Nearly everyday a visitor to the museum will comment about how much our small town has changed over the years. Hotels are razed, restaurants replaced, family homes moved or torn down. It is rare to find a home in Cannon Beach that remains unchanged for 100 years.
In the early 1900’s the streets of Cannon Beach were made up of small clusters of cottages, tents, all surrounded by tall dominating Spruce trees. Those that chose to build homes here often used whatever material they could find. John Delbert Griffin’s family was one of the first families to homestead in Cannon Beach. In his book Reflections on Early Cannon Beach, Griffin suggests that, for those lucky enough to find a straight Spruce free of bad limbs and burls, they could fashion it into a cottage or bungalow that could survive even the strongest North Western squall. The trees that were not used to build homes were usually torn down and burned to make way for development.
However, most homeowners at that time used whatever they could find whether it be driftwood, seashells, stones, or Spruce. Very few homeowners could afford the cost of transporting timber and supplies from Portland or Astoria.
Constructing homes in Cannon Beach was not for the timid. It took ingenuity, and gusto. For one family this gusto brought them along 2,000 miles of Oregon Trail to Portland, Oregon. The Cornell family then spread across Oregon, some heading to Corvallis, others to Cannon Beach.
Emily Cornell moved to Cannon Beach with her son Willis in the early 1900’s. When Emily and her son Willis arrived are unknown – the earliest photo in our archives is dated 1909. What we do know is that several years later Willis sketched out plans for a home to be built on the property that H.A. Cornell, Emily’s father, helped her to purchase.
Some photos dated to 1912 show a nearly completed Cornell Cottage. However, the original building plans submitted to the county are dated to 1915, whatever the correct date the home was completed at the latest, by 1915. Some would say that the design was simple, while others have suggested it is timeless. Willis certainly created a home to last, in fact, it has lasted nearly 100 years with very little alterations. It is not surprising when you look at the Cornell family history. Emily’s great-grand-daughter, Linda McCarty, remembers that Willis’ brother started the world wide engineering firm CH2M Hill after attending Oregon State University.
Over the years family and friends often visited Emily at her beach cottage, either staying in two longhouses constructed on the property or setting up tents in the backyard. Emily and family would, “manage the crowd.”
As one Cornell postcard suggests, “Clean, cook, wash, and promptly eat, sleep, and be happy.” Who wouldn’t want to eat, sleep, and be happy? The name on the post card is difficult to read, but the author excitedly refers to Aunt E. and it is addressed to Emily Cornell’s sister in Portland.
Emily Cornell was a rare year-round resident of Cannon Beach. She hung on through high-winds, and pelting rains. She was active in with the Women’s Library Club and the Presbyterian Church.
The Cornell family home will be featured on the 9th Annual Cottage Tour along with other historic cottages and beach dream houses. To learn more about the Cornell family history and home, the tour is to be held this September the 8th and 9th. To date the Cottage Tour has opened the doors of 71 historic cottages for public view.
The stories told in the Cottage Tour speak to a simpler time, when summer travelers stayed throughout the warm months, rather than spending a quick weekend at the beach. Some families, like the Cornell’s were year-round residents. Without knowing it these families established Cannon Beach as a destination resort. Homes like Emily Cornell’s still remind us all of the quaint, family appeal of sunny summers on the North Coast.