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Historical Rarities Lurk Beneath Rockaway Beach on N. Oregon Coast

Published 09/04/20 at 5:41 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Rarities Lurk Beneath Rockaway Beach on N. Oregon Coast

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(Rockaway Beach, Oregon) – Winter always creates a new beach, anywhere on the Oregon coast. That’s especially so if sand levels get lowered prominently by heavy pounding of the surf, taking out the stuff by the truckload in sometimes just hours. (Above: the remnants of a bulkhead channel)

If you want to go treasure hunting, this is when you need to head out to the Oregon coastline. In some places, like Coos Bay, you may get a peek at a few different shipwrecks that can get uncovered. Numerous other areas sport ghost forests that are far older and more interesting than those at Neskowin.

In Rockaway Beach, there are two delicious historical secrets lurking beneath the old town’s sands. There’s a shipwreck and a remnant of a curious structure that attempted to channel nature a certain direction. Yet there’s something not beneath these sands that is interesting to note as well.

The most high-profile find of Rockaway Beach is the rare appearance of the wreck of the Emily G. Reed, which only pops for a week or two every two or three winters in the last decade. The Reed slammed into the mouth of the Nehalem River back in 1908 and quickly split in two. The largest chunk drifted south and landed a block south of Rockaway Beach’s Ocean’s Edge Wayside, in the center of town.

There, it was raided for wood and other materials and quickly became a skeletal ribcage, which is what you see now.

Among the items, according to local historian Don Best, was a variety of copper nails, which Best’s own grandfather acquired as well. Growing up in the ‘50s, Best remembers his grandfather dropping them into a fire every Christmas, where they made especially colorful flames to the delight of the kids.

The wreckage began to get covered up periodically in the ‘50s, and slowly less and less of it was visible every year. By the mid ‘70s, it had gone. Subsequently, it disappeared from locals’ minds as well. (Photo courtesy Don Best, showing a baby Don with his family on the wreck in the '40s)

About 2010, it made a stellar reappearance, and for a bit puzzled many. Best and some others quickly reminded the world what it was, and the wreck of the Emily G. Reed was a hit on local TV station news.

Best told Oregon Coast Beach Connection another small section lies a ways to the south (also rarely seen), and there is another chunk lurking in a stream.

Also hidden beneath these sands – but seen a little more often – is a small circular bundle of wood pilings standing up. It has, in the past, been confused with being a ghost forest or part of the Reed wreck.

The natatorium in 1928 (courtesy Don Best)

It is the remnants of a wooden structure called a bulkhead channel, which was used to alter the path of a stream that kept threatening a recreation building about 100 years ago.

From about 1900 until the ‘40s, natatoriums were all the rage along the Oregon coast. These were indoor heated saltwater pools, many of which featured entertainment on top of the water frolicking. Rockaway Beach had one, Nye Beach had one, Seaside had two, Cannon Beach had one and there was of course the famed one at Bayocean.

Best told Oregon Coast Beach Connection back in 2010 the bulkhead was used to keep the stream from moving too much.

“It was about three feet wide and 8 to 10 feet tall, with 2 x 12 inch planking on the sides and even a covered top so that the creek would not ‘wander’ back and forth with the seasons,” he said.

Unlike many beaches along this coastline, Rockaway Beach and Manzanita have no ghost forests – those unusual frozen-in-time remnants of old trees. Extreme winter erosion periodically unearths these eerie leftovers from two to five thousand years ago, in places like Newport, near Waldport, south of Cannon Beach, near Cape Kiwanda, and more. Scientists Roger Hart and Curt Peterson did the actual research on these, and they found none around Rockaway Beach, Manzanita or down at Gold Beach.

However, there’s a little surprise here. They say that the reason they haven’t found any is because sand levels don’t get that low in those places – so it’s possible there are some of these wacky finds below Rockaway Beach but science just hasn’t been able to find them yet. Hotels in Rockaway Beach - Where to eat - Rockaway Beach Maps and Virtual Tours


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