The city of Seaside has played an important role in Oregon's history with a visit from the Lewis and Clark expedition, its establishment as Oregon's first beach resort community and colorful eras of logging and early coastal tourism.
Two hundred years ago, Native Americans lived along the shoreline in the shadow of the ancient headland now known as Tillamook Head (pictured on the cover). By the late 1700s, the Clatsop and Tillamook people of the Northwest coast were becoming accustomed to visits from merchant ships seeking sea otter pelts. Explorers from several nations came in search of a rumoured "great river of the west" they believed would shorten the long trading voyages. In 1792, United States captain Robert Gray sailed up a large river he believed to be the fabled waterway and he named it after his ship "Columbia."
In late December 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition finally reached the Pacific coast after nearly 18 months of rugged travel across North America to chart the unknown continent. Members of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery became the first documented Americans to visit what is now Seaside. The explorers had set up a winter camp on the south shore of the Columbia River near present day Astoria. Tiring of their bland diet of elk meat that spoiled rapidly in the damp and mild conditions of the coast, Lewis and Clark sent an expedition party to find a suitable place along the coast to establish a salt making operation. The salt making camp was set up near the residence of the friendly native tribes of the Seaside area: the Clatsop and Tillamook Indians. The salt camp was operated until February 21, 1806 and produced four bushels of salt for their return trip home. The expedition and their discoveries would soon lead to a country that stretched from coast to coast.
Soon after the successful return of the expedition, settlements along the Northwest coast began. Fur trading tycoon John Jacob Astor dispatched an expedition to sail from New York and establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, and Fort Astoria was established in 1811. Lucrative fishing, logging and fur trapping made the region boom. As early as the 1820s, salmon began to be commercially caught. Settlers began arriving to make land claims and people began vacationing at the coast. Vacationers traveled by water on the Columbia River to Astoria, then traveled by stagecoach to Seaside.
In 1850, Seaside's first guest house opened and in the early 1870s, Ben Holladay, a Portland land developer and railroad builder, purchased the original beach property and built a luxury hotel. He named the resort Seaside House. Featuring architecture reminiscent of an Italian villa, the resort was extensively landscaped and included a race track and horse stables. Seaside House was promoted throughout the Pacific Northwest and California, drawing a prosperous clientele to the elegant resort. Mail to the area was first addressed to Seaside House and later shortened to Seaside, which was eventually adopted as the city's name.
In 1881, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, just offshore from Tillamook Head, was completed to guide ships approaching the Columbia River past the dangerous jutting headland. Nicknamed "Terrible Tilly," the lighthouse marked the treacherous waters surrounding the rock that has claimed more than 2000 shipwrecks.
With the opening of a railroad line between Youngs Bay in Astoria and Seaside in 1888, the region became even more accessible to commercial activity, vacations and recreation. In 1898, rail service began along the Columbia from Portland to Astoria.
Logging in the region began in the 1840s, but much of the area along the coast remained inaccessible to logging efforts. That changed quickly with the railroad allowing large scale logging to begin. For the next 50 years, timber would be the Northwest's leading industry.
Oregon's first resort community at the beach, officially became the city of Seaside in 1899. The first ordinance passed by the Seaside city council was one regulating saloons. That first year, $620 was collected in taxes and the city spent $627. Population numbers neared 500, but summer brought an additional 5,000 to 10,000 visitors. A lumber mill, cannery and the steady stream of visitors during the summer were the backbone of the city's early economy.
Visitors could walk down a shell path coined "rubberneck row" because of the summer shops lining the way to the beach at the site of present day Broadway. Disaster struck in 1912 when the commercial center of Seaside east of the Necanicum River was destroyed by fire. West Seaside was spared the destruction. In rebuilding, Seaside and west Seaside, which had incorporated independently in 1905, merged and the center of the city grew along Broadway.
In 1914, the natatorium, an indoor saltwater pool, was completed on the beachfront. The Gilbert Block Building, east of the river was completed in 1915. In 1920, the concrete promenade and automobile turnaround were constructed replacing the wooden boardwalk. Roads connected Seaside to Astoria and Tillamook by 1920 and by the late 1920s the Oregon Coast Highway between Astoria and the California border was nearly complete.
The Seaside Aquarium opened in 1937 inviting visitors to come feed the seals in the building that once housed the natatorium. In 1938, the Sunset Highway between Portland and Seaside was finished and the automobile began to replace the train as the way to reach the Northwest coast's most popular beach resort.
First visited by Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery in 1805, Seaside has been the Northwest's place to play at the beach for more than 150 years.
- Published in: Seaside Visitor Guide Winter 2010
- Click to see other items about: Seaside, History
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