On December 5, 1914, the Ilwaco Cranberry Company incorporates under the laws of the State of Washington. The firm sought to capitalize upon the available bogland and climate in the vicinity of the Pacific County town to turn otherwise economically useless land into cash crops. Ilwaco Cranberry Company will not last long but the bogs will eventually be turned into the state's major cranberry producing region and one of the few places outside New England where cranberries are grown commercially.
Trustees of Ilwaco Cranberry Company were John W. Howerton, Robert M. Watson, and Ernest F. Saylor, all of Ilwaco. The corporation issued 25,000 shares of stock at a par value of $1.00 each.
The notarized articles of incorporation were filed for the record of the Secretary of State on December 11, 1911. Promoting the sale of nearby land that was suitable for commercial cranberry cultivation began immediately. John Howerton (1863-1929) was a real-estate dealer who also ran the Sprague Hotel. Robert Watson (b. 1852) owned the Pacific Tribune. Ernest Saylor was president of the North Shore Light and Power Company. Other early shareholders included Dr. Lee W. Paul (b. 1882), a physician who also served as Ilwaco's mayor; R. S. Jennings (b. 1877), an accountant who was also the dispatcher for the Oregon, Washington Railroad and Navigation Company; and George Clark, a builder.
Ilwaco Cranberry Company's purpose, as stated in the incorporation papers, was "To engage in, superintend, and carry on the business of developing, planting, growing, and marketing cranberries, and other fruits and agricultural products, and to can, preserve, and otherwise prepare the same for market, and in conducting and carrying on said business to buy, sell, option, contract for, and act as agents, for other corporations and individuals, in the selling, buying, packing, canning, preserving and marketing of such products" (Article I, "Articles of Incorporation"). Howerton served as Ilwaco Cranberry Company's main salesperson. He kept an office in the modest Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange Building.
Commercial cranberry harvesting on the Long Beach Peninsula began in 1883 using vines imported from New Jersey. Cranberries grow in marsh environments, requiring acid peat soil and a moist climate. The fruit flourishes in only a few areas of the United States, primarily in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Washington, and Oregon. Native peoples consumed wild cranberries both as food and as medicine.
The 1883 plantings were made on property owned by Anthony Chabot, Canada-born but by then living in California. Chabot's brother-in-law apparently visited Pacific County, saw a resemblance to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and advised Chabot to acquire property for commercial cranberry cultivation. Anthony Chabot's nephew, Robert Chabot, moved to Ilwaco to oversee operations, assisted by Massachusetts native Bion A. Landers. The bog land was located in the middle of the peninsula, in a long north/south strip. The operation did well for over a decade, but Robert Chabot's departure in 1892 to start his own cranberry business in Copalis (Grays Harbor County), followed by Landers' exodus, rendered the Chabot farm leaderless. By the early 1900s, the weed-ridden property was no longer being cultivated.
Portland resident J. M. Arthur leased the Chabot cranberry bog in 1904, purchasing it in 1910. Arthur's business operated as Pacific Cranberry Marsh Company. Portions of the land were then sold off. Only a few farmers near Ilwaco raised cranberries over the following few years, and none of those made cranberries their sole crop.
A 1983 article in Pacific County Historical Society's journal, Sou'wester, sums up reasons for the slow growth of the commercial cranberry industry on the Long Beach Peninsula in its first several decades:
"1) The demand for cranberries in those days was confined to the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays, and the market was already adequately supplied by established bogs in the Northeast and Midwest; 2) The cost of marketing the berries during such a short period of time was greater because of the Peninsula's isolation; 3) Farmers found that preparation of marshland for commercial harvesting required a tremendous first-year investment of money and labor, and the investment could not be recouped for a period of four to six years; 4) Farmers imported eastern vines for planting and often found them infested with pests, mildewed in shipment, or unable to withstand the vagaries of Northwest frost; and 5) Absentee landowners accounted for a large number of marshland owners. Unable to tend their bogs properly, they abandoned them to weeds. Some found the profits unequal to the taxes they were paying for farmland. It was easier on their pocketbooks to let the bogs revert to swamp and marsh" (p. 45).
Beginning in the 1910s, land speculators specializing in the sale of marshland for cranberry farms formed syndicates. Many of these were financed by out-of-state investors. Ilwaco Cranberry Company, however, had local owners.
The real-estate efforts of the Ilwaco Cranberry Company, like those of other cranberry syndicates operating during the second decade of the twentieth century, quickly met with success. By the end of the decade, the number of acres of cranberries harvested in the state (mostly in Pacific County) had increased from five to 306.
Getting into the cranberry business was one thing, and staying in it was quite another. For many who followed the cranberry siren's call in search of easy money from a Pacific County cranberry farm, disappointment followed. Self-proclaimed cranberry farmers, many of whom were complete neophytes, contended with the same problems that earlier growers had encountered. By 1922, Ilwaco Cranberry Company was no longer operational.
Not until 1922, when plant pathologist D. J. Crowley (1889-1978) arrived to study how local conditions differed from those encountered by East Coast cranberry growers, did Washington's cranberry industry take its first real steps toward achieving success. Over subsequent decades, experiments undertaken at Crowley's Cranberry Research Station in Long Beach yielded information that directly aided Washington's cranberry industry. As of 2010, the state's cranberry crop value was $6,720,000.