News clippings reflect Brookings early years

May 11, 2001 12:00 am
The St. George Hotel, with Highway 101 running along the left side in 1933. (Courtesy of Cecil Watt).
The St. George Hotel, with Highway 101 running along the left side in 1933. (Courtesy of Cecil Watt).

The country along the Chetco River back from the coast is fast becoming popular among local townspeople as an ideal location for summer homes. The Chetco is one of the most beautiful small streams on the coast, and with the construction of a good road to open up the adjacent country, it will attract a great many settlers and home seekers. Among those seeking summer home sties on the banks of the Chetco is Jas. H. Owen, president of the California and Oregon Company, as well as other officials and employees of the Company. Gold Beach Reporter, July 14, 1921

The Frank D. Stout, operated by the California and Oregon lumber company, arrived in port Saturday with a cargo of over 500 tons of freight, including over 200 tons of steel which is to be used in the RR construction. A portion of the incoming cargo consisted of five new automobiles which were recently purchased by local people. The vessel carried over a million feet of lumber on the return trip. Gold Beach Reporter, July 28, 1921

A 7th grader, Eleen Shripshire, wrote about Brookings in a letter.

"Dear Friend: -- I thought you would be impressed in Brookings and will tell you about it. We came here with Mr. Brookings when I was a baby. There were only two houses built then, and I stayed at the Ferry ranch for two or three months. It is the place where the ferry across the Chetco River was built. Brookings is a lumber town with a population of about 450 people. When the mill was built in 1913 more people began to come in and many homes were built on Fredalda street (Pacific Avenue), first, until the place became a good size town. We now have three hotels, a garage, theater, company hospital, a restaurant or mess hall, a school house, and many others. Gold Beach Reporter, Dec. 22, 1921

Local musicians formed an orchestra as early as 1922. They played to a crowded hall,where supper was served during the intermission. Two years later Brookings boasted an orchestra and a town band of 30 instruments. Gold Beach Reporter, July 3, 1924

Steadily the population increased. The United States Census of 1920 counted 421 persons in Brookings, 451 in Chetco (Harbor). The Registered Voters list for the Primary Election in May, 1918 included:

Chetco (Harbor): 66 Republicans, 37 Democrats, 25 scattered.

Brookings: 92 Republicans, 29 Democrats, 20 scattered.

Criticism and Defense

When the C&O Company assumed the assets of the Brookings Lumber Co., it took over ownership of the Brookings townsite. Early in 1922, the C&O "went public" so far as the town was concerned, and put on the market all of the houses and most of the business properties. Within four months, nearly all of the businesses and much of the residential district were sold to private parties. Still there was criticism of the "one company town." Jack Regen, Brookings business manager for the Gold Beach Reporter, defended the company:

The talk that Brookings is a one man town is all bosh. It is true, of course, that the entire townsite is, or rather was at one time, owned by the California & Oregon Company, a concern with millions of dollars behind it, owning vast fir and redwood timber lands through that section which they are interested in developing, Recently the Company placed the townsite on the market and encourages people and business men to locate there. The Company is grading the streets, putting in sewer and water mains in both business and residence districts in order to eliminate this expenses and provide all modern conveniences for those who decide to locate. Understand, the company is not begging people to locate. No indeed. Not that. They are simply interested in developing a town to provide a source of reliable workmen upon whom they can depend to assist in turning the wheels of their lumbering plant and activities operated in conjunction with it.

It is true they are building a large store building to accommodate their general merchandise business, but aside from this department together with the hotel and rooming houses, which are essential to their industry, the company has not desire to compete with individuals and are disposing of the enterprises, including the garage, laundry, moving picture house, etc. which they have maintained for the accommodation of their employees.

Take the case of J.A. Driskell, for instance. When the town was first started a number of years ago, Mr. Driskell was fortunate enough to secure a location in the business district, and thereafter the property was taken off the market. Mr. Driskell erected a hotel on his lot, and later put in a grocery store. For years his business was the only private business establishment in Brookings, and Mr. Driskell has only praise for the treatment he has received from the company during his residence there.

Road Building

In the 1920s, travel from Grants Pass to Brookings required two days, by way of Crescent City, California, and then north to our area. Transportation was by team and wagon, with an overnight stop usually at Monumental, near the present-day Patrick's Creek Lodge. Later, when the roadway was sufficiently improved, the route was covered in one day, half the distance by team and the other half in a large automobile, usually a Pierce Arrow or a Packard, rugged enough to stand the rough roads and the considerable amount of low and second gear operation.

Not until 1924, when the Roosevelt Highway was completed from the California line to the Chetco area, were people here really connected with the outside world. There was still no adequate road northward from Brookings, except by going to Coquille and then eastward to connect with the inland Pacific Highway.

For years it had been evident that some public pressure upon the State Highway Commission was needed. in the early 1920s that pressure began with the formation of the Brookings Commercial Club. It had 150-200 members. Through Club efforts the Oregon State Highway Commission was induced to start a survey for the Roosevelt Highway north from the California line to the Chetco River, and also to built a two-mile road from the line north to the Winchuck bridge. That was just the beginning of extensive, continued and controversial efforts to get a coastal highway built all the way north to Astoria.

In 1923 the Roosevelt Highway Association was formed by people from Coos, Curry and Del Norte Counties. W.J. Ward, a delegate from Brookings, introduced a resolution, unanimously adopted, calling upon the Oregon legislature to provide financing by refunding bonds coming due.

The next year a big auto caravan of Eureka business-men was taken over the existing inadequate road to Coos Bay, to acquaint them with the scenic beauty of the area. The Curry County Reporter published a special "Roosevelt Highway" issue to help people visualize the Roosevelt Highway as "the most scenic and comfortable highway in the whole of the United States."

In July 1924 seven notable men toured the highway including the president of Columbia University, Nicholas Murray Butler, and the president of the Crocker National Bank of San Francisco. They told a reporter:

Each member of the party was surprised at the beauty of scenery and delightful climate ... and predict great things when once the Roosevelt Highway is completed.

The pressure was on, and that month a final survey of the road from Brookings to Pistol River was ordered by the Highway Commission.

Two years later some residents of Astoria, Warrenton, Gearhart and Cannon Beach used their vacations for a two-week motor caravan trip down the coast to Crescent City. The route was open now, and the publicity about this trip further emphasized the need for a hard surface highway all along the coast.

Roosevelt Highway

The Roosevelt Highway between Pistol River and Brookings was opened to the public last Friday and is now being used by the traveling public. It has not yet been graveled and is rough in spots, but is a great improvement over the old mountain trail. Gold Beach Reporter, July 7, 1927

Finally came the big day in May, 1932, when the Rogue River Bridge in Gold Beach was dedicated and the Roosevelt Highway finished and declared open. Thousands of people attended the ceremonies which included bands of music, snappy drum corps, uniformed marching organizations, scores of entertainment features, and nine speeches by state government and private organization notables. Now there was a hard surface coastal road from California to the Columbia River.

First Airplanes

Mary Moore Worthylake, a teacher here in 1924, recalls the old travel conditions:

My school was four miles up the Chetco River from Brookings, which was then a thriving sawmill town. The coast highway had not yet been built and Curry County was quite isolated. In winter it took four hours by Model T to drive to Gold Beach, the county seat, due to the muddy, deep-rutted roads. The people along the Chetco River had never seen an airplane, at least not around there, and when they heard that I was expecting one to land nearby I was the center of attraction. (The expected aviator was her fiance, one of the early "barnstormers.")

I waited in Harbor until sundown but no airplane arrived. Mark and Bertha Wood, owners of the Harbor general store, asked me to spend the night. The next day we picnicked on the beach and kept watch for a plane. That day, and on the following ones, I had my first taste of what it meant to be an aviator's wife, listening for the sound of an airplane motor, watching weather conditions, preparing meals which went uneaten, waiting -- waiting.

He never did fly here. Six months later they married in California and on their honeymoon flew up this way, only to crash in the mountains. It took them two days to walk out. The week after that, the first plane that actually flew over the area was flown by Vernon Bookwalter, en route from Portland to Crescent City.

Also in 1924 the wharf on Chetco Point came into national prominence when the first around-the-world airplane flight stopped here. One of its planes had developed engine trouble, so the amphibious craft tied up to the wharf until a new engine was shipped here.

As is often the case, social regression paralleled technological advance. In that same year, 1924, Brookings was struck by another movement of the early 1920s.

Klan Organized in Brookings Last Night

Last Thursday night in a quiet and unostentatious manner a Ku Klux Klan organization, with a goodly membership composing the best element of the locality. Organizers came into Brookings, so to a number of local men, and within eight hours they had an organization assured that neither lacks for numbers nor quality.

Since the news has leaked out about the Klan it is understood that the bootleggers and gamblers have shown more concern than at any time in months, even when the county officers have been around.

-- Gold Beach Reporter, Feb. 21, 1924

A fiery cross burned on a hill back of Brookings for several hours, during which time the Klan initiated into the order a large number of new members.

-- Gold Beach Reporters, May 8, 1924

The Community Church congregation experienced quite a thrill last Sunday night.

Just at the close of the evening offering, the rear doors opened, and seven hooded Knights of the Ku Klux Klan marched up the aisle and formed a half circle in front of the pulpit.

Rev. Reese seemed not the least frightened or guilty of wrong doing, and he inquired what the brothers wanted. One of the full-robed Knights handed him a big fat envelope and remarked that it contained a donation for the use of the church; and then the Knights turned about and in marching order quietly left the church.

It was a new experience for the people here, and many marveled at the occurrence; and the ushers and some others were taken a little aback, but probably in the future these will become more numerous and people will become accustomed to it.

-- Gold Beach Reporter, Dec. 25, 1924

Despite the short-lived presence of the Klan, to the residents of Brookings, their future appeared bright. Robert Brookings had sold his holdings in the C&O Company to Frank D. Stout of Little Rock, Arkansas. W.E. Ribbeneck, now its general manager, was shipping out about a million and a half board feet of lumber every week. Up to that time nearly 400 million feet of fir and redwood lumber had been shipped -- with hardly an appreciable dent in the timber stands. Then came June 18, 1925 -- a day long to be remembered.

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