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As It Was: Shipbuilding Accompanies Early Coastal Sawmills

The shipbuilding industry flourished for a time alongside sawmills on the Southern Oregon Coast in the days when lumber and coal depended on water transportation. A railroad didn’t reach Coos Bay until 1916.

The industry was born in the 1850s when Asa Meade Simpson of Maine opened a shipyard and one of Southern Oregon’s first sawmills in the Coos Bay estuary, the largest natural harbor on the Oregon Coast. Before long Simpson had established mills along the Pacific Coast that used his ships to carry lumber and freight to West Coast ports and around the world.

The Simpson Shipyard in North Bend built some 60 boats between 1859 and 1903. The most famous was the Western Shore, a clipper that sailed from Portland to Liverpool in 101 days, setting a record time in 1876.

During World War I, the government revived shipbuilding in Coos Bay, contracting with the CBSC and the Kruse and Banks shipyards to build 10 wooden steamships each. After the war ended in 1918, the shipbuilding industry declined and many Pacific Northwest shipyards shut down, including the CBC. Kruse and Banks survived and produced minesweepers during World War II.

Sources: Engeman, Richard H. The Oregon Companion: An Historical Gazetteer of the Useful, the Curious, and the Arcane. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, Inc., 2009. Web. 16 May 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=FaKH2AV08rAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false; Tucker, Kathy. "Coos Bay Shipbuilding Company." The Oregon History Project. Oregon Historical Society, 2002. Web. 16 May 2015. http://oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/coos-bay-shipbuilding-company/#.VVdAszfbKpo; Nelson, Shirley. "Asa Meade Simpson Builds Shipping and Lumber Empire." As It Was. Jefferson Public Radio, 17 Nov. 2008. Web. 16 May 2015. <http://archive.ijpr.org/Feature.asp?FeatureID=1090#>.

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Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.