Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

It’s Sunday Already!

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Lyrica in Oysterville, 2018

In a few hours the Lyrica Ladies Choral Ensemble of Puget Sound will be gathering at the church for their afternoon Vespers performance.  How in the world could it be Sunday already?  Again?  The summer has swept by in a fury (not a flurry) and I’m sure I need another month or two to do those summer things.

I congratulate myself that we’ve managed one picnic.  But, only one.  I’m sure that it wasn’t very many summers ago that we had two or three picnics a month.  Plus outings to the beach and over to the island and, sometimes, even took a canoe trip up the Naselle.  Those were the summers that stretched out endlessly before us — the same summers that fill our memories with a treasure trove of  reminiscences.

Jazz and Oysters 8-17-19

So… whatever happened?  Everything seems faster-paced these days — even time. And,  there is definitely more, more, more to do.  Not just in terms of the patch-patch-patch needs of passing time, but also by way of choices.  The weekends are crowded with things we’d love to “take in” — music to listen to, festivals to attend, out-of-towners who come visiting.  I remember when events of that sort happened once or twice a season.

Those were the days when we still thought of ourselves as “isolated”  — a long, hard trip to or from.  I wonder what my great-grandparents or even my grandparents would have thought of the steady stream of tourists visiting the church and walking through the village — not just on holidays or on important occasions, either.   Every single day!

Gordon and Sydney in the ’70s

Well… perhaps the time flies by because I spend too much of it reflecting upon the past.  I don’t think I’ll change that habit, though.  As I age, I find that my memories become more precious and the future more uncertain.  Who wouldn’t immerse themselves in delicious long-ago when given the choice?

Joe Johns Some More

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Ocean Park Theatrical Troupe

Adelle and Bob Beechey were good friends of my folks.  They had both grown up on the Peninsula and, since their marriage in 1937, they had lived in Ocean Park.  I spent a lot of time with Adelle in the ’90s and ’00s.  She was a storehouse of information about the history of the Peninsula, especially of Ocean Park.  I loved looking at the keepsakes in her Treasure Trunk – costumes worn by The Ocean Park Theatrical Troupe (the all-male performance group who put on melodramas and other plays in the hall above Trondsen’s Store in Ocean Park),  mementos of the old narrow-gauge railroad, and interesting bits and pieces of “the olden days.”

It was Adelle who shared with me the reason for the name of Joe Johns road.  She remembered that when she was first married, an old Indian named Joe John was the only person who lived along the sandy road north of Nahcotta.  “Of course,” she told me, “it became known as Joe John’s Road.”  I don’t remember that I asked her any particulars about Joe John but the fact that the road was called by his name made perfect sense to me.

I have repeated Adelle’s story over the years – even included it in the 2014 Sou’wester “A Sense of Place.”  But recently I’ve come into possession of new information which throws a big monkey wrench into what Adelle told me.  Research specialist Stacy at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum did a little delving into the matter and found that Joseph Johns is listed in the 1900 census for Nahcotta District #141.  According to the census, he was a White male, born November 1852 in Ohio.  His father was from Germany; his mother from Ohio.  Joseph was a Day Laborer, could read and write, owned his house and was single. The only part of Adelle’s story that jibes with the census data is that Joe John(s) was “old.”

In fact, when Adelle married and moved from Long Beach to Ocean Park, Mr. John(s) would have been 85 – very old, indeed!  I can’t help but wonder if he was still living or if Adelle was repeating what others had told her.  How I wish that she or Dorothy Elliott or Johnny Morehead or any others of that generation were still around to add to the story!  And I can’t help but wonder what new piece of information might be forthcoming to give yet another slant on the name of Joe Johns Road!  I think I’ll give Dorothy Trondsen Williams a call…  And I hope readers will weigh in if they have a pertinent fact or two!

The Gordon Schoewe Memorial Picnic

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

“Original Picnickers” Patty and Noel

It was a small gathering.  Truth to tell, it gets smaller every year.  Not like the picnics of the old days when there might be as many as twenty or even thirty of us.  We’d meet with scarcely any notice at all — throw together a salad or grab the rest of the pie out of the fridge — and meet wherever Gordon suggested.  He was the instigator.  But not any more.

Since Gordon died five years ago, the remaining members of the old “picnic group” gather on his birthday which is today – July 23rd.  Each year there are fewer of us and we have begun asking folks who knew Gordon, but later on — not as picnickers.  Some were Book Club members.  Some were regular Friday Nighters at our house, as was Gordon.  But even they are disappearing from our ranks.

Gordon’s Picnic

Gordon would have been 93 today.  I wouldn’t have any memory of that except that he was ten years older than I.   He always made a big deal about that.  “Honey,” he’d say to me, “You are younger than springtime!”

In my heart and memory, so are you, Gordon!



Welcome to beautiful downtown Oysterville!

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Bard Heim Barn c.1950

Paragraphs #9 and #10 of “Oysterville” in the 2019-2020 issue of Discovery Coast:

But all is well.  History has been saved, and it can be truthfully described as “living history.”

With Willapa Bay as its backdrop, the 80-acre Oysterville National Historic District and the areas immediately adjacent to it feels [sic] like a movie back lot version of a 19th -century coastal community.

I’m probably among the minority but I have never been to a movie backlot.  So I did a little research.  According to Wikipedia A backlot is an area behind or adjoining a movie studio,   containing permanent exterior buildings for outdoor scenes in filmmaking or television productions,  or space for temporary set construction. 

The Briscoe Residence c. 1890

The article went on to say: Some movie studios build a wide variety of sets on the backlot, which can be modified for different purposes as need requires and “dressed” to resemble any time period or look…  The shells, or façades, on a studio backlot are usually constructed with three sides and a roof, often missing the back wall and/or one of the side walls.  (Yep!  There are lots of houses in Oysterville exactly like that!  Not!)

But it was the final paragraph that struck me:  Though some studios like MGM and Fox sold vast tracts in the 1960s and 1970s, many historical sets continue to be demolished today, as there seems to be little interest in their preservation.

In that respect — the “little interest in their preservation” part — I do believe we are a lot like a historical set.  I well remember some years ago when Oysterville citizens went before our County Commissioners asking for tax relief which is allowed in many Washington Counties for designated historical properties to offset the monies spent to keep things authentically “historical.”

Tommy Nelson’s Cannery 1945

We were, of course, denied.  But it was Planning Director’s  remark that has stuck in my head all these years.  “Oh, protecting old houses isn’t really necessary.  We build historic houses every day. You just have to wait fifty years for them to be recognized.”  There are no words to describe my thoughts on that Trumpian viewpoint…

The importance of what’s not said…

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

A Sign Marks The Site of the Oysterville Courthouse

So… a week or so ago, I left off with my critique of Paragraph #7 of the “refreshed” version of Oysterville’s history as presented in Discovery Coast 2019-2020.  Now for paragraph #8:

However, like all extraction businesses, the native oyster business inevitably came to an end.  Hotels, saloons and a college all disappeared as people sought greener pastures.  Eventually, even the county seat was removed to South Bend, on the east side of the bay.

Pretty much true… as far as it goes.  But, a bit more information gives a better understanding of the historical context.  This is what I wrote in my book, Oysterville, for Arcadia Publishing in 2010:

 Beginning in the mid-1880s, a series of setbacks befell Oysterville.   Native oyster population declined, probably through the overharvesting of the past 30 years.  Annual production fell to 2,000 sacks per year, a tenth of what it had been during the decade just past. Then, in 1889, the new Ilwaco railway chose Nahcotta over Oysterville as its terminus.  Not only did Oysterville oystermen feel cut off from rail access to distant markers, but the entire village was also distraught over the many businesses that moved to the newly created town four miles south.  The final blow came in 1892 when the county electorate voted for South Bend as the new county seat, prompting “South Bend Raiders” to make off with courthouse records.

Early Nahcotta

By the early 1890s, Oysterville had entered a “dull” period.  With the oysters in decline, the transportation hub in Nahcotta, and the county seat now clear across the bay, there was little reason for most folks to stay in Oysterville, and the population rapidly decreased.  Most businesses moved, for without the viability of a strong oyster industry, there was no need for the many ancillary jobs that had flourished during the boom years. Blacksmiths, sailmakers, hostellers, and mny others moved away.  For some, such as Alf Bowen, a newspaper publisher and editor, and John Morehead, a proprietor of one of the general stores, it was relatively easy to transfer interests four miles south to Nahcotta.  Others just left, taking what they could manage and leaving everything else behind.

Peninsula College 1895-1897

I might add that the “college” (a 1st through 12th grade school) was actually begun after the county seat moved to South Bend.  It was housed in the erstwhile Oysterville Courthouse and lasted only two years.

Well… granted, space was limited for Mr. Webb’s article.  Still… putting all the blame on the decline of the native oyster isn’t quite how it happened.  In my college journalism classes, such writing might have been red-penciled for its “sins of omission.”  Just sayin’…

Where does this stuff come from?

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

At The Entrance to Oysterville

At the halfway mark in the article, “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town,” paragraph #7 states:  On Aug. 5, 1854, community leaders decided that Oysterville was a better name than Oyster Beach or Shell Beach to represent their town.  It grew to a population of about 800.

Again… bits and pieces of information cobbled together to make some sort of story.   As far as I can remember, the 1860 census reflected the all-time population highpoint for Oysterville:  231!  Ten years later, according to the federal census, there were 738 people living in all of Pacific County.  By then, of course, there were several other settlements in the County, but even assuming that every resident of Pacific County was living in Oysterville, it’s still doesn’t make the 800 people mentioned in paragraph #7.

H.A. Espy and Charlie Nelson, Oysterville Centennial 1954

And, as far as the “community leaders” naming the town…  Probably true.  In a way.  According to native son Charlie Nelson (1883-1978), “Oysterville” suggested by I.A. C;ark was only one of several names proposed and the men left it to Mother Stevens to make the final choice.  “…And a fitting one, too,”was Charlie’s comment.

I have yet to find anything definitive about the names Oyster Beach or Shell Beach — not where it was, not who lived there, not whether it had any connection whatsoever to the Peninsula or to Oysterville.  With so much written about Oysterville and its founding, it is curious to me why people continue to latch onto  undocumented “facts” (fake history?) to tell the story.  I sometimes feel it’s a deliberate slap at me and my family…  but why?    Nyel says, “Just another one of life’s little mysteries…”



At the crux of the matter… maybe.

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

Old Oysterville Sign

I have arrived at Paragraph #6 in my (increasingly infrequent) commentary on the article in Discovery Coast titled “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town”:

By 1854, a community of several hundred, then called Oyster Beach, existed.  On April 12, 1854, I.A. Clark filed a 161-acre land claim that encompassed all of what is now the Oysteville National Historic District.

Hmmm.  I’ve seen a reference to “Oyster Beach” twice in my thirty plus years of research on Oysterville and its origins.  Both mentions have been in the Sou’wester , the quarterly magazine of the Pacific County Historical Society.  In the Summer 1975 issue in an article on early post offices in  Oregon Territory:  In a letter dated August 2, 1854 from Washington City, the Honorable Columbia Lancaster announced the post routes in the new Washington Territory, including “from Astoria to Chenook, Edmonton (John Edmonds Pickernell’s), Tarlit, Oyster Beach (an early name for Oysterville), Brigham City and the direct route to intersect the route from Olympia to Grays Harbor, 120 miles and back once a week .”  The second reference to Oyster Beach was three years later in the Winter 1978 issue of the Souwester and was a reprint of the same information about the early Oysterville (Oyster Beach) post office.

James Swan, One of the First Pacific County Historians

The only other contemporary information about Oysterville that I’m aware of (besides the statements by founders R.H. Espy and I.A. Clark) was written by James Swan in his book, The Northwest Coast or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory.  In January 1854, Swan took a trip to San Francisco, apparently to get out of the Northwest’s winter weather.  He returned in early June and traveled via the Peninsula on his way back to his home at Stony Point.  This is what he wrote: We reached a settlement some fifteen or twenty miles distant, called Oysterville, where quite a number of oystermen had collected during my absence to San Francisco.  

Although Swan traveled extensively around Shoalwater Bay during his stay here from 1852 to 1855, and although he mentions many early settlers as well as the only settlement on the bay at that time, Bruceport or Bruceville, he makes no mention of a place called Oyster Beach.

The rest of Paragraph #6 seems accurate as far as it goes.  Apparently, the land claim that Clark filed on April 12, 1854, was incomplete and had to be re-filed some years later.  However, it seems that Espy and Clark chose that April 12, 1854 date as the “founding” of Oysterville and over the years it has become known as the date they actually arrived here in their stolen canoe. (Well, they said “borrowed,” but that implies that it was returned to the graveyard where they found it and that’s one story I haven’t yet heard…)




The Fourth and the Fifth

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

Fourth of July Parade, Oysterville c. 1900

Here it is the Fourth of July and I’m only on the fifth paragraph (out of 14) in my commentary on that “Oysterville” story that was in the Discovery Coast insert in the paper.   Actually, though, Paragraph #5 seems hauntingly appropriate for this the birthday of our country, the “Land of the Free.”

The California Gold Rush of 1849 (wrote the author) drew significant numbers of settlers of European descent to Oysterville.  Gold miners spent their earning [sic] on Willapa Bay oysters.  Settlers and the Chinook Peoples gladly filled schooners with oysters to be shipped to San Francisco.

To me, this paragraph seems a fine example of half-truths and innuendo. It is true that Oysterville, like other settlements in Oregon Territory, got its fair share of adventurers — some from Europe, some from the East Coast — who had become disillusioned in their quest for gold.  But there were also a number of people who had come west on the Oregon Trail and had turned north, rather than south, in their search for a new life.  My great-grandfather, R. H. Espy, was one of those.  So was I.A. Clark.  So was  Gilbert Stevens family.  And many others.

The Oregon Trail 1830s – 1869

According to the 1860 Pacific County Census (taken by Robert H. Espy), there were 201 individuals living in Oysterville, 23 of whom were born in Canada or Europe, 27 born in Washington Territory, and the remaining 136 residents were  from 15 of the (then) 33 United States.  Of those born in Washington Territory (1853 – 1889), all were children, most under seven years old.   I can’t help but think that the writer of Paragraph #5 quoted above was trying to give a different impression of Oysterville’s beginnings.

On to Paragraph #5’s second sentence.  Yes, when the miners took a break from hardtack and jerky and went into San Francisco for a little r&r (and, hopefully, to visit the assay office) they were likely to have enjoyed a good meal or two in the city’s gourmet restaurants.  Oysters on the half shell (from Shoalwater Bay — it was not named Willapa until 1892) were popular, especially among the miners who hailed from the Atlantic Coast.  There, oysters were the fast-food of the 18th and 19th centuries — a lot like hot dogs were in the 20th century.  California restaurateurs capitalized on that demand to the point that San Francisco Bay was soon stripped of its native oyster stock and the search was on for more.

The Louisa Morrison, Oyster Schooner

The nearest source was Yaquina Bay in Oregon Territory.  Next was Netarts Bay, due west of Portland; then Shoalwater Bay, and finally Puget Sound.  Oysters in the first two locations could meet only a small fraction of the demand.  Puget Sound was so far away that seafood frequently spoiled in transit.  “But…” as the Shoalwater Storytellers used to relate:  “…that bivalve thriving in a barely known estuary just above the mouth of the Columbia River… Yes, gourmets declare that the native oyster of Shoalwater Bay was just a taste of heaven locked between pearly shells.”

As for settlers and Chinooks “gladly” filling schooners with oysters to be shipped to San Francisco…  Yes, indeed!  I think I would have joined right in, had I been lucky enough to snag a job with one of the oyster companies in town.  A peach basket  filled with oysters brought a dollar in gold on delivery to a schooner anchored in Shoalwater Bay – a schooner which might hold up to 2,000 baskets.

It saddens me that our colorful history, told accurately by so many over the years, has now been reduced to a few misleading half-truths. And for no apparent reason. Happy Fourth!

Deaf Ears, Blind Eyes – So what’s new?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Bardheim Dairy, Oysterville c. 1930 – c.1990

As I’ve ranted on these past days about the Discovery Coast article on Oysterville, I’ve been doing (read “re-doing”) my own research about the beginnings of the village.  I enjoy the fact-checking and am constantly amazed at how each new reading of familiar documents brings a fresh perspective or another question.

Yesterday while I was reviewing what I know about early settler John Douglas, I ran into a blog I had written back on July 19, 2012.  I could have republished most of it when the current issue of Discovery Coast hit the stands and saved myself a lot of T & A (time and angst.).  Here it is in its entirety:

What first caught my eye in the new Chinook Observer’s 2012 Visitor’s Guide was a long-ago picture of Jazz and Oysters and the accompanying text that said it would be held in Oysterville this August.  Obviously written by Aliens.  J&O has not been held in Oysterville since 2010, much to our distress.  Would that the information in the paper were true… but it’s not.

Methodist Church 1872-1921

My attention thus arrested, I read the rest of the article with the enchanting-if-overused title:  “Historic and lovely Oysterville is a ‘Shangri-La’ on the bay.’  I was treated to an entirely new history of Oysterville.

According to the paper (and, we all know what happens to “facts” once they are in print), Oysterville was first settled thirteen years earlier than all the first-hand accounts and history books have told us for the past 158 years.  Plus, according to this confused account, it was settled not by Espy and Clark but by John Douglas..  And by 1854 (when Espy and Clark built the first house in the area according to their own accounts), there was already a settlement of several hundred people here.  And by 1854, says the article, there were 800 people here. WOW!

Where does this stuff come from, anyway?  I’m being literal here.  Where does this information come from???  I called the editor to find out exactly that.  I had to leave a message and, admittedly, I was irate to the point of incoherence – probably said things about responsibility and ethics in journalism and what were they thinking.  Mostly, I wanted to know the source of this new history.  My call has yet to be returned.

Pacific House in Oysterville, c. 1860s – c. 1900

Perhaps my ‘favorite’ part of the article (is it possible to have a favorite part of something that you really hate?) is this paragraph:

Old for a West Coast town, Oysterville is brand new in geographic terms.  Oysterville could be the only place in the United States that has always had human occupants. Native American people probably settled Oysterville as soon as it was created.  Chinook peoples came to the area that is Oysterville at seasonal intervals for untold centuries to harvest its bountiful oyster beds.

I’ve read and re-read these words and still cannot understand what they mean.  Who were those earliest human occupants?  Apparently not the Chinooks who “settled Oysterville as soon as it was created.”  Huh?

Meanwhile… a dedicated group of local historians have been working for more than a year to develop a Community History Program.  Its purpose will be to explore Pacific County history through field trips, visits with experts and opportunities to explore various history archives.  The goal is to provide certification to those interested in perpetuating our local history.

County Courthouse in Oysterville 1875-1893

I do hope that whoever wrote that “Shangri-La” article takes the course – for the part on verifying sources and the ethics of documentation, if nothing else.  And, just in case there is still a question …for the second year in a row, J&O will  again be at Wilson’s Field in Ocean Park.  I checked.

So, it seems that I’ve been wrong in my criticisms of Mr. Webb.  It’s not that he didn’t do his research.  He just picked up the words of someone else who was equally lax in scholarship. I apologize.  But, I’m continuing on in my paragraph-by-paragraph examination of this year’s story.  Coming soon: paragraph #5.

Perpetuating Errors of Fact

Monday, July 1st, 2019

At the Oysterville Cemetery

A number of years ago, more-or-less out of the blue, Wikipedia came up with a new factoid about Oysterville — that John Douglas had founded it in 1841.  It’s amazing to me how this “fake history” has spread over the years despite contemporary documentation by both actual founders, Isaac A. Clark and Robert H. Espy.

The “John Douglas settled Oysterville” statement is an erroneous bit of information that has been picked up by writers for Discovery Coast several times previously, but no matter how much alternative “proof” is provided, it seems a popular enough notion to continue resurfacing.  In Paragraph #4 of this season’s “Oysterville” article, author Webb states:  Native Americans have always lived here.  Oysterville itself was first settled in 1841 by John Douglas who married a local Chinook woman.

Envelope with I.A. Clark History

Well, in 1844 John Douglas did, indeed, settle about a mile south of the area that would become Oysterville ten years later.  Douglas even took out a Donation Land Claim in July of 1854 and, interestingly, signers of supporting affadavits were I.A. Clark, R.H. Espy, and George Dawson.  But Douglas no more “settled” Oysterville than George Easterbrook settled Long Beach.  (Easterbrook took out a Donation Land Claim in the [now] Cranberry Road area in 1854, but Long Beach was “settled” by Gilbert Tinker in 1889.  Look it up.)  Taking out a DLC is not synonymous with founding a town.  Nor is settling in the area nearby.

John Douglas was, however, a very interesting man.  As I wrote in my October 5, 2010 blog: Douglas was born in Maine about 1811 and first arrived at Fort George (now Astoria) in 1840.  He was a cooper aboard a whaling vessel that had docked to unload blubber for rendering into lamp fuel.  On its next voyage to the Columbia in 1841, the ship wintered in Astoria and Douglas took advantage of the time to have a look around.  He liked what he saw and decided to come back some day and “drop anchor” permanently in the Shoalwater area.

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

For the next few years Douglas sailed the South Pacific.  He was off Hawaii in 1846 when a barrel rolled against him, breaking one of his legs.  The resulting lameness put an end to his seafaring career.  He returned to Shoalwater Bay and laid out a donation land claim of 320 acres along its western shore, somewhat south of the location that would later become Oysterville.  There he built a “studdin’” house of upright posts, with a cedar shake roof and an attic with a gable-end door and an outside stairway.  And, there, John Douglas settled with his Chinook wife, Jalak.

Douglas is buried in the Oysterville Cemetery and two tales are told regarding his death.  One says simply that he died of pneumonia at the age of 59, though his grave marker puts him at 67.  The other story says that in the 1870s, while serving as a United States Marshal, Douglas had the misfortune to severely injure his foot.  He died from gangrene because he stubbornly refused to allow a new boot (hard to come by in those days) to be cut from his swollen, infected foot.  If that’s the true story, it puts a whole new twist to “dying with your boots on.”

Personally, I think the facts (as far as I’ve been able to research them) about Douglas are far more interesting than the fanciful idea that he settled Oysterville.  Oh well…  And, by the way, his granddaughter, Irene Nelson, lived across the street when I was a little girl.  I knew her.  And that’s a fact.