On June 15, 1914, 112 registered Westport residents voted 96 to 16 for incorporation, and elected a mayor, treasurer and council members. This was the first step on the road from small settlement to full-fledged cityhood.
L.E. Cook, Westport’s first elected mayor, spent his early years on Willapa Harbor as part of the coastal lifesaving crew before coming to Westport and engaging as manager of the Glen Eden, a popular tourist hotel on Main Street. The Glen Eden was advertised as the traveler’s mecca with meals that “would please even the most fastidious epicure.” Additionally, “Airship flights may be seen nearby here daily during July and August.”
It is notable that one of the newly-elected “councilmen” was a woman, Mrs. Minnie Armstrong. Mrs. Armstrong conducted a competing hotel, The Grand Western, for the “most elite and genteel who may choose to visit our shores from any part of the world.” Her husband, B.F. Armstrong, a fish cannery magnate of some note, resided in Alaska most of the year, so the independent Minnie made do mostly on her own in true pioneer spirit.
That two hoteliers were among the first town officials says much about the importance of tourism to Westport even then. In June 1900, The Aberdeen Herald job department printed 2,000 half-sheet posters in four colors advertising the settlement of Westport Beach. The newspaper story read, “Rob’t Lowry will start Sunday to distribute them on the Sound and through Eastern Washington. Westport is unquestionably the finest seaside resort in the Pacific Northwest, and, when its beauties become known, it is bound to have thousands of visitors every summer.”
Traveling to Westport in the early days was never a problem — as long as one journeyed by water. The Wilson Brothers’ Navigation Company operated the sternwheelers that serviced Westport. The Harbor Queen left Montesano in the early morning and made round trips to Westport, while the Harbor Belle performed a like service leaving Westport in the morning and returning in the evening, with connections made with all trains at the Hoquiam depot. Westport was a popular summertime destination for Harborites who traveled down the Chehalis to spend anywhere from a weekend to an entire summer on the south coast. Many wealthy families in Aberdeen and Hoquiam owned cabins in Westport or Cohasset.
As far as traveling overland to Westport went, it was difficult, to say the least. In the early 1890s, a railroad was constructed, but ran only as far as the short-lived boom town of Ocosta-by-the-Sea. From there you could either follow a trail through the marshland or follow the coastline. For years, a passable road connecting Westport to Aberdeen was debated with the recurring stumbling block being who would pay for the endeavor. It wasn’t until 1912 that the county found the money to complete construction of a narrow, plank road to Bay City but crossing South Bay was an issue.
At the time, a bridge was financially out of the question, so a ferry consisting of a scow towed by a tugboat was put into summer service between Bay City and Laidlaw Island (where Brady’s Oysters is today). That September the county commissioners, citing the infeasibility of paying $500 per month to operate in the off-peak season, shut down the ferry. Understandably, this created an uproar among the residents of Westport which was quelled when civil war veteran and Harbor ferryman Jacob Heater stepped forward. He had his own 22- by 60-foot barge and for the previous two years had operated a cable ferry across the Wishkah River at North Aberdeen. The county commissioners gave their blessing, as well as cable and docking facilities. Heater was an “unreconstructed rebel,” known to take his own sweet time in the crossing, delivering a long speech on politics or whatever other subject he thought needed clarification, while his captive audience waited impatiently.
In time the road was graded and graveled, then paved, and soon enough a bridge was built across South Bay. Fort Chehalis, Chehalis City, Peterson’s Point, Westport Beach were all, at one time or another, names for the popular tourist spot on the south point of the Harbor. Today Westport welcomes thousands of visitors annually and continues to be a snug haven to those who call it home.
Here’s to you, Westport! Cheers to you and to your next hundred years.
Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and enjoys nothing better than gorging himself on great amounts of Westport crab.