The coastal towns of Grays Harbor have been the destination for millions of adventures and vacations, the location of industry and dreams, and the location of devastation. Since humans first settled in the region, coastal communities have popped up along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, weathering storms and shimmering in the summer sun, providing a beautiful location to live out your days. In the past century or so, more permanent cities have sprung up, bringing infrastructure, tourism and the familiar faces we all know and love. The coastal communities along the beaches of Grays Harbor have a rich history, and while things are looking up for the region, sometimes we need to take a minute and look back to see where we came from and how cool our towns can be. Some of our towns have incredible histories and need to be shared.
With just over 2,000 people residing in the town today, Westport has always been a popular place. Originally, it was home to a Chehalis tribal town, where the salmon harvest was rich and steady for countless generations. The area was not visited by non-natives until 1825, when a Scottish botanist and naturalist named David Douglas explored the region. From this point, settlers slowly started building houses and plotting land. As non-natives began to populate the region, disease broke out, culminating with a smallpox outbreak in 1853 that nearly destroyed the Chehalis Tribe and led to the near abandonment of their town. To explorers like Robert Gray, it was just a place he sailed by on his way to the Columbia River – he named it Point Hansen.
It was only a matter of time before a town would be built and in 1879, a town named Peterson was created, bearing the name of the first resident. By 1891, just two years later, the town renamed itself Westport. By 1902, the Seattle Times was reporting about the coastal town as a tourist destination. In 1914, Westport was incorporated and by 1920, the city was known for whaling and fishing. The fishing makes Westport a destination today, surviving hard economic times in the 1980s and 1990s and transitioning to a growing and energetic community. To discover more about Westport’s history, head to the Maritime Museum in town. It is an underrated gem of Grays Harbor.
To the north of Westport, the city of Ocean Shores has a different story, despite being separated by just a few miles. Before homesteaders came into the region, the area now known as Ocean Shores was used by the region’s tribes for many different activities. Not a lot is known until the 1860s, when Matthew McGee, the first non-native settler, moved into the area. In 1878, he sold half his land to a man named A.O. Damon. When McGee died, Damon took over the entire peninsula. He passed that land on to Ralph Minard, who used the land for many purposes, including a cattle ranch. That all ended in 1960, when he sold his land to the Ocean Shores Development company for $1 million. This group would create a coastal town that claims to have once been known as the “Richest Little City” in America.
The town of Ocean Shores, with famous residents like Pat Boone, kicked off with a star-studded event, full of A-list celebrities. Initially, the plan for the city was to build canals and lakes on the peninsula to allow rich home owners to launch their boats directly from backyard docks and enter either the Pacific Ocean or Grays Harbor, setting sail for anywhere in the world. By the end of the 1970s, the funding of Ocean Shores began to fade away. When things started to pick up again, the Hollywood shine had worn off, instead replaced with residents who love the town for what it is, a quirky coastal town, with incredible outdoor activities.
Pacific Beach and Moclips
Then there’s Pacific Beach and Moclips. Over a century ago, before the logging boom defined the spirit of Grays Harbor, thousands of city dwellers found themselves flocking to the bluffs of the North Beach. They were sold on the region through advertising that promised them a healthy getaway from the stresses and frantic pace of city life. With a train leading all the way into town, tourism to Pacific Beach and Moclips flourished. Huge hotels were built, and like the dreams of the budding tourist town, were destroyed by storms.
However, before any of this happened, this land was the Quinault’s, who had been here for generations. The first contact with European explorers is said to have occurred in 1775. And by 1855, the Quinault were put on the reservation that sits just north of the two towns, starting in the town of Taholah along the mouth of the Quinault River. In 1862, the first homesteader arrived, and by 1904, a man named Dr. Edward Lycan was building a huge resort. Moclips and Pacific Beach have a ridiculously rich history and more can be found at the Museum of the North Beach in Moclips.