As the last decade of the 19th century rolled into view, the recently platted towns of Sealand and Nahcotta on the North Beach Peninsula were not only on the cutting edge of a new era, they were harbingers of things to come in Pacific County.
Within a few months, Washington would become the 42nd state in the union and, of the entire county, only the Peninsula could boast a railroad — a real railroad, not just a logging spur. The Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company with service between Ilwaco and Nahcotta/Sealand was the envy of every non-Peninsula settlement in the county.
Transportation options, particularly for conveying mail and freight, were bound to expand exponentially with the arrival of railroads. Even the promise of a train caused many a dream city to capture the public’s imagination, at least on paper.
An early case in point was New Saratoga, a proposed subdivision south of Oysterville along what is now Sandridge Road. Lewis Alfred Loomis, IR&N magnate, had initially planned to build the Shoalwater Bay terminus for his railroad at Oysterville. By 1888, he had accepted sizeable investments from Oysterville citizens with that understanding as the basis for their transactions.
The terminus was to be located in a newly planned resort/residential addition to Oysterville called New Saratoga. It would overlook Skating Lake which these days is just a whimper of its former grandeur. The shallow, three-mile long lake located just west of Oysterville was so named because, during the first hundred years of settlement, it froze consistently enough in winter to become the setting for north-end skating parties.
These days, Skating Lake has all but disappeared. Housing developers have removed the beaver dams that once insured the lake’s water supply, part of the lake was drained when the Surfside Golf Course was developed, and the climate has warmed so much in the last 30 years that Oysterville residents seldom experience a really good winter freeze. In their Management Plan adopted in 2009, Washington State Parks identified Skating Lake and adjacent wetlands as a Resource Recreation Area which will allow “low to medium level intensity use,” meaning the eventual development of hiking trails.
However, in my mother’s childhood (and even in mine, occasionally) the winters were cold enough that the lake froze and everyone grabbed their skates (if they had them) and went up to the lake. Old-timers still talk in admiring tones about Bob Beechey and several others who skated all the way up the lake from Ocean Park. “And on real skates, too!” Parents and other non-skaters built bonfires around the edges and kept the hot chocolate warm for frost-bitten ‘Hans Brinkers’ — most of whom were simply slipping and sliding on their shoes with grand exuberance.
In any case, by 1888 the dreamed-of lakeside resort was to become the terminus for the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company’s narrow-gauge trains. The name “New Saratoga” had been taken from a popular upstate New York resort, Saratoga Springs. Curiously, though, it wasn’t until June 19, 1890 — a full seven months after the terminus at Nahcotta was up and running — that Andrew and Wilhelmina Olsen got around to recording the plat of New Saratoga at the Courthouse in Oysterville. What were they thinking?
So it was that plans for New Saratoga were abandoned and soon the scheme and even the name faded from memory. At the same time, Sealand was being gradually “absorbed” by Nahcotta and both towns — Sealand and New Saratoga — joined the ranks of the many “almost” and “on-the-drawing-board” ventures connected with the arrival of rails in Pacific County.
Across Shoalwater Bay
It was during this same period (1889-1891) that things were booming on the south bend of the Willapa River over on the other side of Shoalwater Bay. Rumor had it that railroads were coming in from at least three directions and three cities were platted to welcome them! The plan, according to some, was to eventually roll the three new municipalities into one big metropolis. Promoters enthused that it would soon become the “Baltimore of the Pacific” with ocean-going ships making the easy voyage from the Pacific into the bay and up the Willapa River.
In order to assure their plan, real estate promoters prevailed upon the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Office to take soundings for a new chart of the bay. They were at work on the project for nearly three months in 1890. It was largely from their official reports of this work that the Washington authorities determined that the name “Shoalwater Bay” should be dropped as a misnomer. On all future maps and charts, “Willapa Bay” would be substituted.
Local wags lost no time in pointing out that even if the word “shoal” disappeared permanently and forever from the bay’s name, ship captains were masters at reading charts. The shallow nature of the bay, especially at low tide, would be obvious to them regardless of the new name. And, as it turned out — for whatever reason — the dream of maritime greatness on the south bend of the Willapa River did not materialize.
Even during the early ‘90s, transportation between bay and river settlements continued to be water dependent as it had been since pioneers first explored the watery byways of Pacific County. In the early years, mail and passengers had been carried from Oysterville by small sailboats called “plungers.” Before steamers made their appearance on the bay in the early 20th century, instead of following the Willapa River around its south bend, the little plungers cut across the tidelands through a slough that still retains the name Mailboat Sough. This not only eliminated several miles, but it was said that the shortcut provided much better wind for sails.
Meanwhile, advertisements and articles such as the following from the 1892 Northwest Magazine kept anticipation at a fever pitch:
HOW TO REACH SOUTH BEND
(Until Railroad Connection is Completed.)
FROM TACOMA: Take train at 8:10 a.m. for Montesano, where connection is made with steamer for Peterson’s Point; thence, stage along the ocean beach to North Cove; thence, steamer to South Bend, arriving at 6:30 p. m. the day of starting.
FROM PORTLAND: Take steamer R. R. Thompson, leaving Ash Street wharf for Astoria at 8:00 p.m. daily, except Sunday; arrives Astoria 5:00 a. m.; thence by steamer General Canby, 7:30 a.m., to Ilwaco ; there take IR&N railroad to Sealand; thence steamer to South Bend, arriving 2:30 p. m., the trip occupying about eighteen hours. The steamers of the Portland and Coast Steamship Company make weekly trips to South Bend, via the ocean.
NOTE. This is the present time card, but is subject to change, and travelers will do well to inquire at Tacoma or Portland as to hours of departure.
As news and rumors intermingled and circulated, excitement continued to mount. Of the three railroads planned to terminate near the mouth of the Willapa River, there was already tangible evidence of one. The survey had been completed for the railroad grade from Aberdeen to Ocosta and then down through North River/Smith Creek to Mailboat Slough on the south bend of the Willapa River.
North Pacific City
On the basis of that survey, Horatio Duffy and his wife filed their plat for North Pacific City on Sept. 11, 1889. The town was laid out in 44 blocks with 60-foot-wide streets and 100-foot-wide avenues. Two large wharves were constructed and sites on the water were reserved for a shingle mill, glass factory, brewery, sawmill and railroad terminal. No one seemed to pay attention to the low, swampy character of the land.
As it turned out, the railroad from Aberdeen/Ocosta was never built and North Pacific City was never developed. The plat was eventually considered an addition to South Bend and lots and blocks were sold for pastureland. The story was to be repeated again and yet again in the following years.
Around 1891, Joseph Camenzind bought the Terminus Addition (which was on high ground) for his dairy herd and built a farmhouse and barn overlooking the Willapa River. Seven years later, Herbert Bale purchased land near the Camenzind farm. Later, Herbert’s father Lee Bale, brother George T. Bale, and son Harry Bale purchased acreage in the same vicinity.
In 1910, the Milwaukee railroad promised Herbert Bale a depot near his farm and named it Baleville. The railroad did not lay track past Raymond but the community was thereafter known as Baleville. The Bale and Camenzind farms and pastures still cover much of the landscape in Baleville, along with the South Bend sewage treatment plant and county airport facility (now under the auspices of the Port of Willapa Harbor).
Like North Pacific City, Willapacific was highly promoted but it, too, featured land that was low and swampy. Sales were slow and the promised railroad terminal was never built. Ultimately, the town was “a bust” just as North Pacific City had been.
The scheme began in August 1908 when the Semper-Klale Investment Company of Olympia took options on 1,400 acres of tideland on Stuart Slough for the bay terminus of a proposed railroad called the North Bank Railroad. Two years later, the deal fell through and the property was offered to a group of Spokane speculators who were also looking for bay frontage for a railroad terminal.
After considering the offer, the investors formed the Washington Trust Company of Spokane and the Willapa Harbor Townsite Company. They christened their new seaport “Willapacific” (a combination of the names “Willapa Harbor” and “Pacific Ocean”) and hailed it as the “Export Metropolis of Spokane and the Inland Empire.” However, the Stuart Slough land deal fell through.
Undaunted, Semper-Klale Investment Company and the Spokane investors took options on land across the river from Range Point at Johnson Slough. Plats for Willapacific were filed at the South Bend courthouse in July 1910 and a wharf (with no land connection) was built on the slough. The land behind the wharf was low, muddy tideland and may have been one reason the crafty promoters deceptively called Willapacific the “Venice of the Northwest” in their notices.
Promotional newspaper advertisements in Chicago and other Midwestern cities featured the wharf at Willapacific and showed a crowd of people standing on it greeting a ship. The photograph was a complete sham. Promoters had hired the photographer and crowd to stand on the wharf and wait for a ship to pass in the river. Standing behind the crowd, the photographer made the image appear as though the ship was moored to the wharf when, in fact it was several hundred feet away in the river channel. The ads sold Willapacific lots but news of the land fraud got out and the company went bankrupt.
It was not until 1949 that the Port of Willapa Harbor diked the old Willapacific site for the construction of the airport.
During the same period on another river in Pacific County, the Nasel (now Naselle), an early real estate promotion designated the town of “Stanley” as terminus of the Stanley, Cascade, and Eastern Railroad (the S.C.&E.R.R.). The railroad was incorporated in November 1890 and the board of directors included three U.S. senators, a railroad president, a railroad supervisor-engineer, and a Lewis County banker. In addition to this impressive group was Charles H. Holm, a native of Finland.
Holm had left home at 18 and, after six years working as a sailor on the high seas, had arrived in Shoalwater Bay. As he explored the region, he came to the mouth of the Nasel River which he soon determined would eventually make an excellent location for a grand seaport city. He filed a claim on 160 acres of government land and, eventually, formed his company, the S.C&E.R.R.
He gave two-thirds of his homestead to the company for the townsite. A hotel, wharf and several homes were erected and streets laid out. Stanley was promoted as “The Seattle of Shoalwater Bay,” but its life was brief. After the demise of Stanley, Holm moved upriver and, although he brought suit against the promoters and partners who had bilked him and the other stockholders, he lost. The townsite is still known as Stanley Point.
An interesting sidelight to the story of Stanley concerns one of the first histories of Washington State. As the earliest settler on the lower Nasel River (Isaac Lane had settled on the upper river two years earlier), Charles H. Holm caught the eye of Julian Hawthorne. Julian (Nathanial’s son) was writing a history of the newly created State of Washington. His glowing account of Pacific County pioneer Holm was no doubt accurate in all respects concerning his biographical information and early accomplishments. However, “History of Washington,” Volumes I and II, published in 1891 by the American Historical Publishing Company, apparently went to press before the outcome of Holm’s Stanley enterprise was known. Thus, Hawthorne’s entry concerning Charles Holm gives a historic perspective on a city that never came to fruition — an unusual documentation for a history book.
Twenty years later, in 1910, another real estate promotion centered at the mouth of the Naselle River on Stanley Point. Napoleon, billed as “The City of Destiny,” was platted by the Willapa Trust Company and Portland promoters with a money source in Spokane announced their plan to populate the townsite with 100,000 inhabitants within the next ten years.
The Willapa Trust Company chose to name the town “Napoleon,” though reasons vary as to why. Some sources say the name was bestowed in honor of French architect Napoleon de Grace Dion (described as “very dapper with a straight mustache waxed like a toothpick) who had platted the downtown district of Raymond in 1904. Others claimed the name was suggested by Spokane investors who made a great deal of money at the Napoleon Mine on Kettle River (Colville Indian Reservation) in the 1890s.
The intent of the promotors, according to news reports in Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, was to outdo Denver’s “built-in-a-night” fame. Plans called for the construction of a paper mill, two sawmills, a box factory, and furniture factories to provide jobs.
Ned Needham (1902-1995) was barely school-age when he and his family moved up the Naselle River. His step-dad Len Wentworth’s job with a logging crew took them to “the boom and rafting ground” on the Lower Naselle River — near where the Naselle Youth Camp is today. In a memoir published in the Spring 2000 Sou’wester, Needham wrote:
“The isolation of the river is hard to imagine now. There were no roads on the lower river and not over four or five power boats on the whole river. The gas engine was not very reliable in those days. The people were served by a boat out of South Bend once a week. I believe they brought the mail, freight, and passengers, if any. They also did the shopping for you as well. The lack of transport was why there were one-room schools all up and down the river, some only a couple of miles apart…
“Someone decided to do something about the isolation on the lower river. A town was platted a mile or two below the present highway bridge on the west side of the river and above the old Sunshine Mill. The machinery from the mill had been moved to South Bend years before. The town started out as Napoleon, then later named Chetlo Harbor. A dock and a store were built and building lots were sold. A post office was acquired, but I don’t know how many people lived there.
“They began building a sawmill over on the straits. Why I don’t know, as there was no water there at low tide. The mill was never finished. When it was almost done it burned and was never rebuilt. There was a boardwalk from the town over to the mill, a quarter of a mile or so through the woods. I don’t know how long it took the town to completely die, but by then we were living on the Peninsula.”
Chetlo or Jetlo is a Chinook jargon word meaning “oyster.” Chetlo Harbor Post Office was established Dec. 19, 1911 and received mail by boat operated from Nahcotta. According to Guy Reed Ramsey in his 1987 book, “Postmarked Washington: Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties,” the post office was located “on the east bank and near the mouth of the Naselle River, about ten miles northwest of Naselle, and eight miles by water southeast of Nahcotta… A salmon cannery added to the reality of the place for a short time, but it soon lapsed into obscurity although the site still serves as an anchorage for fisherman.” When the post office was discontinued Feb. 15, 1918, Nahcotta became the post office for the Chetlo Harbor area, despite the eight-mile boat voyage to retrieve or send mail.
The Chetlo Harbor name lives on in the form of an oyster operation owned by the Herrold family.
When all is said and done, Stanley Point may well get the prize for the most names of any potential townsite in Pacific County. For 30 years, beginning in the 1890s, promotors, dreamers, and scallywags had big ideas about the area just upriver from the mouth of the Naselle. But unfortunately, the cities of Stanley, Napoleon and Chetlo Harbor never made it very far off the drawing board. Each followed the boom and bust pattern of so many other dreams connected with the promised arrival of a railroad. Even most of the trains, themselves, never quite materialized.
Perhaps the most “successful” city to come about because of a promised railway if, indeed, an abandoned townsite can be considered a success, was Sea Haven. Located on the south shore of the Willapa River, northwest of South Bend and five miles west of Raymond, the town was platted in 1890 on a tract of tideland owned by Thomas and Margaret Potter. The Potters, with several others, formed the Sea Haven Land Company, the name being suggested by the area’s pastoral setting and devised to entice investors.
The land speculators gambled on Sea Haven becoming the terminus of a railroad connection with the north shore of the Columbia River. For a time, in the 1890s, the village had a wharf, two hotels, a newspaper (The Western World), several business establishments and residential dwellings. A post office was established Aug. 21, 1890 with Granville S. Lewis as postmaster However, by mid-November 1891 the post office was discontinued and the mail was directed, instead, to South Bend. When the proposed railroad did not appear, the town failed. Businesses moved to South Bend, the population was absorbed by both Raymond and South Bend and by 1900, Sea Haven was an abandoned townsite.
The “proposed” rail line that Sea Haven promoters were counting on may have been the hoped-for Oregon Railway & Navigation Company’s extension down the Washington shore of the Columbia from Longview/Kelso to a large tract of land they had purchased at Knappton. To the narrow-gauge line already operating on the Peninsula, this proposed line seemed to be the opportunity they’d been awaiting for an “outside” connection. Whether there was also a plan to take the line north to Sea Haven is unclear. In any event, before construction was started, the national financial Panic of 1896 and ensuing receivership of the O.R.&N. forced extension plans to be dropped by that railroad.
Like the many towns and cities that were planned and even partially built on the promise of a train connection with the inland markets, the railroads themselves were often dreams based on nothing more that speculation. In many cases, it was the economic uncertainty of the 1890s that put a halt to progress. By the time financial stability had returned in the early 1900s, there simply were no satisfactory waterfront sites available and the hoped-for a great seaport city with a rail connection to the northwest’s “Inland Empire” no longer seemed feasible.
All-in-all, it was a boom-or-bust period for Pacific County… perhaps more bust than boom.