Since, in retirement, I now live fulltime on the northern Oregon Coast, I notice that when temperatures in Portland get too hot to bear, people head to the Oregon beaches. It's not uncommon to see Highway 101 inundated with campers, trailers, cars, and motorcycles — traveling to and from state parks, beach waysides, and viewpoints, to escape the heat in the big city. Autos are lined up bumper to bumper along the highway near every hiking trail. This mad dash to the beach made me visit the archives to find what Southeast Portlanders did during early years — back when only a few people owned a vehicle, or could afford the luxury of spending a week at the beach.
Even more daunting back then: There weren't any paved roads or freeways to use for such a trip in those days — yet, towns like Astoria, Gerhart, and even Rockaway at the turn of the Twentieth Century and later, became popular destinations during the summer. So just how did Portlanders get there?
In the 1800s, only the wealthy — who lived mainly in the west hills of Portland — could afford the time or money for a recreational trip anywhere. Portland was a bustling and growing port city, and the working population was consumed with to day-to-day activities, starting a family, working in the big town, or sometimes raising crops in the countryside.
Excursions for those who could afford to take time off might mean three or four days of relaxation with a friends or acquaintances close to home. Hunting in the forests of the West Hills was a pastime for well-off men, or taking a ferry with horse and wagon across the Willamette River in order to fish along Johnson Creek, or in the Clackamas and Sandy Rivers.
Before the Oregon Coast became popular, wealthy families would travel by steam ferry or private launch a short distance on the river to a horse racing track. Horse racing and outdoor sporting events were offered in the 1880s at places like City View Racetrack on the bluff above Oaks Bottom. In miles, it was only a small jaunt from where they lived, but it was up and across the river from downtown — and they spent the week end socializing, drinking, eating, wagering, or taking in the entertainment.
Back then, those desiring a much longer trip — one to the Oregon Coast — went aboard ocean-going vessels or a chartered steamboat from the Willamette River in Portland, westward down the Columbia River to the town of Astoria. You see, there wasn't a travelable wagon road between the north coast and the Willamette Valley until 1874, when the Trask River Wagon Toll Road opened.
The opening of that road meant that adventurous and hardy souls could brave the 45-mile-long dusty journey to Tillamook — riding in a horse-drawn wagon through steep canyons, across heavily timbered slopes, and by way of narrow ridgeways that often scraped the sides of a wagon or coach as it passed. Enterprising merchants along the way were well-prepared with tents, outdoor sleeping gear, and extra food supplies, in case a broken axle or a lost wheel meant a delay of a day or two for such travelers during their journey.
John Barnes, author of the "Oregon Encyclopedia", in his article about the Trask Toll Road, explained that, "It was a two-day trip for passengers on the North Yamhill and Tillamook Stage Line — and the cost of a one-way ticket was five dollars." That was a considerable sum for an individual to pay at that time.
In the early 1900s, the Sellwood Transfer Company — sited at S.E. 11th Avenue and Umatilla, in Sellwood — rented carriages, coaches, and teams of horses for folks seeking a trip to the Oregon Coast, or planning a weekend excursion up to Mt. Hood. In the summer months, the semi-pro Sellwood baseball team would rent a four-horse carriage from the Sellwood Transfer Company for their annual baseball trek west to Seaside, Rockway, and Astoria.
It wasn't until the 1890s that a well-planned resort town was founded by Marshall and Narcissa Kinney, which they called Gearhart — situated eleven miles south of the industrious timber and fishing town of Astoria. Marshall began construction of the elaborate Hotel Gearhart, which also included a livery stable and auditorium, to attract the wealthy of Portland for a vacation on the beach. In the following years the Gearhart Golf Links were added to the amenities there for those wishing to take up the sport, which was then new to most West Coast residents.
Oregon's north coast was a tourist destination by 1898, when the Astoria and Columbia River Railroad opened for business, and people from Portland could finally travel to Astoria in a timely manner. Passengers still had to disembark at Astoria and rent a horse and carriage to get to Gearhart, but within the next few years the line was extended south to Seaside, with a stop available at the village of Gearhart on the way.
Even then summer days in Portland could often get stifling hot, and smoke-filled city streets made it even less inviting — busy, as they were, with delivery wagons, shouting teamsters, and clanging street cars, with pedestrians everywhere. Mothers and children could now escape the heat and smoke of the city to the coast, where days were cool and evenings were filled with the sounds of the surf and the wind. But the man of the house stayed in the big city to work!
Daddy came down on weekends to join them, via the famous "Daddy Train Run" — wherein Portland businessmen, bankers, and professionals would leave Portland late Friday night or early Saturday morning, to spend the weekend with their loved ones vacationing on the coast. Come Monday they'd be back in Portland to resume their professions.
It wasn't uncommon for mothers and kids to spend a month, or even the whole summer, vacationing in tents, small wooden cabins, or in makeshift shelters along the sandy dunes of a north-coast beach or forest. But when the weekend arrived, and rail cars were filled with the husbands and fathers headed to the coast for a couple of days, the stations along the line were packed with hundreds of children and their mothers dressed in their finest, on hand to greet the daddies on their weekend visit to the beach. This was such a common scenario that railroads offered a weekend special rate of three dollars for the round trip to the coast. As a result, every weekend in the summer, the trains to Astoria were filled to capacity, and when railroad service was extended south to Seaside many continued down to stops on the way to that destination. In Rockaway, Oregon (then known as Rockaway Beach), it wasn't until 1912 that the community celebrated the opening of its first train station. Following the lead of Gearhart and Seaside, real estate investors began buying lots at Rockaway Beach, in hopes that a railroad would soon be built, to allow commuters easier access to their vacation spots.
So, in 1911, Elmer and Charles Lytle were actively recruited by local property owners to begin working on a railroad that would operate from Hillsboro to Tillamook. In the beginning, Lytle planned on reaping big rewards from his railway by harvesting coastal trees and shipping the timbers to one of the many sawmills and lumber companies operating along the Willamette waterfront.
However, eventually, Elmer found he could make more money transporting vacationers and coastal property owners, instead of lumber, aboard his Pacific Railway and Navigation Company line. Elmer enjoyed the beach so much he eventually became the sole owner of the townsite of Lytle Lake, and he commissioned an agent to sell off portions of his property. Few people complained about the time consumed in the eleven-hour ride from Portland and the Willamette Valley to a final destination on the north coast.
Merchants, small store owners, doctors, and dentists who all had worked hard over the years eventually accumulated enough money to invest in beach property. Vacation homes were no longer just for people endowed with considerable wealth. For the low price of just twenty dollars, the general public could buy a small lot on which to pitch a tent or build a small shack among the trees and close to the surf of the Pacific Ocean.
As one of Portland's oldest continuously-operating newspapers, having been established in Sellwood in 1906, THE BEE kept neighbors informed on who was going to the beach and who had just returned from a long summer vacation. Besides the everyday events in the big city and around the neighborhood on the front page, subscribers could turn to the middle of the paper to read "Sellwood Happenings". This section of the newspaper listed baby and wedding announcements, rooms to rent, fruit and vegetables for sale, and of course who (from out of town) was visiting who. Also, where neighbors going for the summer.
In the issue of August 30th, 1918, this newspaper announced, "John Madlung, Earl Newbury, and others left Thursday morning of last week for salt air for a few days, then on to Wahtum Lake, to be gone until school opens." Apparently Sellwood residents weren't worried about break-ins or burglaries by thus advertising to the public how long they would be gone!
Then-editor C.M. Thompson had figured that he could get more people to subscribe to THE BEE if he mentioned their names in the latest edition of the paper, so he mentioned as many as he could. An annual subscription cost one dollar, back in 1923.
In 1922, while hundreds hurried off to the beaches for the cool breezes of the ocean waves, others — like the Stryker family — opted for other choices. THE BEE at the time reported to its subscribers that, "Donald and Rey Stryker Jr. drove their faithful Shetland pony "Ted" to the Stryker farm near Hubbard, Oregon, recently, where they will spend the summer."
Sellwood and Westmoreland, like most other neighborhoods then, had a substantial middle class with plenty of free time on their hands. For those who couldn't get the time off, summertime activities might include fishing on the Willamette, picnicking at Oaks Park, or catching a streetcar to one of the outlying parks — where religious gatherings and Chautauquas were popular.
As Portland newspapers and real estate brochures announced low-cost coastal property for sale, more small resort towns and bedroom communities began appearing, starting about fifteen miles north of Tillamook Bay. The Pacific Railway train had stops all along the way — Manhattan Beach, Moroney Town, Lake Lytle, Beal's Addition, Seaview Park, Elmore Park, Saltair, Rockaway Beach, Midway Beach, Ocean Lake Park, and Profile Rocks. By the 1920s most of these teeny communities were combining to form the township of Rockaway. You can even experience what travel was like in those days, by riding the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad that today in the summers still offers rides between Garibaldi and Rockaway daily.
Shortly, though, the growing and widespread adoption of the automobile as a means of travel would change considerably the length and convenience of the trip for travelers. The emerging middle class and the manufacturing of his Model A car by Henry Ford resulted in a boom in tourism reaching an all-time high along the Oregon Coast. Governor Oswald West decreed that the Oregon beaches should and would be accessible by a public highway, and the following year — 1915 — the "Roosevelt Coast Military Highway" (Today's Highway 101) was officially dedicated for motorists to use in traveling the Oregon coast north and south. By August of the same year, the Columbia River Highway was completed between Astoria and Portland. Autos were becoming "King of The Road", and travelers didn't need to waste their vacation time traveling on railroad passenger cars that took from 10 to 15 hours to get them to their destination.
The opening of new roadways gave the public a variety of new vacation spots and points of interest to visit. Margaret Crosby, who later in life married Lee Vernon Cutsforth and eventually settled in Sellwood, took a trip south across the States of Oregon and California and back. Margaret — with her grandmother, aunt, and cousins in tow — embarked on a family trip to the Exposition celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal, in San Francisco in 1915.
Despite all the new roads, there was still no state-spanning highway in either state, and many roads were still not paved. Hotels, mainly found in large towns, were the only form of paid lodging — and gas stations were almost nonexistent outside metropolitan areas. So Margaret's adventure all the way to San Francisco, and considerably beyond, proved definitely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the four ladies and one gentleman in the automobile. During their journey — which ultimately was from Riddle, Oregon, to Tijuana, Mexico, and back — they had to cross streams and rivers in their path by driving across railroad trestles, and sleeping overnight in farmers' fields or under haystacks. But, in the long run, they all did return safely in the auto back to Oregon. (Details of the Crosby/Cutsforth family's epic journey were reported in the May, 2019, issue of THE BEE.)
After the opening of The Oregon Coast Highway and the Columbia River Highway, people in cars began to venture out onto the open road — despite few if any motels or lodges in which to spend the night, few restaurants along the way to dine in, and no gas stations. "Auto Camps" became the default overnight stay for these pioneering motorists.
As Stephen Mark wrote in his "Save the Auto Camps" article, distributed by the National Park Service, most Auto Camps were to be found in city parks, or in well-manicured byways just outside of town. They offered motorists a safe place to pull into a level spot for overnight stays. There, travelers could pitch tents, prepare meals on a metal cooking grill, and often take a showers and/or have the convenience of pit toilets (outhouses).
The southern Oregon community of Grants Pass opened up the first Auto Camp in the state in 1910; it was at Riverside Park, just a stone's throw from the Rogue River. Lithia Park in Ashland was the next to offer camping services, as Stephen Marks has pointed out: "Local boosters lost no time in trying to capitalize upon tourists traveling to the Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco." The Crosby/Cutsforth Family may well have stayed the night in one of these layover spots on their way to the Golden State.
The cars and other vehicles used for traveling and camping were as unusual as their owners. Some cars came equipped with a pull-out side tent that connected to the side of the car, and pull-out kitchen units emerging from the rear trunk of a car. A sleeping space built between the ceiling of the car and the roof offered a tomb-like resting niche for the driver or passenger; and often a tool box was strapped to the running board of an auto for storage ofkitchen utensils, tin plates, cups, a coffee pot, and frying pans. Motorists must have felt like they were living the life of pioneers when vacationing in an auto park. (Some of those makeshift innovations have evolved into modern equivalents in the design of modern RVs!)
So the emerging automobile provided an inexpensive way for large families to vacation, and to see the U.S.A. Sarah Laskow wrote in her book, "How America Joined its two Great Loves, Cars and the Outdoors", reported that, "By the 1920s there were thousands of auto camps — somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 of them." Some even contained makeshift cabins to stay in, with a spot beside them in which travelers could park their car. (The first glimmering of the idea of motels!) .
When more formal motels were later built along well-traveled highways, the earlier auto camps began to diminish — but, when this nation was immersed in the misery of the Great Depression, these auto parks again became in great demand for a while. In those years, many people were forced from their homes, and had to travel to other states to find work, so these auto parks offered relief for families living in their vehicles. Auto camps gained the reputation as places where migrant workers could gather safely.
Not everyone was itinerant or deeply in debt during the Depression years; and although cars had become the preferred from of transportation for Americans heading out to summer destinations, trains and steamers were still patronized by those who could afford to ride them for weekend trips to the Oregon coast and further distant points.
In 1930, longtime Sellwood resident Chet Keller caddied at a golf tournament in Astoria. His trip there began when he and a friend rode the Sellwood trolley down to the end of the Hawthorne Bridge, where a small steamship called The Oregon waited for boarding passengers. For $3.00 they clambered onto the top deck, where they were given mattresses to lie on while they enjoyed the five-hour trip to Astoria. The ship stopped at every town along the way, and the two men watched the loading and unloading of supplies and the agricultural produce that were traded along the route.
Many of the Waverley Country Club Members and their families in the 1920s spent from six to eight weeks every year on the coast. The men were still using the "daddy trains" for weekend commuting. Caddies were invited to spend the summer at the coast, so the Waverley members could ensure their favorite golf caddies were on hand. Most of these young men lived in tents near the club members' estate, or found lodging in some low-rent beach shack near the surf.
After the Depression and then World War II few pastimes were perceived as more vigorous and dangerous for a summer vacation than mountain climbing. Sellwood resident CeCe Cutsforth's father-in-law, Jack Meyer, was an avid mountain climber in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Asked by CeCe at the time why he'd adopted this strenuous sport, he mildly replied, "I was a poor college student, and a tank of gas was cheap". So he found spending the summer climbing Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and other lofty peaks in the Cascade Range, was an affordable pleasure. He was one of the few men who had ever climbed all the "Three Sisters" peaks in the space of just 22 hours — still even today an astounding accomplishment.
Oregonians in the Twenty First Century are still spending hot summer days at the beach, camping in the Mt. Hood National Forest, or just visiting relatives elsewhere.
In an era of widespread air conditioning, our ever-hotter summers do not compel us to leave home, or to find cooler locations to spend the long summer days. But that convenience has not deterred us from going somewhere and doing something as part of celebrating summertime in Southeast Portland.
Here's hoping you found a satisfying way to celebrate the final days of this 2022 summer!
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