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Depoe Bay History: the Story Behind Some Oregon Coast Landmarks

Published 03/30/2020 at 4:34 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Depoe Bay History: the Story Behind Some Oregon Coast Landmarks

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – The spry and often brightly-colored central Oregon coast town of Depoe Bay has an expansive history that’s sizably larger than the confines of the beach burgh itself. It has a lot of tales to tell.

Every business you see there now has been something else before that, and often many means of commerce even before that. Some spots in Depoe Bay are about one hundred years old now.

Walking around the bridge and through the downtown region is like a trip through time. Surprises often lurk. For instance, can you imagine a time when there was no seawall by the Spouting Horn? That was the case, as you can see from the photo of the famous font of ocean water from the 1930s, courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society in Newport (at top).

The tall, slender Spouting Horn Restaurant was for decades a landmark on the central Oregon coast, with its weathered brown / gray cedar sides and windows peering out over the bay from dizzying heights. It was run by the same family since 1944 and closed down in 2014. After being vacant for awhile, it became The Horn Public House & Brewery which still has the prime ocean view to this day, and now the exterior is a bold red.

Historical photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society in Newport

It apparently started sometime around 1940 or maybe earlier, going at first by the name Spouting Horn Inn. During World War II, the upstairs portion was rented out to the U.S. Coast Guard, which used it to house the sailors who patrolled the Oregon coast for invaders.

In 1951, Betty Taunton and her husband came down from Portland to help his dad run the restaurant, eventually taking it over and changing the name. It was Taunton’s own pie recipes that made that place famous for many years.

Depoe Bay today: the red exterior of the brew pub in the foreground and the turquoise building behind that which was once the aquarium.

Just a few doors down is the building that once housed the famous Depoe Bay Aquarium. Now it’s a combination of businesses all crammed into the old space, which had a sea cave feel to it, designed to look that way with materials that imitated rock. The old entrance is another gift shop, while part of the rear portion of the building (where some of the seal tanks were) is half of an upscale gallery. Almost no trace of that famous building is left, save for a back window with an unusual shape where you could look into the aquarium and see the seals. Now this is part of the gallery but still visible from the parking lot in back of the building. The side windows appear largely similar, too.

Depoe Bay was not even officially a town until the early ‘70s, and back in the ‘20s it was only just sprouting its first few businesses with barely a road going through. About 1925, a group of locals stood slack-jawed over a dead octopus that somehow slinked its way up from the ocean and the rocks to expire by the side of the dusty road. H. L. Collins, considered the town’s founding father, was among that crowd and was inspired to create the Depoe Bay Aquarium. It opened in 1927 – almost a decade before the Seaside Aquarium to the north – coinciding with the creation of Highway 101 in what was still called Depot Bay. That facility hosted seals, sea lions and lots of other kinds of marine beasties, although you couldn’t feed these ones like in Seaside.

Historical photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society in Newport

The aquarium survived until Labor Day weekend in 1998. The building remains, at the corner next to the north end of the bridge, at the stop light.

These days, the Whale Watching Center is the Mecca for whale spotting, but it led a somewhat random existence since the ‘90s. It was a variety of shops, including a Made in Oregon store for a long time, and then for a bit an adjunct gift shop from the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Another landmark, Tidal Raves restaurant, closer to the north end, started off originally as a gas station decades ago. It was a pizza joint just before the famed seafood restaurant took over.

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