The initial surge of homesteaders in Cannon Beach, which can first dated back to 1848, found the pristine locale deceptively difficult to tame. From razing the land of stalwart spruce to battling wind-charged rainfall, the modest act of building a structure was multiplied in complexity for even the most determined would-be residents. And yet they still came. At first by basic trails – routes long carved out by natives, traders, and wild game.
Later they widened, as paths were successively more frequented. Despite gradual progress, this coastal hamlet – then homesteaded as Elk Creek, remained a difficult place to get to. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that homesteaders began the implementation of a modernized wagon road. The Seaside-Elk Creek Road reached town by 1890 and would eventually bear buggies and transport of all shades, greatly increasing accessibility in the decades to come. Within merely two years hotels had already sprung up.
The Elk Creak and Ecola area soon grew into a summer destination resort, drawing tent camps, cottages, and eventually year-round residents. In the August of 1891 The Daily Astorian declared the settlement a “sportsman’s paradise” – ideal for rest and recuperation. It was alluring for both its location and its unequivocal charm. As it developed out from its modest infancy, the town became engaged in a cautious balancing act, which prevails to this day. On the one hand, supporting population growth and all the facets of modernity, and on the other hand, preserving the idyllic conditions that prompted so many to move here in the first place.
By 1922, at the insistence of the now defunct U.S. Post Office Department, Ecola was rechristened Cannon Beach, after the name of the beach that extends south of Ecola creek, ending at Arch Cape. This was to avoid postal confusion between Ecola and Eola, a community in Polk County, Oregon. As it grew, Cannon Beach not only drew scores of families from nearby Portland and Astoria, but from farther reaching parts of the world as well. Some found their way across the lengthy Oregon Trail only to rest at the coastline, the last stop on the Manifest Destiny highway.
And others still followed paths slightly less trodden. The story of the Woodfield family is one such path. Frank Woodfield was born in Astoria, Oregon, on July 17th, 1879. His father, Ernest Woodfield, came to Astoria from Devonshire, England to open a cannery, the Point Adams Company, in an effort to take advantage of the high demand for salmon that Astoria was producing. Unfortunately, Point Adams burned down in the first Astoria fire, causing undue stress to Ernest. The family then moved to Santa Barbara, California where Ernest passed away shortly thereafter. Frank was only four at the time. Over time his mother, Marie, made her way back to Astoria, where Frank eventually graduated from Astoria High School.
Woodfield was an industrious man with a keen grasp for public demand. Just a year after graduating from Astoria High School in 1898, Frank started his own company. The young entrepreneur sold wholesale produce, fixed bicycles, and held exclusive coastal rights to sell the Rambler, a popular bicycle of the time. Frank and his wife, Irta, purchased and developed land in Tolovana Park. There, Frank and Irta would travel by motorcar along the windy roads from Astoria to Cannon Beach for summer sojourns.
In 1910, Frank was introduced to photography by a man named Elmer Alan Coe, Coe, was a businessman to whom Woodfield could relate. Coe was also an established photographer. It wasn’t long before he shared his new friend’s love of photography. Frank was clearly a natural. Both he and Coe would travel the coastline, capturing the most iconic of Oregon images. In fact, Woodfield and Coe took many photos of early Cannon Beach, Astoria, and Arch Cape. Woodfield, always in tune with the public appetites, realized the desire for postcards and photo collection. His next move was to create and market photo postcards prominently featuring the major themes of a given area. Wife Irta, an artist in her own right who worked in belles-lettres, would design and create frames for collectibles and tint photos for Frank whenever possible.
Such was his gift for documentation that the works of this businessman cum photographer have become nearly ubiquitous on the Oregon coast. An impressive number of the archival images on display at the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum feature Woodfield’s designation along the bottom. Frank’s photo postcards still pop up all over the world. Many are housed at the Maritime Museum, the Clatsop County Historical Society, the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and even the Library of Congress. Frank Woodfield was arguably the most prolific coastal photographer of his time.
There were many other well-known Oregon photographers, perhaps some more famous, but very few that were as handy with the Kodak #10 Cirkut. The Cirkut was originally designed to showcase large groups of people, and because the camera rotated, it allowed the photographer to be much closer to the subject and yet still capture the whole group. This allowed Frank to take his most popular photos, the Panorama. Frank was able to capture 360 degrees of beautiful Oregon landscape. When the second great fire tore through Astoria in 1922, Frank was there to capture the images that would be seen around the state.
Frank and Irta’s love of Cannon Beach was evident in their family photos, films, and even in Irta’s poetry. If he enjoyed the succinct medium of the picture, then she preferred the articulation of a thousand words, both believing them to be worth the same. Soon after the couple retired to Tolovana Park in 1944, Irta began to focus on her writing with renewed passion.
Irta wrote, “I arise at 6, as a rule, each day, and write as long as I feel like it.” Many who passed by their Tolovana home could hear the clacking of Irta’s brand-new Royal Portable typewriter. In December of 1954 Irta’s book Beside Our Sandy Shore was published. Only 500 copies were ever printed. Two months later Frank Woodfield passed away at their Tolovana home.
A hundred years later Cannon Beach remains the cherished town that it once started out as, still both alluring for its location and its unequivocal charm. She continues to balance between growth and preservation. And the history of this artful balance itself has been beautifully preserved between so many pictures and so many more words.
To the families who visit here return year after year, even generation after generation, its magnetism is a testament. Although it remains windswept, small, and idiosyncratic – countless have come to regard this land as the veritable picture of perfection. Picture perfect.
A special thank you to Tom Olsen Jr. of Anchor Productions.