The seat of Pacific County and a lumber and shingle-manufacturing center. Proximity to the great oyster-growing beds of Willapa Harbor has made oyster canning an important industry. The stores and dwellings of the town, built on a narrow shelf between the hills and the river, are crowded close to the principal street and highway for a distance of nearly two miles. An annual event is the Water Carnival, held on the Willapa River each Labor Day.
In the 1860s and 1870s, South Bend was the metropolis of the County and a key point in the water and stagecoach transportation system of Washington Territory. Many quaint buildings, ornamented with scrollwork and filigree and crowned with cupolas, reflect this early-day glory.
The pastoral calm of the little settlement was greatly disturbed in 1892, when the town won the county seat from Oysterville, a rival across the bay. After a heated argument over the elections, during which the opposing town refused to give up the county records, a body of South Bend citizens appeared suddenly in Oysterville, one Sunday morning in February 1893, and departed unceremoniously with books and records.
In 1895, the Northern Pacific Railroad tapped the rich timberland adjacent to South Bend, and a period of swift expansion began. Promoters built a turreted 400-room hotel on the crest of the highest hill; opened it with a grand ball and riotous celebration; but closed it immediately afterward, without its ever having sheltered a paying guest. The real-estate schemes of the period were similarly deflated, but they did succeed in attracting many settlers. Lumber, shellfish, and improved transportation facilities aided in stabilizing the town, which became the political center of the region.