Bayocean Peninsula forms the western edge of Tillamook Bay on Oregon's northern coastline. 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 1906 when Thomas Irving Potter returned from a visit to Tillamook Spit and convinced his parents, Thomas Benton and Mary Frances Potter, to build a grand resort there.
In May 1907, T. Benton bought the original homesteads, formed the Potter-Chapin Realty Company with his real estate partner Harkness Lucius Chapin, and set up 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, Potter and Chapin 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 the first three months, but the Panic of 1907 hit, making collection difficult, much less new sales. Construction slowed as well. Things restarted in 1908, but T. Benton thought he could get things done better without Harkness, so in January 1910, he bought him out and set up the T. B. Potter Realty Company. Six months later, T. Benton went insane and left T. Irving in charge.
|Promised: Hotel Bayocean
The Bayocean Annex—originally intended to house employees of the spectacular Hotel Bayocean that was never built—sat at 100 feet, with the most elaborate homes built at the same elevation nearby and on a ridge further south. When the Bayocean Natatorium was built down on the beach in 1914, vacationers enjoyed swimming in the machine-generated waves of its heated, saltwater pool. At night, movies were shown on the balcony. Those with more energy could dance at an indoor pavilion across the street.
By the end of 1914, several miles of roads were graded, half of them paved with concrete. Pipes were delivering fresh water from Coleman Creek high up on Cape Meares. A channel dug south from the bay inlet brought ocean-going vessels directly to a central pier at the center of town. Sidewalks there were lit with electric lights at night. Those who couldn’t afford a room at the annex could rent tents which were later converted into small cabins called "bungalettes." Newspapers across the Pacific Northwest ran stories in their society pages listing wealthier citizens vacationing at Bayocean Park. These social elites sent home postcards and photos of themselves enjoying the beach and resort facilities, even riding the "dinky" railroad on excursions offered when construction materials weren't being hauled. The Potters’ grand vision appeared to be coming along nicely. Unfortunately, 1914 would be the peak of Bayocean Park's prosperity.
Easy payment terms, along with the Potters’ use of projected price increases to get people to buy led folks from as away as New York to purchase lots on speculation. Inevitably, income from those monthly payments was not enough to keep up with construction costs and extravagant marketing. As construction slowed, some of the contract owners grew concerned and stopped making payments. The Potters sued them and were sued in return. At the end of 1914, lot owners began asking the courts to put Bayocean Park into receivership, which they did in 1915.
Construction stopped and never restarted. Newspaper coverage of the litigation made collecting monthly payments increasingly difficult for the receiver, Sydney Vincent. He foreclosed on buyers en masse and offered their lots for resale but found few willing to buy lots others didn’t think worth keeping. A triad of receivers more accountable to lot owners took over in 1918. The Potters never regained control of Bayocean Park.
1914 also saw the construction of a jetty on the north side of the inlet to Tillamook Bay at Barview by the Corps of Engineers. Locals had urged bar and bay channel improvements for decades, but little had been done. In 1911, a study by the Corps concluded that the cost of two jetties at the Tillamook Bay inlet was justified by the benefits they would bring to commerce if local ports chipped in. But raising funds for the local contribution required led to legal battles between ports and their constituents, including the Port of Bayocean. The Port of Bay City was the only survivor of the melee and it could not afford two jetties. With the Corps' approval, a single, north jetty was completed in 1917.
By the late 1920s, cottages along the ocean beach started to disappear. As the shoreline moved east, some of the homes were moved back. Others fell. When the north jetty was repaired and extended in 1931, erosion escalated. The natatorium's foundation was so badly undermined in 1932 that its west wall collapsed. In the minds of Bayocean and Cape Meares residents, there was no doubt the north jetty was to blame, but their efforts to convince the Corps to build a south jetty failed.
The Bayocean shoreline was often littered with cabin ruins in the 1930s and 1940s. Debris lingered until it was carried out to sea by the breakers. Concrete chunks from the natatorium stayed until they were buried by sand over many years. The destruction became a tourist attraction.
In 1926, the courts handed Bayocean Park over to the Tillamook-Bayocean Company, a group of local businessmen formed for that purpose. They worked out a deal with the county regarding back taxes that enabled the completion of Bayocean Road, which ran from Tillamook, along the south side of the bay, to Cape Meares, and out to the spit. Families could then drive there on weekends to enjoy the beach. But photos they took of the erosion, houses hanging on the dune's edge, and debris along the shore didn't help sell lots. Some visitors looted and vandalized vacant homes making things worse. Then the Great Depression hit. In 1932 the Tillamook-Bayocean Company divvied up Bayocean Park amongst themselves. Its days as a standalone resort had ended. The Artisans' Cooperative Community brought life to the spit in 1934 but left town under a dark cloud in 1936.
|People standing in a breached gap in the spit. Photo No. 205 Tillamook County Pioneer Museum.
During the 1940s, longtime Bayocean resident Francis Mitchell initiated a “Watch Bayocean Grow” campaign that went nowhere. However, the construction of Naval Air Station Tillamook to house blimps during World War II brought an economic boom to the area. Some of the new arrivals rented cottages on Bayocean, and the Coast Guard rented the Poulsen complex to house their war dog beach patrol. This would be the first and last time Bayocean hosted a community of working-class Americans.
Meanwhile, the ocean continued eating away the south end of the spit and breaching gaps regularly, making it hard to maintain the access road and forcing more owners to move houses back from the edge. A few sold their cabins for a pittance to people who moved them to the mainland just before storm surges ripped a three-quarter-mile chunk out of the south end of the spit on November 13, 1952. Bayocean had become an island. Families left but a few retired couples and bachelors held out for a couple of years.
Oyster beds were covered with sand with the initial break. Levies that maintained dairy farm meadows were breached. Ships could no longer enter the inlet to Tillamook Bay because there was too little current to keep the channel clear, most of the movement having transferred to the south inlet. Coastal commerce and navigation, part of the Corps' mandate, were obviously threatened, so they finally took action. In1956, engineers built a breakwater that closed the gap and raised the south part of the spit level to prevent the same from occurring in the future.
Water forced to flow through the north inlet cleared its channel and shipping returned. Backpressure created by the breakwater forced sand to settle and reform a beach that reconnected the ocean side of the spit to Cape Meares, though far east of where it had been originally. Meares Lake, fed by Coleman Creek, filled the gap between the new beach and the breakwater. Unfortunately, building the breakwater had required bulldozing, burning, and burying all but three of the buildings remaining at the town center. The town of Bayocean had been sacrificed to save Tillamook.
The breakwater did not solve the problem caused by the north jetty, so the beach continued to move east, causing the last house to fall into the sea in 1960. A few pieces of the last building on the spit (a garage) remained in 1971 when the solution to the problem—a south jetty—was completed, not to save the spit but to stabilize shifting sands at the inlet. Bayocean's shoreline immediately started growing. Today, the end of the south jetty is crumbling from the constant pounding of the sea. Corps' plans have been in the works to repair it for years, but funding has not been attained.
As should be evident just in this quick summary, 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 much of what has already been written needs updating. That is the purpose of the seventy-one posts on the Home page and the book in process. The Index provides a way to find specific topics of interest. Comments are welcome on individual posts or via the Comment Form in the right column.