Coos Bay was home to Native American tribes for hundreds and possibly thousands of years before European explorers made their way to the New World. Sir Francis Drake may have been the first to land in the area in 1579, though the earliest known settlement occurred much later in 1852, when military survivors of a shipwreck formed Camp Castaway.
It was and still is an area of vast natural resources: timber, fishing, ranching. A temperate climate, plenty of rain, clean air and big open spaces made for a healthy economy and a prosperous population for many decades during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fortunes were made in shipbuilding and transporting raw goods to market. Timber, beef, lamb, dairies, cheese, salmon fishing, tuna canning, fresh halibut and Dungeness crab, all made for a good living for area residents.
Rugged individualists came here, such as Asa Mead Simpson, born in the Maine woods in 1826, the son of a master ship builder, who came to Coos Bay and turned his profits from the California gold rush into a small shipping empire that made him a fortune. Today his 1,600 acre estate, known as Shore Acres, is owned by the State of Oregon and operated as a State Park hosting many thousands of visitors a year.
Today, like many post industrial, middle class cities, Coos Bay is going through a difficult multi-decade transition, from a resource driven economy to something new that has not entirely evolved to its finished state. It is an economy that is part tourism, part service, part natural resources, and part servicing a growing retirement community.
The struggle is evident, and so it is gratifying to see tangible progress being made. The seeds of gentrification are sprouting on the main thoroughfares and side streets, where you’ll find the new coffee shops and bakeries (check out Darrell’s Devil’s Food and Kaffe 101), the Farmer’s Market, a growing diversity of restaurants (terrific Italian at Ciccarellis, sophisticated new age offerings at Restaurant O, modern Japanese at Tokyo Bistro, and Neapolitan style pizzeria and cafe at Front Street Provisioners to name just a few). The Coos Art Museum is a wonderful place to visit in the downtown business district, just a block from our new Coastal Sotheby’s International Realty office, and not far from the renovated historic Egyptian Theatre. There’s a new major shopping center under construction just being started on the waterfront. All these new businesses, and older buildings undergoing renovation and new construction projects, are taking hold and transforming the area.
As the old economy fades, new businesses and industries are springing up and taking their place: tourism, call centers, health care, internet based services and consultancies, and transportation via one of the west coasts’ deepest maritime harbors, are staking a claim in the local economy’s evolving future.
It is an exciting time, with new blood, new hopes, new dreams, and there’s a bright sense of promise in the air that cannot be denied.
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