spit making the road hard to maintain and forcing some to move their cottages back from the edge. A few sold their cabins for a pittance to people who then moved them to the mainland, some just before a major storm surge on November 13, 1952, ripped a 3/4-mile gash through the southern section of the spit. Oyster beds were covered with sand. Levies that maintained dairy farm meadows were breached. Large boats could no longer move across Tillamook Bay because it was filling up with sand. Travel through the north inlet became very difficult. Bayocean had become an island.
Now that coastal commerce and navigation were obviously threatened, USACE’s mandate kicked in. Though funding via local taxes authorized with a special election was again challenging, in 1956 USACE finally had both the approval and funding to build a breakwater that closed the gap. Backpressure caused by that breakwater forced sand to settle and reform a beach that reconnected Cape Meares to the spit, though east of where it had been originally. Meares Lake, fed by Coleman Creek, eventually 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 had not been burnt down by USACE to enable leveling of the area near the town center continued to fall into the sea. Just a few pieces of the last building on the spit (a garage) remained in 1971 when the first stage of the solution to the problem—the south jetty—was completed. The beaches of Bayocean started to return immediately. Today, the end of the south jetty is crumbling from the constant pounding of the sea. USACE plans have been in the works to repair that for years, but funding is again a problem, nationally and locally. What effect will sea rise and weather changes from global warming have on the Bayocean of today? We'll have to see. But the dune separating Cape Meares Lake from the ocean is only 200' wide.
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.