Steamboats of the Oregon Coast

The history of steamboats on the Oregon Coast begins in the late 19th century. Before the development of modern road and rail networks, transportation on the coast of Oregon was largely water-borne. This article focuses on inland steamboats and similar craft operating in, from south to north on the coast: Rogue River, Coquille River, Coos Bay, Umpqua River, Siuslaw Bay, Yaquina Bay, Siletz River, and Tillamook Bay. The boats were all very small, nothing like the big sternwheelers and propeller boats that ran on the Columbia River or Puget Sound. There were many of them, however, and they came to be known as the "mosquito fleet."[1]

Routes and operations

Rogue River

The Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, and flows all the way from the Cascade Mountains. R. D. Hume was a pioneering businessman at Wedderburn and Gold Beach, then known as Ellensburg. By 1881, he had established a fish cannery and built a steam schooner, Mary D. Hume, to support the cannery operation. Hume was still conducting steamboat operations on the Rogue River in 1901, and in that year, Capt. E.D. Burns built the sternwheel steamboat Rogue River in Portland, and brought her down the coast to compete against Hume's operation. Mary D. Hume passed through several owners and was still in operation as late as 1939, when she was the oldest commercial vessel in service in the Pacific Northwest.

In November 1902, Burns succeeded in reaching deep inland on the Rogue to Agness, however, in returning to Gold Beach, on November 16, 1902 the boat struck a rock at Boiler Rapids, where, at least in 1966, her boiler was reported to be still visible. This was the only known effort to take a conventional vessel so far up the Rogue River.

In 1903 the gasoline-powered Success was built at Gold Beach for the Rogue River service. R.D. Hume continued his interest in shipping out of the Rogue River, commissioning the construction in 1908 of two small gasoline-powered schooners, Enterprise (22 tons) and Osprey (43 tons) from Ellingson in Coquille. Hume died by 1912, as his estate is reported to have sold Enterprise and Osprey to someone from Portland.[1]

Coquille River

The Coquille River runs inland from Bandon. Before the era of railroads and later automobiles, the Coquille River was the major transportation route from Bandon to Coquille and Myrtle Point in southern Coos County.

Coos Bay

Coos Bay is a large and mostly shallow harbor on Oregon's southwest coast, to the north of the Coquille River valley. It is the major harbor on the west coast of the United States between San Francisco and the mouth of the Columbia River.

Two steamboat captains from the Columbia River began steamboat operations on Coos Bay in 1873. Inland riverboats were used to navigate the bay and the several rivers flow that flow into it. A mule-hauled portage was built between a shallow southern arm of Coos Bay and the Beaver Slough, a shallow north-extending branch of the Coquille River, in 1869; it was replaced in 1874 with a steam portage railroad. This connection established a convenient link between the steamboat operations of Coos Bay and those on the Coquille.

Numerous steamboats were built over the ensuing decades. In 1912, a number of steamboats were wrecked, by collision, fire and grounding on the sandbar at the mouth of the bay.

Umpqua River

The Umpqua River runs from Reedsport up through Douglas County. Gardiner is a town near the mouth of the Umpqua where several river steamers were built. One of the Umpqua River's several branches eventually reaches Roseburg, although the head of navigation was Scottsburg. Captain Godfrey Seymour began steamboat operations on the Umpqua River with Raftsman, later adding Washington, Swan, and Enterprise.

Swan was unique as the only steamboat to ever ascend as far as Roseburg on the Umpqua. This was in 1870, when the merchants of Gardiner were anxious to demonstrate the navigability of this river. Roseburg is 85 miles above the mouth of the river, and it took Swan 11 days to get there. This was sufficient to persuade Congress to allocate $70,000 for channel clearance of the Umpqua, even though no other steamboat ever again ran up to Roseburg.[2]

In 1906, the propeller steamer Juno (32 tons) was built at Marshfield and placed on the Umpqua River service by the Umpqua River Steam Navigation Company.[1]

Siuslaw Bay and River

Siuslaw Bay is yet another large shallow bay on the Oregon coast, with its entrance about 24 miles north of the mouth of the Umpqua River. The Siuslaw River widens into the bay, which meets the ocean near the town of Florence. In 1890 or thereabouts, the Moonlight was placed in service on Siuslaw Bay and its various back channels.[2]

Yaquina Bay

Yaquina Bay, like Coos Bay, is another shallow coastal bay on the Oregon Coast. The principal town on Yaquina Bay is Newport. Once the Oregon Pacific Railroad reached Toledo, on the east end of Yaquina Bay, tourists started coming to the bay from the Willamette Valley. The roads were bad or nonexistent at the time, so the only way to the seaside hotels at Newport was to cross the Yaquina Bay by steamer. Propeller steamboats did most of this service, however in 1872, the sidewheeler Oneatta was launched at Pioneer, ran on the bay for a while and then was transferred to the Columbia River, and in 1882, to Humboldt Bay.[3] Later, Rebecca C. and Cleveland also ran on Yaquina Bay.[2]

Siletz River

The Siletz River runs into the Pacific about 30 miles north of Yaquina Bay, near the town of Taft now part of Lincoln City. The first salmon cannery was established on the Siletz River in 1896 by Daniel Kern, a Portlander. This was Kerns Bros. Packing Co., on the north side of the river. Later that same year the post office of Kernville was established in the same location, where a small town later developed. Kern brought in the small steamer Tonquin, 64' long, built at Portland, to act as a cannery tender and supply vessel. Kern later sold his cannery to Elmore Packing, of Astoria, and went into the marine construction business.

Much later, the Siletz Navigation Company operated on the Siletz, at least in the early 1920s. In 1923, Siletz (93 tons), described as a "strongly built diesel freighter" was launched at Kernville, Oregon, to serve local routes from the Siletz river entrance. This boat was probably more of an ocean-going vessel than the typical mosquito fleet craft, as she was sold to a Hawaii firm and voyaged there herself in 19 days without mishap.[1]

Tillamook Bay

Tillamook Bay was a large very shallow bay on the northern part of the Oregon Coast. In 1911, the yacht Bay Ocean was built in Portland to provide service from Portland to Tillamook Bay for a beach resort. Bay Ocean was designed by R.A. Ballin for the T.B. Potter real estate company, which was developing the (eventually ill-fated) resort at Bay Ocean Spit on Tillamook Bay. Bay Ocean was the largest motor passenger vessel built to that date on the Pacific Coast. She was long (150') and narrow (18' beam), with a clipper bow and bowsprit. She had three gasoline engines connected to a single shaft. She could accommodate 50 passengers on the Portland-Tillamook route but had difficulty on the run and only served in the summer. She was called up by the navy to function as a patrol boat in the First World War.[1] After the war, Bay Ocean was sold to Crowley Launch and Tug Co., of San Francisco.[2]

Last operations

Mosquito fleet operations in the Coos Bay area and Coquille River valley continued up into the 1930s, due to the lack of good roads and other more modern transportation in these areas. As possibly the extreme example, the small (14 tons) gasoline-propeller Welcome, built 1919, was on the run up the Coos River from Marshfield to Allegany until 1948.[1]

Steamboat graveyards

When steamboat service ended on the Coquille, at least three steamers, Myrtle, Telegraph, and Dora were all beached on the river near Bandon.[4]

The Mary D. Hume, built in 1881, is still largely intact, lying on the shore at Gold Beach, Oregon. The wreck itself is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The steam ferry Roosevelt, which used to run on Coos Bay, was photographed abandoned near Marshfield in 1941.

List of vessels

A large number of boats of all types were built on these waters, powered by various means, including steam, gasoline, and diesel engines. This index will attempt to track only vessels over 30 tons built before 1920, with exceptions where a vessel appears to be of more interest, due to an available on-line image or otherwise.

Inland steamboats on Oregon coastal waterways[5]
Name Type Year Built Where Built Builders Owners Gross Tons Length Disposition
Swan sternwheeler 1870 Gardiner Godfrey Seymour 131 unknown, 1880
Enterprise sternwheeler 1870 Gardiner Godfrey Seymour 247 wrecked 1873
Oneatta sidewheeler 1872 Pioneer 118 82' transferred to Columbia River, circa 1874, then to California 1882
Messenger sternwheeler 1872 Empire City Capt. M. Lane 136 91' burned 1876 at Coos Bay, total loss[4]
Little Annie sternwheeler 1877 Coquille William E. Rackliffe 86 70' hit snag and sank near Bandon, 1890[6]
Mud Hen sternwheeler 1878 Coquille River 32' unknown, 1892
Mary D. Hume[1] propeller cannery tender 1881 Ellensburg R.D. Hume R.D. Hume 158 98.1' sold in the late 1880s to Alaska whaling interests, later a cannery tender in Alaskan waters, reengined several times, and in service as late as 1939. Currently lying on shore at Gold Beach
Dispatch (I) sternwheeler 1890 Bandon 24 52' unknown, probably abandoned 1904
Alert sternwheeler 1890[7] Bandon Hans Reed[8] 96 69' Transferred to San Francisco in 1919, foundered Sept. 26, 1919, near Rio Vista.[1]
Eva sternwheeler 1894 Portland Umpqua Steam Nav. Co.; W.F. Jewett 130 90' unknown, 1918 (probably abandoned)[8]
Favorite propeller 1900 Coquille[9][10] Arthur Ellingson 13 72' unknown, 1917
Pastime sternwheeler (gasoline) 1900 Coquille 11 45' unknown, 1901
Rogue River[1] sternwheeler 1901 Portland E.B. Burns 66 80' wrecked, Boiler Rapids on Rogue River, 16 November 1902
Welcome sternwheeler 1900 Coquille S.H. Adams[1] 30 56' wrecked, 1907
Echo sternwheeler 1901 Coquille Ellingson 76 66' unknown, probably abandoned 1911
Dispatch (II) sternwheeler 1903 Parkersburg Charles Tweed[8] 250 111' rebuilt 1922 as towboat John Wildi
Liberty sternwheeler 1903 Bandon Herman Bros.[8] 174 91' unknown, 1918
Success[1] sternwheeler (gasoline) 1903 Gold Beach 14 unknown
Juno[1] propeller 1906 Marshfield 32 60.8' unknown
Millicoma sternwheeler 1909 Marshfield Frank Lowe[1] 14 55' later converted to gasoline engine, rebuilt 1917 as propeller, ult. dispo unk.
Newport[1] propeller 1908 Yaquina 81 72' converted to gasoline power, ran until the mid-1920s, ultimate disposition unknown
Charm[1] propeller (gasoline) 1908 Prosper Herman Bros.[8] 75' Badly damaged by collision with Telegraph 1914, and forced to beach near Bandon. Repaired and ran on Coquille River until sale to Shaver Transportation Co. in 1928.[8]
Pedler sternwheeler 1908 Marshfield S. Gilroy[1] 407 124' unknown, 1910
Coquille[1] propeller 1908 Coquille Frank Lowe 407 124' transferred to Columbia R., date and ultimate dispo. unk.
Myrtle (I) sternwheeler 1909 Myrtle Point Nels Nelson Myrtle Point Trans. Co.[1] 36 57' rebuilt as freighter 1922.[1][11]
Sunset sternwheeler 1909 Prosper Carl Herman Fredrick Elmore Drane Line 12 40' Registry # 206414 sank November 2, 1924 at 6:30 a.m. on the Coquille River at Bandon, Oregon resulting in the drowning death of Clarence Henry Hurley (06/22/1880 - 11/02/1924), president of the C. & C. Cedar Company of Bandon, Oregon. Salvaged and remained in service until abandoned June 30, 1929.
Dora sternwheeler 1910 Randolph Herman Bros. W.R. Panter 47 64' abandoned 1927
Bayocean[12] propeller yacht (gasoline) 1911 Portland Joseph Supple T.B. Potter Realty Co. 130 150' taken into naval service during First World War on April 27, 1918, decommissioned March 14, 1919, sold to L. Parker, of Oakland, CA
Fay No. 4 sternwheeler (gasoline) 1912 North Bend 179 136' Transferred to California, 1913
Lifeline propeller (gasoline) 1912 Marshfield 179 136' Foundered off coast June 5, 1923, just south of Neahkanie Mountain, while en route from Coos Bay to Kelso. Crew survived, hull washed ashore and buried by sand.[1][4]
Rainbow sternwheeler 1912 Marshfield Frank Lowe[1] Coos River Trans. Co.[1] 75 64' Abandoned 1923
Telegraph sternwheeler 1914 Prosper Carl Herman Myrtle Point Trans. Co. 96 103' rebuilt and lengthened to 115' in about 1916, abandoned by 1940
Relief sternwheeler 1916 Coquille Ellingson[1] 44 64' unknown, 1927
Myrtle (II) sternwheeler 1922 Prosper 36 60' abandoned by 1940
John Wildi (ex-Dispatch) sternwheeler 1922 Parkersburg 173 112' abandoned 1927
Siletz[1] diesel freighter 1923 Kernville 93 64' transferred to Hawaii, renamed Moi, and operated there by Young Bros.

See also

Notes and references


  1. Newell, Gordon R., ed., H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 2, 61, 70, 83, 92, 119, 147-49, 162, 190, 202, 207, 244, 268, 311, 340, 343-44, 363, and 554, Superior Publishing, Seattle, WA 1966
  2. Timmen, Fritz, Blow for the Landing, at 189, 200-207, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1972 ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  3. Newell, Gordon, and Williamson, Joe, Pacific Steamboats, at 47, Superior Publishing, Seattle WA 1958, state that Oneatta was transferred to Humboldt Bay and don't mention service on the Columbia River
  4. Marshall, Don, Oregon Shipwrecks, at 45,97 and 220, Binford & Mort, Portland, OR 1984 ISBN 0-8323-0430-1
  5. Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up Columbia, pages 189-203, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE (1947; 2nd Printing 1977) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  6. Timmen, at 207. He also gives her date of construction as 1876 and her place built as Myrtle Point
  7. The Victor West gallery source gives 1888 as date of construction.
  8. Victor West Collection of the Coos Art Museum Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2007-12-29)
  9. The Victor West gallery source says Favorite was built at Bandon.
  10. McCurdy, at 61, give Coquille.
  11. (Mills reports she was abandoned 1922, this probably an error.)
  12. Data for Bay Ocean from Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

General references

  • Newell, Gordon R., ed. H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Superior Publishing, Seattle, WA 1966

Nautical Charts


Coos Art Museum

Historic images of Oregon Coast steamboats from Salem Public Library

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