Long Beach, in Pacific County, one of Washington's oldest seaside resorts, has drawn visitors, first from Oregon and later from all over the Northwest, to its 28 miles of open beach, clam digging grounds, and town full of attractions, for more than a hundred years. Hemmed in by hills and water, early visitors had to travel there via sternwheelers and stage coach, and later rail, until the 1920s when roads connected the town to Washington's interior. Long Beach began as a resort community for wealthy Portlanders. Once Oregon's coastal resort towns began to develop, more visitors from Washington residents began to flock to its beaches. After declines suffered in the 1980s following the near-failure of razor clam and salmon fisheries and the 1979 energy crisis, Long Beach has shifted its focus to the spectacular local environment and the community's unique history to attract visitors.
A Peninsula and its First People
Pacific County's Long Beach Peninsula extends like a finger between Willapa Bay and the Pacific Ocean, just north of the Columbia River, in the southwest corner of the state. Sediment brought to the ocean by the Columbia River formed the peninsula, which is also known as a bay mouth bar. It was most likely formed at the end of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago. Over time plants took root, bogs formed in the lower areas, and forest grew on drier ground.
Chinook Indians lived along the Columbia River and around Willapa Bay. They used the ocean side of the peninsula as a highway to travel between villages on the river and villages on the bay side of the peninsula. The hard sands on the beach provided a smooth, unimpeded path for the entire 28-mile length of the peninsula.
The Chinook had been trade intermediaries between tribes from the north and tribes farther inland on the Columbia. When European and American traders began visiting the North Pacific Coast's rivers in search of otter and beaver pelts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Chinooks' adeptness at trading stymied the traders' efforts to bargain prices down to a pittance.
Fur traders did not visit the Long Beach Peninsula because it had few of the pelt-bearing mammals they sought, but other traders would later come to the Chinook seeking to trade for wild cranberries, a delicious source of scarce vitamin C, beginning in 1847. After 1852 traders from San Francisco came annually to trade for the berries in the fall.
This sort of trade fit into the Chinooks' annual cycle of gathering and hunting. They already gathered berries to dry and store them for the winter. The Chinook moved around the Lower Columbia River and Willapa Bay with the seasons. Though they had permanent villages, they also went to temporary camps and villages according to when the different resources, such as salmon, camas bulbs, clams, oysters, or berries were available.
None of their settlements were located on the ocean side of the peninsula. This may have been because of its exposure to the rough weather coming off the open ocean. Willapa Bay and the Columbia River offered a plethora of natural resources in more sheltered environments.
William Clark (1770-1838), one of the captains of the Corps of Discovery, traversed the peninsula in 1805, walking up the beach to where Long Beach is today. In his journal he recorded carving his name and the date in a tree. Years later that tree was removed and today it is estimated that the tree was located between today's Chautauqua Lodge and The Breakers condominiums.
Besides the traders coming for pelts and cranberries, very few white Americans came to the Long Beach area until the 1860s when farmers began to claim homesteads. The Chinook had agreed to cede their lands to the Americans in a treaty made with Superintendent of Indian Affairs Anson Dart (1797-1879) at Tansy Point (across Youngs Bay from today's Astoria) in 1851. Unfortunately, Congress did not ratify the treaty, which left the Chinook without a treaty and without a reservation. Some members of the tribe moved onto the Quinault Reservation and others onto the Shoalwater Bay Tribes Reservation. Some remained on their lands on the river and the bay. Lacking a treaty, the Chinook have also had to petition the government for recognition. They received it briefly in 2000, but it was rescinded shortly afterward. The issue remains unresolved in 2010.
Stage Coach and Steamer
In 1870 Jonathan Stout (1820-1890) began stage service between Ilwaco and the Oysterville, then the county seat. At that time the beach was nearly a quarter of a mile closer to the future Long Beach townsite than it is today. The north jetty of the Columbia River has caused sand to build up on the peninsula, significantly widening it.
The stage followed a schedule determined by the tide. After driving a few miles on planks on the Indian trail that led through the woods just north of Ilwaco, the stage would cross the beach's dry sand and roll smoothly and swiftly along the wet sand until it was even with Oysterville, at which point it would leave the beach and travel overland to the bay.
Not long after, in 1872, Lewis Loomis (1831-1913) opened hotels where Seaview is today and at Nahcotta, south of Oysterville, on Willapa Bay. Nahcotta had become a landing place for steamers on the bay because extensive shallow water restricted boats' movements in the bay and the channel on the bay's western side approached the shore at its closest point just off Nahcotta.
In 1875 Loomis joined with Astoria ship captain J. H. D. Gray (b. 1839), Portland transportation company owner Jacob Kamm (ca. 1825-1912), and Oysterville farmer John R. Goulter (1840-1921) to form the Ilwaco Navigation Company. They had a steamship, the General Canby, built at South Bend and used it to ferry passengers and freight across the river between Astoria and Ilwaco. Travelers from Portland could take a steamship to Astoria and then travel across the river on the General Canby. In the 1880s the T.J. Potter and the Ocean Wave carried hundreds of Portlanders to Ilwaco on direct routes.
Portland residents came north to the Long Beach Peninsula because neither railroads nor roads had opened to the Oregon coast. For the same reason, very few Washington residents came to the peninsula. The Willapa Hills blocked most overland routes and the water route via the Chehalis River and Grays Harbor entailed considerable difficulty.
Loomis took over the stage route from Stout and also won the contract for carrying mail between Astoria and Olympia. Loomis loaded the mail onto the General Canby at Astoria, carried it on the stage between Ilwaco and Nahcotta, there it was loaded on another Ilwaco Navigation steamer to cross Willapa Bay. A second stage carried the mail overland to the Chehalis River where boats carried it up the Chehalis and then the Black River. A short portage took it to Olympia.
Enough tourists from Portland sought overnight accommodations that hotels began to open on the peninsula. Stout opened Sea View House on property he had claimed under the Homestead Act and other property that he purchased outright. He platted the town of Seaview in 1881.
At about the same time, in 1880, Henry H. (1839-1924) and Nancy (1847-1902) Tinker moved with their three children to a tract of land just north of Seaview. Tinker platted the land and began to develop it as a tourist destination.
At that time, before the north jetty at the mouth of the Columbia was completed in 1916 and caused sand to build up on the peninsula's beaches, the high tide brought the surf up to where the grass-covered dunes lay now. The beach also had a natural formation called the Fishing Rocks that jutted into the water on the south side of town. The Fishing Rocks drew people for fishing and sightseeing. The rocks have since been covered in sand.
In 1883 the Tinkers built a hotel and some cottages on their land. They called the settlement Tinkertown and other hotels grew up around the Tinkers'. In the 1880s a Mr. Merritt from Portland began building the Driftwood Inn, entire hotel built entirely of driftwood gathered from the beach. Tom and Mary Lyniff bought the Driftwood Inn and finished building it. Others built cottages for their own use or to rent to tourists. By 1885, visitors, mostly from Portland, numbered about 5,000 annually.
Enter the Railroad
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, railroads began to enter the coastal areas of Washington and Oregon. The Northern Pacific Railway completed a line to Grays Harbor in 1892 and a line to South Bend in 1893. Likewise, in Oregon, the Astoria & South Coast Railroad was planned for the coast southward from Astoria. All these railroads threatened the Ilwaco Navigation Company's domination of the region's tourist market and its control of freight leaving Willapa Bay.
The Ilwaco Navigation Company decided to build a line from its dock at Ilwaco to the landing at Nahcotta. On July 1888, the first five miles of track reached Tinkertown. The railroad stopped at the Tinker Hotel, which lay so close to the tracks passengers could disembark on a plank laid between the train and the hotel's front door. In August the town's name changed to Long Beach, in reference to the peninsula-long stretch of sandy beach on which it fronted. In just a few months land values skyrocketed from $8 to $10 per acre to $200 per acre.
The railroad, run by the newly renamed Ilwaco Railroad and Steam Navigation Company, ran according to the tides, as the stage had, because the steamships at Ilwaco could only approach the docks at half-tide or higher. It also ran according to the day's distractions. As Lucile McDonald described it in her book, Coast Country: A History of Southwest Washington,
"The train stopped on the slightest excuse -- to pick up a family carrying tired children, to shovel drifting sand from the curve at Oceanside, or to shoot a bear spied in a field. Once at Cranberry, passengers waited while the engine crew caught a runaway horse. Another time a woman dropped a ball of yarn out of a coach window; the conductor halted the train, got out, retrieved the wool, and rolled it" (100-101).
It gained nicknames, some friendly, some not, including the Clamshell Railroad and the Irregular Rambling and Never-Get-There Railroad.
In May 1889 the tracks reached Nahcotta. This new line benefited the tourists, the farmers, the oystermen, and the logging and milling companies because it carried both people and freight to the Columbia River. From there people could reach Portland and freight could continue on to various markets.
Becoming a Resort Town
By 1892 the Tinkers had renamed their hotel the Long Beach Hotel. A hundred cottages surrounded it. Just two years later 356 cottages filled Long Beach, along with a school, a Congregational Church, a grocery store, a butcher shop, a bakery, and vegetable wagons that delivered fresh produce.
The Long Beach Hotel burned in 1895 and the Tinkers built a new one in its place. Several other large resort hotels grew up in the area, making Long Beach the center of the summer resorts on the peninsula. The Portland Hotel, Newton's Inn, and the Shelbourne Inn all welcomed visitors. At the Long Beach Hotel in 1900, $9 to $12 per week included three meals per day. Bathrooms were shared.
Joseph M. Arthur, a Portland machinery dealer, built The Breakers Hotel in 1901. The 200-room hotel was built just north of Long Beach at what was then called Tioga, a stop on the Ilwaco railroad line. The hotel burned in 1904, was rebuilt in 1905, and served as one of the more elegant resorts on the peninsula. The original building was demolished in 1924, but other accommodations were built over the years, and The Breakers Resort remains a beach destination in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
Between the 1880s and about 1910, Portland's wealthier residents filled the hotels and cottages at Long Beach. Often families would bring their household to the beach for the summer, with the working fathers commuting each weekend by boat and rail. The Saturday afternoon boat was known as the "husband's special" (Jessett, 15). For years The Oregonian ran a society page that regularly updated readers on the activities of Portlanders in Long Beach.
The peninsula offered a wide range of activities for visitors. First the Canaris Bathhouse, and after, 1912, the Crystal Waters Natatorium, featured indoor seawater pools for swimmers. Cool weather, even in the summer, and strong currents discouraged many from swimming in the surf.
Eleanor Barrows Bower recalled her fond memories of Crystal Waters in a 1967 reminiscence for the Sou'wester. Bower lived in Chinook as a child and remembered taking the Sunday excursion train to Long Beach. A whole host of exciting things awaited her there, but,
"Probably the most thrilling place of all, though, was the natatorium. That was a must as part of the festivities. The fact that the Pacific was a stone's throw away couldn't begin to compete with that swimming pool. We rented suits at twenty-five cents. Dingy gray dresses with baggy bloomers attached for the girls, and stretched-out jersey suits for the boys -- they offered no allure to the pulchritude, but the fact we all looked the same gave 'Judy O'Grady and the Colonel's Lady' an equal chance. If you didn't swim in the pool, you could sit up in the balcony and call down caustic remarks to the swimmers below. You could always be sure of meeting everybody there some time before the day was over" (Bower, 29).
She always sent herself a postcard from Long Beach, even though she would beat it home, just for the happy memories it would bring.
Visitors could also rent skiffs on Willapa Bay, rent automobiles for $1 per hour, go to the movie theater, enjoy bonfires at the beach, or just sit on "Rubberneckers Row" and watch people go by. The rented cars could go on the beach once the Washington State Legislature designated the beach a public highway in 1901. The smooth, hard sand proved an enticing speedway, and, one can imagine, a thrill for anyone used to the bone-rattling rides on the region's many dirt roads.
Razor clams and salmon fishing drew thousands to Long Beach from the 1880s until the 1960s and 1970s, when both declined precipitously. Charter boats could be hired at Ilwaco and fishing derbies on the Columbia offered large prizes for the largest salmon caught. Whole families would go clam digging on the beach and then enjoy a clam bake.
After about 1915, Long Beach visitors' demographics began to change. Although many visitors still came from Portland, wealthier Portland families had begun to go to Oregon's ocean resorts, including Seaside and Gearhart. The Spokane, Portland & Seaside Railway carried passengers directly from Portland to Seaside, beginning in 1898. Also, increasing numbers of automobile owners drove to Astoria and took the train from there to Seaside. The fancier resort hotels in Long Beach closed down over the next few years, the Portland after a fire in 1914, and the Breakers in 1920.
During the 1910s and 1920s Long Beach residents began to develop new attractions. In 1920 a paper chase, a game also known as hare and hounds, was held. The game involved someone, the "hare," dropping a trail of paper pieces. The "hounds" would then try to catch the hare by following the paper trail through the woods and dunes and along the beach. In 1913 motorcycle races began on the beach, cheered on by many spectators.
Age of Auto and Motorcycle
Automobiles brought tremendous change to the peninsula. Early on they were just a novelty, but then they began to be a significant transportation mode for visitors coming to the peninsula and a source of entertainment once at the beach. In 1920 car drivers could cross the Columbia on the North Beach Auto Ferry, with a fare of $3 to $4, depending on the size of the car. In 1922 Washington visitors gained better access to Long Beach when a bridge spanning Bear Creek, at the southern end of Willapa Bay, opened. Cars could travel from the interior of the state via a highway over the Willapa Hills through Raymond and South Bend. The Union Pacific, the parent company of the Ilwaco railroad line after 1900, published advertisements touting the "World's Speedway" (Lloyd, Observing Our Peninsula's Past: The Age of Legends through 1931, 89).
Long Beach voted unanimously to incorporate in 1921. The local paper, The Chinook Observer, supported the move, arguing,
"In fact, if Long Beach is to take its rightful place as a leading summer resort it will have to widen its streets, and a municipal organization is necessary to force this to be done. In the height of the summer season the narrow main street there is as hard to navigate as the streets of Jerusalem" (Lloyd, Observing Our Peninsula's Past: The Age of Legends through 1931, 89).
The City of Long Beach's website describes the first mayor, Gilbert Tinker (1879-1959), son of Henry and Nancy, as a "really nice man and great steelhead fisherman" ("Long Beach Historical Facts"). The first council members were S. B. Hunt, C. E. Kinth, J. B. Mack, John B. Pape (ca. 1859-1935), and Joseph McKean (ca.1858-1925). Cars influenced other things about visits to the peninsula. Long Beach residents worked together in 1921 to develop a tract of oceanfront property into the Long Beach Auto Park. They cleared underbrush and small trees to provide places for car campers. In 1925 the city held its first organized auto race on the beach.
A pavilion built for dances proved to be a popular attraction for decades, from at least the 1920s until about the 1950s. The Annual Tourist Ball opened each summer season and the pavilion's manager worked with the Jantzen Beach Pavilion's manager to have the bands schedule for Jantzen Beach also play a night at Long Beach.
On September 10, 1930, the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company made its last run to Nahcotta. The Washington State Department of Transportation acquired the right-of-way and built a highway (now State Route 103) that followed the railroad's route. Several buildings had to be moved back from the street to make room for traffic. Many of the railroad's passenger cars were sold to area residents, some of whom converted them into cottages. The cars' plush red seats graced a number of residents' front porches.
In addition to cars and motorcycles, the beach also saw airplane traffic. During the summer of 1930 a pilot offered rides on his American Eagle biplane, using the beach as a landing strip. In late August a woman died while rescuing her niece from the airplane's propeller and the city banned airplanes from the beach. Since that left the peninsula without a landing strip, the incident spurred development of the Port of Ilwaco airfield, which was already under consideration.
Motorcycle races on the beach reached a new level of intensity when the Gypsy Tour arrived in Long Beach in 1938. This motorcycle rally featured races and skill competitions such as jumps and "plank rides," which required the rider to drive along a row of planks laid end to end on the beach. The 1940 rally had a top speed of 109 miles per hour. The Chinook Observer estimated that two to three thousand motorcyclists came to the rally in 1949.
While the town certainly enjoyed the revenue generated by the annual rally, by the mid-1960s that did not outweigh the upheaval caused by what one resident called a "group of hoodlums" (Lloyd, Observing Our Peninsula's Past: The 1930s Through 1980, 119). The rallies ended in 1964.
The Dunes of Long Beach
All of the sands on the Long Beach Peninsula originated in the sediments brought downstream by the Columbia River. Over thousands of years currents carried the sediments north and south from the river's mouth and where they accumulated along the shore. After the Army Corps of Engineers built jetties at the mouth of the river between 1885 and 1916, the rates of accumulation increased and dunes built up more quickly along beaches to the north and south of the river mouth.
During the 1930s the dunes became a problem because they did not have enough vegetation to stabilize them, causing blowing sand to build up in streets and against buildings. Residents and officials of Clatsop County in the northwestern corner of Oregon developed a vegetation program with the Soil Conservation Service in 1935. One component of their project involved planting European dune grass to stabilize the dunes. This grass established quickly on the south side of the river and soon crossed to the north side. The grass ended the blowing sand problem in Long Beach, much to the relief of local residents.
Defense of the Estuary
During World War II, Long Beach's population doubled due to military activity at Fort Columbia, at the river's mouth and at Radar Ridge, near Naselle. Army and Air Force personnel manned the posts to defend the river and harbors from possible enemy attacks.
Today Fort Columbia is a state park and Radar Ridge is open to the public. Visitors make their way to the secluded hilltop for its spectacular views.
The Clams of Long Beach
Razor clam digging had long drawn visitors to Long Beach. In 1940 Long Beach organized the first of many Clam Festivals. Thousands of visitors dug clams, enjoyed clam chowder, and sampled the world's largest clam fritter made in the world's largest fry pan, borrowed from the city of Chehalis. Long Beach chef Wellington W. Marsh (1895-1977) made the world's largest clam fritter using 200 pounds of razor clams, 20 dozen eggs, 20 pounds each of flour, cracker meal, and corn meal, 10 gallons of milk, and 13 gallons of salad oil. A couple of girls helped grease the pan by "skating inside on large slabs of butter" ("Long Beach QR Code Smart Tour"). Cooks used garden hoes and two-foot-square shovels to maneuver the fritter in the pan.
The next year the Chamber of Commerce unveiled a new fry pan, manufacture by Northwest Copper and Sheet Metal Works of Portland. It was 14.6 feet long, including the handle. The pan has not been used for some time, but it still hangs in the middle of a park in Long Beach.
Just a few years later Washington state's Director of Fisheries warned that the coastal razor clam populations could not withstand the current level of harvest. In 1946, diggers had taken six million pounds of clams at Copalis, Grayland, and Long Beach.
Further concerns about clam populations led to a reduction in the limit from 36 to 24 per person per day. Fisheries officials worried particularly about the number of small clams taken from the sand and then thrown away. This waste significantly reduced the number of clams that remained for the next year's season.
The situation came to a head in the mid 1960s. At the urging of resort and business owners who feared the loss of an important tourist attraction if the decline was not stopped, the Department of Fisheries tried various measures to reduce the take of clams so the population could rebound. Over the next decade, they closed the season early, started it late, and limited digging hours. Digging razor clams remains a popular pastime on the Long Beach Peninsula, but the seasons have to be carefully managed and diggers' limits strictly enforced.
The Seashore Conservation Area
About this time a legal battle ensued over the accumulated, or accreted, lands on the ocean side of Long Beach. In 1966 the Washington Supreme Court ruled against a challenge by Ocean Park waterfront land owner Stella Hughes to Washington's shorelands ownership law. The court upheld the state's contention that landowners only held title to land east of the line of high tide as it existed at Washington's statehood in 1889, when the state gained title to the shorelands from the federal government. Hughes appealed the decision and in 1967 the Supreme Court ruled that since landowners whose lands had been granted or sold by the federal government prior to statehood had been granted all the land east of the line of ordinary high tide, their property lines moved with that tide line as land accreted or eroded. On the Long Beach Peninsula this meant that landowners on beaches that had accreted, some significantly, owned the new land.
The State of Washington challenged the landowners' claims, many of who had filed quiet claims to establish their property lines following Hughes' filing of her case, on the basis of adverse possession. This meant that since the landowners had allowed public access for so many years, they had effectively given up their property rights. In June 1968 a large number of landowners, wanting to resolve the legal issue and ensure that the oceanfront remain free of development, granted the state deeds of dedication allowing for public access and use as long as it was limited to recreational use. These deeds encompass the lands about 100 feet east of the line of vegetation on the beach, an area that has been established as the Seashore Conservation Area. Every 10 years the line is resurveyed and adjusted to account for accretion or erosion.
Not all landowners filed deeds of dedication and other tracts along the beach belong to city and state governments. This has led to what some have called the "piano key" nature of landownership on the beach. Moving from north to south beach visitors cross a multitude of jurisdictions, complicating the State Parks' efforts to enforce beach rules and manage the landscape.
After a lull in development during the 1940s and 1950s, property values increased quickly in the 1960s and 1970s. A 1969 Oregonian article compared beachfront property values in the 1940s, about $17 per front foot, to those in 1969, about $250 per front foot. In 1978 the peninsula saw a 23.5 percent increase in real estate transactions. More areas of the peninsula saw development with time-share resorts, hotels, and homes.
Years of Difficulties
Although this development bolstered the peninsula's population and year-round economy to an extent, it did not shield the area from the effects of the gas crisis of 1979. The high energy prices that followed the Iranian Revolution in 1979 caused a 25 percent drop in tourism to Pacific County. Governor Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) declared the county and economic disaster area in 1980.
This difficulty compounded the drop in tourism experienced after the sharp decline in the salmon fishery in the mid-1970s. Salmon populations had dropped due to a variety of factors, including historic overharvest, upstream habitat loss, and climatic disruptions, such as El Nino.
Then, in 1974 federal judge George Boldt (1903-1984) issued his decision in the treaty rights case U.S. v. Washington. He ruled that Indian tribes that had signed treaties with the federal government retained rights to one-half of the harvestable fish available each year. Since the commercial and sports fishermen, including thousands who came to the peninsula for the fall and spring runs, were then taking more than half of the harvestable amount, fishing seasons were shortened to make more fish available to tribal fishermen.
New Attractions, New Possibilities
Faced with declining clam and salmon populations, and, thus, declining tourist activities, and the general troubles in the economy, Long Beach residents began to develop new attractions to attract tourism. In 1981 they held a kite festival, which has grown into the Washington State International Kite Festival held each August. The World Kite Museum sponsors events year-round, including the indoor Windless Kite Festival. Long Beach has since added the Blue Grass Festival and a sand castle competition to its annual calendar of events.
In 1990 the city built the Ocean Beach Boardwalk, a half-mile wooden walkway through the dunes. Kiosks and sculptures along its length explain local environment and history and commemorate Captain William Clark's visit to the beach in 1805.
The Boardwalk intersects with the Discovery Trail, an eight-mile walking trail connecting Long Beach with Ilwaco. It was developed beginning in 2002 in preparation for celebrations of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that were held in 2005.
In 1995 the City of Long Beach carried out a renovation of its downtown. They added vintage lighting, placed electrical lines underground, and re-landscaped public spaces. According to the city's website, this effort led to the development of design review standards that require an "early seashore architectural theme" ("Long Beach History").
A 2000 report produced by the City of Long Beach identified the peninsula's "open space, wild coastlines, untouched wildlife habitat," and its rich history as the key elements that set the region apart from other vacation destinations (City of Long Beach Dune Management Report, 3). The City's efforts to capitalize on its environmental and historical assets appear to be paying off. Between 1989 and 1995 the peninsula saw a 164 percent increase in tourism revenues. The rugged landscapes that discouraged tourists in the pre-automobile era are now the very things that will draw them to Long Beach.