History of Nahcotta
Nahcotta boasts a colorful beginning, marked by a bitter rivalry between two Peninsula pioneers on either side of railroad tracks dividing the town.
Today the tiny village, rich in tradition and history, reveals little evidence of the battle that nearly tore the community literally in half a century ago.
Chief Nahcati, for whom the village was named, lived along the western shore of what was then Shoalwater Bay
But if the birth of Nahcotta came about with its platting and the struggle surrounding it in 1889, its conception may have taken place decades before when bands of Chinook Indians among them Chief Nahcati, for whom the village was named lived along the western shore of what was then Shoalwater Bay. Nahcati’s camp was said to have been nestled near Paul’s Slough just south of the present Nahcotta Basin.
Here the Indians found an abundance of fresh water, a dry campsite well above the more swampy lowlands of the Peninsula, an apparent unlimited supply of clams, oysters and salmon from the depths of Shoalwater, and plenty of wild game in the nearby forests
In addition, the settlements were well out of reach of the bitterly cold winds off the Pacific and far from the noise of the pounding surf. But these same attractions also beckoned white settlers in the mid-19th century. By the 1850s, a booming oyster harvesting and shipping industry was well under way and the town of Oysterville was founded only a stone’s throw to the north
Several homes and a business or two were built where Nahcotta now stands, but most of the settlers gathered in Oysterville. Still, it wasn’t long before local seamen learned that the Shoalwater Bay channel, affording moorage for even the largest oyster schooners, made its closest approach to the western shore of the Bay about a quarter of a mile at what is now Nahcotta.
Enterprising settlers soon realized that the wealth of the area lay not only beneath the waters but on the land, and during the latter part of the 19th century the logging industry boomed. Close at hand was not only the resource timber but the means of transporting it: The Bay itself.
Gigantic rafts of logs felled from upstream along the Nemah, Palix and Naselle Rivers were constructed on the shores of the huge Shoalwater and floated to the Raymond-South Bend area, taken apart and loaded aboard trains bound for Aberdeen, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle
To preserve the economy of the Peninsula, residents among them the enterprising Loomis brothers realized that a rail line linking the Peninsula communities with each other and with the burgeoning steamship travel along the Columbia River was vital. By 1888, the first five miles of narrow-gauge railroad was laid northward from the docks at Ilwaco, and by 1889 it had reached Nahcotta. Here the tracks turned directly east and shot out over the bay shore on pilings to the deep Shoalwater channel, separating the tiny community north from south.
The site of the small community was at one time a homestead owned by John Crellin, one of the founders of the Morgan Oyster Co. of San Francisco, who sold the property to John Peter Paul. Paul, in turn, platted the land on the south side of the recently laid railroad track and named it Nahcotta after the old chief.
At about the same time a veteran cannery owner from Ilwaco, B.A. Seaborg, platted the north side of the tracks, purportedly to create an official northern terminus for the railroad and sell it to the Ilwaco Railroad and Navigation Co., and christened it fittingly Sealand.
Soon afterward, Lewis Loomis acquired Paul’s holdings on the south side of the tracks and a rift developed between the two men. Each wanted his new town to become the official northern terminus. The battle lines were drawn, and the war was on. It was Nahcotta against Sealand, Loomis vs. Seaborg.
Both worked hard to reach their goals. The Sealand Hotel and the first post office rose on the north side, a general store and another hotel on the south. In fact, the town had almost two of everything two hotels, two saloons, two meat markets and only Loomis and Seaborg seemed to care.
Everyone else, the crews from the logging camps and the fisheries, bought food and supplies from both sides of the tracks. To them, apparently, it did not matter what the town was named.
Despite the dispute between Loomis and Seaborg the community thrived.
Oysters and other seafood from the Bay were loaded onto trains for shipment to Ilwaco, where they were dumped into the bellies of steamers bound for Astoria, San Francisco and points south. Also, by this time, all of the logging companies along the shores of the Shoalwater were rafting their felled trees to Nahcotta-Sealand and loading them aboard flatcars for shipment south to Ilwaco and the holds of huge freighters.
Aboard the growing railway, too, were passengers and mail bound for all points on the Peninsula, for the ferry boats crisscrossing the Columbia from the Oregon side, and for Raymond and South Bend across the wide Bay to the north.
In time the Loomis-Seaborg battle developed into a lawsuit, but it eventually was settled out of court. Loomis won. And the entire community, north and south of the tracks, became Nahcotta the official northern terminus of the IR&N.
With its direction now defined along with its identity Nahcotta became the logging, fishing and pedestrian transportation hub of the north end of the Peninsula. Its downtown business district thrived with turn-of-the-century boom times, and the future of the community named for old Chief Nahcati seemed rosy.
Unfortunately, along about the winter of 1915, it turned red. Fire red. The blaze that burned the heart out of the town, the story goes, began in the Hughes Hotel, possibly from an overheated chimney, and a strong southwest wind quickly spread the fire throughout the business district.
From that point on, historians say, the center of business on the north end of the Peninsula shifted to a young and vigorous Ocean Park community, even though the hub of the oyster and fishing industry, including razor clam canneries, remained in Nahcotta and nearby Oysterville.
Large basin developed at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta provide moorages for all types of vessels, though now primarily serve commercial oyster and fishing interests on the old Shoalwater now Willapa Bay