A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF EARLY DAYS IN WALDPORT
Settlement of Waldport began in 1879 when David Ruble bought squatter's rights from Lint Starr for $300 for property including the area now known as "Old Town". The first post office was established and the town was named Waldport in 1882, with David Ruble as the first postmaster. In 1885 the town was platted, and the plat recorded on September 9, 1885. In 1889 Mill Street had 3 houses, a store, and the Harrison sawmill. By 1911, when Waldport was incorporated, it boasted a dozen businesses and 150 inhabitants.
In reviewing the written biographies and reminisces of the early Waldport residents, it is apparent that some of the best attributes of this area included the easy availability of fish and game and the mild climate which allowed for year-round gardening. Employment in the early 20th century mainly revolved around fishing and logging, there being several mills, and canneries on either side of the river. Gold panning was also actively pursued, with William Keady - one of the earliest settlers - setting up a sluice near his home (in the Maple Street area), and supplementing his income. An excerpt from the Waldport Watchman April 22, 1915 edition stated "Henry Bales and Archie Rowin who have mined on the beach below town all winter, came into town Tuesday and made their "turn in". They "made good" and sacked some of the yellow stuff that beats wages all hollow. One man took out of the sand in three months $1700." The Indians used to burn the brush from the hillsides to aid in hunting, which is why there was a good deal of pastureland around Waldport in the early days. Subsistence farming was widely practiced, and Waldport even had its own creamery, located near the port dock area. A notation from a local publication from 1930 stated "The Waldport Creamery is putting out 5000 pounds of butter a week and the retail price of their product on the local market is 40 cents a pound".
Seafood and fish made up a large part of the local diet, with razor clams, cockles and quahogs available in the sand at low tide, crab that could be caught or simply raked from the bay, flounder in the tide pools, and salmon and trout as well as other fish to be found in the bay and the Alsea River. Ducks and geese would literally "blacken" the skies and banks of the river at certain times of the year, and deer, elk and bear were found practically on the doorsteps of the early residents, often feeding on the abundant huckleberries, salal, and salmonberries which covered the area from Old Town to Yaquina John Point.
Almost every home had a garden, and fresh fruit and vegetables were, as stated above, available nearly all year around. An interesting anecdote comes from an editorial in the April 5th 1915 Waldport Watchman, where the editor was relating a conversation with William Keady. Mr. Keady was extolling the virtues of the mild climate and the abundance of his garden, and told the following tale about his onion patch: "My onion patch has a very unusual history. Seven years ago today a monstrous whale beached itself in front of my house not a hundred yards from my gate and during the entire summer camping season offended the nostrils of all comers. I used quick lime and every means at my command to make away with this nuisance, finally resorting to fire. It took 40 cords of beach wood to rid myself and the community of the last vistage (sic) of the whale. Captain Hirsh of the Condor measured the whale when it first drifted in and said it was 78 feet long. He took $125.00 worth of whale bone from it. All the charred bone, bone ash, etc., went on my onion bed, you can see small particles of bone all through the soil. So the whale has been producing onions ever since."
The community was extremely proud of its educational opportunities, setting up its first school in an abandoned Indian hut in 1882 with 17 pupils. Then in 1883 a larger building was built from material from the scows which had carried lumber from Alsea and were then broken up and reused. In 1893 a schoolhouse was built on the corner of Broadway and Fayette and later used as a church building. In 1907 or thereabouts the one-story building that now houses the City's library and formerly used as the City Hall was built on property donated by the Keadys, and grades 1-8 were taught there. In 1911 a high school was built up on the hill behind the present-day City Hall. That building was abandoned in 1924 and was later used as a hospital, doctor's office, rest home, hotel, and finally as a residence. A two-story building was built next to the grade school, and the facility now known as the Moose Hall was built as a gymnasium.
Much of the local entertainment was centered around the schools and the churches, and community-wide picnics on the beach were quite common in the summer months. There were weekly programs held, featuring music and recitations as well as plays. These were always well-attended, as were the dances held either at Evan's Hall or the schools. The Waldport Opera House, which operated from 1910 until it burned in 1967, also offered movies and dancing. Additionally, it was not uncommon for the young folk to take buggies or boats or even hike as far as Tidewater or take the ferry across the river to Lutgens or Salmontown for an evening's dance party - sometimes staying overnight before returning home.
It is unfortunate that the City no longer has access to the records from 1911 to 1916, though the minutes from that time were cursory at best. The following is the earliest set of City Council minutes available at this time:
January 4, 1916
Common Council of the City of Waldport, Oregon met in regular session with Mayor Walker in the chair. Present: Aldermen Baldwin, Chesley, Evens, Everson and Linton; Marshall Davis and Recorder Evens.
Minutes of last meeting were read and approved.
Moved by Everson, supported by Chesley to pay the following bills:
S.S. Davis - Salary for December $10.00
- Labor on sidewalk $1.00
L.H. Evens - Salary for December $5.00
- Hall Rent $1.00
Yaquina Bay Land and Abstract Co.
-Abstract for So-called Front St. $10.00
Willis Everson - Hauling lumber for Stouder sidewalk $1.75
Motion carried and bills ordered paid.
An Ordinance Bill #37 granting a franchise to L.H. Evens to operate an electric light and power plant and to use the streets to set poles and string wires was read.
Moved by Linton, supported by Baldwin that the Recorder be instructed to buy new books to keep records and ordinances in. Motion carried.
Moved by Baldwin, supported by Linton to adjourn to meet at 8 p.m. Tuesday, January 11, 1916. Motion carried.
Leslie H. Evens, Recorder
The Council meetings were held at Even's Hall, and the City paid $1 a month rent. The Ladies Club would often provide floral arrangements and offer refreshments after the meetings, which were usually well-attended. The City currently has a request in to the State Archives for whatever documentation is available from the incorporation in 1911, though a copy of the original charter may not be included. However, the revised charter, which was done in 1927, comprised more than 41 single-spaced standard type-written pages, and covered topics ranging from the physical description of the metes and bounds of the City to charging the Council to "...remove, repress or prevent any and all things which would be detrimental to the health or the morals of the city, or to prevent or restrain obscene or boisterous language, drunkenness or disorderly conduct." By contrast, the current charter is only 9 pages in length. Obviously the early City fathers did their sworn duty in ridding the town of nefarious characters, so that the need for such stringent rules is no longer necessary.
Reda Quinlan Eckerman
Waldport City Recorder, Alsi Historical and Genealogical Society Secretary/Treasurer, and amateur historian
Note: The information presented has been gleaned from materials readily available at the Waldport Heritage Museum, which also has many photographs and additional resources available to the public. A wonderful publication, "The Land That Kept Its Promise" by Marjorie Hays, provided information as well, and is a must-read for anyone interested in our town's early days. Last, but certainly not least, there is a wealth of knowledge to be found in the memories of our elder residents, many of whom are happy to explain to any and all why they chose to make this small corner of Paradise their home.