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Seal Rock History and Mysteries on Oregon Coast: Failed Resort to Monsters and Metal Finds

Published 04/24/22 at 6:02 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Seal Rock History and Mysteries on Oregon Coast: Failed Resort to Monsters and Metal Finds

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(Seal Rock, Oregon) – Once a promise land of paved streets and heavy tourist traffic, one little village on the central Oregon coast is still a sleepy burgh with hardly a hint of commercialization. No real hotel or motel is there – just homes now offering themselves up as vacation rentals of one kind or another. There's a couple of restaurants on a brief business strip, along with a rather famous and funky attraction of whimsical wood carvings.

No, otherwise, Seal Rock – nestled almost halfway between Waldport and South Beach – is still a wild place. It started out that way, it almost exploded into something bigger, then fizzled out and remained a remote destination until Highway 101 was finished.

The history of Seal Rock is chock full of twists, turns and a few mysteries – a lot for such a diminutive place on the Oregon coast.

All of it starts nearly 200 years ago, according to SealRockOr.com, as missionaries and settlers slowly started filing in.

In the 1880s, it really got its kickstart, as one group of investors began selling off land in the area, and hyping it intensely in newspapers around the country and the northwest, especially The Oregonian. 1887 editions of the publication are aplenty with the same ad from James W. Brassfield touting “Splendid Opportunity to Secure a Beautiful Summer Resort for $501.”

There was a master plan behind all this, though. Everyone involved was under the impression a major rail line was coming to Seal Rock. It's among the earliest marketing pushes to the public for acquiring plots on the Oregon coast. Many other towns did this about ten, 15 years later.

The ad ran as a somewhat lengthy article, using extravagant language like “Here, nature has thrown together her treasures with reckless disregard to the rest of the coastline for hundreds of miles,” spending some time tacitly belittling other coast destinations. It called Seal Rock the “finest sea beach stretch in the known world.”

Back then it was often called Seal Rocks, referring to not just the main Elephant Rock that dominates the beach here, but all the rocky blobs. Seal Rocks and Seal Rock are still interchangeable today with some locals.

Then the marketing gimmick goes into rather odd and comical descriptions of the place and its wildlife.

“The rock from which this romantic resort derives its name lies about a half mile from shore, covers nearly one acre in extent, and is the home of the sea lion or seal, which frequent it in great numbers at certain seasons of the year. The sea lion is an uncouth, hideous looking creature, half animal and half fish, with flippers fore and aft. They grow to large proportions, sometimes weighing over 2,000 pounds. They crawl upon the rocks by aid of their flippers, pushing themselves forward by a slow hitching motion, and when suddenly frightened on the rocks they roll over and over, this being the way quickest into the water and escaping from their enemies.”

It also refers to them “uttering noises and unearthly bellows.”


Above: Seal Rock late in the 19th century, courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society

They predicted “thousands” would come to Seal Rock. They promised a “grand hotel” on one of the bluffs, and while a modest one was built just to the south of the half-moon bay, it didn't seem grand in scope. It is gone now.

These ads also made an outrageous claim about itself compared to other Oregon coast hotspots: “When the tide is flooding, hundreds can bathe in safety without fear of undertow, which is so dangerous at other sea bathing points at the most fashionable seaside resorts.”

For a time it was a hotspot, drawing in thousands to the small hotel in spite of how out-of-the-way the place is.

Then the bottom dropped within a decade: the rail line plans were diverted to Toledo and the Brassfields lost all their investment. They had to sell those land plots for around $9 a pop, according to the history site.

Then in the '30s, someone else apparently tried some publicity stunts to draw in more people to Seal Rock. A small group went on record claiming to regional newspapers they'd encountered some sort of Loch Ness Monster-like creatures rolling around the surf. See more at Legend of Seal Rock Sea Monsters.

With the post-war eras bringing a steady growth in tourism over the decades, a mystery pops up about 1981. A piece by The Oregonian describes “mysterious” pieces of metal being found in the area, including one by the reporter's daughter. They were purportedly to be about 1,000 years old, with one found embedded in a fossil. Supposedly three such finds were made between the '60s and '81.

What were they really? Time and research will still have to tell as Oregon Coast Beach Connection will be looking further into this.

In any case, one thing has remained about Seal Rock for a good 150 years: it's a hotspot for agates.

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