A long native presence & much speculation about early mariners
The city of Wheeler with the commanding view of the Nehalem Bay has some of the most interesting pre-Oregon history beginning with Frances Drake repairing his ship in the summer of 1579 and the wreck of a 1700’s Spanish Galleon. Some suggest that the area is actually the New Albion referred to in accounts of Drake’s voyage. Others suggest that Bruno de Heceta was the first European to approach the Columbia River Bar area in 1775, a mere decade before Lewis & Clark. Still others claim that a careful bit of digging in Nehalem Bay will confirm that Chinese mariners arrived here before the Europeans.
The first survey of Wheeler was made by a US Geological Survey team in 1856.
It is not uncommon to find references in early documents to Edward and Nancy Gervais. Edward was the grandson of Coboway, the Chief of the Chinook tribe at the time of Lewis and Clark. Nancy Gervais was the last full- blooded Nehalem Native American.
The village was founded as a mill town in 1910 by lumberman Coleman H. (“C.H.”) Wheeler, for whom it is named. Wheeler operated a saw mill called the Wheeler Lumber Company which he founded in 1912. Wheeler died about 1920.
The success of the town was, in part, due to the railroad – mainly freight trains hauling lumber products from mills in Wheeler. By 1981, the Port of Tillamook Bay was operating the line from Tillamook to Wheeler and still does, providing short “Fun Run” trains from Garibaldi to Wheeler and the Nehalem Bay Winery in Mohler, as well as full- and half-day runs into the Salmonberry Canyon in the summer (BBQ train) and fall (Fall Foliage Runs in September, October and November).
In 1920, the Rinehart Arthritis Clinic opened in Wheeler and became quite well known. Now a general practice clinic serving the Nehalem Bay Area, the Rinehart Clinic is still a vital asset to Wheeler and the surrounding villages and is headed by Dr. Harry Rinehart, a third generation descendant of the founding Rinehart.
During the 70’s, an economic downturn resulted in the closing of many large employing businesses in the area, and Wheeler’s economy suffered as a result. In the early 1990’s, residents of the area decided to revitalize their town. The Wheeler Business Association was organized and began to attract new employers and visitors. Wheeler changed into a vital, interesting place to live, work, pursue the arts and come for a visit.