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From Wartime to Playtime: Two Wildly Different Historic Spots on Oregon Coast

Published 07/30/21 at 5:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

From Wartime to Playtime: Two Wildly Different Historic Spots on Oregon Coast

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(Warrenton, Oregon) – History echoes down the ages with all sorts of interesting tales along the Oregon coast, but not always in ways that you can still walk upon in the present. Much has been erased by time. Buildings get lost to the past and the bulldozer. (Above: one of the guns at Battery Russell in the early part of the century)

Yet two Oregon coast hotspots still resonate with the last century or so: one sits on the north coast and the other on the central coast.

The Astoria / Warrenton area is one of those where the past completely surrounds, even in parts of Warrenton. Such as at Fort Stevens State Park, which is a serious exercise in time travel if there ever was one.

Here, enormous gunneries once guarded the mouth of the Columbia River, lodged in huge turrets which rested in sprawling concrete fortresses - all empty and abandoned now, with gaping holes like sad, hollow eyes, where guns, officers' quarters and other war machinery once sat.

At the center of this is Battery Russell and its enormous concrete bunkers. Built around the turn of the last century, the gunnery eventually watched for invaders during World War II. There are other gunneries as well - all perfect for rainy days when you don't mind getting a little wet while darting in and out of these castle ruin-like structures.

The park also features that sprawling jetty that reaches out into the mouth of the Columbia River. It has a back story: it and the other jetty to the north so drastically altered the sand distribution of the region that it created about an extra mile of shoreline to Fort Stevens and turned Seaside from a slightly rocky beach into that 1000-foot chunk of sand.

Then there's the wreck of the Peter Iredale, one of the world's most photographed shipwrecks.

Another fascinating bit of history: this was just about the only place in the continental U.S. to get fired upon by a foreign power during World War II, when a Japanese sub lobbed shells at the area in the middle of the night. It knocked out a power line and nearly hit the old shipwreck, but aside from that nothing came of the almost-battle.

Nye Beach's Promenade area in the '30s - photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society

On the central Oregon coast, Nye Beach is a tiny section of Newport that is more than a quaint place: it's mesmerizing with its beauty and its architecture of old town America mixed with old Europe. It is a fusion of time periods. While some of the old buildings by the Turnaround are still there from 100 years ago or so, it was a massive refurbishing of the district around 2000 that gave it the lanterns and brick streets, catapulting the vibe into high gear.

In turn, many newer buildings were constructed with a historic, vintage look, though they're actually quite recent.

There was once a whole promenade at the Turnaround as well, like Seaside's, but much smaller. Nothing is left of that, however.

Once known as the Honeymoon Capital of the World in the early part of the last century, Newport boasted a hot salt water bath known as a natatorium – a popular feature along the Oregon coast at that time. Back then, it was a separate community from Newport connected only by a muddy road with wooden planks to assist driving.

Down on the beach, after parking at the charming turnaround, you'll find a long, sandy stretch in either direction that's highlighted by nooks and crannies in the cliffs, as well as the interesting remnant of Jump-Off Joe to the north. Above the structure sit the crusty remnants of a condo once naively built on this shaky sandstone foundation back in the early ‘80s. It faltered and began crumbling just weeks before its completion.

History has been repeating itself, with more and more of Jump-Off Joe disappearing over the decades, until finally this past year the entire condo area became unstable and unusafe.

To the south, there's the Vietnam vet memorial, which features a walkway meandering up into the cliff. It's lit up at night by a host of lights embedded near the floor, with various benches along the way, perfect for that midnight smooch session as the huge, Yaquina Head Lighthouse blinks in the distance, another bit of history looming over the beach.

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