History of the South Beach
A Brief History of Westport
by Ruth McCausland
Native peoples had been living on Chehalis Point for many years before the first white settlers arrived. The population in their once thriving town had dropped drastically due to the introduction by early explorers of diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and alcohol usage.
Spanish explorers were followed by Russian, English, French, and American fur traders. In May, 1792 Captain Robert Gray aboard the COLUMBIA discovered Bulfinch Harbor off the Pacific coast. Shortly after, Captain George Vancouver renamed it “Grays Harbor”. Over the next fifty years, several expeditions came through the area. The land was charted but not until the 1850’s was the area surveyed and opened to donation claims by settlers.
In 1857 the first white settler, Thompson Speake moved his family from Oregon to the Point. They stayed only a few months and had not fulfilled the requirements of the donation claim when they turned it over to Glenn and Jane Peterson. They and their three year old son, Frank, were the only original settlers who lived out their lives on the Point.
Patterson Luark moved his family to the Point, also in 1858. He kept a remarkable diary, which details his ten years at Chehalis Point. He brought many fruit trees along with cattle, etc., for a steady supply of food. Other families followed. A store and hotel were built. The first sternwheeler appeared on the harbor in 1859. The town was platted in 1860. The same year an Army camp was erected as a protection from uprising Indians but was dismantled after the Civil War erupted in the Southeast. Over the next few years, all but the Petersons had moved away.
By the late 1870’s the area was discovered to be a potential recreational area and began its revival. Because another town to the east had claimed the name “Chehalis”, the Point took the name “Peterson”. Hotels were built, more land was platted, some of which along the ocean was named Cohassett. The harbor side was called Westport Beach. The town was officially named “Westport” in 1890 but was not incorporated until 1914. Lloyd Cook became its first mayor.
A lifesaving Station opened in 1897, Grays Harbor Lighthouse began its service in 1898. The South Jetty was completed in 1902. These were the first projects to help ships move safely in and out of the harbor. Commercial fishing started in the 1920’s. The town slowly grew until World War II at which time the US Army moved in to protect the coast. After the war, the cove was dredged, breakwaters were installed, charter fishing began, more mooring facilities were built in the Marina. Fishing brought life to Westport but began a decline with the Boldt decision in 1972. Other recreational activities are now available and Westport is taking advantage of its unique Oceanside environment to attract visitors.
A comprehensive history of Westport is contained in a book, “Washington’s Westport”, written by Ruth McCausland for the Westport-South Beach Historical Society. It contains numerous pictures and illustrations of the area and people over the years. The book is available ($21.95) at the Westport Maritime Museum 360-268-0078.
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