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Historical Surprise: Pristine Oregon Coast Result of When Beaches Were Roads

Published 02/28/2016 at 11:01 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

In 1912, when roads were still beaches

(Oregon Coast) – Driving along Highway 101, gazing over pristine, sandy beaches that flash by, often between stands of forests or intrusive hillsides, you're probably not aware of the inherent irony in this. As you zip along the Oregon coast scenic highway, you're looking at the old coastal highway. Photo above: In 1912, when beaches were still the roads.

It always comes as some surprise to find out Oregon's beaches were at one point the main road up and down this shoreline. There was no actual road for many decades after European settlers starting arriving here.

Even more surprising, the fact they were once the only highway between towns is directly related to the enduring beauty of this area – it is part of the reason they are so public. And ultimately so clean as well.

Highway 101 didn't actually come into existence until the early 30's. Before that, all you could do to get to most places was drive up the beach by horse 'n' buggy or by early models of motorcar.

About the only real sign left of this is the old road carved out of Hug Point near Cannon Beach. Just after 1900, the rock here was blasted apart and a small road made around this point. You can still see the ruts in the old rock, etched by the wheels of ancient vehicles. (Photo here)

In 1914, Governor Oswald West declared the beaches public highways, as part of a first step to keep the roads open and assure more would be built. Shortly after, a series of unpaved roads began to spring up. The Columbia Highway was to run from Seaside to Astoria and then along the Columbia River to Pendleton. In 1915, an unpaved highway between Astoria and Portland opened up.

Meanwhile, down in Newport, Nye Beach and Newport were actually separate little villages, connected by a muddy set of wooden planks.

In 1912, a group of central coast businessmen hoped to give local tourism a big boost by making the first automobile trip between Newport and Siletz Bay in what would later become Lincoln City. These days, along 101, the trip takes 45 minutes to a half hour, depending on traffic. Back then, the group that called itself the Pathfinders needed 23 hours to make the round trip along muddy tracks on slippery hillsides and soft beaches.

Mail was, of course, delivered by sauntering over the vehicle-stressing beaches as well. This resulted in a flurry of interesting tales all their own. One that stands out was the discovery of a mail truck from the 20's beneath the sands of Waldport, found in early 2008 when sand levels reached record lows.

It wasn't until 1919 that Oregonians approved a measure to create a full highway from border to border along the coastline, partially because of the way World War 1 had caused Americans to start thinking about emergency preparedness and other possible wars. In 1921, actual paving work began on what was then called the Roosevelt Coast Military Highway – after Theodore Roosevelt.

It changed names agan over the next few years, including the Oregon Beach Highway, before finally settling on the Oregon Coast Highway in the early 30's. Part of that initial name still sticks today: Highway 101 in Seaside is known as Roosevelt Street.

Highway 101 was paved and finished in 1931. Then, and only then, could coastal towns connect with each other. According to some state documents, Oregonians at the time discovered incredibly different cultures had evolved in each coastal town, the result of decades of isolation from each other and the rest of the state.

After West's declaration that beaches were to be public, several laws were passed giving the Highway Commission more control over the beaches over the years. The Oregon State Parks system was an offshoot of this legislation, starting under the highway department in 1925.

All this helped pave the way for Gov. Tom McCall to finalize Oregon's beaches as public in the 60's, but before that it was simply a kind of unclarified law and understanding. What really inspired the famed Oregon Beach Bill was when a Cannon Beach motel owner tried fencing off a portion of the dry sand in front of his beachfront property in 1966.

This did not sit well with locals and they went straight to Oregon legislators. The Oregon Beach Bill, based slightly on a similar bill in Texas, nearly died a quick death. But McCall created overwhelming public support by flying a team of scientists to the beach in two helicopters, thus creating a massive media stir that turned it into a hot button issue for Oregonains.

The was signed into existence on July 6, 1967. Where to stay in this area - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours Historic photos below: Newport.



 

 

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A famous little family eatery where the seafood practically gets shuffled from the sea straight into your mouth. Soups and salads include many seafood specialties, including cioppino, chowders, crab Louie and cheese breads. Fish 'n' chips come w/ various fish. Seafood sandwiches with shrimp, tuna or crab, as well as burgers. Dinners like pan fried oysters, fillets of salmon or halibut, saut�ed scallops.
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