Coos Bay History

Coos Bay, the largest city on the Oregon Coast, was established in the 1850’s as Marshfield, the Massachusetts birthplace of the town’s founder, J.C. Tolman. In 1944 the town was renamed to Coos Bay by a vote of residents to match its most prominent geographic landmark Coos Bay. The word Coos came from one of the native tribes and it has two meanings - places of pines and lake.

Native Americans called Coos Bay home for thousands of years. Tribesmen fished, hunted, and gathered berries and roots along the Bay in blissful isolation until the 16th century when British and Spanish explorers started trickling in. In 1579 British explorer Sir Francis Drake took shelter near Cape Arago. In 1826 and 1828, the area was explored by fur traders. However, the first European settlement in Coos Bay occurred in 1851 when shipwreck survivors established "Camp Cast-Away" there until rescuers came. While living in the camp, they traded with Indian tribes. Upon arrival, they told other settlers about friendly local Indians and the area's great natural resources. In 1853 the first permanent settlements were formed at Empire. Native Americans were forcibly relocated by white settlers in the 1860's.

In the 1800's, Coos Bay served as an important commercial passage to the sea. Today it still is being the largest Bay between San Francisco and Seattle. Shipbuilding, shipping and wood products trading were popular in the late 19th century when transportation developments were being made.

Until 1916, Coos Bay remained significantly isolated from the rest of Oregon because crossing the Coast Range and rivers was difficult. The completion of a rail line in 1916 provided connections to Willamette Valley and created a drastic effect on the business and passenger traffic.

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