How Floras Lake almost became "the Atlantic City of the Pacific Coast"
It’s easy to see how the natural landscape of Floras Lake, just a sand berm away from the Pacific Ocean on Oregon’s rugged southwest coast, inspires desires for recreation.
Today’s recreational visitor, though, experiences the lake much differently than early 20th century businessmen envisioned. In 1908, investors planned – and began building – the community of Pacific City (later changed to Lakeport) on the lakeside’s cliffs, billing it as “the Atlantic City of the Pacific Coast” and “Pacific City, the finest harbor on the coast.”
By any estimate, the Floras Lake proposal would be a multimillion-dollar project by today’s standards, and it was conceived to create an elaborate hub of international commerce and recreation.
Why the plan did not come to pass, though, is only eclipsed by the plan itself – especially in light of the natural state of the lake and lakeshore today.
Now, much of the area surrounding the lake is protected on a local, state, and federal level – as Boice Cope County Park, Floras Lake State Natural Area, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Floras Lake unit of the New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).
In 1908, though, the lake and its landscape inspired more commercially ambitious plans.
Just a year after an investment company formed and switched its sights from the local community of Denmark to Floras Lake, Curry County officials in 1909 approved construction of the 400-acre townsite of Pacific City to abut portions of the lake’s east and south sides.
Soon, more than 200 workers commenced construction of a sawmill that processed local spruce and fir into building material for numerous lakeside homes, shops, and a $10,000 grand hotel that would define the area as a world-class summer recreation resort.
Floras Lake sat front and center in this vision, though, and its development into an international harbor emerged as the key to the project’s overall success.
Capitalizing on the lake’s unique location just yards from the ocean, the Port Orford Orchard Tracts Company planned to “blow out” – with explosives from the Dupont Powder Company – a channel from the lake to the ocean, replacing the sand with a concrete-lined canal, jetties and a tunnel “projecting underneath the lake and ocean,” according to The Coos Bay Times.
This would transform the lake into a harbor, fed by local freshwater streams and a rerouted Floras Creek to “aid in keeping the proposed channel from the lake to the ocean scoured out.”
Portland engineer W.W. Purdy drafted the necessary plans and even garnered approval from the U.S. War Department for the $1.25 million project to create the harbor.
However, despite an active marketing campaign, the investment company (and its reorganized successor) failed to raise the necessary capital and shelved the ambitious harbor project by 1910, before any construction commenced.
Newspapers implied conflict between investment partners and credited the economic depression that hit the United States in the fall of 1909 as a contributing factor to the project’s demise.
Just a few years later, locals noted that the entire project had disappeared as quickly as it had emerged, and newspapers, including the The Bandon Recorder, referred to the townsite – by then known by locals as Lakeport – as a “deserted village.”
“Unpainted, weather beaten and fast falling to pieces,” wrote one visitor in 1915, “the buildings rise out of a tangle of brush and weeds like tombstones over long-forgotten graves. Except for hunting and fishing parties, the place is unvisited, and deer, bear, and panthers are plentiful.”
Instead of several hundred residents, only a few families lived lakeside that year, and the hotel’s abandoned register listed a final entry, “November 17, 1912, not a damn sole [sic].”
While the grand development of Floras Lake failed to come to fruition in the 1900s, the idea of the lake as the centerpiece of a popular site for recreation did carry on.
Today, the presence of birdwatchers seeking rare shorebirds, fishermen casting for lake trout and kiteboarders fueled by afternoon winds suggests that, while the grand city and harbor never came to pass, the spirit of recreational use and enjoyment of Floras Lake is alive and well.
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