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Yachats Life In 1920s: A Rough But Quirky Oregon Coast

Published 06/20/2020 at 6:44 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Yachats Life In 1920s: A Rough But Quirky Oregon Coast

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(Yachats, Oregon) – The tiny central Oregon coast town has more of a story behind it than you’d think. Its history is a long and varied one, sometimes including atrocities against natives and gay people but also some quirky stuff as well as the drama of the world wars and the Great Depression. See Gruesome / Rock ‘n’ Roll History of Yachats for example. There’s definitely some inadvertent humor in the midst of all the darker sides. (Photo above: Yachats in the '20s, courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society).

Looking back through the historical documentation of the area can reveal a lot about life in Yachats, with the 1920s being some of the most notable. This was a time when the town was slowly switching gears from being a pioneer settlement to a tourism destination, just as Highway 101 was getting started.

These were still rough times, but they were also amusing in moments.

In 1927, Eugene’s Morning Register wrote a piece about Yachats and its burgeoning tourism scene, beginning with the curiously phrased “One of the prettiest beaches in Oregon is at the Yachats….” Noting there is no touristy aspect here at all, including “no hot dog stand,” it describes a place with no Highway 101 as we now know it. You had to drive on the beach from Waldport, then take a road off the beach and into town, a road the paper describes as passable but not smooth. They caution to head down the beach when the tide is out, and that you’ll have to do some investigation of this ahead of time by asking in Waldport.

Smelt fishing in Yachats in the '20s was easy-peasy

At one point it describes a campground somewhere south of the bridge in the midst of timber, and then an interesting tip that makes such a sojourn seem a tad strenuous by today’s standards.

“It is advisable on this trip to take camping equipment, because it is extremely difficult on account of the tide, to make the round trip in one day, and hotel accommodations are uncertain.”

Imagine going from Waldport to about Cape Perpetua and it taking more than a day.

At one point, it notes the “Roosevelt Highway will be blasted out of” Cape Perpetua.

Three years later, in June of 1930, the Corvallis Gazette-Times prints a piece on the Portland firm Edlefson & Wygant and another called Burk Brothers snagging the contract to work on grading and graveling the now-constructed road that is 101. It’s apparently not paved yet, that 15-mile section from Waldport to about the Lane County line. At this point, they’re just laying down gravel. The article notes people will be able to start traveling the road once the rains stop and the road dries up. Definitely a far cry from today’s highway.

There are still some mushy, muddy sections of 101 that won’t be finished for awhile, and the article says the state of Oregon is looking to keep someone around that area 24 hours a day in case people get stuck.

Cruising through these newspapers you see a variety of fascinating things around the state and some from the Oregon coast, but you also see celebrity reports, like one tidbit in 1927 about Charlie Chaplin being too broke to pay for his own cab in New York. There are also various gangland reports from mafia killings in those early days.

The Oregon coast and Yachats were no stranger to crimes either, but they were somewhat rare and rather quirky when they did happen.

Such was the case of the sands from one Yachats beach going missing. In 1932, they had a run of people hauling away large amounts of sand from those little pocket beaches of Yachats, that large, almost bead-like coarse sands that they referred to as “smelt sands.” Primarily, the stuff was getting stolen from a sand spit that would sometimes form around the northern side of the mouth of the Yachats River. They could be referring to what is these days known as Smelt Sands beach, but it's unclear. Apparently, the stuff contained many agates, which was part of its value.

In a Corvallis Gazette-Times article in May of ‘32 they talk of Lincoln County looking to the authorities to prevent further stealing of the sand, and Yachats or Newport can’t seem to find the personnel or the right laws to pursue the matter.

These days, just about all beaches come with signs saying don’t haul away sand or logs.

Perhaps the most interesting if not goofy of the crime stories comes out of 1936 from a newspaper in Roseburg about “Yachats Rowdyism.”

At the time, the postmaster was also the lone police officer for Yachats, and he was having trouble with liquored-up new residents causing havoc. Workers from some industry they did not mention (though presumably lumber) would come into town on pay day, get trashed and trash the town. Other articles referred to it as “terrorism” and “riots,” though it seemed to just involve a handful of scattered individuals.

The lone officer, P. Mitchell, was quoted as saying he knew of one “fellow mixed gasoline and milk and seemed to get an awful kick out of it. Others drank ‘canned heat’ and wood alcohol, and they simply tried to tear up the town.”

Milk and gas? Ewww. It all sounds like an episode of Trailer Park Boys, missing only Mr. Lahey.

One local resident was hit pretty hard with a club.

The request for law and order came all the way from the governor’s office at the time – Charles H. Martin. The head of the state police was working on it, but there were issues that worried him, like the fact any state police officers would have to cross two ferries to get from Newport to Yachats. Also See Yachats' Beulah's Sea View Inn and Landmark Restaurant: Intriguing Oregon Coast History

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