Back in 2010 this small town of ~3300 was named one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel. We wholeheartedly agreed as we wandered her streets and shops. With 20+ eateries, this town relies on tourists who come here for the temperate climate, rugged wind-swept beaches, fishing, crabbing, golf, and storm watching. Also drawing in the crowds is the annual Cranberry Festival, which takes place in early September. We learned that 95% of all Oregon cranberries are grown here and Bandon is the first location of “wet harvested” bogs, where dikes are built around the bogs then flooded in the fall and the cranberries rise to the surface, ready to be gathered.
This little town that sits at the mouth of the Coquille River was named by George Bennett, an Irishman who settled here in 1873, naming it after his beloved Irish hometown of Bandon.
He brought with him a plant common around Ireland, gorse. Little did he know at the time the impact this spiny hedge-like plant would have on this community.
In the early 1900’s Bandon’s population of roughly 1800 was considered to be a booming town. Being a heavily forested area, fire was always a possibility but not much of a worry until the fateful day of September 26, 1936. The Bandon residents had no idea the destruction the gorse plant would cause when a fire erupted. This plant, being very oily, reacted as gasoline thrown on a fire and no amount of water added to the mix would have a positive outcome. What remained of the town after the fire died was 16 buildings, of the approximate 500 standing before the burning began. Ironically, a week before the fire, a local plant pathologist warned the residents of the hazards of a fire with so much gorse in the area. Today you can still see remnants of this plant but it is strictly regulated as to its height and thickness.
Spending time at the Bandon Historical Society Museum is a great way to soak up the history of the area, we had heard, but unfortunately we ran out of time so we relied on Nina and Paul of Wheeling It, to educate us about the area, given they are volunteering as Lighthouse Hosts at the Coquille River Lighthouse.
This cute little lighthouse stands at the mouth of the Coquille River and is the second smallest of the 8 lighthouses still standing in Oregon, with a 47 foot tower. It is also the last, built in 1896 and replaced in 1939 by an automated light constructed on the south jetty.
Our last evening in Bandon was spent with Nina and Paul having dinner at the Alloro Wine Bar & Restaurant, a definite must if you are in this coolest of small towns. The entrees were yummy and the chocolate mousse was almost too pretty to eat, almost.
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