Coastal Ghost Towns
The Oregon coast has been populated since prehistoric times by native groups such as the Alsea, Clatsop, Coos, Coquille, Siuslaw, and Tillamook peoples. These groups lived in permanent coastal settlements and ate a diet rich in clams, salmon, and seals. European powers did not set eyes on the emerald coast until the 1700s. Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to spend time on the Oregon coast in the early 1800s. This action was aimed at negating British and other colonial claims to the territory.
By the era of statehood in 1859, coastal towns were emerging as hubs for fishing and logging. With few roads in or out, Oregon’s many bays and estuaries were only reachable by boat. Seeing the potential for tourism, the Oregon State Land Board began selling public tidelands for private resorts. This trend only increased as new railroads brought tourists from the Willamette Valley to the sleepy, inaccessible coastal towns. Tourism exploded and extraction industries declined in the 1900s. This largely followed the completion of the coastal highway and its 36 state parks as well as roads linking the coast to the inland population centers. Many coastal communities still depended heavily on the timber industry well into the 1970s.
Bayocean and Fort Stevens offer two very different examples of the creation of coastal ghost towns. One speaks to the power of both tourism and nature while the other shows how advances in military strategy and technology can leave an aftermath of defense ghost towns.