North Bend, Oregon is a city with a rich and storied history. Did you know it happens to be one of the few cities that has its own currency? In the depths of the depression the only bank in town closed. Pressed for cash, the city minted currency using myrtlewood discs printed on a newspaper press.
When the bank reopened and the city asked people to redeem the myrtlewood money, many people opted to keep the tokens. So few were redeemed so the city announced the tokens would remain legal tender forever. It would be unusual to use one today as they are valuable and rare.
In the 1850’s Asa Simpson, a sea captain, shipbuilder and lumberman built a sawmill and shipyard at the north bend of Coos Bay. This was the start of large shipbuilding industry that lasted 100 years. Louis Simpson, son of Asa took over the shipbuilding business in 1899 and bought the townsite of Yarrow. He combined this with his father’s land and incorporated the City of North Bend in 1903. Louis saw North Bend as the San Francisco of the North.
This brings us full circle or more importantly brings us to Grant Circle in North Bend. Grant Circle was donated to the city by its founder Louis Simpson and for years was an intact diamond and a community focal point for the people. In the 1950’s, two avenues were put though the square, destroying what had been a traditional city gathering place.
For a number of years, there had been a battle over what Grant Square/Circle should be. One side had advocated for a round-a-bout with more parking and the other side, an attractive park-like plaza for pedestrians. A 2006 study by the Oregon Downtown Development Association concurred with North Bend’s Urban Renewal plan and said the traffic circle is large enough “to become a real showpiece for upper downtown with a viewing platform facing the waterfront.”
The residents and visitors of North Bend are about to see that reality.
The design goals for the Grand Circle were to:
In September of 2013, the city voted unanimously to award the architectural contract to HGE Inc. of Coos Bay and Joe Slack is the architect. In April of 2014, Baldwin General Contracting, Inc. of Albany was awarded the contracting bid.
The final plan includes the use of historical plaques, a statue of Simpson, and some flag poles. The water feature did not make the final plan but a prominent feature of the circle is the “ships bow” an elevated platform extending into the plaza. This architectural bow provides a new remembrance to the long and storied shipbuilding history of North Bend, known for the record breaking Oregon Clipper ships.
Work began in early July 2015 and is expected to be completed sometime in late October. The circle given to the city by its founder for community use will once again be a focal point for civic activities while all the time reminding everyone of North Bend’s history.
Next we’ll dive a little deeper into the day-to-day construction of this plaza for the people.