The Bayocean Story In Brief

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
In 1911, the first cabins were built after streets had been surveyed and graded sufficiently for lots to be located and accessed. 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 Bayocean Annexoriginally intended to house employees of the spectacular 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. When the Bayocean Natatorium was built right 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 the pavilion across the street. 

Delivered: Bayocean Annex
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. 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 now,” 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, many 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 made collecting monthly payments increasingly difficult for the receiver, Sydney Vincent. He foreclosed on buyers en masse and offered the lots for resale but found few willing to buy lots that 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 
Army 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. Raising taxes led to legal battles between ports and their constituents, including a Port of Bayocean. The Port of Bay City was the only survivor, and it could not afford two jetties. So, only a north jetty was built. It was completed in 1917.

By the mid-1920s, residents of Bayocean Park and Cape Meares started noticing beach erosion. As it grew worse, some moved their cottages to lots farther from the sea, but some fell to the sea. The natatorium couldn't be moved, and losing its sidewalk didn't seem too problematic. But as the jetty was extended in 1931, erosion escalated. The natatorium's foundation was so badly undermined in 1932 that its west wall collapsed.

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. 

The courts handed Bayocean Park over to a group of locals called the Tillamook-Bayocean Company in 1926. They worked out a deal with the county regarding back taxes that enabled the completion of Bayocean Road between Tillamook and the spit. Families could then drive out 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. And some visitors looted and vandalized vacant homes making things worse. In 1932 the locals gave up and divvied up Bayocean Park, ending its days as a standalone resort.

People standing in a breached gap in the spit. Photo No. 205 Tillamook County Pioneer Museum.

Landowners became increasingly convinced that the north jetty was the problem. Academics would confirm their suspicions in the 1970s, but by then, it would be too late. 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 Corps study, which concluded that the erosion was just part of a natural cycle that would eventually reverse. They also pointed out that the Corps' congressional mandate did not include protection of private property. Even if it were, the cost of building a south jetty would be several times greater than the total value of all assessed property in Bayocean Park. Tillamook's congressional delegation found it impossible to get funding for a south jetty under these circumstances. 

During the 1940s, longtime Bayocean resident and fanatic Francis Mitchell initiated a “Watch Bayocean Grow” campaign with little success. However, the construction of Naval Air Station Tillamook to house 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 Bayocean hosted a community of working, middle-class Americans.

Meanwhile, the ocean continued wearing away the south end of the spit, making Bayocean Road hard to maintain 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 3/4-mile gash through the southern section of the spit 
on November 13, 1952. Bayocean had become an island. Oyster beds were covered with sand. 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. In 1956, engineers built a breakwater that closed the gap and raised the south part of the spit level after burning and burying the remaining buildings near the town center. Water forced to flow through the north inlet cleared its channel. And backpressure created by the breakwater forced sand to settle and reform a beach that reconnected 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.

The breakwater did not solve the problem caused by the north jetty, so the beach continued to erode. The last house fell into the sea in 1960.  Just a few pieces of the last building on the spit (a garage) remained in 1971 when the first solution to the problem—a south jetty—was completed. 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 is again a problem. 

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 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.