Only a splash of curiosity is needed to become immersed
in Oregon’s rich and diverse history, whereupon your path will invariably lead
you to whispers of fascinating ghost stories or legends – tales are abundant anywhere,
be it north, south, east, west, or central Oregon. This broad-spectrum
encompasses the spectacular Coast as well with her many lighthouses and hotels
as prime territory for ghostly visits and oddities.
The story of coastal Bayocean is understatedly
distinctive – and a story that played out for more than half a century. Ghosts
of this community were truly unique, and entailed numerous people who were
active characters in a dream – a vision – of a man named Thomas Benton
Potter. This is not a story about ghostly visits or uncanny shadows. Instead,
it’s about a man’s dream and the poignant hauntings that quietly linger as
remnants of memories – and only a few artifacts, scattered information on
various websites, photographs, and honoring this story, one published book.*
sign displayed at the south end entrance
This site of history is located approximately 7 miles west of Tillamook, Oregon. In 1906, Tillamook Spit stretched as a peninsula, lying between the Pacific Ocean and Tillamook Bay. She lingered nearly 4 miles long, framed with wide sandy beaches. A primary sand dune reached ridge height of 140 feet tall, and the north area sustained a significant forest of spruce, cedar, and juniper.
Thomas Benton Potter – a real estate broker from Kansas City, Mr. Potter was Bayocean’s founder, investing developer, and promoter. Around 1910, he left the project due to health problems. He died in 1915 at the age of 50 in Alameda, CA.
Thomas Irving Potter – Thomas B. Potter’s son. After Thomas B.’s health forced him to leave, Thomas I. took over as “operations manager,” focusing upon onsite management and promotions. He left the project by 1915 to pursue his own interests.
Francis Drake Mitchell – At age 37 in 1907, Mr. Mitchell bought Bayocean’s first lot. He established a grocery store, gas pump, inn, and post office (Mrs. Mitchell was the postmaster from 1913 – 1947). In 1908, he also opened the first hotel, the Bayside. In 1952, Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell were the last residents to leave. He died in Salem, Oregon in 1965 at the age of 95. He remained passionate and devoted to the dream of Bayocean until his final days.
Born immediately upon seeing the peninsula in 1906, Thomas B. Potter’s vision of a spectacular resort community (“the Atlantic City of the West”) awakened. He christened it Bay Ocean Park, which became known as Bayocean. Plotting 4,000 lots ranging from $100 to $1000, he began his sales promotions. In 1910, Potter even built a narrow gauge railroad on the spit to accompany building endeavors. Yet Bayocean was only accessible by ferry and boat (in 1911, the railroad from Portland provided transportation to Bay City, whereupon passengers detrained and ferried across to Bayocean). Potter requisitioned a private yacht built to transport prospective buyers, but meanwhile, other motor vessel were leased until 1928 when a road from Tillamook was completed.
The Natatorium (www.pdxhistory.com)
The community’s development – and Potter’s dream – began to unfold. A sophisticated water system, telephone system, and power plant with a diesel engine providing electricity were devised. The township intensified and 3 hotels opened – Mitchell’s Bay Ocean Inn and Bay(side) Hotel, plus Potter’s Hotel Bay Ocean Annex (complete with automatic fire sprinklers) – with further plans to develop it into a Grand Hotel. Eventually Bayocean grew to include a natatorium in 1914 (housing a heated, salt water artificial surf pool, built at the cost of $125,000, with future plans for a 1,000 seat movie theater), an open-air dancing pavilion, bowling alley, tennis courts, a school (which doubled as a place of worship), a tent city (later transformed into the sturdier Cottage Park), bakery, cannery, tin shop, machine shop, Mitchell’s Texaco gas station, boat dock, sidewalks, and streets (Potter’s monthly newspaper touted nearly 4 miles of paved streets.)
from Thomas Benton Potter’s Annex
Bayocean’s actual Grand Opening occurred in 1912 (Thomas B.’s health forced him to leave before the town officially opened). By 1914, 600 building lots had been sold, and in progression, more than 2,000 lots were sold and approximately 60 homes built.
Dating back to 1888, the people of Tillamook, Bay City, and surrounding areas had approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study and improve their harbor. Construction was delayed due to lack of monies, war, and the 1907 Depression. Engineers had recommended two jetties, but funds were inaccessible for both. The decision to build one jetty ensued, with a north jetty being completed in 1917. The consequences resulted in “man-induced erosion.”
The dream faltered and eventually dissolved over a period of approximately 20 years or so. Property owners began noticing a problem by 1920 – 1925. Oceanfront homeowners moved their houses back away from the ocean, and the beach was disappearing. The dance hall burned down. In 1932 -1933, the jetty was extended and erosion amplified. More destruction evolved. The Natatorium collapsed in the early to mid-30’s and totally disappeared by 1939. By the late 30’s, most buildings were left empty.
1938 or 1939
Serious spit breachings from harsh winter storms occurred in 1939, 1942, and 1948. By 1949, 20 houses had fallen into the sea. Bayocean became an island again in 1952. The post office officially closed in 1953. The remaining town shut down whereupon theft, vandalism, and washouts surmised. Remaining buildings were moved, burned, or torn down. During the reclamation and dike-building project of 1956, the Corp of Engineers bulldozed whatever structures remained in their path. In 1960 the last house was washed away, and in 1971, the last renegade building, a car garage, slipped into the sea.
And too, the dream of Bay Ocean Park slipped into the muted ebb tide of history…
Today, the deserted peninsula’s sandy area is affluent with beach grass and Scotch broom. In 1991, an ordinance was approved to protect and stabilize the spit’s fragile ecosystem. Bayocean Spit is now a popular destination for bird watching, horseback riding, or if you’re so inclined to have a strenuous hike on the isolated beach, look for the trail from the parking lot meandering towards the beach.
Amazingly, in 1973 research by the Webbers, they discovered Bayocean still had property owners! In the 1980’s, there were 48 privately owned properties, and by 1991, 38 private ownerships remained on record.
South end driveway
*Bayocean, The Oregon Town That Fell Into the Sea by Bert & Margie Webber