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For those of us who live in Cannon Beach and the surroundings area, the trek to “the city” can seem exhausting. Highway 26 is a bumpy, winding, traffic-filled nightmare at the best of times, and in winter down right dangerous. We take for granted that this trip only takes only a few hours when just over 100 years ago, the journey was a long one, indeed.

In the early years of traveling to Cannon Beach the trek was a full day journey that typically combined traveling by boat down the Columbia River from Portland, disembarking at Astoria and then taking another boat down the Skipanon River, horseback, or stage coach to Seaside — then onward to Cannon Beach. The first train to travel to Seaside arrived in May of 1898. This train was often referred to as the “Daddy Train.” This decreased travel time to Cannon Beach by several hours. Travelers would journey from Seaside by horse, stagecoach or by foot to Cannon Beach. Long-time resident and Author of “Comin’ in Over the Rock,” Peter Lindsey compares the journey from Seaside to Cannon Beach as “the Bataan Death March.” The road, barley more than a trail, was a muddy mess for most of the year. At one point the road to Cannon Beach was purported to have stomach-churning 111 turns.

 

311.1 WF hairpin turns

One of the 111 curves on the road to Cannon Beach. 

 

By 1920 a highway was constructed along the Columbia River and decreased the travel to Cannon Beach to just over five hours. The road still consisted of dizzying number of curves and was mainly mud and gravel. Wolf Creek Highway from Manning to the Necanicum Junction was completed in 1941, this is now known as Highway 26. This decreased travel time to less than three hours. New links to Portland were completed in 1948 and the road was dedicated at the Sunset Highway. It wasn’t until 1950 that a new road was constructed to Cannon Beach from Seaside that eliminated the 111 curves.

If you’re wondering about travel south from Cannon Beach, it wasn’t the leisurely journey that we enjoy today. Highway 101 did not exist prior to 1932. The journey south from Cannon Beach was either along the beach or by a mountain trail. Mary Gerritse was the local mail carrier from 1897 to 1902. Both trails had their own dangers; the mountain trail was a narrow and had steep drop offs, while the beach road was only accessible at extreme low tides. To cross the point between Arcadia and Hug Point beaches, as they are now known, one had to “hug” the rock. In 1893, hand and footholds were dug out of the sandstone around the face of the point, allowing a person to climb along the shallow ledge, hugging the rock. This is how Hug Point became known as Hug Point. Gerritse nearly drowned and lost her prized horse Prince attempting to cross this area at high tide. The way was treacherous and, at times, inaccessible.

 

Hug point

This photo was taken in 1907 of ladies “hugging” the hand holds at Hug Point. 

 

In 1910, Hug Point was blasted with dynamite to make a road that would be accessible for longer stretches of time between high and low tide. Once the road was completed stagecoaches were able to use it to bypass the cliffs off the coast by hugging the edge of the cliff and escaping the waves of the Pacific Ocean. This route was called the Oregon coast Highway and is now considered part of the Oregon Coast Trail.

To learn more visit the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum and check out our new exhibit “The Long Road Home.” The Museum is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, Closed on Tuesday.

This article was published in the Cannon Beach Gazette on May 4, 2018. Written by Elaine Trucke. 

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Rockscapes and Sea Stacks.

“From this point I beheld the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.”  

-Captain William Clark

401.1 postcard Ecola vista

It is well known that the Oregon Coast is littered with rockscapes and sea stacks. Hundreds of thousands of people every year flock to Cannon Beach to behold the majestic landscape.

The journey of Haystack Rock, along with many of the other monoliths, began 15 million years ago with volcanic lava flows from eastern Oregon along the route of the Columbia River. When the lava reached the ocean, it descended into the soft ocean floor sediments, pooled in spots and pushed to the surface.

Beginning around 3 million years ago, Oregon temporarily gained more land to the west as the Ice Age reduced the level of the ocean, assisted by shifts in the earth’s crust. As a result, the ocean sediment became land instead of ocean floor and was slowly lifted  as the western flank of Oregon gained more real estate.

 

 

During the last 11,000-18,000 years, continued uplift associated with the movement of the earth’s crust and erosion have removed approximately 30 miles of sediment- such as Haystack Rock- are what remains of the once great Northwestern Oregon Coastal Plain.

One of the more popular questions asked is “what are the names of these massive rocks?” I put together A slideshow with the names and pictures of the rockscapes and sea stacks below.

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downtown 1950's

Let’s travel back to Cannon Beach during the 1950’s. Jim Dennon wrote in the January 1950 edition of The Cannon “As 1949 went over the hill, Cannon Beach is left a changed ‘city,’ indeed with a growth unequalled perhaps of previous years; new business, new buildings, increased population (about 500), new streets, new utility improvements, a new highway, a new outlook for 1950.”

301 girls on horses 1950s

Perhaps the most important development listed by Dennon was the “new highway,” this referred to the elimination of those 111 nauseating curves between the junction and the town. In 1949, in anticipation of the new road, advertisement for “The Beach of a Thousand Wonders” were broadcast on a Portland radio station.

circa 1950
The population growth in Cannon Beach led to a sewage problem. On occasion the sewage would overflow onto the beach. At one point the state health authorities threatened to post the beach as contaminated. Gaining funds to correct this problem meant that Cannon Beach was going to have to incorporate, finally the measure passed in 1955 – with a plurality of only four votes out of the 303 cast. Thus did the village of Cannon Beach became the City of Cannon Beach.
Some of the major effects of incorporation, aside from the sewer construction, was the employment of a police officer. He was given a salary of sixty-five dollars a month and was expected to provide his own car. The next thing was to elect a mayor. In 1956 Dr. J.W. Sargent became the first mayor.

Then, in 1957, the enactment of a city charter was a significant addition to the history of Cannon Beach, but there was also a significant subtraction. Terrible Tilly’s light was extinguished, her fog horn silenced, both replaced by an automated buoy at sea.

 

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Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, photo curtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.  

 

 

The Warren Brothers

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In 1891, William and Mark Warren applied for a homestead claim on 160 acres of Cannon Beach. They “proved-up” the claim and on Jun 11, 1897 William E. Warren was awarded the claim.
During the time spent working on the 160 acres William met and married Emma Sayre in Seaside, Oregon on September 18, 1893. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres free for clearing one acre, building a cabin, planting some fruit tress, and living on the land for five years – called “proving up on it”.
In 1897, William and Emma built their homestead log cabin on their 160 acres and Mark Warren “proved-up” his claim in 1900 and built a log cabin on his land, which is the current location of the Tolovana Wayside Park. The original home stood until 1954, when it was torn down to make way for the Warren House Pub.
In 1911, the Warren brothers built the Warren Hotel located where the Tolovana Inn condominiums are now located. Oregon Governor Oswald West, credited for saving the Oregon beaches from private development, registers as the first guest in the hotel on August 3, 1911. The Hotel had 16 rooms with indoor running water, but common bathrooms. Eight cabins were added in back later along with an auto camp.

It’s been almost 100 years since 1920. You can say the 20’s are making a come back, and why not? The 20’s was a time of social change, especially in the position of women: short skirts, short hair, and even the vote. People went to roadhouses and country clubs, danced the Charleston and the black bottom, smoked cigarettes and drank prohibition booze. The 1920’s was one big party– lots of money made and lots of money spent.

tumblr_mwab1ysQaq1qjediqo1_500.gifThe prosperity of the 1920’s was reflected in Cannon Beach in several ways. Prosperity for Cannon Beach meant more development. With the automobile becoming more affordable and more popular, the increase of motor traffic brought about six or seven auto camps to Cannon Beach. The auto camps consisted of “tent houses,” each tent had a stove and sometimes running water. The auto camp office was usually combined with a small grocery, and at some camps there was a dining hall.

711 147 E Van Buren const. 1923.jpg

Auto Camp in the 20’s, located in the area of Van Buren Street

More development in Cannon Beach meant more diversions, diversions that to some extent would draw people away from the beach and fireside. Cannon Beach acquired an indoor swimming pool called the Natatorium, a roller rink, riding stables and a moving-picture show.The Natatorium, a grand Latin name given to the indoor swimming pool, was filled with water that had been pumped from the creek. The water was heated with cordwood, later with oil. The Natatorium also had four private bathrooms, which could be rented for twenty-five cents, a boon for those auto campers that didn’t have plumbing. Bathing suits could also be rented, woolen suits that seemed to never get quite dry. The Natatorium also had a balcony above the pool. The balcony had a nickelodeon, and thus became a popular place to dance.

 

708.2 Natatorium w- cars.jpg

The Natatorium, located in the area of the present Whale Park.

 

The roller skating rink was the Natatoriums principal competition. The roller rink was also a source of music, a calliope that played melodies suitable for execution of the figure eight marked on the rinks maple floors. Both the Natatorium and the skating rink were the sites of the first moving-picture shows in Cannon Beach. The film was usually projected on one of the outside walls, the audience bringing their own seats in the form of apple boxes.

The fourth diversion was the riding stables. For one dollar, customers were offered a

302 horses at Kraemer's Pt

Horse riding in Cannon Beach in the 20’s.

leisurely trot along the beach, preferably at sunset, followed by a bonfire and barbecue. There were also those that brought down their own horses by riverboat from Portland to Astoria, riding on from there to Cannon Beach.

 

Looking Back, some view the twenties as the golden age for Cannon Beach. The locals made money while the summer people found all manner of recreation. Through the good times and bad times, those years in Cannon Beach brought untroubled serenity to many, especially when compared with what was to follow, with the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. That story, however, will have to be saved for another time.

 

 

Tillamook Burn

Fire has been a big concern on the minds of many in the Pacific Northwest. With the recent record high heat, low precipitation, it seems this summer has been primed as repeat in history. One such fire that has been on my mind is the Tillamook Burn, which occurred not far from Cannon Beach in the Tillamook State Forest.

Tillamook Burn, 1933. Tillamook County Pioneer Museum

Tillamook Burn, 1933.
Tillamook County Pioneer Museum

On August 14, 1933, a fire began. The fire was said to have started in Gale Creek Canyon when a steel cable dragging a fallen Douglas Fire rubbed against the dry bark of a wind-fall snag causing friction and enough heat to set the snag ablaze – although recently this cause has come under some debate by historians.

Meal line at camp for Tillamook Burn fire fighters.  Oregon Historical Society #bb004582

Meal line at camp for Tillamook Burn fire fighters. Oregon Historical Society #bb004582

Due to the drought like conditions a cease and desist order had been issued to logging companies working in the area. However, the logging company that was still operating was said to have been unaware such a warning. Some say the company just wanted to get that one last log. Recent evidence has suggested that perhaps a rival company purposely started the fire, or perhaps some other accidental mishap as yet unknown caused it. Some have even suggested that another fire started in yet another location slightly before the fire at Gales Creek Canyon. Whatever the case, one of the most historically devastating fires in Oregon history had begun. It decimated through 311,000 acres before finally being extinguished, not by man, but by September rains. The fire was battled by several thousand fire fighters most of them were volunteers, loggers, farmers and men from the Civilian Conservation Corps with little to no fire fighting experience.

One of the reasons that this fire is so well known in our area was due to the speed with which it moved and the weather that created the perfect setting for such a fast moving fire.   In just 10 days the fire had burned about 63 square miles of forest.   One of the factors associated with creating a perfect “storm” was the relative low humidity at the time. Generally, the Oregon Coast (most of Oregon for that matter) has a relative humidity over 60%, even in the summers. At the time, the humidity was down to about 20%. Additionally, high temperatures and easterly winds didn’t help the situation.

By the end of the fire over $442 million in contemporary (1933) dollars of lumber were lost – serious loss to the timber industry and the nation. During this time the United States was struggling through the Great Depression. Salvage operations were immediately begun to harvest usable portion of the burned wilderness. Some of the trees, despite being burned, had usable timber inside.

This first fire paved the way for a series of other devastating fires in the Tillamook Forest. Another fire in 1939 burned over 200,000 acres, and in 1945 two fires burned another 182,000 acres.  The Tillamook Burn was and still is, at least at the time I’m writing this, one of the most devastating fires in Oregon history.

Taken August 25, 1933 as the Tillamook Burn fire "blows up"  The smoke column rose eight miles high and was seen throughout wester Oregon and Washington.  Oregon Department of Forestry

Taken August 25, 1933 as the Tillamook Burn fire “blows up” The smoke column rose eight miles high and was seen throughout wester Oregon and Washington. Oregon Department of Forestry

According to Ellis Lucia in his book, Tillamook Burn Country, “Northern Oregon beaches were buried two feet deep in ash and debris, which also fell onto ships five hundred miles at sea and on Boise, Idaho. The great smoke cloud was seen in Montana.”

Forest fires, or fires in general, are going to happen. Most of us are aware of this. That’s why many communities have a fire department, often established well before a police force. For example, Cannon Beach’s fire department was established in 1947, while a Cannon Beach Police Department wasn’t established until much later.

Most of the fire fighters in Oregon are volunteers. They are landscapers, mechanics, business owners, basically people you see every day.   For myself, I can’t even imagine the breathless heat that getting close to an out of control fire would be like. And what is even harder to imagine is the kind of people who are landscapers, mechanics, and business owners that know what a fire is like and still answer the call. Cannon Beach is no exception. So, if you can, thank a fire fighter. Or better yet, buy that guy or gal a beer. They deserve it.

Thanks to the Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Department of Forestry, Tillamook Pioneer Museum, Tillamook Forest Center, Kick Ass Oregon History, and the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum for the information provided here.

With the recent article in the New Yorker making the rounds, I thought this would be a good time to look back on what happened in 1964. Some of you are probably saying, “Okay, I get it, tsunamis. The coast is a dangerous place.” Insert eye roll here, but the thing is a tsunami is a real possibility. And for some of us a constant threat in the back of our mind. Could what happen in 1964 be worse? Could Cannon Beach handle it?

On March 27th, 1964 a Megathrust quake (sometimes referred to as the Good Friday Earthquake) shook Anchorage, Alaska to its core. The term Megathrust refers to a quake that occurs when one tectonic plate is forced under another, otherwise known as subduction. This type of quake can exceed 9.0 in magnitude; the Good Friday Quake was a 9.2. Tremors lasted for four minutes and set into motion a tsunami that swept along the North American shoreline.

Many coastal communities were unaware of the strength of such a quake, or of the tsunami heading their way.

In the early morning hours of March 27th a group of six poker players had gathered at Frank Hammond’s house. A “big bet” of fifteen dollars was on the table when the phone rang. Bill Steidel, one of the poker players, recalls, “The phone rang and one of the men got up and answered the phone. ‘They said there’s a tidal wave coming,’ he said. We all ignored it, because we heard that every winter, that there were some big waves coming. It wasn’t unusual to hear that.”

Then the second call came. The wave had hit. As Steidel recalls in his 1995 Cannon Beach History Center oral history interview, “We said (to Hammond), ‘Where are you going?’ He (Hammond) says, ‘the last wave broke over, you know that tree in my driveway – the last wave broke over the top of that tree.’”

The tree was 30 feet tall.

The Ecola Creek Bridge was washed out during the 1964 tsunami.

The Ecola Creek Bridge was washed out during the 1964 tsunami.

Steidel describes the scene as a “Laurel and Hardy picture”. Every man ran for the door at the same time. Then they scrambled into their cars and made for their families as quickly as they could.

The news of the quake in Alaska and tales of an approaching tsunami was rebuffed by some, at least at first. The community of Cannon Beach was prepared for any number of Northern squalls, floods, and fires, but this was something different, something unexpected.

Bridget Snow and her husband had a unique view from one of the bluffs in Cannon Beach. As they scanned the sea they noticed the wave approaching, “from a distance (it) moved in flat, curling to shore and rising in height about a foot a second, about ten feet in all.”

By the time the first wave made it to shore it was a thirty-foot wall of water.

Elsewhere in Cannon Beach – Margaret Sroufe glanced out her window and was shocked to see dancing blue and green orbs right before the power went out. Intrigued she made for her porch. Sroufe and her husband had an unprecedented view of the damage caused by the tsunami from their home on west side of Elm Street, “There was a house down on the creek… and there was a little duplex, and the duplex started to move… and it hit the telephone pole, and went around the telephone pole, and it ended way back up in the pasture. And the bridge lifted up and moved on back into the pasture. It came right up to the edge of our driveway. We just stood there with our arms around each other… watching the water come up.”

Tsunami damage from the 1964 Good Friday Quake. Note the pieces of bridge and the small white house in the background.

Tsunami damage from the 1964 Good Friday Quake. Note the pieces of bridge and the small white house in the background.

Those who were heading for high ground via the Ecola Creek Bridge were shocked to find that it was gone. Steidel was the first to arrive, “the bridge was gone,” he said, “The water was all around me, and then a house went by. The house went over into the meadow and settled down.”

The tsunami only picked up speed as it moved further down the coastline. In Crescent City, California it moved with such strength and velocity that when hitting the shore Seagulls were caught in mid-air by the rushing 30 foot-or more waves. Witnesses have referred to these waves as “walls of water”.

The North end of Cannon Beach was the hardest hit by the ’64 Tsunami. Homes were torn from their foundations or flooded. In addition, the Ecola Creek Bridge was completely destroyed leaving behind only skeletal pieces of wood hanging from the road on either side. Tsunami debris was distributed throughout the town. Though Cannon Beach did not experience the fatalities or devastation of other coastal communities, it was a shocking occurrence that changed how those who live at the coast react to a tsunami.

Archaeological and geological evidence and oral traditions of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest indicate that major tsunamis and earthquakes have occurred before.

Archaeological and geological evidence and oral traditions of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest indicate that major tsunamis and earthquakes have occurred before.

The 1964 tsunami wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time that the coast is hit by a tsunami. The threat of a tsunami has always been a threat. There is extensive archaeological evidence and geological records that indicate past severe seismic events that have caused devastation along the entire west coast. Native American oral traditions of the region further confirm that such events have impacted ancient populations in the past. Archaeological work done in areas around Port Townsend, various parts of Oregon and northern California have shown that the Cascadia subduction zone has been and will be responsible for earthquakes and tsunamis. One such event occurred on January 26, 1700. How can we be so accurate on this date? The tsunami of 1700 was so devastating that it reached the shore of Japan and the time and date were recorded there. In addition to the records in Japan, dendrochronology and Native American oral traditions further substantiate a devastating tsunami in 1700.

Cascadia Zonal Chart

Cascadia Zonal Chart

Nearly every-year new information becomes available to the public thanks to the hard work of geologists, archaeologists, and other scientists. This information does not fall on deaf ears, which is why tsunami safety and preparedness has become synonymous with the Oregon coast, specifically Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach has had a strong emergency preparedness program for years. In fact, on April 14, 2010, the New York Times commended Cannon Beach for the city’s tsunami preparedness plans.  The town has been recognized  for being at the forefront with their policies.  Despite some of the claims in the infamous New Yorker article, many hotels in the area have evacuation plans outlined for guests, signs throughout town direct inhabitants to the safety of high ground, and local businesses have begun to construct tsunami and earthquake safe buildings. The best part is, the City of Cannon Beach, the Cannon Beach Fire Department, and the Police Station are willing to change and adopt new policies as new information becomes available or as new concerns arise. Suffice to say, the town of Cannon Beach does not use the “let’s just put that off” policy when it comes to being prepared for a natural disaster.

Education is still the number one combatant against casualties related to tsunamis and earthquakes. Safety drills, workshops, and community forums have led to a well-educated community. If you would like to know more about the tsunami that occurred in 1964, or even about the one that occurred on January 26, 1700, then stop by the Museum.  We’re open 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. everyday except Tuesday.

The SS Mauna Ala

The Cannon Beach History Center & Museum’s latest exhibit WWII on the Oregon Coast explores a series of historic events, shared stories and artifacts. What it is missing are several stories that occurred in Oregon and pretty close by that not many recall or even know about.

One of our favorite stories came from the Oregon Military Museum and was contributed to by several 41st Infantry Division veterans. Many have heard of the 41st Infantry Division’s role during World War II, but prior to leaving the states this National Guard group was deployed to defend the Oregon and Washington coastline against possible Japanese landing. The story they shared was of the SS Mauna Ala, a Matson line freighter that was delivering Christmas supplies to the troops stationed at Pearl Harbor. The ship carried 60,000 Christmas trees, 10,000 turkeys, 3,000 chickens, tins of Almond Roca and more.

SS Mauna Ala formerly called USS Canibas

The SS Mauna Ala formerly known as the USS Canibas was steamer ship that was constructed in 1918. It was active until it ran aground at the mouth of the Columbia River Bar in 1941.

Unfortunately, while en route, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the ship rerouted back to Oregon. After the shocking attack on the Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, Oregon and much of the western coastline had enacted blackouts and radio silence, and of course, the captain of the SS Mauna Ala was unaware that these policies were in place. The ship was also under radio silence for fear of giving away their location to an enemy vessel.

The mouth of the Columbia River bar is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world, even under the best circumstances. A dark night in December without navigational aids didn’t make for an easy entry, so the SS Mauna Ala ran aground. Thankfully, the entire crew survived thanks to the Coast Guard from the Point Adams station.  According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Point Adams Station was in operation from 1889 until it was discontinued in 1967 (although some documents indicate it may have ceased operation as early as 1963.) It was located in Hammond, Oregon.

In an oral history interview conducted by the Oregon Military Museum, veteran Roy Brasfield remembered, “When war was declared (7 December 1941) training was interrupted; that night the unit headed for the Longview Bridge on the Columbia River. They were there for a few days when they received a panic message from Seaside – a ship was unloading men on the beach.”

Camp Clatsop

In another interview with veteran Carl Kostol, he shared, “On 10 December 1941 they heard of an emergency at Camp Clatsop (Camp Rilea). An officers’ meeting was called by the Regimental CO for E and F Companies… The Regimental CO told them a convoy was coming down from the Gulf of Alaska – a suspected invasion. Clatsop Beach was the most likely site for this. So they all went out carrying a full load of ammunition.”

Like other Americans, those who lived on the Oregon coast were shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The fear that the Pacific Coast might be the next target was very real for all who lived here. “We all know,” the Tillamook Headlight-Herald wrote on December 25, 1941, “that the coastal area is the first line of defense.”

With this in mind, men went to the beaches to defend the Oregon shores. Instead of Japanese troops they found something a little more benign.

Brasfield remembered that instead of troops off-loading on the beach, they found “the ‘men’ unloading were actually Christmas trees….”

With fully loaded weapons at the ready, Kostol remembered, “They were on post all night but there was not (an) invasion. A ship ran aground, a Christmas ship headed for Hawaii that had to turn back. Its cargo of Christmas trees started rolling in and some got shot at.” He added, “A case of steaks also washed ashore, as well as a case of Almond Roca candy.”

In the light of day, the “paratroopers” morphed in several thousand trees, turkey and chicken carcasses, cases of steak, and tins of Almond Roca. The military declared the contents of the SS Mauna Ala “open salvage”. The food and trees were gathered up by those stationed at Fort Stevens and Camp Clatsop and were cooked up for all to enjoy. Some of those stationed there were even able to send pounds of food, candy, and other items that washed up home. News spread pretty quickly, as this kind of news is apt to do, and soon beachcombers were milling around the beaches collecting Christmas goodies.

I’m sure a sense of relief came over those that watched Christmas trees float around in the tide. Perhaps that relief even turned into laughter, for what could have been a very serious threat, had become festive floaters. With the entire crew of the SS Mauna Ala saved and an invasion turned into something entirely benign, one hopes that those who picked up the butter, salt, steaks, turkeys, chickens, trees, and candy were able to enjoy at least one or two evenings of good food and good company without the threat of deciduous troopers knocking at their doors.

For more information about WWII on the Oregon Coast, visit the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum (1387 South Spruce Street) Wednesday through Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or check out the Oregon Military Museum’s website.

The S.S. Cannon Beach

Have YOU ever heard about the S.S. Cannon Beach? If you have, count yourself among the lucky few.  There are very few people living in Cannon Beach, in Oregon, or pretty much anywhere else that have even heard of this World War II era ship.

Inside the S.S. Cannon Beach on the day of its christening.

Inside the S.S. Cannon Beach on the day of its christening.

Even former Senator Hatfield hadn’t heard of the Ship in 1985 and requested information from the Maritime Administration of its existence.   Even in 2000, not many in Cannon Beach had heard of the ship that was named for their town. Former crewmember, Fred Walburn, was so surprised he shot an email to the Historical Society.

“Several years ago I was in Cannon Beach for a few days and was surprised to learn that no one seemed to know that a ship had been named for your fair city,” said Walburn. He was a crewmember on the S.S. Cannon Beach for a short period after its construction in 1945. They sailed form the port of Los Angeles (San Pedro) on October 8, 1945 with a cargo of aviation fuel. They were bound for the port at Yokohama, Japan. However, just outside of the Aleutian Islands the ship was caught in a severe storm, which caused significant damage to the bulkheads. The S.S. Cannon Beach was ordered back to San Pedro for repairs and that was the last time that Walburn saw her.

S.S. Cannon Beach 4 S.S. Cannon Beach 3

The S.S. Cannon Beach was christened on August 25, 1945 at Swan Island Yard. The ship was constructed by the Kaiser Company, Inc., for the United States Maritime Commission. According to documents in the Museum’s archive the ship was one of several emergency tankers planned in 1941. These ships were of a commercial design that the Sun Ship Building Company had been building for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. A total of 525 of these ships were contracted between 1942 and 1948.

Many of these ships were of the classification SE-A1 and were equipped with turbo electric machinery producing a shaft horsepower of 6,000.   The ships had a top speed of between 14.5 and 15 knots.  Construction of these ships was shared between the “Alabama Dry-dock & Shipbuilding Company, of Mobile, Alabama, the Kaiser Company’s Swan Island Yard at Portland, Oregon, the Marine Ship Corporation at Sausalito, California and the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry-dock Company of Chester, Pennsylvania.”

In a letter addressed to former Oregon State Senator Mark O. Hatfield and dated April 4, 1985, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration department, states that the S.S. Cannon Beach was operated by Pacific Tankers under a General Agency Agreement with the War Shipping Administration. From September 1945 to September 1947 the ship primarily carried petroleum products in the Pacific. In October 1947, the SS Cannon Beach was sold to the Lanmore Company and registered under the Panamanian flag. It continued to transport petroleum until it was sold in December of 1960 to the Panama Trans-Oceanic Company, S.A. She was then placed in the shipyard of Hamburg, Germany, where she was lengthened to 575 feet and renamed the Carolyn E. Conway.

The S.S. Cannon Beach

The S.S. Cannon Beach

The former S.S. Cannon Beach continued to operate for another fifteen years before the ship was sold for scrap.   Sadly, breaking up of the vessel was completed in Taiwan in 1976.

Though the S.S. Cannon Beach had a sad ending and a rather uneventful history, there is no doubt that she brought a little international prestige to our small town and adds an interesting twist in Cannon Beach’s unique history.

WWII on the Oregon Coast

On December 7, 1941, citizens across the nation who were listening to their radios heard through the static the shocking announcement. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. World War II had begun. Fear of an attack on American soil was prevalent across the U.S., but especially along the West coast. As Les Ordway and George Shields remembered during oral history interviews taken by the Cannon Beach Historical Society, locals in Cannon Beach immediately took action, forming a beach patrol called “the Guerrillas,” guards were also placed at the Arch Cape Tunnel. After dark black outs were enforced across the West Coast. Car headlights were wired down, windows covered, and some families even used
candlelight rather than risk electricity.

Members of the Coast Guard's mounted beach patrol cross an inlet during their patrol on the west Coast.  The use of horses allowed the Coast Guard personnel to cover wide stretches of beach more quickly than on foot. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Members of the Coast Guard’s mounted beach patrol cross an inlet during their patrol on the west Coast. The use of horses allowed the Coast Guard personnel to cover wide stretches of beach more quickly than on foot. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Cannon Beach wasn’t alone in their fears. Tillamook had the Tillamook Rangers that patrolled the beaches with shotguns and .22s. In addition to the coast guard, civilian and National Guard patrols blimps were a regular sight along the Oregon coastline.
The blimp patrols were based out of a Naval Air Station located in Tillamook Oregon. The hangars that housed the
blimps were and still are considered the largest wooden structures ever built in the world. Visit the Tillamook Air Museum to see just how large these hangars really are! Rumors often ignited fear among Oregon Coast citizens.

Locally, a rumor spread that Japanese paratroopers were hiding out atop Marys Peak. Some tried to leave the coast and head for the inland. Local families had “grub boxes” with provisions packed and ready to disappear into the hills
in the event of an attack.

Soldiers at Fort Stevens inspecting a shell crater in a patch of skunk cabbage just outside of the Fort.

Soldiers at Fort Stevens inspecting a shell crater in a patch of skunk cabbage just outside of the Fort.

The shelling of Fort Stevens didn’t help the feelings of fear and doubt. In June 1942, an offshore Japanese submarine shelled Fort Stevens. Many argue that this was nothing more than an exploratory shelling or just a show of force against the U.S. What the attack succeeded in doing was showing local coastal families what Japan was capable of. To make matters worse there was the more serious attacks of Japanese collapsible-wing airplanes that dropped incendiary bombs on coastal forests. These incendiary bombs were dropped mainly in Southern Oregon and their goal was believed to be to ignite uncontrollable forest fires. The first one was dropped just outside of Brookings in the Siskiyou National Forest. Initially, these findings weren’t released publicly. According to the Oregon State Defense Council the reason for this was to keep the knowledge of the bombings from reaching Japan.

Towards the end of the war Japan made what is considered by many historians to be a last ditch effort. In November 1944, Japan began launching balloons carrying explosive and incendiary bombs. These balloon bombs drifted east along the jet stream to the west coast of the United States. Of 9,000 balloon bombs that Japan admitted to sending to the U.S. there were only 342 incidents. Of these, forty-five occurred in Oregon. Of all of these incidents only one resulted in casualties. On May 5, 1945, a pastor’s wife and several children accidentally triggered one of these balloon bombs.  This is considered the only casualty to have occurred on the continental United States during the war.

A Japanese balloon bomb.

A Japanese balloon bomb.

While they varied in size and design, many of the balloons measured about 100 feet in circumference and about 33 feet in diameter. The ingenious design helped them drift along the newly discovered fast moving jet stream at an average elevation of 30,000 feet.

In January 2015, NPR released a historic piece about these balloon bombs. The article indicated that many remain unaccounted for. While seemingly innocuous these bombs can still present a serious danger as many of the explosives could have degraded and become more volatile than before.
Thankfully, the Second World War ended on September 2, 1945. This year the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum will mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of the war with an exhibit on WWII on the Oregon coast. The exhibit will feature stories, memories and history relating to the war and to the experiences of those who lived here.  The exhibit will open on Friday and Saturday, May 22 and 23 with presentations from Alisha Hamel of the Oregon National Guard’s historic outreach program and Willamette University Professor Ellen Eisenberg.  Both presentations will begin at 7:00 p.m.  See the Museum’s website or Facebook page for more information on these events.

This program was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program.

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