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American Road Magazine
Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!
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Florence, Oregon





This installment of our blog about places in America Inspired by Famous World Cities is about Florence, Oregon. It is from the Book "For Namesake, a Travel Book". Florence is an interesting place with a very nice bridge across the Siuslaw River. This week they hold their Annual Rhododendron festival from May 17 to May 19. If you aren't able to visit check out the pictures of Rhododendron's on Either Google or Bing Images, very nice. Also be sure to read up on the famous exploding whale incident below - unbelievable. If anyone has visited Florence please leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of it.



Florence, Oregon is a town of 8,466 located in Lane County along the Pacific Coast Highway, US Route 101. It lies along the Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Siuslaw River, some 50 miles west of Eugene, the county seat of Lane County. There is a satellite campus of Lane County Community College in Florence. The main campus is in Eugene as is the University of Oregon. US Highway 101, known as the Pacific Coast Highway, runs mostly along the coast from Port Angeles, Washington to Los Angeles, California. It is highly scenic and almost as historic and famous as Route 66. When you drive it, enjoy the beautiful scenery, but beware that is can be a twisty windy road in many areas. Learn about it at the us-101.com website. [1]


The first settlers in the area around Florence were the Siuslaw Indians. Lane County was established in 1851. White settlers came to the area around Florence in the 1870’s. The story of how the settlement received its name is a matter of discussion. Historical records at the University of Oregon indicate that a sailing vessel named Florence was wrecked nearby along the coast in 1875. Legend has it that a wooden board, with the name of the boat on it, was found by local Indians and given to the townspeople. Thomas Safly supposedly nailed this board to the hotel in town, that was also the post office, and with that the town was named Florence. Others claim that the town was named for State Senator A.B. Florence. He was a supporter of the coastal region and it would be logical that the townspeople might name their town after him. The early 1880’s saw the growth of sawmills and a salmon cannery along the Siuslaw River in the area. The town was incorporated in 1893. [2]


Florence has a number of places listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among them is the Edwin M. Benedict House, said to have inspired Ken Kesey’s Stamper house from his novel “Sometimes a Great Notion”. The William Kyle and Sons mercantile building dates from 1901 and the Art Deco Siuslaw Bridge from 1936. There are two museums in town, the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum and Dolly Wares Doll Museum. The waterfront Old Town district has a number of excellent seafood restaurants. You can try your luck at Three Rivers Casino located just outside of town on the Florence-Eugene Highway (Oregon Route 126). Ten miles to the north of town you may view Sea Lions at Sea Lion Caves, said to be the world’s largest sea cave. If covered bridges strike your fancy, there are some 20 of them located throughout Lane County. [3] Every May, since1908, Florence has hosted its annual Florence Rhododendron festival.


Florence is the site of the infamous exploding whale incident. This took place in 1970 when the Oregon State Highway Division thought it would be a good idea to blow up a beached sperm whale with dynamite. Needless to say they got more than they bargained for. You can watch the video at “The Exploding Whale .com” web site [4]


Florence abounds in opportunities for outdoor recreation. Head a few miles south to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where you can hike or ride a dune buggy on the extensive coast side sand dunes, some of which reach 500 feet in height. Or you may take a jet boat or old fashioned sternwheeler out on the Siuslaw River. Fishing and boating are available at any of 17 lakes in the area. The Oregon coast has more than 60 State Parks or recreation sites. The five near Florence are Jesse M. Honeymoon Memorial State Park, Darlingtonia State Nature Site, Bolon Island Tideways State Scenic Corridor, Carl C. Washburne Memorial State Park, and Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint.


One famous resident of Florence is poet Scott Wannberg, author of the book “Strange Movie of Death”.




  1. <http://www.us-101.com>
  2. <http://www.northwestmagazines.com/oregon_coast_florence_origin_of_name.php>
  3. <http://www.lanecounty.org/About/Documents/Cov_Br_Bro_03.pdf>
  4. <http://www.theexplodingwhale.com>

Photo Credit: (Wikimedia Commons – Sam Beebe CC-BY-SA)




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