To enjoy the variety of small community interests along the Willapa, be sure to take a short 45-minute drive along Hwy 101 to South Bend, the Oyster Capital of the World. Here you can visit the historic Pacific County Courthouse, with its magnificent art glass dome. The Courthouse, erected in 1910, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
South Bend wasn’t always the seat of Pacific County. From 1855 until 1893, Oysterville at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula served as official county seat. However, the South Bend community designated itself as county seat in 1892 and, when a lawsuit didn’t persuade Peninsula residents to turn over the courthouse, South Bend citizens one dark night, crossed the Willapa and ‘removed’ the records that following year.
While in the Courthouse, enjoy the painted scenes showing early County life. Look closely at the columns on the second floor; these were painted by a fellow who was inhabiting the local jail at a time when it became clear that the amount of money budgeted for the building would not cover all of its costs. Drawing on local expertise, the Commissioners instructed this artist, who just happened to be in jail at the time, to paint both the murals and the columns. To keep up the appearance of the building, he painted the columns to mimic marble.
Also located in South Bend is the County Museum and Historical Society. Easily found on the main road (hwy 101), the Museum has a great selection of local history, a bookstore and personnel who can provide you with maps and information about the area.
A few minutes north of South Bend is Raymond, another community built upon the Willapa. Known as the ‘Gateway to the Willapa’, Raymond has five miles of life-size metal sculptures along Hwy 101 and SR 6. The 200 sculptures replicate many aspects of local community history, including ducks, beavers, coyotes, and families at play, Native Americans, and a cluster of deer so lifelike that passers-by insist that they are real!
Also located in Raymond is the Willapa Seaport Museum with its wide variety of naval paraphernalia. During the summer months (June through September), a local Public Market on the Willapa offers a selection of local produce and work by local artisans. Not-to-be-missed is the Northwest Carriage Museum, which is home to twenty-three beautifully restored horse-drawn vehicles, some of which were used in the movies Gone with the Wind and Jezebel. These three attractions are located within steps of one another and include interactive exhibits for kids and adults.
Another 18 miles of beach and views await you slightly north of Raymond, as you wind around towards Westport and Grayland at the northernmost end of the County. The state’s largest lighthouse is open for touring in Grays Harbor, through the Westport Maritime Museum, another fascinating home for maritime history.
For more information on North Pacific County, visit www.willapaharbor.org