Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

At the Northeast Corner of Territory & Clay

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

“across from the church and facing the bay” . 1930

It’s not often that I think of our house as being on a corner.  The property just doesn’t feel very corner-ish to me.  I think of it more as being ‘across from the church’ or ‘facing the bay.’

Come to think of it, I don’t often think of “corners” when it comes to Oysterville houses along the east side of Territory Road.  Not until the Stoner house by the stop sign at Oysterville Road.  Now that is a corner.  But for those of us with houses bordered by a lane on one side or another… not so much.

And, for those not familiar with Oysterville terminology, the ‘lanes’ are those grassy pathways that lead from Territory Road to the bay.  From south to north they are Clay, Merchant, and Division and yes, they are officially county roads though in my lifetime, anyway, they have never been maintained by the county.  Those of us who live adjacent to them keep them mowed.

Above Our Gate

Nor do I think of the houses here as having names.  Not like the quaint old house names of Seaview and Ocean Park such as “Sand Castle,” “Yeo-Ho,” “Yellow Bird,” “Quit-Yo-Worry,” “Beech-Eze,” or “Father’s Shan-Gri-La.”   For the first 120 years or so, houses here in Oysterville were known by the names of those who lived in them.  In 1976, when Oysterville was designated a National Historic District, the Daughters of the Pioneers sponsored house signs for the historic homes – signs with the names of the original property owners – and gradually those names took hold.

I guess that our house might be considered to have a name.  A sign saying Tsako-Te-Hahsh-Eetl hangs above our entrance gate and has been there ever since I can remember.  However, I’ve never heard anyone refer to the house by that name – not family members and not neighbors or visitors.  Perhaps there is too much angst about how to pronounce it.  I’ve always just thought of the sign as being a decorative curiosity – not the name of our house.

Tresspassers Will

Nowadays, as the generations move on, it has become more confusing here in the village.  Houses have changed owners.  The Daughters of the Pioneers signs are disappearing.  We aren’t always sure who owns what or who lives where.   In fact, I’m put in mind of a wonderful passage from Winnie the Pooh:

Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one–Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.

Whenever names and identities and signs and portents become confusing, I think of Piglet and of A.A. Milne and the House at Pooh Corner.  It may well be imaginary, but it certainly has more clarity for me than some of the corners here in Oysterville!

High Water Slack

Monday, February 12th, 2018

Naselle-Grays River Valley School

Every year about this time, the Pacific County Historical Society (headquarters: South Bend) holds its annual meeting in Naselle.  The gathering is always timed to coincide with the American Legion Auxiliary Smorgasbord – a fabulous array of main dishes and desserts with, as you might expect, a distinctive Finnish emphasis.  The luncheon is served, cafeteria-style, in the Commons at the Naselle-Grays River Valley School and the PCHS meeting takes place just down the hall.

We went with our neighbors Carol and Tucker, or rather they went with us.  Nyel drove and, in typical old folks’ double-date style, Tucker rode shotgun and Carol and I were in the back seat.  We drove the river way – through Chinook, past the Columbia River Quarantine Station and into Naselle.  Carol and Tucker had never been on the school campus before and they seemed properly impressed at its size and layout.

Quarantine Station at Kanpton

Quarantine Station at Knappton Cove

The guest speaker at the PCHS meeting was Betsy Millard, Director of the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum (headquarters: Ilwaco) and the audience was comprised of history buffs from both sides of the bay, many of them members of both PCHS and CPHM.  I couldn’t help thinking back to the 1980s when CPHM was just beginning and how we all wondered how if our little county could sort out having two museums devoted to local history.  Although there were rocky spots along the way, thanks to the professionalism and leadership of both organizations, they continue to support and bolster one another.

Betsy’s talk was grand – complete with a power point accompaniment and sprinkled throughout with mentions of people who happened to be in the audience – giving kudos and credits to their contributions over the years. I couldn’t help but think about the dynamic quality of both organizations – of the ebb and flow of energy and commitment by the volunteers and staffs and how, right now, there seems to be a feeling of forward movement, collections and organization-wise, on both sides of the bay.

Point Ellice from Megler Rest Stop

On our way home, the river looked full.  And quiet.  I wondered if it was high water slack – that time when there is no movement either way in the tidal stream occurring right before the direction of the tidal stream reverses – “a time when the water is completely unstressed” says one dictionary definition. Sort of like the feeling between CPHM and PCHS – a kind of détente.  Like river and ocean, each organization is on the move but where they meet is a place of calm.  For the moment in the case of the Pacific and the Columbia and for the duration, I hope, in the case of our repositories of county history.  Probably a dumb analogy, but there you have it…  I probably just like the sound of “high water slack.”

Here in Oysterville — Duck for Dinner!

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Hunters Chris and Larry Freshley

I couldn’t have been more pleased when I answered the door yesterday.  There was my neighbor Chris holding a zip-lock bag of pure Willapa Bay Goodness.  Duck!  All breasted out and ready to prepare for dinner!  It was a déjà vu, of sorts, to the days when he and his brother Larry were kids here and my grandparents were the recipients of occasional gifts of hunting bounty.  Later, it was my folks’ who were on the receiving end.  And now us!!!

There was a time (when we lived in our bay house south of here) that Nyel went duck hunting each fall.  Over the years, our little vestibule had its share of ducks hanging in wait and Nyel’s duck dinners were fabulous.  Too, our next-door neighbor in those days, Dobby, was (and remains) the King of the Duck Hunters and watching his well-trained dogs do their job was one of the pleasures of the fall season.  Nyel and I sorely miss that part of our lives – not the part between bringing the ducks home and seasoning the breasts for dinner, though.  Chris’s arrival with that zip-lock bag was like a visit from a God of the Hunt!

Duck Hunter Dobby

Hunting season here in Oysterville is one of the most nostalgic times of the year for me.  Hearing that pop-pop-pop of gunfire out on the bay is all tied up with the traditions of our Oysterville lifestyle.  My great-grandfather hunted out there – as a necessity, not a sport.  His sons, including my grandfather Harry, the same.  Harry’s sons Edwin and Willard, ditto.  And once-upon-a-time, Nyel.  When I told Chris that we were especially grateful because Nyel’s hunting days are probably over, his (typically guy) response was, “All he needs is a good retriever.”  Music to Nyel’s dog-deprived (he thinks) ears!

I know that some of our neighbors take umbrage with the duck-hunting out on the bay.  I’m not sure whether it’s an environmental/ecological sort of concern or a belief in a no-kill policy or a vegan thing.  I respect their right to those feelings – whatever they are – but this is Oysterville, after all.  Far less populated (if it’s a safety issue) than ever in its history, and a place where hunting has been part of the landscape (so to speak) since the beginning.  When the time comes that none of Oysterville’s residents have deep roots in the community – no genetic tendencies toward hunting on the bay – perhaps that will be the time to speak out.  Meanwhile… let’s hear it for duck dinners right from our front forty!

Oysterville Connections — Then and Now

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

The Holway Family, Next Door Neighbors

Katherine Holway Smith, an Oysterville neighbor in the days of our girlhood, came visiting for a few minutes yesterday.   Her brother Johnny and I were the same age – almost.  He was a week younger than I, but by the time either of us cared about who was older, he was taller and stronger and didn’t much give me the time of day and, probably, vice-versa.  I was more apt to play with his younger sisters Ruthie and Annie and maybe a little bit with Susie.  Katherine was the youngest and I remember feeling important when we older girls were asked to “keep an eye on her.”

The Holway family had close Seattle ties, especially with the University of Washington.  Their grandparents lived right near the campus in a house handy for their chemistry professor grandfather (in the very house Katherine and her family live in now, if I’m not mistaken) and it was their dad Ted’s connection with the biology department at ‘the U’ that brought him and his young wife to Oysterville in the 1930s.   Their Uncle Vance, a research professor of zoology, was also affiliated with ‘the U.’  When the kids talked about Seattle, I was fascinated.  My own family connections were mostly in Portland – not nearly as exotic in my young mind.

Transportation to/from Portland, early 1900s

Those ‘big city’ connections are still interesting to me. For the earliest settlers in Oysterville, the go-to ‘urban’ areas were San Francisco and, a little later, Portland.  With the main transportation routes by water, that made perfect sense – down the coast to San Francisco or up the river to Portland.  Plus, as my grandfather used to point out, Seattle “wasn’t much” until the end of the nineteenth century. He once showed me that on the map of Washington in the 1891 Encyclopedia Britannica, Oysterville was in larger print than Seattle – a sure sign of which was most important, he said.

Even getting to the Territorial Capital of Olympia was difficult.  In those early days, it required three steamers and three stage lines to carry mail and passengers from Astoria via Fort Canby, Oysterville, Bay Center, South Bend, Riverside (Raymond), Woodard’s Landing, North Cove, Peterson’s Point (Westport), Montesano to Olympia.  Total time for that incredible mail run: sixty hours, no doubt beating today’s record!

South Bend Train Depot

Despite the train to South Bend and steamer connections to Nahcotta by the 1890s, it wasn’t until roads and automobiles “came in” (as the expression went) that the Peninsula began to have a greater association with Seattle and other points north and east.  That was in “the teens and twenties.”  By the time young Ted and Virginia Holway came to Oysterville in the 1930s, Seattle had discovered us and vice versa.

Although it is changing these days, it still seems that folks with pre-automobile roots here on the Peninsula are more likely to have connections to Portland and those with later associations (since the days of autos and highways) are just as likely to have a Seattle connection.  Check it out, next time you meet someone whose family has been here “a long time.”

We didn’t hear the scream.

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

A Peter Janke Photograph

When something dire happens, thoughts often fly off to an entirely irrelevant situation.  Or yesterday, in my case irreverent.  “Did anyone hear the crash?” I wondered.  “Or was it one of those ‘when a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s there… ‘ situations?”

We came upon the horror of the downed Monterey Cypress as we headed home from the post office.  Property owners Anne and Jim were there, each on a cell phone, Jim in the lane and Anne in their yard, both screened by the huge needled branches that were where they were never meant to be.  The trunk of the tree was sheared in two, revealing a rotten core that not even the arborists knew was there.

“It happened yesterday,” Ann said.  They had come from Portland and were making arrangements.  “We’ll have it taken down to the ground,” she said, matter-of-factly – with the familiar tone of competent people dealing with an emergency.  I knew her heart was breaking, as was mine.  We’ve known that Monterey Cypress and its neighbors all of our lives.  They are as much a part of the village as the oldest of the buildings, defining its streetscape and giving visual testimony to the feeling of nurture that Oysterville seems to provide.

November 14, 2017

They are also a tangible reminder of our close, historic connection to California.  As any schoolchild can figure out, Oysterville’s founding in 1854 was based upon the abundance of oysters in Shoalwater (now Willapa) Bay, right at the village doorstep. Espy and Clark came here on the search for oysters and immediately became a part of the “Shoalwater Bay Trade” – the principal oyster source in the 1850s and 1860s for the burgeoning San Francisco market.

Many of the early settlers came here directly from San Francisco and their descendants live here still – Wachsmuths, Nelsons, Espys, Andrews all had early connections with California.  Charlotte Jacobs, a descendant of the Oysterville Andrews Family has told us that the Monterey Cypress trees were brought here as seedlings from California  in the early 1900s by her great-great uncle Tom Andrews.  Brought, perhaps, on one of the old oyster schooners as ballast.

On the Corner of Division Street and Territory Road

Although there is no documentation for Charlotte’s story, there is little doubt that it is true.  The trees are, indeed, Monterey Cypress, native to the central coast of California where some have reached the venerable age of 2,000 years – this despite the strong winds which stunt their growth, distort their silhouettes, and give them a flat-topped appearance.  Here, in Oysterville, they grow taller and bigger around, approaching the forty meter height and two-and-a-half meter circumference that is possible in ideal growing conditions.

I wanted to wrap my arms around that jagged, remaining tree trunk yesterday.  I wanted to say how sorry I was and how much I will miss the stately protection it had given us all these years.  I wanted to scream, too, and in fact, I did.  It’s just that neither of our screams was heard.

A Glimpse From Beyond My Own Grave

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

“Oystervile Cemetery Sketches” by Marie Oesting

Yesterday, I finally understood a little bit better about why we never asked the right questions of our grandparents or our parents or someone else who has now gone on to their ‘great reward.’.  It’s a familiar theme. “Why didn’t I ever have that conversation with my great aunt?”  Or, “Why didn’t my mother tell me about that?”

My conversation was with my friend and neighbor, Cyndy, who is the President of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation – the organization that owns and manages the church and much of the open space here in Oysterville.  She and I served as Co-Presidents until last May when my term on the Board was up and I chose not to run again.  Nyel, too, was on the Board as Treasurer for a number of years until he resigned last month for health reasons.

We were talking about the church and its need for new or repaired wallpaper.  Cyndy had recently been over there with a ‘wallpaper expert’ and was telling us with some amazement that the wallpaper is applied directly to the boards.  “Yes,” Nyel and I said.  “The church is single-wall construction.”

Biggs and Dutton Album, 1993

Cyndy went on to tell us that the wallpaper expert had suggested lining the walls with a “very thin” wallboard to give additional stability to the repaired/replaced wallpaper when the time comes.  “But, I think that would ruin the acoustics in the church,” I said.

It was an “aha” moment for Cyndy.  She, like most people who have been to musical events in the church, is well aware of its fine acoustics.  Musicians from her Willapa Bay Artists in Residence Retreat often go there to play their instruments.  One group even had a small concert there.  The church has become the ‘recording studio’ for more than one CD over the years – the first one I’m aware of was “Christmas with Biggs & Dutton” recorded in the historic Oysterville Church March 7-9, 1993, according to the liner notesBut Cyndy had never put that together with the single-wall-construction part of the picture.

We continued discussing the wallpaper situation and Nyel and I mentioned that we have all the unused rolls and remnants from the last time the church was papered.  “You do?” Again, pure amazement.  “Yes, of course,” Nyel said.  “Where else would it be?”  (What he didn’t say was that this house has been the repository for almost everything to do with the church, ever since it was built in 1892.)  “But why didn’t you say something?” Cyndy said.  “All those years you were on the board and all the times we’ve talked about wallpaper?”

Inside the Oysterville Church

I don’t have a really good answer for that.  There were, indeed, many discussions about the need to “do something” about the wallpaper.  Our friend Ray Hansen has actually done several repairs over the years and has offered to come and do whatever is needed if the ORF Board would like him to.  “I know we’ve mentioned Ray and his offer,” I said.  “Yes, but I don’t know who Ray is,” Cyndy said.

That’s when I began thinking about all those questions I should’ve asked my grandparents.  And all the conversations we must have had in which they mentioned things that simply didn’t register… because I didn’t know the people or the circumstances or have any need to pay heed.  And that’s when I had a glimpse of what it might be like here in Oysterville when I am dead.

Fake History: A Righteous Discussion Topic

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

“Plank Road” – from CPHM’s Community Historian webpage

Although our current prez claims he coined the term “fake news,” the little bit of research I’ve done about the origin of that catchy phrase does not corroborate (Surprise! Surprise!) what he says.  No matter.  Whoever came up with that particular descriptor did a great service to us all, as far as I am concerned.  It has rapidly become an aphorism that the general population understands.  Whether it is used properly or not, “fake news” has become a red flag, of sorts.  It helps some of us to think twice or to dig deeper before we take what we hear or read at face value.

Besides that, we now hear about fake-other-stuff and we know immediately that there is a question as to its veracity.  Bravo!  Yesterday, for instance, Betsy Millard, Director of the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum (CPHM) posted an interesting article on the Community Historian Participants at CPHM Facebook page.  It is from the American Association for State and Local History:  “6 Steps to Historical Literacy: Your Guide to History on the Web.”  The introduction said: “Fake News, false stories, misinformation, propaganda—it’s an important time to reinforce critical thinking skills and remind students and citizens not to accept information at face value.”

Teachers’ Institute – Oysterville, 1885

I didn’t see the term “Fake History” but that is what they are saying to be on the lookout for!  I love it!  For years I’ve been lamenting the misinformation that is being propagated about our local history – propagated by some of our most cherished institutions, in fact.  I’ve written in this very blog about the erroneous information published in our local Visitor’s Guide and even posted at the County Historical Society’s museum right across the bay – unfactual information about the founding of Oysterville, a historical event near and dear to my heart.

We’ve talked about other examples of false Pacific County history at our Community Historian gatherings, but we’ve never used the label “fake history.”  Perhaps that terminology will bring more focus to the problem.  I hope so.  What I really hope is that we can concentrate on practical ways of eradicating or correcting some of that fake history – beyond talking to the local perpetuators of such misinformation. Perhaps finding ways to correct articles on Wikipedia (so often the source of misinformation) or… who knows?   I look forward to next year’s discussions.

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!