Tillamook Head, Ecola State Park

Tillamook Head, Ecola State Park

by | Sep 23, 2021

Tillamook Head is a steep rocky promontory with an elevation of approximately 1,200 feet (366 m), located in Ecola State Park, about 5 miles (8 km) southwest of Seaside and 4 miles (6.4 km) north-northwest of Cannon Beach, Oregon. The promontory is named after the Tillamook people, a Salishan-speaking tribe of Native Americans that inhabited the coast. The headland is a tilted remnant of a Miocene lava flow, that welled up near modern-day Idaho and flowed down the Columbia River Gorge 15 million years ago. It spread along the Oregon Coast to Tillamook Head, eventually cooling to form a basalt sill 600 feet (183 m) thick. Ecola State Park encompasses 1,023 acres (414 ha) and extends for 9 miles (14.5 km) along the coast between the communities of Seaside and Cannon Beach. The park encompasses Tillamook Head, miles of sandy beaches, smaller headlands, coves, and sea stacks. The rugged shoreline results from a combination of erosion-resistant basalt and softer sedimentary rocks that formed within an ancient mouth of the Columbia River. The name ‘Ecola’ dates to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition. In January 1806, reports were heard at Fort Clatsop of a beached whale being butchered and members of the Corps traveled south to trade for blubber. Both Clatsop and Nehalem-Tillamook peoples inhabited the coast and they had already made contact with earlier Euro-American explorers. The expedition members encountered an entire village decimated by epidemics, and survivors had converted the village site to a burial ground at what is nowed called Indian Beach. William Clark also named a nearby creek ‘Ecola’ a variation of the Chinook Wawa trade language meaning ‘whale’ in reference to the beached whale they found just south of the creek. The name was later also conferred to Ecola Park and Ecola Point about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north-northwest of Ecola Creek.

It is generally accepted that the first indigenous peoples arrived in the region around 11,000–13,000 years ago, likely drawn by the rich natural resources of the area. However, very little is known about these early peoples, as very few archeological sites exist from before 3,500 years ago. Several tribes and language families would eventually form along the coast. Major groups included Clatsop, Tillamook, Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, and Coquille. The lifestyles of these tribes were very similar and sometimes interlinked, with the defining differences being the languages they spoke. Because of the abundance of food in the region, most settlements were permanent. Many of the tribes subsisted primarily on seafood such as clams, salmon, and seals, as well as berries. Archeological sites associated with the Tillamook people are located near Cannon Beach at Ecola Point and Bald Point. The Ecola Point Site has several ground depressions that have been interpreted by researchers as house pits, indicating the presence of a semipermanent village. Two dense shell middens have preserved animal remains along with other artifacts dating to between 1100 and 1700. The Bald Point Site features a shell midden and possible house pit dating to 1550. These sites potentially yield information related to environmental change on the Oregon coast, as well as settlement and subsistence practices, and changing cultural patterns related to Euro-American contact. European exploration of the Oregon Coast began in the 18th century as Spanish mariners sailed northward from Mexico. The earliest expedition recorded along the Pacific Northwest coast was led by Spaniard Juan José Pérez Hernández aboard the sloop Santiago in 1774. Pérez’s expedition was followed by the 1775 expedition led by Bruno de Heceta on Santiago and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra on Sonora, in which Pérez served as pilot. British Captain James Cook arrived in 1778 with HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, and in August 1788, American Captain Robert Gray entered Tillamook Bay with the Lady Washington and came ashore for supplies resulting in a skirmish with the Tillamook people. He returned in 1792 aboard the Columbia Rediviva, and sailed into the estuary of the Columbia River, naming the large river after his ship. On January 8, 1806, William Clark, Sacagawea, and perhaps 14 members of the Corps of Discovery expedition reached a Tillamook village consisting of five cabins on a creek which Captain Clark named Ecola or Whale Creek.

Protection of what is now Ecola State Park stemmed from efforts by merchants, residents, and government officials who wanted to safeguard the ships, people, and scenery on the north coast. By the 1850s, Tillamook Head was being considered for a lighthouse to aid navigation on the approaches to the Columbia River bar. By 1866, the U.S. Lighthouse Board had proposed a lighthouse reservation for Tillamook Head. The U.S. government kept the headland largely in the public domain until the lighthouse-siting question could be resolved, but the Lighthouse Board soon lost interest in the site because the southerly faces were not visible from the mouth of the Columbia and the summit was often shrouded by fog. In the early 1900s, prominent benefactors of Portland had constructed grand residences in the Ecola Point area. In the early 1930s, guided by a strong philanthropic ethos, the families created the Ecola Point and Indian Beach Corporation to coordinate the transfer of 451 acres (183 ha) between Indian Beach and Chapman Point to the fledgling state park system. Working collaboratively with State Parks Superintendent Samuel H. Boardman, the families agreed to dismantle their grand Ecola Point homes so that park facilities could be constructed for the public. The new park was dedicated in 1932, and Boardman coordinated with the National Park Service for Civilian Conservation Corps crews to develop public trails, picnic facilities, and other amenities in the new park. Boardman and his successor, Chester Armstrong, sought to expand the park to protect the rugged coast from erosion and future development. He tried to acquire the former lighthouse reservation land at Tillamook Head, but the property was pressed into military use during World War II for a radar installation, accessed by military roads still used by park visitors today. In 1951, when the radar and other military facilities were being decommissioned, the Oregon Highway Commission appealed to the U.S Air Force for the land and the state finally acquired the additional 100 acres (40 ha). Boardman negotiated with the Crown Zellerbach Corporation to obtain private logged timberland on the eastern slopes of Tillamook Head. Subsequent purchases of private properties expanded the park to its current size by 1978. Read more here and here. Explore more of Tillamook Head here:

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