By Douglas Scott
Located along the North Beach region of Grays Harbor, the City of Moclips and surrounding areas is often referred to as Washington’s Best Kept Secret, but it wasn’t always that way. Originally settled in 1862, Moclips didn’t become incorporated until 1905, when the Northern Pacific Railroad reached the coastal community, becoming the railroad’s furthest west destination. At the height of its tourism, 5,000 people would flock to Moclips each weekend, many staying at the majestic Moclips Beach Hotel.
The popularity of Moclips faded drastically after 1911 when a series of storms slammed into the coast, destroying the hotel which was located just a few feet from the high-tide mark along the Pacific Ocean. After the storms, the City of Moclips saw fires and eventually became a shell of the once-glorious tourist destination it once was. For nearly a century, Moclips remained an isolated coastal destination with an amazing, yet hidden history.
In July 2001, Moclips residents Kathy Jaquet, Lee Marriott and Kelly Calhoun realized how much incredible history existed on the North Beach, so together they started the Moclips By The Sea Historical Society and eventually opened the Museum of the North Beach.
“At this time we welcomed our first members and obtained our non-profit status with Washington State,” Kelly Calhoun explained. “Since 2001, we had been searching for a location for the new Museum. The Ocean Crest Resort which owns the former Hewitt’s Frozen Foods store in Moclips provided us this great 1940s building we currently occupy. The grand opening for the Museum of the North Beach was held on January 18, 2003 with over 250 in attendance.”
In the first decade, the Museum of the North Beach saw around 3,000 guests each year. The popularity of the museum is only growing with 2014 seeing a 33% increase in annual tourism.
What is bringing people to the museum in droves? Besides the resurgence in tourism to Grays Harbor County in general, tourists and locals alike are discovering the past through the museum’s fantastic displays. The museum is packed full of historical information, including a chart showing the date, time and intensity of the 1964 tsunami as it traveled from Alaska down the coast to California. The chart highlights the damage done on the North Beach as well as the destruction of the bridges at Pacific Beach and Copalis. The chart is kept at the front desk as many visitors bring up the subject of the Alaskan earthquake and tsunami, according to Kelly Calhoun, the Executive Director and Curator of the museum.
“There are three very popular displays,” explains Kelly, when asked what displays intrigue most visitors. “The first is a wedding dress, which has been fully restored from its original condition in 1910. The dress is part of the story about the first ‘royalty’ of the region, the Emerson Family.”
The 1910 fully restored wedding dress is from Frances Soule Emerson who married Ralph Emerson of the Aloha Lumber Company. His father was George Emerson, ‘The Father of Hoquiam.”
One of the classic exhibits is the train room which is filled to the brim with memorabilia from the Northern Pacific Railway Company. The exhibit houses historical pictures, awesome old railroad signs and even a scale model of the train station that once greeted the thousands who flocked to Moclips each weekend.
The fastest growing exhibit, as far as popularity, is the collection and display of Japanese tsunami debris from the local beaches. The debris is spread out, both inside and outside of the museum, with stories telling visitors about the debris and sharing success stories about returning good to families in Japan.
Exhibits like the tsunami display help tell the tale of what it is like living on the coast and that each and every day, we are a part of history in the making for our communities in Grays Harbor. While the glory days of the railroad funneling in thousands of tourists each weekend may be long gone, tourism is far from history in the region. With fantastic beaches and hikes and incredible museums which help preserve the past, the future of Moclips and Grays Harbor looks bright. Just ask any one of the tourists who come to the area.
“We stopped at the museum because it had such a charming look to it, and my partner and I are both fond of quirky, small regional museums,” raved Teresita Capuli of Seattle. “We had no idea what we would encounter and were so pleased by it.”
Teresita continues, “The most memorable exhibit was probably the information on Norah Berg, and ‘Lady on the Beach,’ the title of the book she wrote. It was an astonishing story. I bought the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of the area – Ocean Shores and Moclips. It is thoughtful and beautifully written, but sad too; everything you want in a book!”
Just like a century ago, people are traveling to Moclips and discovering something amazing. While the huge hotels and railways have been replaced with roads and smaller resorts, people from around the state and nation are coming to destinations like the Museum of the North Beach and raving about it to friends, family and online community. Discover what makes this place so unique and reconnect with the history of the North Beach of Grays Harbor.
4658 WA 109 in Moclips
June 1 – October 31
Thursday – Monday from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
November 1 – May 31
Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.