As you drive along the scenic Oregon coastline, the stress of your busy life is washed away with waves crashing along wind-swept shorelines. Near the halfway mark along Highway 101, you’ll find Florence, Oregon, with its delightful bayfront Historic Old Town district, soaring dunes, and abundant wildlife. Here are seven little known facts about the history of Florence that will make you want to stop and stay a while:
1. Rhododendron Festival
Prime among all things that make Florence unique is the Rhododendron Festival, warmly referred to as the “Rhody Fest.” The annual festival honors the beauty and resilience of the Oregon Coast rhododendrons that line Highway 101 and fill the town with color.
Unsurprisingly, the community of Florence is very proud of this festival, as it is the second oldest flower festival in Oregon. Mark your calendars and make your reservations now because it always takes place during the third weekend of May. Fun fact: the next Rhody Fest, in 2020, will be the 113th annual festival!
2. Coast Guard City
On August 16, 2017, 100 years after the establishment of the first Coast Guard Station in Florence, the city became a Coast Guard City. Florence is the third Coast Guard City in Oregon and the 24th in the United States.
The community earned this designation through a variety of efforts, including assisting local USCG crews with housing and medical care, welcoming and encouraging kids to attend local schools, and offering military discounts.
3. The Suislaw People
The first inhabitants of what we now know as the city of Florence were the Siuslaw people. In fact, these people began settling the coast approximately 9,000 years ago. The Siuslaw people have lived in the same locations for hundreds of generations. The Siuslaw and Lower Umpqua rivers and estuaries were the dominating factors in the local economy. Providing ample supplies of fish and shellfish, the rivers also served as a highway into the Coast Range.
Descendants of the Siuslaw people live today throughout Western Oregon, represented by federally recognized tribes. These include the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.
4. Coastal Frontier
The city of Florence, established in 1893, was a rugged coastal frontier settlement that relied mostly on fishing and logging to power its economy. The forest-covered mountains and swarming salmon runs presented an abundance of opportunity.
1877 marked the establishment of the first fish cannery, and the first sawmill opened soon afterward in 1878. However, it wasn’t until the late 1880s that the cannery and lumber industries took off. Today, the city still has remnants of these industries, but tourism is now the backbone of the economy, providing nearly 1500 jobs and more than $129 million of incoming money to the community.
5. Exploding Whale
Hailed as one of Oregon’s “all-time biggest blubbers,” on November 12, 1970, the Oregon Department of Transportation used a half-ton of dynamite to blow up a dead whale that had washed up on a Florence beach. The mass of fat and bone erupted spreading chunks of whale far and wide. Needless to say, dynamite has not been used to dispose of a whale in Oregon since. Videos, gifs, memes and news stories of the “blubber” have been shared millions of times and is perhaps the kookiest facet of the history of Florence. Simply Google “exploding whale Florence Oregon” and be amazed.
Interestingly, the science-fiction franchise, Dune, was inspired by Florence’s majestic and expansive dunes. Florence was also the site for a few movies including the award-winning “Sometimes A Great Notion”.
Last but not least, if you are heading north on Highway 101, you will cross over into Florence via the historic Siuslaw River Bridge. With a quick right turn at the end of the bridge, you enter Florence’s Historic Old Town District. The bridge is an Art Deco, double-leaf bascule bridge. Two movable sections rise upwards to open and allow the navigation of large ships and other water traffic to pass. The bridge is significant as one of five Depression-era bridges that completed the Oregon Coast Highway (Hwy 101) as part of the Coast Bridges Project. These five bridges, designed by civil engineer Conde McCullough, were built between 1934 and 1936 under the Public Works Administration (PWA). The bridge opened in March 1936 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 5, 2005.
In addition, here are a few “Florence firsts” for history fans:
- Church: Presbyterian – 1892
- Electric Lines installed in Old Town in 1912
- Jetty started 1892; completed 1917; repaired and extended multiple times since
- Library: 1906
- Newspaper: “The West” (now The Siuslaw News) in 1890
- Postmaster: 1886
- Sea Lion Caves 1st man to enter: 1887
- Sea Lion Caves opened to the public: 1932
- School: 1886
- Shipwreck: 1856 – Siuslaw Bar
- Store: 1883-84 (general enterprise); 1912 (merchandise)
- Telephone: 1905 – Florence to Cushman
- Waterline installed: 1916
As you can see, the history of Florence is rich. If you need a place to stay during your adventure back in time, the River House Inn is a great place to start. After all, it’s located in Historic Old Town Florence just steps away from all the great shops, galleries, food and drink that make Florence a must-stop on your Oregon Coast vacation! Book directly through our website or front desk (call 888-824-2454) to save money and get the best, most accurate availability of rooms.