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Beginning of Rockaway Beach: N. Oregon Coast History Includes Science Mystery

Published 09/10/20 at 6:41 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Beginning of Rockaway Beach: N. Oregon Coast History Includes Science Mystery

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(Rockaway Beach, Oregon) – Like superheroes, Oregon coast towns have their origin stories, too. Yet not every one of them includes a much sought-after science mystery of sound.

Rockaway Beach apparently officially became a town in 1909, but it was still quite overshadowed by a half dozen little “resorts” in and around it, including what is now teeny, tiny Brighton. In fact, that whole stretch from Nehalem Bay to beyond Rockaway Beach was called Garibaldi Beach. From just before 1900 through at least another decade or two it had that name. Then, the tourism industry was a rough and tumble world of pure adventurers who were actually kind of brave.

Numerous land claims had been made along this part of the Oregon coast, and there was a growing feeling they’d be useless. The beach was the only thing resembling a road, which was used by horse ‘n buggies, and the place remained isolated because there was essentially no decent route from the valley.

1912 map from a travel article

There was a growing lumber industry here, however, and Brighton was a major shipping port for that at the time.

A door was opened wide for this part of the Tillamook Coast in 1906 (a moniker that actually goes back to before 1910 – it wasn’t just invented by the marketing group that currently oversees the county). It was that year that the Lytle company began work on a railroad operation from Hillsboro to the north Oregon coast, with the first stop created at Tillamook in 1911. Meanwhile, all those land claims became valuable.

In 1909, that business exploded, and the May 2 edition of the Oregon Daily Journal shows an ad promoting lots for sale at a mere $20 (something like $260 in today’s money – the price of many people’s streaming and cable bills). On those lots you could set up your own “cabins” as they were called, but they were essentially tents. $5 down and $5 a month got you a nifty plot at the beach. All were sold by Elmer Lytle of the railroad company. Yes, someone had cornered the markets.

Finally, in 1912 the first railroad car stopped in Rockaway Beach, and thus began the town’s version of the “Daddy Train:” where fathers would join the families every weekend, as they played on the beaches during weekdays and stayed all summer long.

These rail lines were critical, and by 1912 a scenic railway company called Harriman was also running tourists over to Garibaldi beaches. One writer called the routes to the coast “impenetrable” otherwise, and he like many others at the time praised the scenery along that long and tedious route, which was usually dusty, hot and 11 hours or so.

In some ways, Rockaway Beach has some interesting aspects in common with Lincoln City. Both were eventually comprised of various tiny communities, and both tout seven miles of beaches. In Rockaway Beach, the little resorts that became communities were Manhattan Beach, Moroney Town, Lake Lytle, Beal’s Addition to Lake Lytle, Seaview Park, Elmore Park, Tillamook Beach (also known as Saltair), Rockaway Beach, Midway Beach, Twin Rocks, and Ocean Lake Park. Those are within city limits now. There are historic mentions of little resorts called Rose City Beach and “Bar View.”

Hotel Lytle

Interestingly enough, Twin Rocks was being referred to a Profile Rocks and sometimes Double-Headed Rocks. It’s unclear when that name solidified.

About 1912, Brighton was the biggie, already with docks, a saloon and other businesses. By around 1920, Rockaway Beach was growing ever more so, now including the Rockaway Beach Dance Pavilion, the New Princess Theater and of course a natatorium.

Perhaps, the most fascinating forgotten item of history is some discussion of the “singing sands” phenomenon, where sand will make long, sustained musical tones. Parts of Cannon Beach had been known for it, and there is indeed a weird squeaking noise those sands can make under the right conditions. Parts of Florence’s National Dune Recreation Area have been documented as creating the more musical version, which was in turn looked into by an Australian scientist in the ‘90s.

In 1912, Joeseph H. Johnston, a writer from the Oregon Daily Journal said this:

“The beach itself is noted for its singing sands, although they are not in evidence all over the entire strip. Although the sand is extremely fine, the beach is so hard that wagon traffic does not mar it, no more than to reflect the traffic a little. It was thought that shoe leather alone caused the peculiar musical sounds to issue from the sands. This belief, however, can be shattered by the simple experiment of running the open fingers over the sands when the same musical strains may be heard at a considerable distance.”

This, if true, is a bit of an Oregon coast revelation. Not many spots on Earth have this unique noise. It’s possible the writer was working with a lot of hyperbole and possibly marketing in mind. However, it's clearly disappeared in this modern world..

Whatever the case, the glimpses of Rockaway Beach in its infancy are a fun little trip down coastal history. It’s easy to see what pioneer tourists saw back then. Hotels in Rockaway Beach - Where to eat - Rockaway Beach Maps and Virtual Tours


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