Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

In My Mind’s Eye

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Red Cottage 1984

After vespers Sunday, a man approached me to ask, “What happened to the roses that have always been on the fence in front of the old courthouse in Oysterville?”  I had to think for a minute to realize that he meant the profusion of Dorothy Perkins roses that once grew on Willard’s fence.  They grew there more recently, too, during the twenty years that the Accuardis owned the little red cottage.  In my mind’s eye, they are there still.

But, of course, I know better.  New owners.  New ideas.  No roses.  I imagine it’s a work in progress, which is what I told the gentleman who was asking.  I’m not sure why he targeted me as the one who should know except that I had been identified during the service as the one who had supplied the bouquets for that day – vases of Dorothy Perkins roses!

Red Cottage, July 2017

I felt pleased he had noticed that they were gone.  I thought it was just me.  And I thought, once again, how hard it is to deal with change as I age.  I guess, in a way, it’s good that I can still pull up  my mind’s eye memories.  And I so appreciate others who remember, as well.

Once, long ago, I walked into the living room and found my mother weeping over the paper.  Someone I didn’t know had died – a girlhood friend of hers.  “I’m so sorry,” I said and was a bit taken aback by her response: “It’s not that she died, exactly.  It’s just that she’s the last one who remembered Mama when she was a young woman. When we were children…”

At Vespers, July 16, 2017

Now, as I approach the age when my contemporaries are becoming scarce, I understand more fully what my mother meant. If we live long enough, we finally get to the place where there are fewer and fewer people who share our memories.  Whether it’s the particular quality of my own mother’s laugh or that twinkle in my father’s bright blue eyes, it’s nice to know that others remember too.  Even when it comes to the roses on Willard’s fence

One Reception Plus One Ribbon-Cutting

Friday, May 12th, 2017

From the CPHM website

This weekend, like almost every other one around this neck of the woods, is starting off in grand style.  Tonight, an opening and reception at Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and tomorrow afternoon a ribbon-cutting at the Chinook School.  Both events have significant connections to our local history.

The exhibition, opening tonight at CPHM with a reception from 5:00 to 7:00, is called “Oregon’s Botanical Landscape: An Opportunity to Imagine Oregon before 1800.” It consists of 82 paintings representing the native plants of Oregon’s eight Ecoregions. The artist, Frances Stilwell, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and, two years after receiving her MS degree in Botany-Biophysics, moved to Oregon in 1969.  In order to define her new home, she began to learn about and draw Oregon’s native plants.

By Frances Stilwell

Before 1800, of course, there was no Oregon State or even an Oregon Territory.  The region beyond the Mississippi River was simply known as “The Western Frontier” so it makes sense that five of those Oregon ecoregions of today extend into Washington State.  As CPHM Director Betsy Millard says about the exhibit, “It reinforces our shared natural history that binds us regardless of state lines.”

The 1:00 P.M.  ribbon-cutting tomorrow at the newly restored Chinook School represents more recent history. It’s a piece of our community story that could easily have been lost in the name of ‘progress’ were in not for the collaboration of the Ocean Beach School District, the Port of Chinook and the formation of the Friends of Chinook School.’  Since 2004, the FOCS have worked toward this culminating event.

Christmas 2016

The present-day school building in Chinook was the third to be constructed on the site once known as “Gile’s Woods.”  The first school in that location was described by Lewis R. Williams his 1924 book, “Chinook by the Sea:”

 In 1892, the school which had been conducted for many years on the Prest Place was now moved over to the Cross Road in Gile’s woods to accommodate the children of parents who now moved to Chinook to engage in the fishing industry.  A large playground, consisting of an acre, donated by Mr. Gile, was cleared in the thick stand of spruce trees and a neat little school building erected near the road.  For years, this little building served as a community house to the country round about…

Before founding the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Angus Bowmer taught at Chinook School

By 1899, the student population had outgrown the small one-story school and a two-story building was constructed to replace it. The third and final Chinook School was built in 1927. During its construction, some classes were held in a large building that had been constructed in 1924 – a building that would eventually become the school’s gym.   Neither of the buildings, now renovated, have been used as part of the public school system since consolidation in 1966.  The plan is for both to continue in the “community house” tradition described by L.R. Williams.

“Old Cripple Johnson”

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Oysterville Fun c. 1900

Yesterday as I watched Nyel stumping along with his cane, I had a momentary flashback to a discussion by my mother and her brothers.  It must have been sixty or more years ago – one of those long summer evenings, as I recall – and we were gathered in the library reminiscing.  Well, they were reminiscing; I was listening.

The subject had turned to some of ‘the characters of Oysterville’ who they remembered from childhood.  “Old Cripple Johnson” was one.  He must have been about their grandfather R.H. Espy’s age because they spoke of them in the same breath.  His given name was George and he was the eldest son of Captain James Johnson and his Lower Chinook Indian wife, Comtia Koholwish (called Jane.)

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

According to the “North Oregon” 1850 census (taken by U.S. marshal Joseph L. Meek, the famous Mountain Man) George was then six years old – which actually made him some twenty years youngerr than Grandpa Espy, but when you’re a kid the difference between seventy and ninety is probably minimal.  In any case, George grew up on Baker Bay in the vicinity of what would later become Ilwaco.  It was during his childhood that he sustained the injury that would make him memorable to the folks of Oysterville several generations hence.

Young George and his brother and the neighbor kids used to amuse themselves by riding empty whisky barrels down the steep slope near their home in the area now referred to as ‘Yellow Bluff.”  On one of his trips downhill, a stave broke through, pinning his leg inside.  The broken bones were never properly set, and the leg was afterwards shorter.  Hence his nickname, “Cripple Johnson.”

Dorothy Trondsen (Williams) c. 1930

Years later, George operated a boat-building shop in Oysterville.  He and his wife lived on the second floor and his bad leg was again broken when he fell from the high porch to the beach below.  Young Tommy Stratton was chosen to ride to Ilwaco for Dr. George W. Easterbrook who came and skillfully set the leg, also fashioning a stirrup-type crutch that enabled Johnson to walk without limping.  However, the sobriquet “Old Cripple” continued to be attached to his name, perhaps to distinguish him from several other George Johnsons who lived in the area.

I remember thinking during that long-ago discussion of the characters of Oysterville if, in our turn, my friends and I would be talking about our elders in the same vein someday.  Little could I have imagined, way back then, that my own husband and I might also, one day, fall into the ‘character’ category!

Teacher Appreciation Week

Monday, May 8th, 2017

This Year – May 8th – 12th

Next week, May 8-12, is National Teacher Appreciation Week – a five-day week, apparently in keeping with our traditional five-day school week.  And Tuesday the 9th is Teacher Appreciation Day.  I wouldn’t have known any of that had it not been for a FaceBook post by former student Kelli Lucero.

“For teacher appreciation week, can you name your teachers K-6??” she wrote.  While I was noodling that over (Kindergarten, Miss Thompson; Fifth Grade, Miss Hamilton) and lamenting that I couldn’t recall any of the others, my own name popped out at me.  There I was, listed as Kelli’s third grade teacher!  How many years ago, I wondered… Probably 1985/1986 when I was still Mrs. LaRue.  (Thanks for remembering, Kelli!)

Center Stage: The Amazing Mr. Wonderful

Besides her K-6 teachers, Kelli also mentioned other “amazing teachers who left a mark” – among them Mr. McQuarrie (aka “Mr. Wonderful.”) I find it more than co-incidental that just about the exact time Kelli was posting her appreciation, I was having dinner with the amazing, Don McQuarrie, himself!  We were at the Bridgewater Bistro across the river for our annual dinner get-together.  Five couples, all of whom still live in the area except for Don and Laura who moved to Linden, WA twenty-five or thirty years ago, before their own kids began school.

A few years before or after Kelli was in my class, her brother Pat was also one of my students.  He was part of the huge class that John Snyder and I team-taught.  Years later, when I was collecting memories for my book, Ocean Park School, The First Seven Decades, Kindergarten Teacher Margaret Staudenraus (also on Kelli’s list) said:

From Ocean Park School, The First Seven Decades

The first year that John Snyder and Sydney LaRue (Stevens) team-taught, they asked all the kids in the room who were related to one another to stand up.  Of their 57 students, about half of them stood.  Then they asked those who were still seated to stand if they were related to anyone in the rest of the school.  When all was said and done, only three kids remained sitting down!

Great memories! I don’t know if there is a ‘Student Appreciation Week’ or not.  Actually, it doesn’t matter.  I’m totally content with the thought that I loved every part of my 39 years in the classroom and that all these years later ‘my kids’ and I have so many wonderful shared memories!

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.