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Quirky Oregon Coast History: How Cannon Beach Got Its Name

Published 11/29/2018 at 6:29 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Quirky Oregon Coast History: How Cannon Beach Got Its Name

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Really, it's a Tale of Two Cannon Beach's. How the famed north Oregon coast town got its name will cause you to do a double take.

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Okay, enough with the puns.

In actuality, there were two Cannon Beach's. The one we know now with that moniker did not have it in the beginning, and how it eventually got its official name is a tad amusing.

The whole saga starts way back in the 1840s, before there were hardly any settlers south of Astoria. That growing town, however, was already a commercial hub, and true to the area’s name of Graveyard of the Pacific, a ship called the USS Shark wrecked there.

Parts of it washed up almost 30 miles south in what’s now called Arch Cape, a tiny unincorporated village between Manzanita and Cannon Beach. Shortly after the wreck in 1846, one of the crewmembers, T.J. Simes, was sent to retrieve as much as he could. He managed to yank one cannon and some other pieces out of the waters, but due to incoming tides he had to leave at least a couple of cannon behind.

They were buried by sand and forgotten. Mostly.

Fast forward to 1863: a mail carrier named John Hobson reported spotting one cannon in Arch Cape Creek (also known as Shark Creek). Because of those cannon, when settlers here established their post office in 1891 they named the place Cannon Beach. Keep in mind, this was what would later become Arch Cape.

By this time, at least one local resident had become obsessed with finding the other cannon or two, but to no avail. That was not to happen for at least another 100 years.

In the meantime, a chunk of land just north of there was being settled and was called Elk Creek. This was the proto Cannon Beach town. In 1906, a pair of brothers began planning a new village just south of that and eventually named it Tolovana.

According to the Cannon Beach History Museum, it was in 1910 that Elk Creek officially named itself Ecola. This little fledgling village of Ecola was named after the stream running through town; Ecola was a name derived from a similar Clatsop tribe word.

In 1911, the two adventurer brothers, the Warrens, built a large resort in the Tolovana area, which was where the Tolovana Inn now stands. (Below: the original cannon on display at the Cannon Beach History Museum).

One year later, Arch Cape decides it doesn’t like the name Cannon Beach and turns itself into Arch Cape. This name came from the set of three arches lurking just the other side of the headland at the village’s southern end. You can still see one arch, but the other two – which formed an intricate and strange structure – fell apart in the ‘40s.

Here comes the amusing part. The little town of Ecola ran into a bit of a problem. There was a village in the Willamette Valley called Eola (now almost part of West Salem). Ecola locals found that their mail was accidentally getting sent to Eola sometimes. So because of that little quirk of the post office, in 1922 residents there decided to change the name to Cannon Beach. Part of the reason was, well, Arch Cape didn’t want the name anymore. It was available. So why not?

The saga of the cannon that got the two towns the name continued. Fleeting sightings of the other two cannon seemed to disappear after the turn of the century, but the retrieved cannon, along with other parts, were slowly making the rounds. It was in front of a post office for a few decades, then part of a monument on the east side of Highway 101, along with a capstan, a chain and even a cannon ball or two – all from the original wreck.

By the ‘80s, the cannon had been vandalized a few times and other surrounding artifacts stolen. It was moved to a museum in Astoria, then to the Cannon Beach History Museum around 2005 or so.

In 2007, those original two cannon showed up again when sand levels got to an extreme low that winter. Or least that’s the overwhelming evidence – though they can’t be 100 percent identified as coming from the USS Shark. That was an enormous deal: the 150-year-long mystery had been solved. They were sent off to Texas for restoration, as well as the cannon in the Cannon Beach museum. The two are now at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and the original is back in Cannon Beach. Lodging in Cannon Beach - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

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The latest cannon found in 2007, just after being unearthed






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