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S. Oregon Coast's Coos Bay Gets Heritage All-Star Status for Historical Aspects - but More Beneath Surface

Published 7/07/24 at 4:55 p.m.
By Andre' GW Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Coos Bay, Oregon) – More opportunities to time travel in one little south Oregon coast town – and more official recognition for it. (Photo Seaside Aquarium: wreck of the Olson that appeared in 2007 and rarely seen since)

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The Oregon Heritage Commission has just handed the prestigious title of “Oregon Heritage All-Star Community” to Coos Bay. It's an official designation that signifies the city’s outstanding commitment to preserving and celebrating its local heritage, and opens the way for more funds towards that.

Yet there's more to its history quite literally lurking in layers beneath the area.

To achieve All-Star status, communities must meet at least 15 out of 24 specific criteria related to heritage. These criteria encompass a wide range of efforts, including heritage tourism initiatives, historic preservation programs, photo and document archives, museums, historic cemeteries, and vibrant downtown areas steeped in history.

On July 23, 2024, during the Coos Bay City Council work session at 6:00 p.m., a representative from the Oregon Heritage Commission will formally acknowledge this prestigious designation.


“Coos Bay has a long and broad history,” said Katie Henry coordinator for the Oregon Heritage Commission. “The efforts of the city, tribes, museums, businesses, and community members in preserving and sharing local history contributes to the economy and livability of Coos Bay.”

To maintain its Heritage All-Star status, Coos Bay must continue to meet the established criteria. Technical assistance will be provided to support the city in sustaining and expanding its heritage offerings and facilities. Coos Bay joins an esteemed group of seven other All-Star communities, including Albany, Astoria, Bend, Cottage Grove, Oregon City, Roseburg, and Salem.

Mayor Benetti stated “This designation is a testament to the dedication and hard work of our community in preserving Coos Bay’s rich heritage, we are honored to receive this recognition and are committed to continuing our efforts in celebrating and safeguarding our history for future generations.”


House in Coos Bay where runner Steve Prefontaine grew up

The town's historical aspects may not be a major tourism draw all by itself, but little segments add up.

According to Oregon's Adventure Coast executive director Janice Langlinais, there's a lot of little pieces here that are fascinating.

“We are excited to have been a part of helping Coos Bay acquire this notable status,” the said. “As residents and visitors to our area can attest, Coos Bay offers so many cultural experiences - from a walk along the Boardwalk where a vintage tugboat is on display, to the Coos History and Marshfield Sun Printing Museums showcasing how our ancestors lived and worked, to a reverent walk through the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery, Coos Bay's Heritage is always on display. We invite everyone to experience our culture and heritage on their next visit to Oregon's Adventure Coast: Coos Bay, North Bend, Charleston!”

Yet in some ways, parts of Coos Bay's history are right in your face and they provide some of the main attractions – but you just don't know it.


Photo courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts 

Case in point: the Cape Arago Lighthouse just offshore is one of only two on the Oregon coast you can't walk up to, and its history goes back well over 100 years with some twists and turns. Tales of the End of a South Oregon Coast Lighthouse: Chief's Island and Arago Light


Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

At Sunset Bay, there are ghost forests lying hidden in the low tides that date back to the first Viking invasions of England (rather young for ghost forests). [The Unheralded Ghost Forests of South Oregon Coast / Coos Bay in Photos]

On its northern sands are two mysterious shipwrecks that sometimes appear but mostly stay hidden beneath the sands. The Sujameco is like the south coast's version of the Peter Iredale, popping up in almost full form during some low sand event periods. [Slow But Epic Oregon Coast Drama, Coos Bay's Sujameco Wreck Still Visible] Then there's the George L Olson that wrecked here in the '30s but everyone forgot about until it re-emerged in 2008 briefly. It's rarely been seen since. Coos Bay's Mystery Shipwreck of 2008, Forgotten S. Oregon Coast History 

The Oregon Heritage Commission consists of nine members appointed by the governor and nine agency advisors. Members are chosen from state agencies and statewide organizations, and represent a diverse geographical and heritage background.

Assistance is available for communities seeking to acquire Heritage All-Star Community status. Oregon Heritage of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which houses the Oregon Heritage Commission, offers technical support, workshops, grants and other resources for all heritage projects in the state. To learn more, visit www.oregonheritage.org or contact Kuri Gill at Kuri.Gill@oprd.oregon.govc or 503-986-0685.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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