Gearhart: History by the Sea

Road Journals Blog—Gearhart proudly wears its history on its sleeve. Quiet and refined, with flower boxes dotting the outside of every downtown business, tennis courts providing the most exciting action on view, and gray-shingled homes weathering the decades, there’s a gentle sense of timelessness in this well-preserved town.

Gearhart beach cottage | Amara Holstein

Even for the casual visitor, it’s easy to step back into Gearhart’s past. My stroll around town brought me past most of the forty-odd homes and businesses fitted with historic markers—structures that have undergone only minor changes since being built a century or more ago. Each place is unique, but they share a common architectural feel, with gabled roofs, open porches, weathered cedar siding, and white trim. It feels like a Cape Cod town, with its reverence to a thoughtful preservation of the past.

The signs—small green and white plaques with a picture of the old Gearhart Hotel circa 1910—crop up all over the place. There’s one at the Pacific Way Bakery and Café, which was once the town’s post office. Trail’s End, now an art gallery but long ago a two-room schoolhouse, also earned a marker, as did the house at 498 E Street where renowned chef James Beard spent his summers as a boy. (I spent a little extra time in front of this house, hoping to soak up some of whatever made him great.)

When you’re tired of looking at houses, play at the public Gearhart Golf Links. Opened with three holes on the sand in 1892, now 18 holes with views of the Cascade Mountains, the Links has its own historic marker sign out front.

For those looking to sleuth beyond the visible history, just-retired city administrator Dennis McNally is a font of information on the topic. According to McNally, the town was originally a seaside getaway for Portlanders in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Families would take up residence in town for weeks at a time; mothers would stay with their children while working fathers came down for weekends from Portland (hence the nickname “Daddy Train,” which would ferry fathers into town every Friday evening).

McNally pulls out a book of historic pictures and flips through it: there’s a shot of kids on horseback, a photo from the early 1900s of tents that served as changing rooms in what were once empty fields, and a shot from when Pacific Way was dirt and the sidewalks were wooden. Stop by City Hall (689 Pacific Way) to peruse the book on your own (and order a copy, if you’re so inclined).

For an even easier visual peek at the past, stop in at Pop’s Sweet Shop (at 567 Pacific Way since the 1920s) and peruse the pictures on the wall showing Gearhart through the last century. (I found it to be an especially palatable way to look at the past while savoring some homemade fudge.)

Amara Holstein wrote about Gearhart for the March/April 2011 Oregon edition of VIA.

This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.