An Abridged History of Waldport

By Gretchen Ammerman | Monday, May 20, 2019

Regular readers may notice that I will occasionally dip my toe into the same stream, the one that holds general Oregon history, but in particular, central coast history.

So when I find someone with long ties to a community and a love of lore, I’m in heaven. 

I recently found two such chaps, Buster Pankey and Dale Clark, at the Waldport Visitor’s Center and Bridge Interpretive Center, where I had gone to research the art deco bridges along the coast designed by Conde McCullough.

Buster and Dale next to a portrait of McCullough.

Though the interpretive center (which includes a display with McCullough’s original drafting materials, engineering tools and typewriter) is a fount of information, ironically Waldport’s bridge is primarily a reconstruction.

Buster Pankey is a third generation Waldportian (I made that up, but I think it works) and was there during the process of going out with the old and in with the new bridges, including the less famous of the Things-blown-up-on-the-Oregon-Coast events. If you don’t immediately know what the most famous is, Google “Oregon exploding whale.” Trust me, it’s worth it.

“I was there when they blew up the old bridge,” Buster said. “It was pretty cool but I was surprised the state let us do it that way.”

An old photo at the interpretive center of the Waldport Bridge being destroyed, with the new bridge in the background.

The Waldport bridge fell victim to a shortsighted use of easily obtained building materials.

“Had they not used local sand when building the bridge, it would still be standing,” Buster said. “Luckily we were able to talk ODOT into keeping some of the structure because it was a really neat bridge.”

Quite a few of McCullough’s best known bridges are still standing and include the Depoe Bay Bridge, the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, the Cape Creek Bridge near Heceta Head and the Siuslaw River Bridge in Florence.

Florence's Siuslaw Bridge, which opens in the middle to allow the passage of tall boats.

“Those bridges have been given longer lives thanks to a process called cathotic protection,” Buster explained. “They send an electrical current through the steel parts and it keeps them from rusting and not holding the concrete together.”

The process was perfected too late for Waldport.

“It was pretty wild for a while,” Buster said. “There were signs telling you not to park under the bridge because of falling chunks of concrete.”

Newport's Yaquina Bay Bridge

Dale Clark, the director of the center and this year’s recipient of the Oregon veteran volunteer award given by the Daughters of the American Revolution, missed the bridge demolition but is excited about an upcoming event that has been a part of Waldport for over 60 years. 

Waldport's annual Beachcombers Days is the perfect event around which to plan your tour of McCullough’s bridges, and it's held this year on June 14-16.

“That’s our big event for the year,” Clark said. “It almost got canceled this year because of music licensing issues, but that got worked out and now the show will go on.”

The event includes a parade on Saturday starting at noon and a car and bike show, also Saturday. Rolling in on Sunday will be the Bed Races, which is exactly what it sounds like. There's still plenty of time to enter with a group up to five people, at least one of whom must be on the bed during the entire race.

If that sounds too racy for you, crawl into the Slug Races instead, also on Sunday. 

And if you can’t make it, you can still visit Buster and Dale at the Bridge Interpretive Center.

“We’re almost always here on Mondays," Dale said. “And we sure do love to share the history of this wonderful area.”

If you have a story to tell about coastal history, especially ones you consider rather, let's say, explosive, please comment below; we'd love to hear it. And for other things to do while enjoying the central coast's charming towns, be sure to check out our Daytime Events calendar. For evening entertainment our Nightlife page guides you to the best places to be.

About the Author Gretchen Ammerman
Gretchen Ammerman received an Environmental Science degree from Humboldt State University and was soon running a state environmental agency in Hawaii. She gave it up for the glamorous life of the freelance writer. This led to steady employment as a newspaper editor in Lincoln City, OR, where she knew she was doing well when the paper was threatened with a lawsuit within a week. Though the work was rewarding, she returned to freelance writing to have more freedom to explore the beautiful state of Oregon with her adopted dog, Scout.