This past July (2014 recently marked the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, sometimes called “The World War” and sometimes called “The War to End All Wars” – of course this was the reference prior to the next Great War, WWII. I thought it would be interesting to touch on a few ways that WWI touched Oregon, the Oregon Coast and particularly the Florence area.
Although WWI began in Europe in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson didn’t bring the United States into the fray until April 2, 1917 when he addressed what was called ‘an extraordinary session’ of Congress and the House of Representatives. That war lasted until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, which later became Veterans Day which we celebrate still today. In that short time period, the U.S. lost over 58,000 in casualties, not counting those who suffered wounds. 44,166 Oregonians served in that war, of which over 1,000 were killed, leaving an indelible impact on those Oregon families affected.
One of the positive impacts however, was the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt Coast Military Highway. With a renewed sense of isolationism in the nation, merged with a feeling of vulnerability to attack along the coast following WWI, the Oregon Legislature began attempts to fund and construct a highway along the entire Oregon coast that would not only aid in reducing the threat of vulnerability, but also serve to connect the many coastal communities who remained isolated and struggling to grow, with just wagon trails and beaches providing much of the access to and from each community.
Construction began around 1920 and by mid-1932 nearly 400 miles had been completed, but the major impediment remained the lack of bridges, which didn’t get resolved until 1936. Once the transportation components were completed, it changed life for the entire Oregon coast and certainly the Florence area by opening up travel and encouraging trade. The Roosevelt-Coast Military Highway became US 101 in 1926 and then the Oregon Coast Highway in 1931, which we still call it today. Despite the need for improvement and evolution to the coastal transportation modes there is no doubt that the post WWI vulnerability played a major factor and catalyst to bring it to reality.
Of course the third impact and influence WWI had on the Florence community specifically at that time was the cessation of the annual Rhododendron Festival celebration beginning in 1916 as war clouds rumbled across America. Although the war ended in 1918, the Festival, which began in 1908, didn’t resume again until 1935, presumably additionally influenced by the Great Depression, although I didn’t find any actual references to that in area newspapers of the times. War again interrupted the annual celebration from 1942 to 1946 and it resumed in 1947 and we enjoy it still to this day.
While the growth and evolution of the Oregon Coast as a region and the Florence area as a community has a long and varied history, there is no doubt the effects of WWI played a role.
[Original Issue - September 2014]