Places by the Sea

Digging in the sand at Clatsop Beach. OHS Research Library, OrHi_94797

February 17, 2020 – August 31, 2021

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Portland International Airport, Rental Car Lobby
7000 NE Airport Way
Portland, Oregon 97218
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In 1910, going to Oregon's places by the sea from Portland wasn’t an easy trip. Trunks were pulled down from the attic, bathing costumes aired and repaired.  Bed linens, clothing, toys, and cooking utensils were packed.  The adventure was at least a week long and it could last all summer.  Vacationers rented cottages, camped, or stayed in hotels dotting the coast.

At the coast, enthusiastic vacationers pursued many activities. Families searched for and feasted on plentiful crabs, clams, and shellfish. It was fun to play in the sand and sea, even in Oregon's chilly coastal waters. Less hardy souls swam in warmed sea water at local natatoriums (swimming pools). Some folks strolled the boardwalks, sauntered along promenades, skipped in sand, or became lost in a good book. It was vacation time.

A Portland resident going to the coast before 1890 took river boats down the Columbia River to Astoria, took a smaller craft down the Skipanon River, went by horseback or stagecoach to Seaside, and continued on the Ecola Toll Road to Cannon Beach (or Ecola as it was then known).  This was an all-day trip.

After 1890, a train connected Portland as far as Seaside. This cut the travel time, but you still had to follow the Ecola Toll Road with all its nausea-inducing 111 curves. This was a 7 1/2 hour trip.  Families on longer vacations often stayed in cottages.  Fathers would come down on weekend and summer trains which became known as "daddy trains."

Automobile and road improvements shortened the travel time between Portland and the coast. A highway along the Columbia River opened in 1920. Sunset Highway (U.S. Route 26) opened in 1948. The Seaside-Cannon Beach Highway did not open until 1950. The new highway straightened the curves, but you can still get a sense of them on the road to Ecola State Park or Indian Beach. Today, you can get to Cannon Beach in 90 minutes.

These photos on display were taken between 1906 and 1920 and show the Oregon coast as a place of bustling activity and as a place of solitude. The postcard messages accompanying the photographs are small fictions, inspired by coastal postcards found in the Oregon Historical Society collections. The photos come from an album commissioned by the SP&S (Spokane, Portland & Seattle) Railway to promote Oregon’s coastal beauty and ease of rail travel.

Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway map. OHS Research Library