Cannon Beach cottages: ‘Portland’s idea of air conditioning’

COVID concerns prompt organizers to adopt a drive-by format for the 18th annual tour of historic homes.

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The old cottages of Cannon Beach have been the centerpiece of tours for nearly two decades. This year, despite COVID, the Cannon Beach History Center’s tour will go on. Sort of.

In the past, visitors were able to step inside, chat with homeowners, and get a taste of life in this oceanfront town. This year, the 18th Annual Cottage Tour will be on foot or by car, and with an exterior view only. 

A Sears kit house, built around 1925, is featured on this year’s Cannon Beach Cottage Tour. Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more 70,000 kit houses through catalogs between 1908 and 1940. Photo courtesy: Cannon Beach History Center and Museum
A Sears kit house, built around 1925, is featured on this year’s Cannon Beach Cottage Tour. Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more 70,000 kit houses through catalogs between 1908 and 1940. Photo courtesy: Cannon Beach History Center and Museum  

“A lot of the historic cottages are very small, 1,200 square feet and less,” said Kimberley Speer-Miller, president of the board of directors for the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum. Tour docents at the cottages tend to be 65 and older, she said, and  organizers were worried about the exposure level in the small homes. “We get a lot of people lined up, 500 or more,” she said. “It gets to be a big thing, which is great, but for this time frame we wanted to be careful and honor and respect our volunteers.”

The tour runs Sept. 1-30. Would-be participants are asked to make a donation at cbhistory.org. They’ll receive a password by email to access a digital map for a self-guided tour, good for the month.

While participants are being encouraged to take the tour by car, it is also possible to follow on foot or even from the beach.

“On the digital map, at each stop point there will be a picture and small history – a blurb of the research we’ve done on the house and the land there,” Speer-Miller said. 

The recorded history of Cannon Beach generally begins with Lewis and Clark, who visited the area with Sacagawea as a guide to watch members of the Clatsop tribe process a whale. Later, in the late 1800s, it was discovered by Portlanders who’d heard of its beauty.

“It was almost always a family vacation spot,” Speer-Miller said, describing glamorous campsites set on boards, with tents divided “with the kitchen in the back — so if there was a fire it wouldn’t get to other quarters — sleeping quarters, a dressing room, and room for staff. It was a lot of the wealthy families from Portland. My grandmother would say it was Portland’s idea of air conditioning.”

As the town thrived, the founders acted to protect the small-town character of the beachfront community, prohibiting chain stores and restaurants, and enacting strict regulations for both new development and changes to the old.

“They frown on tearing down,” said Speer-Miller. “Not that it hasn’t happened. But for the most part, people want to keep the houses historic.”

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The original Oswald West cabin (left) was built in 1913 by the Oregon governor responsible for Oregon’s beach highway law, which declared the entire Pacific coastline to the high tide to be public highway. After it burned in 1991, the owners, descendants of the home’s third owner, Dr. Harry M. Bouvy, built a replica of the home on the site. Photo courtesy: Cannon Beach History Center and Museum
The original Oswald West cabin, left, was built in 1913 by West, the Oregon governor responsible for Oregon’s beach highway law, which declared the entire Pacific coastline to the high tide to be public highway. After it burned in 1991, the owners, descendants of the home’s third owner, Dr. Harry M. Bouvy, built a replica of the home on the site. Photo courtesy: Cannon Beach History Center and Museum

This year’s tour houses include the Sears kit house, built about 1925; the Inn at Arch Cape, one of the newer stops on the tour at 80-ish years old;, and the Oswald West cabin, originally built in 1913. In 1991, the cabin was destroyed by an arson fire, and while the damage was too substantial for the owners to save much of the original structure, they built a replica that is the “most iconic” home in Cannon Beach, according to the museum website. 

“That one’s really cool,” Speer-Miller said. “They were able to utilize some of the foundation. It’s in the same footprint and much of it is in keeping with the original specifications. It’s slightly south of Haystack Rock and has a pretty good sightline. It’s a pretty spectacular site.”

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On another COVID note, under the heading of “no one thought it would be easy,” Siletz Bay Music Festival organizers announced last week they will not admit anyone to the festival, which starts Sept. 4, without proof of a COVID vaccination. To avoid delays at the door, ticketholders are asked to text their name and a picture of the vaccination card to 541-819-0593 or email it to sbmf.vaccine@gmail.com.

In a note announcing the policy, organizers wrote:  “We’ve come so far and jumped so many hurdles in the last 17 months, we just need to get over this last one to be together for 9 days of live music in just two weeks! We are grateful to our musicians, our audience, our sponsors, our grantors, and our advertisers for believing in this festival and supporting us at every turn.”

About the author

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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