Beginnings of an Oregon Coast Highway Between Manzanita, Cannon Beach
(Manzanita, Oregon) - Before there was a real highway along the coastline, Oregon’s “Highway Department” (the predecessor to today’s ODOT) the beaches were the closest thing to a road between towns (above: Hug Point now).
In 1914, Governor Oswald West declared the beaches along the Oregon coast to be public highways, and construction on what was to become Highway 101 began shortly after. Around that time, a road was blasted out of the rocky point known as Hug Point, so horses ‘n’ buggies (and later, early automobiles) could pass and continue the route from Cannon Beach to Arch Cape. There was no beachside route from there southward. To get from Cannon Beach or Arch Cape to Wheeler you had to take Highway 26 over to Highway 53, which then wound around the coast range and Neahkahnie Mountain to the Nehalem Bay area.
Though the majority of Highway 101 from end to end was finished in 1931, that Highway 53 route was still the only means between Nehalem Bay and Cannon Beach. A few years later, the road from Manzanita to Short Sand was created; and finally, in 1942 the Arch Cape Tunnel was finished, fully opening up Highway 101 on the north Oregon coast.
Evidence of the beaches as roads can still be occasionally unearthed when extreme low sand level events open up what’s beneath the beaches, like in the winter of 2007 when a mail truck from the 1920’s was found near Waldport after sand levels got low enough for it to show.
Creating the road around Neahkahnie Mountain, above Manzanita, created considerable challenges – some of which remain today. Blasting tons of rock from the mountain safely was just one. This resulted in the rather legendary landmark of that pyramid-looking rock. Rocks still periodically slide from the mountain face onto the highway to this day, although this seems to be happening with less frequency. As recent as the early 2000’s, landslides would periodically block off access to the road here until they were cleared.
Some interesting historical footnotes about ODOT (or the Highway Department, as it was called until the late 70’s): the department had various slogans it displayed over the last 100 years. Some are rather amusing now, in retrospect.
These include:"Get Oregon Out of the Mud" in 1913. "Building Oregon Thru Better Highways" as of 1957. "Oregon Freeways - Symbol of 2nd Century Progress" came about in 1958. In 1961 there was "Freeways are Easier. " 1967 saw the somewhat incorrect "Fifty Years of Building Better Highways in Oregon," a bit of a misnomer since the Highway Department was formed by a legislative act in 1913. Then in 1978 the state kept both the environment and the economy in mind with "Keep Oregon Green and in the Black.”
Fascinating details reveal themselves along this ancient road at Hug Point.
Neahkahnie Overlooks at Night
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