Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 22
SHOALWATER BAY OR WILLAPA HARBOR?
While I was at Hoquiam I discovered that there was an appearance of rivalry between the population of Gray's Harbor and the inhabitants of the region about Shoalwater Bay, fifteen miles south of that place. I was myself conscious of a prejudice against this bay on account of its name, although its history for the last hundred years did not justify the feeling. In fact, I think a part of my aversion to this harbor was that it did not furnish a reason for this want of confidence, by wrecking some vessel, thus showing its true character as indicated by its name,—for shams of any kind are hateful to me.
Called to question my authorities on this subject, I could not learn that this bay had ever betrayed its trust, but, on the contrary, a number of vessels which had been unable to get into the Columbia River, in former times, had found shelter and safety in Shoalwater Bay. The history of the harbor since the settlement of the country is about this: A vessel or two in 1849, having blundered into this port in looking for the Columbia in heavy weather, drew attention to the harbor and surrounding country. In 1850, C. J. W. Russell settled on the bay, and, finding the extensive shoals a natural oyster-bed, opened a trade in oysters with San Francisco. In 1851 the schooners "Sea-Serpent" and "Robert Bruce" were regularly employed in supplying the California market. The "Bruce" was unfortunately burned at her landing, which place was called Bruceport, as her owners were named the Bruce Company; hence, Bruceport is the oldest settlement on the bay. Another company were at the same time cutting a cargo of piles for the San Francisco market from the grand forests around the port, and in 1852 a number of immigrants settled on the streams emptying into it. A party had already projected the laying out of a town on the bay, when their leader died. The first saw-mill was erected in 1852-53, near the mouth of North River; by David K. Weldon, one of this company.
In 1853-54 there were two hundred men on Shoalwater Bay and its estuaries who lived by oystering, and these natural beds furnished all the fresh oysters consumed on the coast until 1859, when planting was begun. An unusual frost in 1861-62 destro}*ed nearly all the oysters in the bay; but in 1874 one hundred and twenty thousand baskets were shipped from here. The oystermen of Shoalwater Bay and Puget Sound inlets have to contend with the imported eastern mollusk since the opening of transcontinental railroads, but the small native oyster remains a favorite for its delicacy of flavor.
From what I have said it will appear that this part of the Washington coast, although deserving well of the outside world, received little attention from it for many years, the rich valley surrounding it being sparsely settled, and even the wealth of its forests remaining almost untouched.
The entrance to Shoalwater Bay is thirty-five miles north of -the Columbia Biver entrance, although its south end reaches to within four miles of that great river. This thirty miles of water—actually shoal—south of the entrance is what gives the bay its name, and it is separated from the ocean by a long spit of an average width of two miles. Inside the bay are no mudflats such as are seen in Gray's Harbor, but the channel is more tortuous.
The north headland of the bay, called Toke Point, after a Chinook chief who had his home here, is a jutting headland reaching out into the harbor for a distance of seven miles in a curving neck which protects a small bay called North Cove. From this cove the harbor extends eight miles east to the mouth of the Willapa (pronounced with a broad a, and accent on the second syllable) and up this estuary for some distance to a point twenty miles inside the bar. The mean depth of water on the bar is said to be over twenty-six feet, while inside and all the way to the head of deep water in the Willapa the channel carries from thirty-five to sixty feet. The harbor is perfectly landlocked and safe from the sou'westers which blow in the winter months.
Twenty miles from the ocean, on the south bank of the Willapa Biver, and three miles from its mouth, is the town of South Bend, first settled in 1881, and having an active growth,
backed by a rich fanning country forty miles long by three miles in breadth, and a great body of fine timber. A large sawmill, in addition to the one already there, will be put in operation soon, together with other mills and business enterprises.
South Bend is but forty miles west of the main line of the Northern Pacific (Portland Branch), at Chehalis City, and the difference in the elevation of the two places is one hundred and fifty feet. This makes railroad construction easy, and in fact a branch to South Bend is already being built by the N. P. company which will be completed early in 1891, or about as soon as their line to Oc-osta is opened, under the name of Yakima and Pacific Coast Railroad. This will be a boon to the inhabitants of the Willapa Valley, who have hitherto been compelled to depend upon a chance vessel, or a small propeller from Hoquiam to a landing on the south spit, whence a beach-wagon conveyed passengers to North Cove—a very boisterous route in rou^h weather. Or if communication with the Columbia River was sought, again a chance vessel or tug carried travellers out to sea and across the bar of the Columbia; or more recently to Sealand on the beach near Baker's Bay, whence a local railroad completes the journey to the Columbia via the sea-side resorts described in a former chapter. When the Chehalis road is finished one can come from Portland or Tacoma in four or five hours by rail. Whereas South Bend was a hamlet of perhaps twenty houses until this prospect opened up a future, it is now an incorporated city which is spending large sums in street improvements, hotels, and business houses. A newspaper, the South Bend Enterprise, represents the interests of the town and Willapa Valley. Like Aberdeen, the principal streets of South Bend are built upon piling to raise them out of the reach of the tides.
On the north bank of the Willapa River, at its confluence with the harbor, on a level and open tract of land containing about three square miles, another town has been laid out, with broad avenues fronting on deep water, called North Pacific City. It has not yet received much attention or been advertised after the manner of new cities, from which I draw the inference that the railroad powers are holding it until they are prepared to give ft a good send-off. If I were the son of a prophet I should
say that it is the intention of the powers just referred to, not only to bring the Yakima and Pacific Coast Railroad here* but also to extend their Gray's Harbor line down to the same place. So the strife for ascendency between the Gray's Harbor and Shoal water Bay towns is not without foundation in reason.
Within a distance of fifty miles on the coast are three competing points, Astoria, and the leading city, whichever that may prove to be, on each of the two harbors north of the Columbia. It must be a surprise to the merchants in the interior, who have always controlled the commerce of these two States, to discover at this late day that trade-centres are not permanent, but locate themselves according to natural advantages which are fixed, other things being equal. The whole of West Washington is so rich in resources that it now depends upon the capacity of any considerable portion of it to sustain a more dense population to give superior power to a particular city, although for a time it may serve as a distributing point to a wide area of only partially occupied territory.
Within a short distance of Shoalwater Bay is a range of hills in which rises the Nasel River, a wild stream which in twenty miles accomplishes a good deal of that kind of motion which the water does that "comes down at Ladore." It is a favorite region with hunters from the seaside resorts south of the bay, the game being the same as that found in the Olympics, and more easily reached.
One of the attractions of Shoalwater Bay is the life-saving station on North Cove. The crew is composed of a captain and six men, who not only thoroughly understand their work, but are kept in training by drill. There is no hour of the day or night when the guard is broken, each man being on watch four hours of the twenty-four. When a wreck is discovered the patrol burns a signal which by percussion emits a red light that is visible a long distance, and then gives his warning to the crew in the boat-house by firing a small cannon kept ready at the light-house on the point.
At the sound of the cannon the men spring to their places, and the captain, trumpet in hand, takes command. Only last December the "Grace Roberts," a large bark from San Francisco, was driven ashore fifteen miles south of the station, one
fiercely tempestuous day just at nightfall, and was not seen until morning, when the guard's keen vision espied it through the mist, and for an instant only. The crew was at once put in marching order, but, the distance being too great for rapid communication, the captain secured the use of a tug in the bay to convey the life-saving apparatus to a point opposite the wreck, and distant four miles, the life-boat being towed through a tumultuous sea with the crew in their places. On disembarking, horses were hired, which dragged the beach-wagon and apparatus on a run across the sand spit to the beach where lay the "Grace Roberts," about four hundred yards from shore, broadside on, and full of water, her bulwarks and housing washed away, and the crew lashed in the rigging, while the spray from every inrolling wave was drenching and benumbing them. In two hours from the time the wreck was discovered a line had been shot on board, but so exhausted were the sailors that it was with difficulty they succeeded in hauling a hawser on board, by means of which and the life-buoy attached to it nine lives were saved. Just as the last man—the captain—was lifted, half frozen, out of the car, up came the crew from the life-saving station I have before mentioned, at Cape Disappointment, having made a run of twenty miles, hauling their beachwagon by means of horses. These incidents show great efficiency in the service at these two stations. Captain John Brown, of Toke Point, lost, in rescuing a crew, a son who had already won a medal by saving lives. It is certainly the severest service and the most humane of our public beneficent institutions, as well as one of the least rewarded.
To return to the nomenclature of this region,—it has been decided by the residents that Shoalwater Bay is a misnomer, and, the government being of the same opinion, the name has recently been changed on the government charts to Willapa Harbor, by which appellation it will hereafter appear on the map of Washington.