Friday, July 9, 2010
The Town That Oysters Built
By the summer of 1854, the town was booming. Large schooners from San Francisco were sailing into the bay and filling their holds with fresh oysters. Oysters were purchased with gold coins and it is claimed that Oysterville possessed more gold per capita than any other Pacific Coast town outside of San Francisco. Fortune seekers, fishermen, shopkeepers arrived and the town grew rapidly to over 800 in population and boasted of three hotels, five saloons, and a weekly newspaper. It served as the county seat of Pacific County.
But, like most booms, it eventually went bust. Over-harvesting depleted the native oyster supply and the long-anticipated Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company rail line stopped just south of town, leaving Oysterville isolated at the northern end of the peninsula. The final blow came in 1893 when a band of raiders from the town of South Bend on the east side of Willapa Bay sailed across the water, ransacked the courthouse, stole all the official county records, and proclaimed South Bend to be the new county seat.
Over time, winter weather and shifting sands along the bay destroyed the business area leaving only a few residences, church, school, cannery and post office. Eighty acres of this quaint, ghost town were designated a National Historic District in 1976. The few remaining residents work hard at maintaining the village’s unique character and have established the Oysterville Restoration Foundation to protect, preserve, and restore the buildings and sites of historic interest.