Coos Bay

 The Early Days

Coos Bay is located on the coast of Oregon at the southern end of the state. It is a long, narrow bay which extends northeast and then curves southeast. The city of North Bend is located at the point farthest north where the bay begins to bend back south. Thus its name.

Several of the arms extending out from the bay were deep making them navigable for many vessels. The land rises sharply up from the edge of the water. It was easy to harvest logs for the sawmills. After the trees were cut and branches trimmed, the logs were rolled down the hillside to the water and then floated on down the bay to the sawmills.

A bar of sand and rocks extends across most of the mouth of the bay. Many early explorers sailing along the coast did not realize there was a bay behind this bar. Captains D'Aguilar, Cook, and Vancouver all explored this coast but did not find the bay. They thought the opening was the mouth of a river. Employees of the Hudson Bay Company found it as they explored the interior of the area. Seven white men with two Indian guides actually found and explored the area around Coos Bay.

 "The first vessel known to have entered the bay was a schooner bound for the mouth of the Umpqua, that through mistake, found herself in the bay instead. This was in 1852." It was difficult for early vessels to enter the bay because of the bar. But as the lumber and ship building industries grew, easier access became a necessity. A portion of the bar was dredged out (and reopened periodically) to make for a safer passage.

F. G. Lockhart paid $250 to become one of the investors in the Coose Bay Company. For this investment he received land where present day North Bend is located. He did not stay here very long though, being frightened away by Indians. He was not the only early settler to be concerned about possible attacks by the Coos and Coquille Indians. In 1856 peace was achieved and the Indian tribes were moved to reservations.

This more recent map of the area shows the location of North Bend and some of the highways that go through the area.

Lockhart’s property was acquired by A. M. Simpson. Over the next two years Simpson established first a sawmill and then a shipyard. Simpson lived in San Francisco and operated his businesses from there. His brother, Captain Robert Simpson, was the first superintendent of the saw mill.
At first the lumber was shipped to San Francisco for use there. But Simpson recognized that there was a market world wide for both the lumber and ships, not only to haul the lumber but to carry other types of cargo as well. Thus the Sipson Brothers fleet of ships and sawmill business continued to grow during the latter half of the 1800’s.

When Peter Jepson arrived in North Bend in 1861 to work in the sawmill, the business was barely five years old. This was a company town. The Simpsons provided room and board for their employees. This description is given of those days. "Pioneering and providing food for a logging and sawmill crew in a new country presented a problem for the brothers Simpson....'The company kept a boarding house for the workmen at Old Town....and at times they had the most palatable table fineries. Elk, deer, fish, and ducks, were common, and in season the meats were served at least once a week. The company engaged regularly for many years, hunters whose business it was to furnish meat for the boarders. These would bring in elk from across the bay, ducks from Pony inlet, and the boarders sometimes thought game food coming too often. The plan, however, at times was a necessity, for provision ships from San Francisco frequently met long delays and provisions became scarce.'"

A new mill superintendent, Mr. Merchant, had been hired by the Simpsons shortly before Peter arrived. This account is given of his arrival: “When Mr. Merchant arrived at North Bend, in 1860, to take charge of Mr. Simpson's business, before he stepped on shore from the vessel, he noticed someone coming away from the store with a bottle in his hand. He inquired what the meaning of it was and was soon informed that the store retailed whisky to the men. Mr. Merchant, addressing the captain stated if that was the case he would want passage back to San Francisco; however, Mr. Simpson informed him that if he thought he could run the business without liquor he could do so. Mr. Merchant then commenced operations, although he had great opposition and was even threatened with violence from the men he conquered and North Bend has been a strictly temperance town ever since, and as soon as Mr. Simpson saw the beneficial results arising from Mr. Merchant's policy, he adopted the same prohibiting rules at the other half dozen large industries he has along the Pacific coast."

Peter stayed until about 1868 when he went back home to Sweden and found a bride. A description of the area was written shortly before he left and provides a word picture of where he was living and what kind of home to which he brought Lovisa. The description begins with the author having just entered Coos Bay from the Pacific.
"We will now proceed up the channel, and six miles from the bar we shall pass the town of Empire City on the right. Here the pioneer first planted civilization. Six miles more brings us on a rightward turn to North Bend, where Lockhart first located a home in the wilderness, and here a magnificent view bursts upon our vision, for we have entered the upper bay and the evergreen hills encloses thousands of acres of flat marshy lands, seven-eights of which are submerged at every flood of the tide. To the south there is a high range called the Blue mountain; this contains an inexhautible [sic] body of coal which crops out in all directions. With the view from North Bend the bay seems to extend to the foot of the mountain but there are several extensive streams to ascend.…

The Jepsons stayed until 1876. This is what North Bend looked like about the time they left.



“The town consists--besides the mill and ship yard--of elegant dwellings and cosy cottages; one store being the only place of trade. The whole area is owned by the Simpsons, who built the mill, and they have strenuously forbidden the sale of intoxicants or immoral practices on the premises."





1870 Census, Book-Early U S Census of Southwest Coastal Counties of Oregon.


A Century of Coos & Curry:  History of Southwest Oregon by Emil R. Peterson and Alfred Powers, 1952, p 428 (Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, call # 97952/H2P)


Inventory of the County Archives of Oregon, No. 6 Coos Bay (Coquille), prepared by the Oregon Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Projects Administration, Portland, Oregon, May, 1942 (Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, call # 979/523/A3h/1321454t.2)