Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

The Best Approach

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Jimmy Kemmer, Judy Heckes and ‘Aunt Rye’ at the Oysterville Approach, c. 1940

Here on the Peninsula, when we talk about one approach versus another, we usually aren’t talking golf strategies or planning a sales campaign.  We’re talking beach approaches – the traditional ingress/egress roadways to and from the ocean beach.

At Oysterville – and probably at other early settlements, as well – the approach road was originally constructed for wagons and stagecoaches that carried freight and passengers from one end of the Peninsula to the other.  Travelers journeyed along the only available north/south highway – the hard sands of the weather beach.  Each ‘approach’ was marked by a large, clearly visible sign constructed in the area of the primary dune.  Or, more accurately, as clearly visible as a sign could be made, considering the constraints of stormy weather, wind-blown sand, fog or any of the usual constraints and challenges.

Winter 1983 Sou’wester

Communities took pride in their approach Signs.  When I was a child, the sign said “Come Again” as you left Oysterville Road and drove onto the beach.  And, coming back, the big letters that spelled OYSTERVILLE may have been the first word I ever could read.  Community members took pride in constructing approach signs that were distinctive.  In 1983, the Sou’wester featured a photograph of Ocean Park’s “Sunset Arch” and provided the following information about it:

This old Ocean Park beach approach sign was dubbed the “Sunset Arch”. It stood at the east end of Bay Avenue and was erected in the spring of 1932. It replaced a weather-beaten sign which stood at the approach for many years. Two local clubs called the Nit-Wits, a men’s club, and S. I. O (Six in One), a women’s club, joined forces to build it. Club members were Les Wilson, Bob Delay, Henry Edmonds Jr., Bit Wins Sr., John Morehead Jr., Walker Tompkins, Lucille Wickberg (Mrs. Les Wilson), Edith Lundquist Winn (Mrs. Bill Winn), Alva Slagle, Nancy Peterson, Sharlie Peterson, and Edna Burden. Les Wilson says his club feted a fir tree, sawed the trunk into three pieces, and transported it to the dunes at the approach. After several failures, the sign was finally erected. Walker Tompkins painted it to read “Ocean Park” on the west side and “Sunset View” on the east side. Henry Edmonds says that Charles “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick set up his camera and waited for two hours to get a photograph of a car driving under it. This photo, without a car, was also taken by Fitzpatrick. The “Sunset Arch” finally rotted in the late 1940s and the sign was replaced by a new community group led by Lyle Clark in 1949. The new sign utilized the metal masts of the wrecked ship Arrow. One of the masts still stands, but it is now badly rusted. In December1981 the North Beach Peninsula Association instated a beautiful new sign at the beach approach.  The legend “Ocean Park, 1883, 46° 30′ W., 124°2′ N.” is etched in the wood. 

Long Beach Approach, Historic

I understand that nowadays, replacing an approach sign isn’t all that ‘easy.’  There are right-of-ways and easements and laws and liability issues to consider.  Estimates to replace the Seaview approach sign (damaged by a vehicle) are in the tens-of-thousands-of-dollars range.  In our complicated, litigious society, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) no longer exists and liability rather than visibility determines the best approach.  A sad commentary, indeed.

Our North Beach Peninsula

Friday, April 7th, 2017

“The North Beah Peninsula” by Paul Staub

I’m not always happy about an editor’s changes to my pearls of thought.  In fact, I’ve been known to get quite snarky about word substitutions or adjustments to phrasing.  However, the addition of a dozen words to an otherwise dull caption in this week’s paper pleased me inordinately.  Definitely one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-it things.

The caption accompanied the photograph that accompanied (got that?) my column.  I didn’t much like it when I wrote it:  Looking north from First Avenue and lake Street in Ilwaco, July 4, 1910.  The carriage, train tracks and automobile are good indicators that it was a period of transition on the North Beach Peninsula.  But a good ‘fix’ didn’t readily come to me, so that’s how I left it.  The edited version changed that final period to a comma and added: as the Long Beach Peninsula is still formally known to some mapmakers.

Promotional Map, c. 1942

             Perfect!  In fact, I love explaining to people that the official name of our Peninsula, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (which shares its responsibilities with the Department of the Interior) is still the North Beach Peninsula.  Despite several attempts over the years to change the name – a change advocated largely by tourism promotors – the Board has always concluded that there is no overriding reason to exchange ‘Long’ for ‘North.’

I took a look online to see what maps are available that still correctly identify the North Beach Peninsula and was gratified to find that there are quite a few.  The very first one that popped up is the best one, in my opinion!  It was done by my cartographer neighbor, Paul Staub.  I commissioned it for my book Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula and I think it’s perfect!

Promotional Postcard “With Views”

My favorite story regarding our Peninsula’s name has to do with artist Joe Knowles.  During the years he lived here on the beach, his paintings and etchings had become quite collectible but, even so, he never got paid for his twelve-by-three-foot oil “North Beach Peninsula,” though it was displayed prominently in the Washington State Exhibit at the Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  The city fathers of Long Beach who had commissioned it refused to pony up, claiming it was incorrectly named.

So… thanks for those dozen words, Editor Winters!  They made all the difference (and gave me a blog to boot!)

Small House With A Huge History

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

The Little Red Cottage

I don’t think the Red Cottage is the smallest house in town.  Probably that distinction goes to the Hausler place at the southwest corner of Oysterville and Territory Roads.  But, now that the Nelson and Captain Stream houses have been enlarged, I think the Red Cottage (once known as the Munson House or the Munson Store) is probably the smallest of the historic structures remaining in the village.

Perhaps it’s because I know that little cottage so well that I feel it has one of the most significant histories in town.  For starters, it’s the oldest.  It was built in 1863 (perhaps as early as 1857) by Captain Joel Munson with the help of his brothers-in-law, Byron and Nathan Kimball.  The Kimball boys and their sister Sophia Kimball Munson had survived the infamous Whitman Massacre back in 1847.  (Their older sister, Susan Kimball Wirt, lived across the street with husband August Wirt.)

And if the connection to the Whitman Massacre isn’t historic enough, Joel Munson, himself, was a man of considerable distinction.  From 1865 to 1877 he served as Lightkeeper at the Cape Disappointment Light Station.  Early in his posting, the bark Industry wrecked near the Cape with a loss of seventeen lives.  Munson, greatly disturbed that there had not been a lifesaving craft available to the lightkeepers, raised money for a lifesaving boat and, later, helped establish a lifesaving station at Cape Disappointment.

Joel Munson

Captain Munson’s money-raising efforts in the cause of lifesaving had centered around his expertise as a fiddler.  He organized two dances in Astoria, charging $2.50 per person, to raise over $200.  Apparently, he also made fiddles.  Years later in her autobiography, Bethenia Owens-Adair had these reminiscences about the Captain:

Mr. Munson might well be called a ‘diamond in the rough.’ He had a big heart, a hilarious, jovial disposition, and loved good company and a good social time.  He was a tall, broad-shouldered, powerfully-built man, with a large, square head. He was a natural musician, and loved the violin on which he could play by the hour, day or night, and never tire. I have heard him say, ‘I believe I could play in my sleep if I tried.’ I have seen him play and laugh and talk at the same time, never missing a note or losing time or expression…

   Mr. Munson manufactured a number of violins, some of which were valuable. One of these he made from a piece of hardwood which he found several feet below the surface while digging a drain in a swamp near the lighthouse. No hardwood grows anywhere near that vicinity, and this fragment must have drifted ashore long years before and had been covered with [the] debris, it may be, of a century.

Bethenia, herself, stayed for some time with the Munsons in Oysterville in their little cottage.  She first came as a young woman – a friend of Sophia Munson’s – and was keen to get an education.  She attended the Oysterville School for a term, came back a few years later to teach there, went on to continue her education and become Oregon’s first female doctor.  I see her story as another historic association with the Red Cottage!

Sign on the Red Cottage

All these historic connections, of course, were well ahead of the Red Cottage’s best known claim to fame – serving as the first Pacific County Courthouse from 1866 to 1875.  And, my personal favorite Red Cottage note of importance – its ownership from 1974 to 1997 by the man who painted it red, my uncle and distinguished author, Willard Espy!

Oysterville’s Provenance

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

prov·e·nance – a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.

Holway House, 1949

I’ve been thinking about the changes in our little village’s demographics, not only in the forty years I’ve lived here full-time, but going back forty before that to my childhood and forty before that to my grandfather’s childhood and even back before that.  I know that ‘provenance’ is not the correct term when applied to an entire village, but in my mind, the history of property ownership in Oysterville is a provenance of sorts.  Especially since I think of Oysterville as being ‘a work of art’ albeit on a large scale.

Thanks to the research done by those who nominated Oysterville for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places back in the 1970s, we have a pretty clear understanding of who built the buildings that remain from the early days and who has owned them since.  As far as I know, there is only one 19th century structure – the R.H. Espy House (1872) – that has remained in the same family since its construction.  In addition, of course, there are homes have been built more recently that are still occupied by their ‘original’ families, but even those are diminishing.

John Crellin House, 1870

There was a point a year or so ago that it felt like the entire village was for sale.  Obviously a gross exaggeration, but three residences out of our little total of 23 seemed like a lot.  Since then, one house has been taken off the market and surprise! surprise! one never listed has sold quietly and without fanfare.

In the art world, according to the website LOFTY, “experts are interested in the provenance of an item for several reasons, the most important of which is that well-documented provenance helps confirm that an item is authentic. Undocumented gaps of time in an object’s history could indicate that the item may be a forgery with a fabricated history.”


Clearly, there is no easy correlation from artwork to residential structures – at least not as far as the provenance is concerned.  But… if there were an Antiques Road Show for early settlements, what would the ‘experts’ say about Oysterville?  Would the ‘provenance’ of the structures count for anything at all?  Probably not, but it’s always interesting to know who used the plumbing before you or even when the first plumbing came indoors.

Breakfast with Jim and A Talk with Tom

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

42nd Street Cafe

This morning we headed south on Sandridge shortly after dawn’s early gray.  It was pouring.  It was cold.  And it was way too early on a Sunday morning.  Nevertheless, I was looking forward to our breakfast date with Jim Sayce.

Our rendezvous point was the 42nd Street Café.  Jim and I used to meet there now and then when I was working on the Sou’wester issue, “Place Names of the Long Beach Peninsula.”  That was a couple of years ago, and I think those meetings, like this one, were at my instigation.  For certain things, there’s no one’s brain better to pick than Jim’s!

This time, I wanted to talk to him about an old photograph.  It’s one that I’ve had for some time and just ran across again.  Although it is labeled and I know exactly where it was taken, I can’t quite figure out some of the geographic details.  Since there are few people who know more about the physical changes that have happened historically in our area, Jim was my go-to guy.  And besides, I really like the Eggs Benedict at the 42nd Street – a ‘Sunday morning only’ treat.

Eggs Benedict

Speaking of food… I think that’s the only reason Nyel went along. He said hardly a word during our more-than-two-hour breakfast but he listened attentively – which is good.  I’m at the point where another pair of ears helps a lot.  As for Jim – he talked plenty, but then he always does.  For all I know, he came for the food too…  No matter.  I learned a bunch.  And for the record, I talked plenty, too.

The photograph is labeled ‘Ilwaco, July 4, 1910’ and it’s one neither Jim nor I have seen anywhere else.  I’m thinking about using it as the centerpiece in my next Observer column which is due a week from now.  I’m not sure exactly the how of it, but the photograph is too hard to archive without first sharing it. It probably won’t please my critics (well, just one that I know of) who have told the editor that my columns contain “too much history.”  My uncharitable thought is that he/she probably qualifies for a position at the current White House.

Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park, Washington.

On our way back to Oysterville, we stopped for a few minutes at Jack’s to get some salad stuff and so I could interview Tom Downer about his April 6th Oysterville Schoolhouse Lecture.  His subject: “Jack’s Story.”  I arrived home feeling enriched all the way around.  What fabulous people live in our midst!  Now if only I can do justice to what I learned…

Listening to Indigenous Voices

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

The Program

Yesterday at Astoria’s Liberty Theater, I felt the Mantle of White Guilt settle more firmly about my shoulders as we listened to the “story-driven discussions that elevate indigenous voices in our understanding of the Columbia River system.”  I went to the Confluence Story Gathering with eager anticipation; I left with a heavy heart.

The misunderstanding was mine.  I thought we would hear the stories from long ago – the stories of Coyote and Blue-jay who appear throughout the traditional Chinook legends and who show up, perhaps slightly differently, in the stories of other Northwest Coast tribes.  I thought we would learn about some of the taboos and traditions that are being re-emphasized and re-taught within the tribes of our area.  I thought we would come away knowing something about the story-telling traditions of our indigenous neighbors and about the revival of Chinook Wa-Wa or jargon.

My mistake.  Those things were barely referred to.  The emphasis was on what has been lost – in the landscape (Celilo Falls, Pillar Rock) and in far more important ways (property rights; recognition of existence.)  With each ‘story’ my mantle of guilt thickened and weighted me down.  We did this – our people.  Our ancestors.  The pioneers, the settlers, the colonists.  We were guilty.  We still are.

Postcard of Pillar Rock circa 1910

The speakers included: Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation; David Lewis, member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; and Oregon Poet Laureate Elizabeth Wood, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.  The three of them formed a panel who discussed a series of filmed presentations by a number of native elders and tradition keepers.  Of all of them, only Tony Johnson alluded to any of the subjects I had hoped to learn more about.

He spoke of his wife ‘not even thinking’ of wearing a necklace when she was pregnant.  He spoke of coyote peeking through a crack in the rocks – just a hint at a wonderful story I’ve heard him tell before.  But just a hint.  And it was Tony who told about Pillar Rock, the boy who once stood 75 to 100 feet above the water (depending on the tide) before being flattened for installation of a navigation marker (Marker 17) and a light.  But they were only allusions to a whole body of cultural knowledge that I had expected to learn more about.

Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation

I had hoped to come away with a glimpse of indigenous culture as seen through traditional stories.   Instead, I left feeling thankful that I’ve attended talks and taken a class or two from Tony Johnson in the past.  He’s the only one, so far, who has helped me understand his heritage from his own point of view.  From my perspective, that’s the only way to lift the paralyzing weight of this White Guilt we feel so that we can embrace a future of better understanding.

Yesterday what I left with, instead, were echoes of same-old, oft-repeated stories of cruelty, greed, betrayal, and denial that ‘we’ have perpetrated and perpetuated.  But what are the cultural traditions that are so revered and are slowly being brought back?  Those were the stories I went to hear.  I was sorely disappointed.

Looking Backward and Forward, Mail-Wise

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Postcard of Oysterville Post Office Outside and Inside

I don’t know how old I was when I realized that the daily mail was something to look forward to.  Maybe I was five or six and my Oysterville Granny or my Boston Nana had sent a letter addressed specifically to me.  Oh, the joy of it!

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the flip side of that anticipation: a little bit of dread, probably having to do with incoming bills.  Then along came the junk-mail years and both anticipation and dread went on more-or-less permanent hold as far as my post office box was concerned.  Just annoyance at more recycling to be done.

Betty Paxton at 100

Nowadays, my surprises from afar often come in the form of emails and often they are from people I don’t know.  In particular, messages and queries come in response to my blog and, more often than not, to a blog that I posted long ago.  I usually have to recalibrate my mental calendar a bit to remember what my newly-acquired correspondent is talking about.

Yesterday, for instance, I received an email in response to my April 16, 2016 blog, “Betty Paxton: My Role Model.”  The email was from a woman who had worked with Betty in Seattle back in the ‘70s and wanted to get in touch with her.  She expressed amazement that Betty was now 102 and confided that she, herself, was only 67 and talked about a small driftwood and seashell sculpture of a seagull that Betty had made for her long ago.  She still has it, though the tiny beak has broken off.

And, a few days before that, along came an email from someone with a familiar name who wanted to know something about a place she stayed in Long Beach when she was a little girl visitor in the 1940s.  Unfortunately, my knowledge of the Peninsula during that period is pretty much confined to Granny and Papa’s house across from the Oysterville Church – the center of my world when I, too, was a little girl visitor to this magical land of woods and bay, picnics and sand castles, friends and family.

Back In The Day

I loved being in on both these queries and hope that my responses were helpful.  In the first instance, I forwarded the email to Betty, herself.  For the other, I reached out to someone who grew up in Long Beach and would know more than I about the accommodations available in past years.  I have my mental fingers crossed that my forwarding and networking attempts will be helpful.  Meanwhile… I’m eager to see what today’s mail will bring!  You never know…


On a Path Strewn with Bread and Garlic

Friday, November 18th, 2016
Nanci Main at the Oysterville Schoolhouse

Nanci Main at the Oysterville Schoolhouse

Yesterday, Nanci Main took a packed house of joyful listeners back in time to the glory days of the Ark Restaurant.  We laughed (and wept a bit) right there in the Oysterville Schoolhouse as she recalled the adventures (and misadventures) of those twenty-two years, beginning in 1981 when she and Jimella Lucas put Nahcotta on the world’s culinary map.

For many of us, it was a trip down memory lane, somewhat bittersweet as those journeys often are.  She spoke of people (Red O’Connell, Denton Vanderpole, Jeannie Speelmon, James Beard) and places (the Shake Shack, Red’s Restaurant, their house in Seaview) – all now existing only in our shared recollections.  She spoke of beginnings – especially of the Garlic Festival – and of traditions like the music of Spud and Crabbo on Sunday mornings.  And she praised those crew members who have been with her “since the beginning.”

Ark Menu

Ark Menu

Her descriptions of the ill-fated catering job in Sacramento and the Thanksgiving at the Ark when steaming turkeys triggered foamy fire retardant to cover the kitchen – hilarious!  And I am here to say that they were hilarious ‘back in the day,’ as well.  I remember hearing Nanci and Jimella talk about both incidents years ago with the same mix of horror and humor that we heard yesterday.  They are tales that definitely come under the heading of “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Nanci is a storyteller without peer.  Her ability to see the poignancy as well as the humor of a situation and to credit others, taking the spotlight away from herself, are qualities that draw in her listeners.  The hour-long talk was over far too early.  I think we all wanted more.  Just like we did at the old Ark Restaurant – even when we were full-to-overflowing.  And that comes under the heading “You Can’t Get Enough of a Good Thing.”

The Universal Language

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

Vestibule, Oysterville Church

What is the ‘universal language’? Is it love?  Is it music?  Is it Esperanto?  Or maybe English or French?  I’ve heard at one time or another that it’s all those things.  But this morning I think it was Oysterville.

Since sometime last summer I’ve had “Chinese Tour, 9 a.m.” written on my calendar.  Not that I was going to China.  (Unfortunately.)  That was my short-hand way of reminding myself that a Chinese Media Group was coming to Oysterville on November 13th and I had agreed to give them a walking tour through Oysterville.

But the rain gods had other plans.  And the language gods, too.  Three men and one woman showed up right on time.  With them was the City of Long Beach’s Events Coordinator who had set things up back when days were sunny and bright.  “Only two speak English,” she said as we went into the church.

Map of Historic Oysterville

Map of Historic Oysterville

I had a few handouts – maps of Washington, of the Long Beach Peninsula, of Oysterville ‘then and now.’  I talked briefly about Oysterville’s founding, about oysters (then and now), about the village (also then and now).  There was polite attentiveness from them all and even a few questions from the English speakers.  I wished I could speak Chinese but…

Since it was too drippy to walk through the village, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take the group over to our house.  It turned out to be the perfect rainy day solution. Laughter and delighted questions poured forth – from all four of the group. Cameras clicked and flashed – except mine.  I was having way too much fun to remember such a detail but, fortunately, Nyel came and took a photo of us just before we finished up.

November 13, 2016

November 13, 2016

As I walked them out to their car, one of the ‘non-English speakers’ said to me, ever so hesitantly, “Thank you Oysterville and tell your husband happy.”  I knew just what he meant and I told him so.  “Your English is much better than my Chinese,” I said.

I also thought of how many people my mother had toured through our house and how she would have enjoyed today’s group.  It was then that I realized this would have been her 105th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Mom!  From Oysterville.

2017 Community Historian Project

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

cphm-community-historian-front-header-1-400x270I was so glad to learn yesterday that the planning for year five of the Community Historian Project is well underway.  Application forms are available at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco.

The Community Historian Project meets each Wednesday for fifteen weeks, 9:30 to noon, January through mid- April.  The focus is Pacific County’s history and heritage and, for 2017, the first session is January 11th and the last is April 19th. Each session is made up of expert guest speakers, tours and demonstrations and this year will cover topics ranging from “Our Unique “Environment” and “Early Pacific Coast Native People” to “Maritime Archaeology: Shipwrecks of the Pacific” and “Summer Settlement of Our Pacific Beach.”  The fee is $100 — less than $7.00 a session, which has to be one of the all-time greatest education values ever!   Scholarships are also available.

2016-community-historians-1Participants are encouraged to develop a personal project that can be researched during the course. Recent projects have included an exhibition on the keepers of North Head Lighthouse, research on the Ilwaco, Railway and Navigation Company, and a project to map the historic community of Bear River among others.  Some class sessions will be devoted specifically to research techniques and, this year will include “Self-Publishing: Do’s and Don’ts” for those who might have a book in mind as an end-product.  (How I wish that such a class had been available when I self-published my first book C is for Cranberries back in 1998.)

copyright-cphm-community-historian-header-1024x350The goal of the Community Historian Project is to develop a cohesive group of knowledgeable people, who can be called upon for information and who can become a heritage resource to their communities. So far, dozens of community members from both Pacific County and from other Washington and Oregon Counties have participated.  Several people have attended for more than one year, pursuing their interest and assisting newcomers.   Our communities are the richer for their knowledge, their expertise, and their continuing interest and networking!  Hats off to the keepers of our history and heritage!