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The Jump-Off Joe No One Knows: Newport, Oregon Coast History

Published 05/25/21 at 4:15 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

The Jump-Off Joe No One Knows: Newport, Oregon Coast History

(Newport, Oregon) – Everyone knows Jump-Off Joe as the ragged, disjointed central Oregon coast structure that's been falling apart for years. It's like a version of a castle ruin here in Newport's Nye Beach, where not just the small headland itself is disappearing but the remnants of an old, scandalously-failed condo project have provided an oddball attraction for decades that also served as a viewpoint. (Above: the famed structure somewhere around the turn-of-the-century, courtesy Newport's Lincoln County History Museum)

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What most people don't know is that there was another Jump-Off Joe in Oregon coast history, about 100 years ago. Like the current Jump-Off Joe, the old Jump-Off Joe was a favorite tourist destination in proto-Newport. When it disappeared, people loved it so much they apparently gave the name to a new spot.

Like the old one, today's attraction is quickly crumbling away and just in early 2021 became so unstable it was closed off. ( Newport's Jump-Off Joe Gets Dangerous, Oregon Coast Landmark Closed Off ) Yet this one was a magnificent structure, with a big arch in the middle for awhile and a ton of tourist pics at the time.

The elder Joe's story actually begins millions of years ago.

It and the rest of the cliffs of Newport are part of what's known as the Astoria Formation, or at least a more brittle version of it. It's a vast area that's often underneath most of the beaches we know from Waldport through to Warrenton. This part of it is actually sandstone – the same stuff Cape Kiwanda and the Devil's Punchbowl are made up of - but even lesser in strength and durability. The Astoria Formation began somewhere just a little after 18 or 15 million years ago or so, starting out as a giant indentation in what was then deep ocean. Over time it filled up with a bunch of stuff, mostly rubbly, then getting fused together over the eons.

Eventually, as the sea floor rose and fell numerous times over that period, it was left exposed above the sea. There, because different parts of it are stronger than others, some areas erode faster, like the Newport area.

In the late 1800s, as tourism became a thing in Nye Beach, there was a sizable land mass jutting out into the ocean from the cliffs. About 1890, construction of the jetties at Yaquina Bay changed the action of the tides and that 150-foot outcropping got whittled away rather quickly until it left the structure you see in the old photos. This rather pock-marked form of sandstone slowly eroded into a something that looked like a dinosaur tail, and it was named Jump-Off Joe.

As Nye Beach became more and more popular (it was actually a separate community from Newport for quite a while), tourists latched onto Joe. A.L. Thomas, a local doctor and businessman, sold tons of postcards of it over the years, many of which remain in the collection of Newport's Lincoln County History Museum.

This Oregon coast favorite did not last long. By 1916, the arch had crumbled. In the 1930s, most of it had been worn down by the sea. It was essentially completely gone by the ‘40s.

Joe had crumbled by 1917, as seen in this shot from that year (Oregon Statesman newspaper)

However, you can see a small trace of it. There's a bit of a rocky slab sitting at the tideline, about 80 feet or so north of the newer Jump-Off Joe. It too is mostly gone now, however.

As the new Joe came into being, it eventually grew an arch as well (photos at bottom). There are some rather striking pictures of old timey cars sitting under it, perhaps in the ‘30s or so. In the early ‘90s, that arch crumbled during a winter storm, reportedly with a quite a mighty crashing sound. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Photos below courtesy Lincoln County History Museum

Remnant of old Joe in the background, circa 1925, with the newer Joe in the foreground

Above: the current Jump-Off Joe looked like this in the 1920s. Below, what it looked like a few years ago (Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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