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100 Years Ago, S. Oregon Coast Tourism Was Rough, Wild; Barely-Paved Roads

Published 05/18/21 at 5:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

100 Years Ago, S. Oregon Coast Tourism Was Rough, Wild; Barely-Paved Roads

(Port Orford, Oregon) – It's spring of 1924 along the southern Oregon coast and the region is buzzing with excitement over what's about to happen: Highway 101 is slowly being completed there. Reading newspaper reports at the time is somewhat like watching it all happen, slowly, bit by bit, as it unfolded 100 years ago. South coast towns and businesses are gearing up for the big boost of tourism, and it's fascinating to look at what they planned – and how many of those bits and pieces are now gone. (Photo: Cape Arago decades ago, courtesy Coos History Museum)

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The travel industry was really just getting started then. Gold Beach did not have the bridge yet – and wouldn't for years to come. Bandon was a hive of new construction activity. Coos Bay was still called Marshfield at the time. Most of all, large chunks of Highway 101 were not even completed, such as around Brookings or Reedsport, but what had just been completed was sending locals into a joyful spin as it was about to mean major tourist dollars.

One big surprise: technically, there was not really a Highway 101 yet. It was all called the Roosevelt Highway, although when construction first was started in 1921 it was called the Roosevelt Military Highway. 101 changed named a few times over the decades, actually. Not long after this it was called the Oregon Beach Highway, and in the ‘30s it was called the Oregon Coast Highway – which stuck for many decades. Other incarnations and marketing names have popped up since.

In 1924, there were parts of the south Oregon coast highway that were paved and semi-paved, meaning there was a good gravel layout to the roads and that they were usable in most kinds of weather. Some parts were still referred to as the “old road,” according to these various newspaper pieces, such as the section from Brookings to Crescent City, or small parts of that stretch between Coos Bay and Brookings. The actual paved sections were fine in any weather, but the gravel parts and the “old road” sections were summertime-only endeavors.

Port Orford in the '40s, courtesy Oregon State Archives

As one report from the Coos Bay World put it: “At present the highway is not being advertised extensively as it will be when finished. Curry County interests believe that until the new road is built through its entire length in Curry and Coos, it is not advisable to urge visitors to come.”

However, the Roseburg-Coos Bay Highway had been completed and folks were starting to come out in their newfangled automobiles. Yet the bigger rushes of tourists were still coming from California.

Major preparations for a flood of tourists were happening in Bandon. A large dance hall had just been completed, spearheaded by developer J.A. Kronenberg, and he was set upon building a natatorium (a heated saltwater bath house). This place with the giant swimming pool would have large balconies around it, and it was constructed with a massive rock in one section – largely because the rock stood in the way of construction so it was incorporated into the building.

The Wecoma Baths was completed in June of 1925 and joined the ranks of other large natatoriums built around the same time at Seaside, Rockaway Beach and Newport. The Bayocean one had been completed years before but by now that sprawling resort in Tillamook County was in serious decline.

Bandon's Wecoma Baths burned in the great fire of 1936. The giant pool was used by skateboarders until the ‘70s, according to the Bandon History Museum.

The town was especially proud of its recently-paved streets in 1924.

Kroenenberg also initiated a rush of building cottages to serve the incoming visitor invasions. At this point, camping in tents on or near the beach was still a major way of spending the night on the Oregon coast, but real buildings were starting to replace that quickly. He created a wave of cottages that were 15 x 18 feet, which came equipped with a stove, water, cooking utensils and a bed – everything but the bedding itself. There were lots of them planted on the ocean bluffs overlooking places like Face Rock, and then another wave of construction brought more that sat a bit higher and farther back, this time including two rooms.

Marshfield and North Bend had quite a selection of motor parks and other lodgings around this time. See Auto Camps to Motor Lodges and Motels on Oregon Coast | History Part 2 

Little Langlois had only recently changed its name from Dairyville. Curry County tourism officials were loudly touting the camping possibilities around there and Port Orford, but no hotel action. Nearby, the Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor had not been designated yet, but officials talked about the smooth drive there at that moment in time and bragged about the immense views found at what is currently the viewpoint not far from Meyers Creek Beach.

Back then, Port Orford was still the oldest little town of that area, but tourism articles back then noted none of the towns in Curry County were incorporated yet and still had no city governments.

Gold Beach was known for its recently-tapered off gold mining industry, but some thought this would still become a large money-maker in the near future. It never happened, but it left a few oddball remnants on and near the beaches.

The southern Oregon coast back 100 years differed vastly from that of today, but one thing steadfastly remains the same: it's still much more remote and unpopulated than other parts of the coastline. Full Southern Coast MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Courtesy City of Bandon

Aerial of Port Orford, 1993 (ODFW)

Courtesy Oregon State Archives

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