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Secret Oregon Coast Shipwreck Shows Up after 35-Year Absence

Published 12/23/2010

Secret Oregon Coast Shipwreck Shows Up after 35-Year Absence

(Rockaway Beach, Oregon) – An old and forgotten resident of Rockaway Beach, on the north Oregon coast, is showing up again. She's a little over 100 years old to be exact, and she hasn’t been seen for the better part of 35 years.

The wreck as it looked decades ago (photo Don Best)

The wreck of the Emily G. Reed has been unearthed by recent winter wave action, which has cut a wedge out of the sandy slope towards the waves as much as four or five feet deep. It’s a treasure hunters dream of sorts, with around 100 feet of the ribcage-like structure now visible – the most in decades.

The Reed hit the mouth of the Nehalem River in 1908, back when there was no jetty. Apparently, the Reed was looking for the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse to guide its way, and for some reason made a wrong turn and grounded itself.

“It snapped in half,” said Don Best, a longtime Rockaway Beach resident, historian and photographer. “Pieces were scattered all over. There’s still a piece in Nedonna Creek."

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The wreck is just below a wave-cut terrace in the sandy slope

This portion is the largest chunk still around, though it had been thoroughly raided pretty quickly, like anything else left of it. Some of the raiders included Best’s family, back in the early pioneer days of the area.

The Emily Reed has been a secretive, shy shipwreck, hiding beneath the sand for most of its time on these shores. After this part came to rest here, it was visible most of the time until the 40’s and 50’s, when its visibility became less and less.

Then it just disappeared, until three years ago.

“That was the first time it was visible in around 35 years,” Best said.

The Reed was built in New England by the Reed family, which created a small fleet of ships bearing the name. “There was a Mary Reed; there were a bunch of different ships with that name Reed,” Best said.

A baby Don Best is pictured here in the early '40s - being held by his mother.

It was bound for Portland, carrying a load of coal from New Castle, South Wales in stormy and foggy weather. It had been at sea 102 days and ran aground on Valentine’s Day, February 14.

From there, accounts vary. Seven or eight crewmembers apparently lost their lives after getting swept out to sea. The captain, his wife and some others clung to a chunk of the wreck and supposedly made it ashore.

Another account has a group of them in a lifeboat that was carried back out to sea, and never made it back until they got to the central Washington coast. One died along the way after drinking sea water.

The shipwreck was raided fairly quickly for materials by locals, including Best's grandfather around 1910

After this portion of the ship landed, it was Best’s grandfather – a homesteader here since 1910 – that went out and grabbed chunks of copper siding from the ribs of the ship.

“He went and sold that for three cents a pound, or something like that,” Best said.

Other chunks of the ships and materials were also taken by Best’s grand dad.

One piece was especially interesting to Best as a child, back in the 40’s and 50’s, which had some copper nails in it that created some wild special effects.

“Every Christmas he’d put a piece of it in the fire place and it would create these blue and green flames,” Best said. “We thought it was magic.”

Best was born in 1943, and many of his earliest memories were of the wreck, and there are numerous pictures of his family standing by it.

One year when it popped up, Best dug around and found an air pocket.

“I scooted under there on my belly and looked inside, and there was this part that nobody had seen since 1908,” Best said.

Another portion of the wreck, a set of timbers, was discovered to the south about three years ago, which impressed Best quite a bit.

“That was a part I have never seen,” he said.

Because it’s buried under sand most of the time, the wreck is protected from the elements and quick decay. Recent trends towards lower and lower sand levels may change that in the coming years, however.

State authorities are quick to point out any such shipwreck is protected by law. You can take plenty of pictures, but take no part of it with you.

The wreck is located around Second Street in Rockaway, a couple blocks down from the main beach access with the red caboose. It may disappear quickly as sand conditions can change over night.

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