How Cannon Beach Became Cannon Beach: A Brief History

Downtown Cannon Beach, Oregon

Downtown Cannon Beach, Oregon

Early accounts of the area that would come to be known as Cannon Beach are found in Captain William Clark’s journal from 1806. Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame, had learned of a giant whale that was beached in a small Tillamook native village called Necost, along the Elk Creek River, southwest of Fort Clatsop near Astoria, where his expedition was wintering before heading back east in the spring.

William Clark’s map showing where he found the whale (remains) and Ecola Creek

William Clark’s map showing where he found the whale (remains) and Ecola Creek

On January 6, 1806, In need of supplies for the winter, Clark and a dozen men set out in canoes up Youngs River, then south down the Skipanon River past what today is Warrenton, Oregon. The 17-mile trip to Necost required the group to cross the 1000-foot Tillamook Headland, which borders Cannon Beach to the north. In his journal, Clark described Tillamook Head as “the Steepest worst & highest mountain I ever assended.”

By the time Clark and his group reached Necost, the natives had stripped the whale to its bones, harvesting the meat and blubber. Clark negotiated with the natives for a few gallons of whale oil for his lanterns and a few hundred pounds of blubber. Clark made note of the village, which he estimated had 50 houses and about 1000 Tillamook natives. Necost was as far south as the William and Clark Expedition would travel.

Clark named the village, and the creek that ran through it, “Ekoli” or “Ekholi,” the Chinook word for “whale.” Settlers would later rename the creek and the nearby settlement “Elk Creek.” By the mid-1800s, settlers began making land claims around Elk Creek/Ecola. In 1910, the Ecola Post Office opened at Elk Creek (as noted in the book Arch Cape Chronicles, p. 42).

Elk Creek Hotel, Elk Creek, Oregon

Elk Creek Hotel, Elk Creek, Oregon

In 1892, Englishman Herbert Frederick Logan built the Elk Creek Hotel. A fire destroyed the hotel in April 1913, was rebuilt, then burned again, but (as evidenced by the small advertisement pictured here) the area was gaining a reputation as “the scenic beach of Oregon.”

By 1904, a second hotel — George Bill’s “Hotel Bill” (later renamed the “Cannon Beach Hotel” — had opened in town, followed by the Warren Hotel in 1911 (at the south end of town) and Roy Becker’s Ecola Inn in 1914.

In 1904, the Elk Creek and Cannon Beach Land Company, headed by Edward Zest (E.Z.) Ferguson, an Astoria developer, and Julius Kraemer, a Portland lawyer, were selling lots in “Elk Creek Park,” which sat between Elk Creek and Haystack Rock. Around that time, 50x100 oceanfront lots were selling for $100. (Clatsop County, Oregon: A History by Emma Gene Miller)

By 1905, Elk Creek was regularly referred to as “Cannon Beach.” According to a July 22, 1905, article in the Morning Oregonian newspaper, “Elk Creek, or, as It is more commonly known, Cannon Beach, seems more beautiful this year than ever before. The points are well filled, the beach perfectly smooth and level, the hills and cliffs wild and grand, making one of the most beautiful spots on the Pacific Coast for a Summer recreation.”

Rebuilt Elk Creek Hotel before a fire destroyed it for a second time

Rebuilt Elk Creek Hotel before a fire destroyed it for a second time

In 1922, at the insistence of the U.S. Postal Service, “Ecola” was renamed “Cannon Beach.” It seems that the USPS was misdelivering mail intended for Eola, Oregon, a small community near Salem, to Ecola, and vice versa. To clear up the confusion, Ecola took on the name Cannon Beach, a name once used by the community of Arch Cape, four miles south of Ecola.

An ad for the Elk Creek Hotel from the July 16, 1911, edition of The Oregonian.

An ad for the Elk Creek Hotel from the July 16, 1911, edition of The Oregonian.

According to the book Arch Cape Chronicles, on January 28, 1898, a mail carrier named Bill Luce found a cannon at the mouth of a mountain creek that flowed into the Pacific Ocean, just south of Hug Point. In 1912, the community where the cannon was found, ditched the name “Cannon Beach,” taking on the name “Arch Cape” (in honor of a giant rock arch on the southern cape of the community).

The town’s first grocery — Osburn’s — opened in 1915, followed by an elementary school in 1922. In 1924, Ray Walker opened the Wave Roller Rink, which would morph into the Coaster Theater some 40 years later. The same year that the roller rink opened, a saltwater natatorium opened at Third Street at Hemlock. In 1933, Les Ordway’s Chevron service station opened on Hemlock at Washington.

For more information about the rich history of Cannon Beach, contact the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum or call us here at The Inn at Arch Cape, (503) 436-2082.

ANDERSON