Seal Rock, Oregon
1800's Seal Rock

During the 1800's SEAL ROCK became the last stop on the Corvallis and Yaquina Bay Wagon Road, which was the first "road" to reach the Oregon Coast from the Willamette Valley. During this time the Cash Act was in effect. This meant that "public" land could be purchased for a mere $1.25 an acre for up to 640 acres under the law.  Several Military Warrant Acts granted "public" land to soldiers in lieu of pay.  These acts have since been repealed.

Seal Rock Headlands
Seal Rock Headlands

It was 1826 when Scotsman Alexander McCloud led an expedition along the Oregon coast with new discoveries along the way. Ona Beach State Park just a few miles north of SEAL ROCK has dedicated a historical marker to his legacy.

Many visitors came to the coast for their health. In 1837 two missionaries from the Willamette Valley brought their new brides to honeymoon to recuperate from a bout of malaria. Over the years, other followed, believing that the climate was good for treating various ailments, including fevers and ague. Visitors surf bathed while wearing long woolen bathing costumes.

What may have helped the ailing more than the weather was the availability of alcohol. The temperance movement succeeded in "drying up" the Willamette Valley for a time, causing many to come to the coast with empty grips that were filled when they returned home. (1)

With the establishment of the Oregon Territory on August 14, 1848, all grants of claims of land in the territory were nullified. It was not until the passage of the Donation Land Act on September 27, 1850 that new provisions were made for acquiring unclaimed land to be based upon government surveys. As a result, more settlers moved to the Oregon Territory and Indian-white hostilities increased. Congress began renegotiation of treaties with the Indians of the Territory.

In 1853, a treaty was made creating the Oregon Territory's first Indian Reservation negotiated at Table Rock. Coastal Indian reservations in this area extended for some 90 miles along the coast and about 20 miles inland and included the SEAL ROCK area.

In 1855, the region continued to be inhabited by several branches of the Salish or Salishan Indians. These included the Tillamook, Nahalem and Siletz branches, to name a few. The Rogue Wars began around this time due to the slow but steady taking of native lands and the establishment of reservations like the Alsi Reservation near Yachats in 1856.

In 1860, some Indian reservations along the Oregon coast and other areas were opened up to white settlement. That same year, George W. Collins was the first (white) settler in the Lower Alsea area. He came to the area of Waldport as an Indian Agent for the sub-agency of the Alsea Reservation. The southern portion of the reservation was closed in 1866 and tribal members were forced to move to the northern section near Cape Foulweather.(2)

George W. Collins (on wagon)

This 1890 photo is of Fashion Stables which was at the SW corner of Court & High streets in Salem, Oregon. At the time there were several livery stables in town and any type of vehicle could be rented. People who drove to town parked their horses and buggies there by day and by night. This business was razed in 1900 to make way for the Odd Fellows' Temple and Grand Opera House. In the photo the man with the pipe seated in the wagon appears to have the "haul" from his hunting trip hanging from the wagon. The other three men have theirs heaped on the ground in front of them. They wear thigh-high boots, outdoor jackets, and brimmed hats, and have rifles and hunting dogs with them. The men are identified as a Mr. Taylor, Dr. McNary, George Collins, Jasper "Jap" Minto.
Photographer:  Cronise Studios. Collector: Greg Nelson. Source: Salem Public Library

Royal A. and Mary Bensell
Royal A. and Mary Bensell
1864 - Royal Agustus Bensell at the time of the Civil War enlisted in Company D. 4th California Infantry. The Company was assigned to Yamhill, Oregon where Bensell (a Corporal) spent the next three years. He later moved to Yaquina Bay and was an early settler of Newport, Oregon.(3)

His journals became the award winning book entitled, All Quiet on the Yamhill: The Civil War in Oregon (4) and in May 1864 an excerpt from his writings Corporal Bensell noted during his passage from Waldport heading north toward Seal Rock: "Clear. Crossed the Alsea River by swimming. Passed Collins' Mine by 8:30 a.m. Shortly afterwards we pass Seal Illahee, saw plenty of huge seal barking on the bare rocks. These seal weight from 1000 to 1200 pounds. The fur is worthless. The Indians kill a great many. The meat is said to be good. (5)(6)

The "Collins' Mine" referenced is believed to be named after George W. Collins who was the first white settler in the Lower Alsea area.  The Collins' 1860's homestead is still marked by a stone chimney which stands alone in the forest overlooking the sea near Quail Street on an unmarked beach access in SEAL ROCK. It is said that Mr. Collins was laid to rest in a local cemetery, but that his wife, an Indian, was not allowed to be buried with him.

In 1868 Captain A.W. Chase located Seal Illahee. This Coast Pilot was the first to use the name "Seal Rocks" and that style was used in pioneer days for the locality along the shore in this area.(7)

Nancy E. McBride, born 9th September 1837 to Hon. George Wickliffe McBride (Scottish-Irish) of Portland, first became the wife of W.B. Morris and, after his death, wedded William H. Dolman of Portland where she still resides (c. 1911). (8) Mr. Dolman died in Portland on 27 November 1913 and was succeeded in business by Collins & Gray who owned the first General Merchant store in SEAL ROCK.

Collins' Waldport Indian sub-agency was finally closed in 1875 and white settlment began in the lower Alsea area.

The Great Post Office Debacle

The great post office controversy began with the first post office in the lower Alsea area which was located about three miles north of Waldport, and was established January 31, 1875 with Matt Brand as the first postmaster.

Collins Store
Collins & Gray Successors of W.H. Dolman
General Merchant
(Center: Sign hanging adjacent reads "Post Office")

Numerous name changes mark the history of this post office as it moved about Alsea Bay. The post office, formerly know as Drift Wood, was named in honor of George W. Collins who owned the General Store where the post office was co-located.

When a separate post office was established on June 17, 1881, David Ruble was at the helm. The Collins Post Office was discontinued on the same date and was moved from the north to the south shore of Alsea Bay. On February 23, 1882, Ruble lost the position at the Collins post office moved back to the north shore and was dubbed the Waldport Post Office.

A few months later, on August 15, 1881, a new post office was acquired for Waldport on the south shore with Thomas Russell (1819-1894) serving as Postmaster. David Ruble returned to succeeding Russell as Postmaster of the Waldport office on September 27, 1881 and a final name change to "Lutgens" was accomplished on May 17, 1890. (9)

In 1881, future SEAL ROCK Postmaster James W. Brasfield moved to the Yaquina Bay area.

In 1856, at just 16 years old, Brasfield moved west from Missouri to seek fortune in the days of the California Gold Rush, but their route changed and he ended up in the wilds of Oregon. in 1863 he began working under Hon. Hiram Smith in Harrisburg and a year later, he became a partner working under the name "Smith & Brasfield". It was in Harrisburg where he met and, in 1865, married his wife, the former Miss Lydia Owens.

Business thrived for ten years, but in 1873 Brasfield decided to sell his portion of the business and return to the business he learned working in his father's mercantile store at the age of 14. He opened a store in Junction City and after selling out, just 8 years later, he moved back to Yaquina Bay.

In 1882, still under Benton County, Newport became incorporated and was in the midst of its own growth spurt. Newport had already been a town for 14 years; founded by Samuel Case, who was the Postmaster when the Post Office was established there in 1868. It is said he named the town after Newport, Rhode Island near his home state of Maine.

Samuel Case   Marie (Craigie) Case
Samuel and Marie (Craigie) Case

In anticipation of the railroad, Sam and Marie Case established a resort hotel along Newport's bay front called "Ocean House", which was reportedly named after a famous hotel in Rhode Island.

Ocean House (c. 1940)
"Ocean House" (c. 1940)

During this time, a ferry system was in place to move passengers from the north shore of Yaquina Bay to the south shore. This allowed pioneers to have access to SEAL ROCK and in 1882, John S. George purchased a land patent from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as a result of the Homestead Act. George's land, which encompassed a portion of what is now the Fox Creek subdivision and Caledonia House B&B was purchased for approximately $3.15.

In 1883, James Brasfield opened a general store in Newport which was quite lucrative and made his way to purchase land in SEAL ROCK in hopes of taking advantage of the promise of the railroad and all it would bring.

In the mid 1880's, the choice timber pickings out West were attracting Midwestern lumber barons like Frederick Weyerhaeuser of St. Paul, Minnesota, D.A. Blodgett of Grand Rapids, Michigan and Charles Stimson of Muskegon, Minnesota. Based on the promise of a new timber industry supported by a railroad line down the coast, interested prospectors began searching for new land ownership opportunities. This became a critical time for the town of SEAL ROCK.

In 1885, John Buckley purchased a large plot of land in the hope of seeing the eventual expansion of the timber industry in SEAL ROCK. The one time Benton County Treasurer, Buckley was privy to such plans and staked his claim early on. He had a reputation as an "upstanding citizen" and took the hand of Miss Nellie Case, daughter of Mary and Samuel Case - founder of nearby Newport.

By 1886, Yaquina Bay was buzzing with bargemen carrying families, wagons and very modern, crated farm machinery.

The town site for SEAL ROCK was platted in 1887 when promoters, such as T. Egenton Hogg, began advocating the need for a passenger train line that was to extend the length of the coast. It was said that the completion of the Oregon-Pacific Railroad would generate many profitable investments. As platted, the town was to become a pedestrian-friendly community with well-organized streets, parks and public gathering places and would include 3 entire blocks dedicated to the construction of a resort hotel. Even the railroad associates built summer homes here, several of which can still be seen along the highway. These early entrepreneurs came to the Pacific coast from the exhausted pine forests of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin with deep pockets of capital, looking for "other worlds to conquer," reads an archived article in the Coos Bay News at the time.

Upon this premise, the Brasfields took it upon themselves to create their own "gold rush". They began to develop their SEAL ROCK property, which initially consisted of 600 lots, and eventually the couple opened the "Seal Rock Resort Hotel". In these early pioneer days, it became quite a popular resort destination and in its heyday, it was described as one of the most delightful places to be found on the Pacific coast.

Brasfield residence
An excerpt as described by historian David Fagan: "this resort was a fine residence near the beach
and a short distance south of Seal Rock, where the Brasfield family resided in the summer months
and enjoyed the beauties of nature and the ceaseless roar of the surf, which at this place is truly magnificent;
and, fortunate indeed is he who is permitted to enjoy the hospitality of the Brasfields." (4)

Visitors flocked to the hotel, despite its remote and rugged location. In a twist of fate, the passenger line never arrived in SEAL ROCK and was instead routed eastward through nearby Toledo. As a result, most of the lots purchased by SEAL ROCK prospectors were foreclosed upon by Portland bankers due to delinquent taxes or were sold at auction by the County for as little as $9.00 per lot.

Brasfield hotel   Brasfield hotel

The Brasfields fell into financial hardship and they were forced to close the resort and sell what they could, while much of the assets of the properties were transferred to the promoters of the Oregon-Pacific Railroad.

What remained was the quaint village of SEAL ROCK, which still hosts some of these original buildings that stand watch over the magnificent viewpoint that drew vacationers here all those years ago. Some recall lines of wagons waiting at South Beach just to take eager visitors across to this remote resort community.

In 1890, SEAL ROCK was finally rooted by the establishment of its own Post Office. At the age of 50, having missed out on his golden opportunity, James W. Brasfield became SEAL ROCK's Postmaster.

In 1893, after the formation of Lincoln County from Benton County, the Editor of Toledo's newest newspaper wrote an article recounting a trip he had taken from Toledo to Waldport. He describes traveling to Newport and taking a boat across to South Beach. He was then taken by stage wagon down the coastal "highway" of the time - the beach. He described the trip along the beach as "smooth and relaxing, even with a southerly wind blowing in the faces of the passengers." When the stage wagon reached the area for which SEAL ROCK is named, they had to leave the sand to traverse the rocks in order to move down the remainder of the passage. You will find this area at the south end of the SEAL ROCK viewpoint at Coast Road where a series of stone chimneys remain standing watch over the mighty Pacific.

"Mail came in along the beach at low tide, as did a stage bringing visitors, if there were any - they had to come by train to Yaquina, the end of the line. Then it was by launch or stage to Newport, by launch (and later ferry) across the river, then along the beach - for there was no road to SEAL ROCK. The long journey usually meant they (visitors) came to stay awhile - weeks or all summer." (10) By 1894, the remainder of newly formed Lincoln County was opened up to white settlement.

Governor William P. Lord
Governor William P. Lord

Around the turn of the century, "Oregon Governor William P. Lord (January 14, 1895 - January 9, 1899) [pictured above] bought land and built a cottage at SEAL ROCK where his family came for the summer and the Governor coming on weekends when possible."

While SEAL ROCK and other towns south may have "missed the train", it was actually a fortunate turn of events. Visitors may notice while touring this stretch of coastline, that it is virtually untouched with regard to deforestation and large-scale development until you reach the place where the train again meets the coast. Along this gentle highway are tree lined hills to the east and scenic natural wonders to the west. There are no industrial areas, sounds or smells to spoil the landscape and no large buildings to ruin the view.

Continue your history lesson into the 1900's.

Credits and Contributions:

1) - Retrieved on 2.26.08
2) - Retrieved 2.22.08
3) Courtesy of Lincoln County Historical Society
4) - Retrieved on 12.16. 07
5) - Retrieved on 11.27.07
6) - Retrieved on 12.16.07
7) - Retrieved on 11.27.07
8) Gaston, Joseph. "Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders" Vol 3. Chicago-Portland:  S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1911. p.708
9) - Retrieved 2.24.08
10) - Retrieved on 02.28.08
B&W Photos Courtesy of Lincoln County Historical Society
Remaining content (c) B. Goody 2007-2009 - All Rights Reserved

Our special thanks to the Lincoln County and Waldport Historical Societies
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Seal Rock, Oregon