Garibaldi and the Old Mill  History

For hundreds of years Spanish galleons sailed within sight of our densely forested coastline carrying cargoes from the Spanish Colonies in Mexico to Manila, in the Philippines. Sir Francis Drake after raiding Spanish cities in South America in 1579 marked a bay and its entrance on his charts, but with Spanish ships pursuing him he sailed passed. However he did mark a cape and the bay on his charts as he sailed by that same year. Drake then went on to sail around the world, a feat not to be accomplished by another ship until Captain Robert Gray. 

In 1788 Captain Gray in the ship LADY WASHINGTON entered what was to become Tillamook Bay to obtain fresh food and water. He hoped to trade with the Indians for sea otter pelts which he then intended to take on to China where they would fetch a very high profit. In a skirmish with the Killamook tribe one of his men was killed and two others injured. Five days later, pursued by the Killamook Indians in war canoes, he escaped into the Pacific in a heavy fog. His story is told by Garibaldi’s Maritime Museum which features displays and artifacts chronicling Gray’s adventures and his circumnavigation of the earth.
Times and attitudes have certainly changed since Gray’s first arrival. We now welcome our guests to explore these most unique environs of the Oregon Coast. By comparison with many of the more “touristy” coastal destinations replete with casinos, souvenir shops and factory discount malls, Garibaldi remains a rustic village with a “working” personality and is still home to fishermen, lumbermen and those that appreciate the quintessential northwest seacoast. Don’t look for plastic seagulls or imported beach shells here. The nearest wax museum is over 80 miles away. We live a slower paced, “back to basics” lifestyle; more in rhythm with the tide than the clock. The Old Mill affords a place to rendezvous and provision before exploring this unique part of the world…the Oregon coast.

The City of Garibaldi was named for Guiseppe Garibaldi who was the liberator and unifier of Italy. He is looked upon as the father of his country in Italy just as George Washington is ours. In the 1860's he was a world hero who was admired for his statesmanship, generalship, and selflessness. Italy was then a collection of dukedoms, principalities, and papal states, with no standing among the nations of the World. Garibaldi with a legendary force of a thousand Red Shirts unified the nation though a series of battles and diplomatic treaties. King Victor Emanuel of Sardinia was placed on the throne while Garibaldi went off to South America to fight other wars of liberation. Our founder Daniel A. Bailey was a great admirer of Garibaldi and, as postmaster, had the first postal stamp engraved, “Garibaldi, Oregon, 1870.  Besides running the post office, Bailey built a hotel at the start of the Beach Trail so travelers could rest before setting off to Nehalem, Clatsop Plains and Astoria. He also owned the grocery and dry goods store, a barbershop and a saloon.

In those days Garibaldi was divided by deep ravines from a dozen creeks which filled with water every high tide. Bayley bought most of the level land in town for a dollar an acre and sub-divided it into lots, hoping to sell them for a tidy profit. Most didn’t sell until long after his death however when the sawmills brought more residents. Bayley Park Addition now comprises a a large portion of the developed part of town.

Located at the corner of Third and Cypress is Reverend Creech’s Church. Before he or any settlers came to Garibaldi it was known as ”Kil-har-hurst” or “the place of the shamans”. It’s interesting to note that whenever native-American travelers passed Kil-har-hurst they averted their eyes so as not to offend the spirits.

Close to where Rev. Creech’s church now stands a failed Shaman forfeited his life after he promised but unsuccessfully treated a native child for a life threatening illness. Dozens of the girl’s clan members placed a pole across the unfortunate shaman’s throat and seated themselves on either end thereby making it impossible for any single individual to be accused of his death and so suffer his vengeance from the after-world. We’re sure Rev. Billy only makes promises he can keep now-a-days so there’s little chance of him suffering a similar fate.

Warren Vaughn, Bay City homesteader and the County’s first teacher, claimed Garibaldi’s first settler was marooned here in 1851 by his angry Captain. Charley Farwell was the cook aboard the CALUMET which put into Tillamook Bay to escape stormy seas. Charley volunteered to pilot the ship across the bar, claiming to have done it before on a previous voyage. Unfortunately for Charley and his shipmates, the vessel grounded and the decks were swept by huge waves. Captain Fishnor went to his cabin for a pistol to shoot Charley, but luckily (for Charley) a large wave lifted and freed the ship carrying it safely into the calm waters of the bay. Buoyed by his good fortune, Charley confidently instructed the captain to anchor in what, at low tide, proved to be a dangerous anchorage atop a huge rock. It’s no surprise the crew considered Charley a bad luck Jonah . Lucky for him he was put ashore and left behind (before the captain ever found his gun).

At that time only a couple of dozen pioneers were living in small settlements around the Bay. As it turned out, Charley was a better craftsman than seaman. He built a water wheel in Hobson Creek to run a lathe. As more settlers moved to Tillamook County he made a handsome living manufacturing and selling chairs and tables. Some might say Charley Farwell established the first of many wood products plants to spring up in the area.

 Garibaldi was overshadowed (quite literally) for many years by Hobsonville, a settlement built on top of Driscol Point in the 1870’s (now Hobsonville Point). The Smith Lumber Mill operated on the site. Today, both the mill and the town of Hobsonville are long gone. The lower portion of the Point was excavated in the late 1960's to build the Highway 101 fill across Larson Cove between Garibaldi and Bay City..
In 1918 Cummings-Moberly (from Texas of all places) built a sawmill in Garibaldi on what is now the Old Mill property. Thanks to the construction of the P. R. & N Railroad, Cummings-Moberly had a distinct advantage over the Smith Mill which relied on coastal schooners to transport its lumber. Shipping by rail meant the new mill was not subject to the tides and weather as were ships.  Notwithstanding, Cummings-Moberly went broke in 1920 and was taken over by the Whitney Company which operated until 1924 when it was sold to A.B. Hammond.
Under Hammond the mill became one of the largest on the West Coast. He was a benevolent employer who, in slow market times, built houses for the workers to keep them busy. By the late 1920’s Garibaldi was known as a “company town” providing homes for mill personnel, a boarding house at the Whitney Inn, and some of the best baseball teams on the west coast. Hammond built a smoke stack to keep from suffocating the town’s populace. Standing beside the stack was a large electric generating plant fired by wood waste. In 1930 the wooden “G” was erected on the steep slope behind the City proudly proclaiming, “We are Garibaldians”.  The big “G” and the smokestack remain to this day as does the water tower which was necessary to provide sufficient water pressure to fight fires. The Hammond Mill also provided the City’s first fire truck (a 1924 Model T hose-bed truck which the City still owns) along with the men to fight the fires.

When the Great Depression caused the closure of the Hammond Mill in 1935 Mr. Hammond owned a fleet of ships, a railroad, and dozens of logging camps. Ultimately, as a result of the flagging economy, each of the divisions was forced to close. When A.B. Hammond died in 1935 his assets had to be sold to pay the inheritance tax. Garibaldi soon fell into a malaise of unemployment and empty houses.

In 1943, during World War II, the Tillamook Naval Air Station was completed south of Tillamook to house blimps used to patrol the waters off the Oregon coast against attacks from Japanese submarines. It’s a little known fact that a number of incendiary balloons were launched by the enemy into Tillamook County hoping to set forest fires. The remaining hanger at the blimp base, now an Air Museum, represents the largest clear-span wooden structure ever built. 

During the War a large housing facility known as Biak was built near the Old Mill site. The Coast Guard had a compliment of 125 personnel in Garibaldi, housed in rented and private homes. Loggers and mill workers worked six days a week, ten hours a day to keep up with the demand for lumber.

By the end of the war the mill had but one employee... a watchman. Most of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. In 1947 the Nicolai Company converted a portion of the mill into a veneer plant to make plywood using salvage timber harvested from the Tillamook Burn. A year later the Oceanside Lumber Company built a large sawmill to cut dimensional lumber, mining timbers, and railroad ties. This mill became the third largest in the State.
The Oregon-Washington Plywood Company operated on the site until 1974. The mill had become such an integral part of the community that local residents could hardly believe it closed. Mr. Sachs, of SAKS Fifth Avenue fame, was a principal stockholder and personally came to hold a closing garage sale at which every last typewriter and file cabinet were sold. Nothing was left but empty old buildings which sat vacant for a number of years.

Over the years one of the most interesting experiments in the area was an electrically-powered sawmill built in the late 1920's by George Watt on Electric Creek (across Miami Cove from the Old Mill). Shortly after it was completed a flash flood swept it away, before it ever cut its first board. (Now you know how Electric Creek got its name).

The only sawmill in Garibaldi today is the Erickson Hardwood mill owned by Weyerhaeuser Corporation. It specializes in producing western hardwood (alder) furniture lumber. This is a modern, “state of the art” facility and operates at full capacity (running two shifts a day).

At their peak, the local mills probably employed as many as six hundred workers in a variety of wood product plants including wood shingles and shakes, dimensional lumber and plywood. At its peak, Garibaldi’s population grew to more than 1500 full-time residents. The two-room school expanded to eight rooms and there were a hundred students enrolled in the high school.

A couple of years after the Oregon-Washington mill closed, a local group acquired the salvage rights to the improvements but before they could demolish the buildings Jerry Creasy and George Smith stepped in and bought the property “lock, stock and barrel”.
Creasy was determined to save the old buildings and spent much time, effort, and money doing so. One roof alone was four and a half acres and had to be replaced. In addition to his maintenance efforts, Creasy built new buildings including the recreation hall and the restaurant / tackle shop.

 Hundreds of trailer pads and camp sites were developed and docks built in the marina. Often, sunken logs were salvaged from the old mill pond and sawed into lumber using Jerry’s one man sawmill. Although Creasy hired others to help him from time to time it was largely his indefatigable will that built the Old Mill Resort. After he was elected to the Tillamook County Commission Creasy and Smith took in Allan Fleming and his son as partners who later bought them out.

The Flemings sold campground “time-shares” and moorings. This was probably the height of the Old Mill’s success with tens of thousands visitors each year. Marinas up and down the coast were overwhelmed by customers wanting dockage. The Old Mill Resort was a hub of activity. Having sold all available spaces, the Flemings ultimately lost the property to the bank leaving hundreds of time-share owners “high and dry”. In the early 1990’s a group of investors led by Ben Brantingham bought the property and revitalized the park. Over the years Brantingham successfully operated the business over-coming many obstacles including the implementing a comprehensive environmental cleanup of the site necessitated by years of industrial use (and misuse).
In 2005 Old Mill Investment LLC composed of a quartet of local investors acquired the property; their first objective to refurbish the site and existing buildings, returning the park to a popular “gathering place” for tourists, travelers and sportsmen. Long term plans call for redevelopment of the property into a mixed use waterfront community comprised of residential, recreation and commercial uses. A large interpretive park is envisioned in the Miami Cove estuary.
The prospects for Garibaldi and The Old Mill are unlimited. The community is working together to foster sensible growth, economic development and urban renewal.  Cooperation between the public and private sectors will serve as a model for other redeveloping rural communities throughout the State. Just as the Old Mill played a major role in the City’s past, it is certain to be a big part of its future.