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Landmarks and Legends of an Oregon Coast Lighthouse, Newport's Yaquina Bay, Part I

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By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Landmarks and Legends of an Oregon Coast Lighthouse, Newport's Yaquina Bay, Part I

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(Newport, Oregon) – These days, it’s a famed and gleaming attraction on the central Oregon coast, but for many decades that wasn’t the case for the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. There’s a more rounded telling of the lighthouse’s history at Oregon Coast History: Newport's Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Trying Times, but here Oregon Coast Beach Connection has managed to dig up a fair amount of old newspaper clippings that fill in some of the spaces. It’s a meandering tale that’s documented in old newspapers, showing the public struggles that took it from dilapidated to lauded.

This is part one, covering almost the first 100 years. Part two: Almost Haunted Oregon Coast: Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Lore and Legends, Part 2. It also looks at the ghost stories of the place..

Starting in 1870, the federal government acquired the 38 acres for $500. In early 1871, construction began and on November 3 of that year the light was switched on. Charles Pierce was its first and only keeper, and he wound up with ten kids eventually.

In 1874, however, technology had changed and the taller, more visible Yaquina Head Lighthouse went into action, closing down the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The newspaper coverage begins around here.

Albany Democrat Herald, July 19, 1872. The headline reads “Shocking Accident,” and then nebulously refers to both Cape Foulweather and Yaquina Bay in a brutal tale that reflects life back then. It's entirely possible this is referring to Yaquina Head, however.

“A probably fatal accident which occurred at Cape Foulweather, Yaquina Bay last Saturday. It appears that a workman engaged on the new lighthouse named JE Bushell, while walking out on the narrow tramway leading from the warehouse to the vessel landing, was struck so violently by a sudden blast of wind as to lose his balance and fall on the rocks below, a distance of 60 or 70 feet, crushing his shoulder and mangling his face and head in a terrible manner. He was taken up insensible and removed to Elk City where he was lying in a hopeless condition when last heard from, and suffering intense pain.”


Oregon Statesman. December 20, 1873. The Eugene Journal reports that Washington, D.C. authorities “contemplate abandonment” of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. They say the “commerce of the place will not justify its continuance." It names a Senator Mitchell as an advocate that will try to save it.

1934, Corvallis Gazette-Times. Washington politicians tell local authorities the lighthouse property must be sold, as part of the highway project that is building what will be called Highway 101.

1947, Corvallis Gazette-Times. There is local discussion of tearing it down but many are proposing it should become a museum. Officials examine it and determine it needs work (it looks pretty haunted by this time) but it’s still sturdy. There is also discussion there needs to be steps built from the drive up to the entrance. A local Garden Club meeting causes one resident to urge tearing it down, which is met with a hint of panic by some but dismay by most.

A councilman at the time named Jerry Christian (former head of State Parks) said it belongs to the state and the people, “and I for one think it's an old landmark and should be preserved.” He has some historic items he’d like to loan the place, and can think of many other Newport-area residents with similar curiosities from the past. He notes the Tillamook Museum to the north has been asking about his collection of stuff.

Greater Albany, January 1954. The former Willamette Valley paper declares the lighthouse has been given an official reprieve by the State Highway Commission (the precursor to ODOT) in a meeting somewhere around January 23. The local Lincoln County Historical Society (formed in ‘48) was given until January 1 to raise money for its repair or even move the building.

The Society had by now also acquired the assistance of the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.

Sometime that year or in ‘55 the highway department officially reversed its plans to demolish it.

Until about now it's been in ever-worsening condition but begins to get a little sprucing up.

Salem’s Capital Journal, 1968. The name David Talbott pops up again – he was head of state parks at the time and shows up a lot in historical documentation. He and state parks historian Elizabeth Walton tell attendees at a meeting they may seek funding from National Parks, as little to nothing has been done on the lighthouse yet. Although there is some tourist visitations by this time. In fact, another article around this period notes that in 1967, less than 12,000 visited the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse during the year, but by 1970 that number jumped to almost 18,000 people.

At the time, there were “factions” within Lincoln County’s historical group that wanted different things with the old Oregon coast landmark. Some wanted a general museum of sorts, but local leader Beatrice Wilcox said back then it should be restored as it was when Pierce ran it and reflect that way of life.

Part two: Almost Haunted Oregon Coast: Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Lore and Legends, Part 2. Hotels in Newport - Where to eat - Newport Maps and Virtual Tours

 


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