North Cove, 1881

North Cove, 1881

The sloops Minerva and Pet, with their cargo of mail, deliveries, and passengers, left Bruceport in a north by northwest direction in order to reach North Cove. In the distance, to the port side, the passengers can see the bar, pounded by waves, in this area of the bay the Whitcombs, father and son, pay extra care in navigating their human cargo safely to their destination. After reaching the landing at the cove, Captain Whitcomb removed a canvas tarp from two boxes of supplies due for the Life Saving station assistant keeper. (Captain George Johnson had recently died, and would soon be replaced by A. T. Stream.) Another box was marked for the lighthouse keeper, Captain Smith.

Cape Shoalwater was still navigable in 1881, but in 20 years the cove would become so shoaled that the U. S. mail would be carried by horsedrawn stage to Tokeland. Decades before the cape succumbed to the sea in the 1960s. In the early 1900s, there had been homes, a store, a post office, a small hotel, two clam canneries, a Knights of Maccabees hall, the Willapa Bay Life-Saving Station, the Willapa Bay Lighthouse, and a cemetery. All are gone, washed into the sea, although the the cemetery was saved and moved across the highway. (Currently, officials and local residents still fear that the road and graveyard could once more be threatened by the sea.)

In 1881, North Cove consisted of the lighthouse, the volunteer life saving crew, a handful of homes, a school housed in the Smith home, and the small hotel operated by Lucy Johnson. The town had not yet been platted - that would happen in 1884.

The North Cove Lighthouse

In 1788 British Captain John Meares, in his attempt to enter the bay, named both the cape and the bay "Shoalwater," expressing his concerns about his ship becoming grounded in the shallow bay. Regardless of Meares' concerns, oyster and lumber schooners later claimed the bar to be quite approachable, as good or better than the Columbia River or Grays Harbor. Early pilots agreeed that the Shoalwater/Willapa Bay bar was a comparatively safe passage but that it required a lighthouse. In 1854, the federal government gathered the local Shoalwater band, led by Chief Charley Ma Tote, to negotiate a land settlement establishing a military reservation at North Cove. Four years later the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses installed a fourth order Fresnel light to warn mariners attempting to enter the bay. With the addition of a life saving station in 1878, North Cove became a significant overnment outpost for several decades.

The lighthouse was a white-colored house with a conical tower which rose through the center of the roof. Situated on a cape dune, the tower was 81 feet above sea level. The original light could be seen a distance of 13 miles. A fourth order lens was considered a secondary seacoast light, and the North Cove (Shoalwater Bay) beacon could not reach passing ships 30 miles out to sea. The local lighthouse was much closer in design to the Smith Island Lighthouse of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, rather than the big coastal lights, such as North Head and Cape Disappointment.

Daniel (Cougar) Wilson was the first keeper of the Shoalwater Bay Light. Wislon, actually an assistant keeper, served only 20 days, from Feb. 1, 1859, to Feb. 21, 1859. He quit after three weeks because no oil had been supplied to operate the light. Robert H. Espy was the next keeper, but lasted only 10 months, from August 1861 to June 1862. Espy protested a lack of a food supply and slow payments from the goverrnment.

The first keeper to stay for any length of time was Marinus Stream, who served from 1883 to 1894. Stream was transferred to the Umpqua Light in 1894, where he later lost his life at sea. Stream's successor at North Cove was Rasmus Peterson who served an even longer term, from 1895 to 1913.

The destruction of the lighthouse began in the 1930s, when the sea encroached upon the cape property. By 1939 the surf pounded near the lighthouse itself. In December 1940, a Coast Guard crew salvaged equipment from the building and then, with firehoses, undermined the sand that still held the structure, toppling it into the surf. The Coast Guard placed a new light on a skeleton steel tower, but it too was washed away 12 years later. Today, a light structure stands three quarters of a mile from the original lighthouse site.

The North Cove Life-Saving Station

Government-built life saving stations were first established on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in the early 1870s. In 1878, Congress designated the United States Life-Saving Service as a separate agency within the Treasury Department, and Sumner Kimball was named General Supertintendent and served in that post until 1915. Also during 1878, Congress authorized several stations for the Pacific Coast. From the mouth of the Columbia River to Cape Shoalwater, three life-saving stations were established, from 1878 to 1889. The first was the Shoalwater Bay station, while the others were the Point Adams (on the Oregon side of the Columbia) and Ilwaco Beach stations. In 1912 the Ilwaco Beach station name was changed to the Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station.

The first officer in charge of the life saving station was Capt. George Johnson. Captain Johnson, with wife Lucy Paulding Johnson and daughter Stella, moved to North Cove after having first lived at Oysterville and Johnson's Island (where Raymond was founded in 1902). After Captain Johnson died in 1881, Captain A. T. Stream took command of the all-volunteer life saving crew. Captain John Brown, who had earlier operated the small Bruceport hotel, became the third keeper of the North Cove Light. (As were Johnson and Stream before him, Brown was a Norwegian immigrant.)

At the life saving station, the first paid surfmen served a 10-month tour of duty, wore a common uniform, and slept in a shared dormitory. The men practiced life saving techniques six days a week, performing life line exercises (breeches buoy), resuscitation, rowing, and capsized drills. The breeches buoy was part of the line fired from a line-throwing (Lyle) gun that was sent to a distressed ship or crew. The apparatus was a ring buoy, fitted with canvas breeches for bringing shipwrecked persons ashore.

The keeper handpicked his crew. In the two-story living quarters the keeper and his family often had the entire first floor, with the surfmen sharing the upper floor. The men worked together, lived together, and sometimes died together. Personal problems and estrangements could be a negative factor for the life saving crew, so an emphasis was placed on being a tight-knit group. In some places, such as the Hull Life-Saving Station near Boston, the surfmen all shaved their mustaches, in a show of unity and a commitment to the team. These were proud and brave men who were often placed in the public eye. Whenever community celebrations were held, the public was eager to have the Life Savers be a part of their festivities. When children and adults would see the surfmen in their attire, the response was often, "Look! There go the Life Savers from North Cove (or Klipsan)!" Today that respect remains with the local Coast Guard units.

In the early 1890s the station changed its name. When the South Bend Land Company, with whom Captain A. T. Stream was closely involved, lobbied to change the name of the bay to Willapa Harbor, the Shoalwater Bay station also changed its name.

The last officer of the station was Captain Herman Winbeck, who served thirty years, from 1910 to 1940. During Captain Winbeck's long tenure of command, many changes took place, including the introduction of motorized surfboats, improvements and enlargement of the station, and the reorganization of the service into the U. S. Coast Guard. (In 1915 the U. S. Life Saving Service and the U. S. Revenue Service joined forces to become the U. S. Coast Guard. Later, in 1939, the U. S. Lighthouse Service also became a part of the Coast Guard.)

A member of Captain Winbeck's crew beginning in the 1920s was a fellow by the name of Norman Paulsen. Paulsen and wife Beulah, who worked for a time as North Cove's postmistress, had a son, Pat, who was born at the station. Pat was about eight years old when the family moved from North Cove in the late 1930s.

More than 30 years later, in 1968, a crew of the Smothers Brothers television show traveled to the North Cove area to shoot scenes for Pat Paulsen's comic presidential campaign. Although erosion had already taken his birthplace, Paulsen quipped, "My hometown isn't washed up at all; I prefer to think of it as a shrine preserved in brine."

Along with the rest of the village, North Cove's old graveyard eventually had to be moved to escape the relentless invasion of seawater. Today, Washaway Beach slowly loses ground, while almost a mile out to sea, the surf washes over what was once the site of North Cove's town, light house, and life saving station.

North Cove's Big Fourth of July Regatta, 1898

South Bend held most of the bay's regional Fourth of July celebrations during the 1890s and early 1900s, although a few were also held in other communities. On May 30, 1898, a letter was sent from a group of citizens in North Cove to Mayor J. W. Maxwell and the South Bend City Council.

To The Mayor of South Bend

Dear Sir:

As Secretary duly appointed, I am instructed to inform you that the citizens of this place have held a meeting to provide for a celebration on the coming 4th of July.

We have not learned of any move of the kind at your city and, believing that we can arrange to have an enjoyable time at this place, we beg to ask the cooperation of the citizens of South Bend.

We shall ask the same of Bay Center, Oysterville, Nahcotta, and Westport, and with the aid of those places we shall assuredly make it a success.

Hoping this may not conflict with any arrangements your citizens may have made.

I am, Yours respectfully,

Otto Hansen, Sec.

After a motion was taken by the South Bend City Council, a message was relayed to North Cove officials confirming that South Bend would not hold its own Fourth of July celebration, and would assist North Cove in its own, adding that everyone believed North Cove would provide an outstanding regatta course, among other things for the celebration, and would have the full assistance of the Life Saving Station.

North Cove's celebration was deemed a huge success, with many events, including demonstrations by the Life-Saving Station's surfmen. A track meet was held, along with the anticipated sloop race. Track meets were not unusual for the area. For several years Tokeland had been the a popular place to hold county-wide championship meets. Steamers brought the participants and their backers from various points around the bay: Nahcotta, Bruceport, Naselle, South Bend, and Willapa. Some races were held on the beach.

The feature event of the day was the sloop race, which was narrowly won by White Wings, captained by Roy Mills. Second place went to the Maud K., with Captain Wallace Stuart at the helm. The margin of victory was by a mere 18 seconds. Third place went to Captain Zach Tabell's Undine, with Alex See in charge of the crew. Race officials, participants, and spectators pronounced the event as "beautiful" and highly satisfactory. That is, everyone except L. L. (Linn) Bush, who complained that his boat Columbia was too large to follow the "intricate and tortuous" windings of the cove's channel. The Columbia , last in the race, had lost considerable time running in and out of the sharper bends of the channel. The other boats and captains in the race included the Dauntless (Jess Brown), Bonita (Eugene Riddell), and Olympic (Arthur Brown).

Although the celebration was judged a success, North Cove left future county-wide celebrations to South Bend, Nahcotta, Bay Center, and the future town of Raymond.

• • •

1881. For Captain Whitcomb and his passengers, the stop at North Cove was brief. The young girl, Sally, was taken ashore and greeted by her uncle and aunt, the Smiths, while the Millers waited on board the Minerva. Mail and supplies were taken off and and some outgoing mail placed in the mail bag, to be sent on to its destination. Boarding at North Cove was a drummer, a mustached man named Pete who promoted and took orders for two different salesmen who would arrive within two months. Captain Whitcomb expected to pick up two more passengers at Tokeland, wthe next stop. (The stop at Tokeland was not usually a part of the schedule, but for the sake of the story we need to visit Tokeland.) The trip would be a short one about three miles.

Writer's Message:

Various parts of the information about the Lighthouse and Life-Saving station came from previous publications written by Bill Jacobsen, Ruth McCausland, Jim Gibbs, and a 1880 volume entitled The United States Life-Saving Service, by J. H. Merryman. The Pat Paulsen segment came from Larry Weather's story in The Sou'wester, Spring, 1988. The lifestyle of surfmen was drawn from remembrances describing life on various East Coast stations.

Parts of this series by Doug Allen is taken by an upcoming book that he expects to entitle Shoalwater Willapa. The book is a history of northern Pacific County as well as Shoalwater/

Willapa Bay and the communities that were once served by the water transporation on the bay.

These stories are not meant to purely represent an analysis of original research. The stories are instead designed to inform and entertain. Although certain stories told in the series have been drawn from portions of previous publications (and cited as such in the writers' original manuscript), much of the material is original, a product of interviews, research of personal and business papers, and a compilation and refinement of old news stories read on microfilm at various libraries, including the State Library in Olympia, the University of Washington, Oregon State University, and the Univerrsity of Oregon. Adherence to footnotes and citations is not completely possible in a newspaper format, but the writer has a complete list of the above in his original manuscripts.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.