The Lost City of Bayocean: The ‘Atlantic City of the West’ that vanished into the sea.


Major support for Oregon
Field Guide is provided by… [ ♪♪♪ ] MAN:
My rappel! MAN:
Oh, my gosh, it’s beautiful. MAN:
Good morning, everybody. Woo! Let’s do it again! MAN:
Nicely done! MAN:
Oh, yeah! Fourteen and a half. Yes, that was awesome! [ people cheering ] There you go, up, up… ED JAHN: Tonight an
Oregon Field Guide special, “The Lost City
of Bayocean.” [ ♪♪♪ ] MAN: Bayocean is a story
full of tragedies. The stories are of dreams lost,
mostly. MAN:
Probably all developers have a certain level
of craziness and being able to launch
that dream, and yet the blind faith
that we human beings could build something
that will withstand the fury of the ocean. [ waves crashing ] I can’t find any community
down the Oregon coast that would even compare
to it. It was just absolutely
a really beautiful spot. Unique.
And that’s gone. [ gulls cawing in distance ] This is Bayocean Boulevard. The cobblestone street
is right below us here, 10 feet down in the sand. Can you see it? Mr. Mitchell’s store. Mr. Mitchell’s Bayside Hotel. We caught the school bus
right there beside where that sign is. Sidewalk on both sides. Fifty years ago, I’d have
made it easy. [ chuckles ] The natatorium used to sit
right out there. Had a big dune here. And it all washed away. A lot of land lost. [ ♪♪♪ ] JULE GILFILLAN: At the dawn
of the 20th century, the Oregon coast was still
mostly wild. Ambitious immigrants
from the east came ready to shape
the verdant forests, rich bays,
and scenic shorelines into their very own versions
of paradise. In 1906, the Potter family
saw the long finger of land forming the western edge
of Tillamook Bay and envisioned
the Atlantic City of the Pacific Northwest. MAN: They were
very successful developers that wanted to continue
their success like they had in San Francisco
and Kansas City and a bunch of other places. They understood, you know,
what drew people and how to make this work. The Potters renamed the spit
Bayocean Park to highlight its dual shores
and began placing alluring ads in The Oregonian
and The Journal. This is the map that
they set up, and it’s hand-drawn. These were sent
with advertising packages to people in Portland in hopes
that people would invest. The Potters’ grand vision included a fully platted
community of building lots stretching from the site
of modern-day Cape Meares all the way to the mouth
of Tillamook Bay. All right, this is an artist’s
rendition of Bayocean as it was intended to be, but it’s quite wonderfully done. [ ♪♪♪ ] If you come up close
to look at this, you can see where figurines
are actually attached to it to try to add
a third dimension to it. The Potters’ plan
included an amusement park and a grand hotel crowning
a bluff above the shoreline. Construction started
on the bay side with an administration
building, real estate office, and a general store. In a few short years,
Bayocean had paved roads, a post office,
a newspaper, and a float in
the Portland Rose Parade. It even had a tiny railway. As the Potters brought in
the dinky track, they actually put down
the tracks on the sand, and as they drove,
they would pick up the tracks and take them ahead. The dinky hauled in
all the construction materials and took tourists for joyrides
for a small fee. Excitement grew
as the Potters’ vision began to take concrete form. The two initial structures
that most stood out is they built what
they called the Hotel Annex, and the natatorium was
the other building, and it was an indoor
swimming place where they piped in
ocean water, heated it with a boiler, and they actually had
a wave machine. And it was an amazing
phenomena, because you could really fake
being in the ocean, you know? And they brought in
fancy divers from Australia that would dive and twist
and, you know, catapult and do all kinds of grand stuff. And it actually was a draw. The Potters had thought
of almost everything. MAN: The only way to get here
originally was by boat. That’s where the dock
that was a quarter-mile long would’ve been. The railroad was on its way,
but they were impatient, so they built their own yacht
called the Bayocean and built it in Portland. And took investors here
by that boat, but it was, by all reports,
a pretty rough ride. Not only could a boat trip
from Portland take days, it also involved crossing
two difficult bars. It would’ve been bad, but that’s how
they’d get people out here. The Potters also took
a financial hit when almost as soon
as their expensive new yacht was up and running,
a rail line from Portland arrived in Tillamook. I think the Potters had no idea
how much this was gonna cost, building the yacht
and other things. It was a very expensive
proposition. [ ♪♪♪ ] But at least visitors
were coming to the fashionable new resort. And once they arrived, the Potters knew
exactly how to treat them. ALBRIGHT: If you were wealthy,
you stayed in the Annex Hotel until they could build
the grand one, but along the way,
then they had cottages and then they had tent cities, and you can rent fishing rods,
crab traps, they’d rent you umbrellas. Anything you wanted to do,
they would find a way. There was
a broad white sand beach perfect for wading
and sunbathing and an outdoor pavilion where
one could dance the night away or even meet
a handsome stranger. You could scale it down
to where, you know, you’re pretty much penniless, but we will take
that last penny. By 1914, the Potters had sold
more than 1,600 lots, and everything
from modest cabins to grand homes
with 360-degree views were popping up
on the blufftops. The press lauded Bayocean Park as the grandest and most
commodious playground of the great Northwest. No one was more dazzled
than Francis Drake Mitchell. If you’re interested
in the Mitchells, there’s a great picture
of the Mitchells. And their story was they
just wanted in on the greatness. F.D. Mitchell was a 38-year-old
druggist from Kansas City when he and his wife, Ida,
invested their life savings into the Bayocean dream, dealing real estate and providing services
for tourists. Well, they truly loved
the place. In fact they, well,
spent their life — and I mean spent their life —
there. The Potters, on the other hand,
were clearing out. T.B. Potter’s health
was failing, and carrying out
the grand vision was proving expensive
and difficult. SUTHERLAND:
The promised facilities weren’t all being built, so investors started
taking legal action and eventually it went
into receivership and no further progress
was made on the original dream. In fact, the Potters
were getting out just in time. ALBRIGHT: Concurrent with
their development, there was a tremendous interest to make the bar
at Tillamook Bay safer, because it was tremendously
dangerous. The Tillamook bar
is known as one of the most treacherous crossings
on the West Coast. MAN:
It is still a dangerous bar. I’ve known a lot of people
that have died on that bar. Perry Reeder operated
fishing charters in the area. The current coming
from the north and hitting the tip
of that north jetty, it builds up a sand mound
right at the entrance, and that sand mound moves. And if you’re not crossing it
every day and knowing how
the waves break, it is very dangerous. Tides that wash water
through the bay entrance carry lots of sand and silt. Where that debris falls out,
a bar forms. Waves can build up
around the bar, making marine navigation
perilous. Jetties restrict the channel,
increasing the velocity of the water running
through it. That action reduces
sediment buildup, deepens the channel, and makes
navigation more reliable. In 1914, the cities
around Tillamook Bay needed to move seafood,
timber, and dairy products and were lobbying for a jetty. But taming the mighty Pacific
would prove challenging. WOMAN: The forces
in the Pacific Ocean are magnitudes above
other water bodies. Wave heights are bigger,
tidal range is typically bigger, wave periods are bigger. So the shoreline is exposed
to much bigger forces than, say, the Atlantic coast
or the Gulf ocean. Heidi Moritz
is a coastal engineer. The Corps of Engineers
recommended that there be
a dual jetty entrance to try to control
the navigation channel. As time went on,
it was determined that only the north jetty
would be constructed. SUTHERLAND:
The local port officials insisted on just a north jetty because that’s all they could
afford to participate in. REEDER:
Going ahead with one jetty, that is the cause
of a big disaster. MORITZ: Once the north jetty
was constructed, they started to observe
that there was erosion happening along Bayocean Spit,
and it was clear that the shoreline was changing. By the 1920s, Bayocean began
literally falling into the sea. [ ♪♪♪ ] SUTHERLAND: Homes started
being threatened, so the landowners
would move them back away from the ocean
or move their cabin down over to the bay side. They didn’t give it up easy. As landowners scrambled
to save their homes, the long promised road
finally connected Bayocean to the rest of the world. Francis Mitchell seized
the opportunity to install the town’s
only gas pump. REEDER: Him and his wife
expected a lot of tourism to come by car, and it did, but it happened
at the wrong time, because of the Depression. He had a service station,
a grocery store, and he owned a lot of land,
and he was losing business. Another devastating blow
came almost immediately. MORITZ: When the north jetty
was constructed, since it was a single jetty
and not a dual jetty, not only was sediment moved
northward along Bayocean Spit, the navigation channel at
Tillamook was also shoaling up. Rather than investing
in a south jetty, local officials opted
to lengthen the north jetty. The move accelerated
the erosion of Bayocean Spit. By the mid-1930s,
the once glorious Hotel Annex had been stripped bare
and lay in ruins. The grand natatorium
had been reduced to a pile of concrete blocks. [ waves crashing ] SUTHERLAND: The erosion
really started increasing. In 1938-’39, some gaps
were actually formed when the ocean pierced
the spit. And the Corps did
a major study then and concluded that the problem
was caused from natural forces, not the north jetty, and that
they were not legally mandated to deal with protecting
resort homes. Or the businesses
that depended on them. Still, in 1937,
Francis Mitchell doubled down. This is a post commemorating
the site of the Bayside Hotel, and Francis and his wife, Ida,
purchased it. The Mitchells were in deep. And while mostly Francis
was known as friendly and upbeat… MAN:
“He was a possibility-thinker. He saw ‘the Millionaires
Playground.’ Yet according to his own
report…” Some accounts say
the situation was driving him crazy. WOMAN: “He had a complete
nervous breakdown, and he’s never fully recovered
from it. He’s the type of man
who says God talks to him.” What is clear is that
Mitchell was not about to stand by and watch his dream
slip away. SUTHERLAND: Francis Mitchell was
always concerned about the erosion,
and he had no hesitation to tell any authority that
he could get ahold of his views. ALBRIGHT:
His money was invested, and he made a line in the sand:
he was gonna stay. As Mitchell grew
more desperate, so did his methods. MAN: Here’s an original letter
to Bayocean lot owners from F.D. Mitchell
which is pretty interesting. “If everybody could donate
a dollar or two dollars per lot, we can do some improvements
and some maintenance that really need to be done.” And that was from July of 1931. He would get letters
from a number of people. This particular one is
from a person in Salem, Oregon, saying, “Herewith is a check
for $10,” and looking forward
to being there next summer. It’s addressed to Mr. F.D.
Mitchell, Bayocean, Oregon. No street address required. [ chuckles ] Dale Webber’s parents,
Bert and Margie, published their first book
on Bayocean in 1973. My mom and dad pulled together
all this stuff for many years, and it was barely off the press
and he received letters from a number of people
offering information. Perhaps the most notable
was Greta Forbish, who had quite a correspondence
with my dad for quite a while about what it was like
to be at Bayocean on holiday. WOMAN: “Although we
hadn’t planned it that way, our acquaintance with Bayocean
began in 1939. Our home was in Portland…” Blithe Jensen
is Greta’s daughter. She loved to write,
and she has a way of writing that brings things
so that you can feel it, and it was just something
she enjoyed doing. In a series of letters,
Greta recalled her many trips to Bayocean, beginning
in the summer of 1939. JENSEN: “We were met by
an exuberant committee of one. Francis Drake Mitchell
was Bayocean. An apple-cheeked little man,
he bounced with enthusiasm and scampered
rather than walked.” This one was taken
in 1952 at Bayocean. Greta and her family took Bayocean’s rustic
conditions in stride and became regular visitors. “During the years, we came to
know the Mitchells quite well. He shyly, but not without pride, showed us sheaves
of threatening letters and scurrilous
anonymous notes, some couched in
the most obscene language. ‘I’m getting under
their skin,’ he chortled. ‘They’ll have to do something
pretty quick.'” She enjoyed being around
the Mitchells, other than his pushiness
in, “Oh, buy in, buy in. I’ll sell you this lot cheap!” Unfortunately for Mitchell,
buyers were scarce. Throughout the 1940s,
storms battered the spit, eroded shorelines,
washed out roads, and undermined homes
all the way to Cape Meares. But Bayocean’s ramshackle
conditions also made it affordable. SUTHERLAND: In the 1940s,
there was a new community that evolved of families
with their children going to the school, and I think that was
the happiest time of Bayocean actually. In 1944, Perry Reeder’s family moved into one of
the old resort cottages, paying just $10 a month
rent. REEDER: It was like
living in paradise. BOY:
Can’t catch me! REEDER: In them days, the beach
went completely around it, all on white — I call it
sugar sand. And when the tide came in,
the water would come in slow over that white sand,
and it would heat the water. And we swam in it
every day in the summer. We roamed to the end
of the spit. And as we passed
these high dunes, the sand would slide,
and we were warned as kids not to get on that,
but we got on them. We had close calls,
but we survived. [ laughs ] The town of Bayocean
wasn’t as lucky. More homes fell
or had to be moved. Seasonal gaps deepened
into serious breakthroughs, making the road that linked
Bayocean to the outside world often impassable. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell
had struggled so hard to keep that road open, and a big old wave would come in
there and wash all this trash in the middle of it. They would move that by hand
so you could drive back across. They would saw them
and move them and push on them and just
get them out of the way. They just had
a wooden wheelbarrow, and he was really emotional
about how it was deteriorating. This was an attempt
to stop the water from coming through. They would put
some piling down and then put some boards across
and try to stop it. But you know how a big wave
comes in. You can’t do much. I can still visualize
in my mind, they were up ahead of us
in the fog, clearing out the road,
and they were old. SUTHERLAND: Francis Mitchell
couldn’t let go of his dream of Bayocean. He’d invested
all his money in it. There was nothing he had
outside of Bayocean. To walk away from it
was giving up everything he had
or had ever dreamed. And seeing his dream
not being fulfilled really kind of put him
over the edge to some degree. JENSEN: “Through the years,
the Mitchells watched the deflowering of their dream. Each winter storm washed away
more of their territory, and nobody would help them.” Exhausted by
the relentless ordeal, most of Bayocean’s families
had moved away by the early ’50s. This photo was of a family
that had moved, and the house was vandalized
when they left it. At night, when nobody
was around, people would bring their boats
over and take what they wanted. ALBRIGHT: People would come out
that were less than desirable, and they were stealing. And they were going right by
Frank’s place to do it. And so he was more likely
to run into a bad guy than a good guy eventually. I don’t know how he could not
have lost his mind because of his circumstances. SUTHERLAND:
There was a sign in his store that said “Watch Bayocean Grow.” As Bayocean started
to disappear, somebody came along
and changed it to “Watch Bayocean Go.” REEDER: There’s a lot
of power in a storm. It does what it wants to do. No matter what,
you cannot stop it. You can’t say one storm did it. It was gradual.
It was… hundreds of storms, hundreds of high tides. And people could see that it was going to eventually
break through someday. And it did. In November of 1952,
a powerful autumn storm tore through the south end
of the spit. A gap some half a mile wide and up to 20 feet deep
opened up, making Bayocean an island. But instead of drawing up
plans for a south jetty, the Corps proposed
a structure known as a breakwater
to patch the broken isthmus. MORITZ: The breakwater
was constructed in 1956. It was considered a priority
above the south jetty, because when that breach
happened, there was also additional
shoaling that happened in the navigation entrance. Also areas interior
to Tillamook Bay were being affected,
so the Corps of Engineers developed a plan to try to
close off that breach. But the four years it took
to restore access to Bayocean effectively brought Francis
Mitchell’s dream to an end. From all accounts,
he was a man of big dreams, always looking for tomorrow,
“It’s gotta get better.” And he still believed
that, “Just give us a break, help us stabilize
these dunes, and we will make a go of it.
Bayocean will be successful.” And I think he believed that
right until his dying days. REEDER:
He lost everything. He had a hard time
watching it all. There’s no doubt about that. JENSEN: “I recall
a short trip to Bayocean in October, 1952. The Mitchells had moved
into the kitchen of their old bay hotel. I’ll never forget
our last chat with them. She, trudging along the room
with a thin smile, poured coffee for us. He, with a trace
of artificiality in his former verve, had
to prod his waning enthusiasm to keep it from melting
into the floor. He looked like a bewildered
child who had been punished for some infraction
that he did not understand.” SUTHERLAND: In October, 1953,
Ida had a stroke, and neighbors took a boat over
and got to the Coast Guard to come take her off the island
and to the hospital. Francis was very reluctant
to go, but he did, to be with his wife. And that may have been
what snapped him. But, I mean, my take on it is
he was a crazy man long before that, because
he was tilting against windmills when everybody else
had left. SUTHERLAND: He started
yelling at the sheriff and the county judge
and whoever else on the street he could buttonhole
to the extent that they declared him insane
and took him to Oregon State Hospital. And she died while he was there. Commitment papers
contain accounts of Mitchell’s erratic
and threatening behavior and allegations
of domestic abuse. WEBBER: Mitchell certainly
had the tenacity of a developer to see
the potential, to stick with it, and always
marketing that potential, and yet the blind faith
that we human beings could build something
that will withstand the fury of the ocean. Francis Mitchell would spend
the rest of his life in the state hospital. Today, the site
of the old hotel can only be reached
at the lowest tides. I think this is it. A hundred feet in the air,
that’s where the hotel was. Bayocean is nothing
like it was 100 years ago. The west side of it
along the ocean has all shifted. The breakwater angled
the spit over towards the east with then Cape Meares Lake
in the middle, so none of the southern section
looks at all like it did. All of the changes occurred
because of the jetties. Nature really is going to do
what it needs to do, and man trying to control it
will often result in destruction of those plans. Bayocean’s last home fell
in 1960. The townsite was condemned and the remaining structures
burned, bulldozed, and buried in 10 feet of sand. Finally, in 1979,
more than 60 years after completing
the north jetty, the Army Corps of Engineers
finished work on a south jetty. Almost immediately,
the western shore of Bayocean Spit
began to rebuild. REEDER:
It had started to heal. You know, it built out
quite a ways. And this has come back here
in the last 20 years. We do have an emotional
attachment to this land. It was just absolutely
a really beautiful spot. That water would come in
over that white sand, and the ocean water would be
clear, and that’s lost. It’s gone. It’s turned to mud, and I don’t think
it’ll ever come back. What can you do? Leave it to the deer
and the elk. [ chuckles ] Today Bayocean
is a recreation area with a quiet beach,
walking trails, and a self-guided tour
through the old townsite. SUTHERLAND: The Bayocean story,
I believe, is unique in what its intended
grandiose dreams were and how far below that
it eventually fell. But what we see now at the end
of that is beautiful and enjoyed by everybody
who now comes here. [ gulls cawing ] You can now find many Oregon Field Guide stories
and episodes online. And to be part
of the conversation about the outdoors
and environment here in the Northwest,
join us on Facebook. [ birds chirping ] [ gulls cawing ] Major support for Oregon
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3 thoughts on “The Lost City of Bayocean: The ‘Atlantic City of the West’ that vanished into the sea.

  1. This is the Quality and Interest Story period, secondly, the Great Coverage I've expected from OPB. annoyed by 2:00 minute puff pieces. thank you OPB a You2b viewer. the story @22:00. ocean strength human foolishness

  2. Thank you OPB. This is a great documentary on the clashes between human perseverance and the power of nature. I am an Environmental and Water Resources Engineering graduate student at the University of Texas. I graduated from Portland State with a BSCE in 2019. The reporting by OPB and OFG reminds me of who and what makes the PNW special. Thank you for bringing a bit of history, engineering, and environment to a homesick student. Also, shout out to Steve Amen, Todd Sonflieth, Ed Jahn, and Jule Gilfillan!

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