Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

For whatever it’s worth…

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Nancy Lloyd – Photo by Andy Dolan c. 2003

There is something compelling about trying to set the record straight even though it is seldom a completely satisfactory endeavor.  Historians encounter the problem continuously.  There are always new facts being uncovered — additional information that changes or illuminates what we have “known” before.  Getting the word out about new data and then convincing the populace that it is true (or at least truer) is the difficult part.

Nonetheless, I feel obliged to continue my commentary on  Nancy Lloyd’s astonishing article that appeared in last week’s paper — an article headlined “Ah, Oysterville: Small skirmishes in a coastal village.”  In yesterday’s blog, I wrote of my own part in the matter of the Johnson Homesite marker and sign — a totally different story from the one our once-upon-a-time-neighbor Nancy described.  Since Emmett Oliver and I were the only ones involved at that point (and Emmett is now deceased) I have no witnesses to my version.  Suffice it to say, I know what I know.

Polly and Elmo – Photo by Spike Mafford c. 2003

Today, I want to correct some other errors of fact in the article — in particular the comments made about Polly Friedlander (or, as Nancy called her “Polly with the famous last name.”  Polly was controversial, to be sure, but she was, indeed, a force.  She came to the village in the mid-1980s, rented the Stoner house on the SE corner of Territory and Oysterville Roads and, in 1994, with Bob Thurston, built a home on the old Bardheim Dairy property at the north end of town.

During the mid-nineties, Polly became active in the Oysterville Restoration Foundation and was serving as its president about the time that Emmett Oliver was lobbying for recognition of the Johnson family and their homesite.  It was the place where Myrtle Johnson (Woodcock) — called “the last princess of Oysterville” — had been born and was a location important to both the Quinault and Chinook tribes as well as to the National Historic District.  Or so Emmett Oliver, a Johnson descendant pointed out to ORF.  To no avail.

In 1998 — some years after the Johnson signs had finally been installed — Polly turned her attention to the arts and established the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation.  In her article, Nancy attributes Polly-the-WRE Literary-Foundation-CEO with some responsibility for the Johnson sign.  The timing says that was not possible.  Nor would it have made any sense.

Myrtle Johnson (Woodcock)

Nancy also says of the “Last Princess”:  The lady had lived in a house now gone, right next door, south of the Church.  She might have been spoken of as the last Indian born in the village.  No, Nancy.  Myrtle, the ninth child of Cecile “Jane” and James Johnson, was born in that house in 1889, several months after her father had drowned in the bay.  She lived there for a few years until the family moved to South Bend.  Myrtle was then still a child — not yet a lady grown.  She was descended from chiefs — both Quinaults and Chinooks — and it was not because she was “the last Indian born in the village” (which is doubtful) that she was notable.  It was her distinguished heritage that gave her the title.

Oysterville by Willard Espy

And… one other thing.  It’s about the use of the word “prevailed” in relationship to Rose Glynn’s donation of that ten foot strip of property adjacent to the church.  The intimation is that ORF leaned on Rose for the donation.  Not so!  Rose had “discovered” Oysterville through my Uncle  Willard Espy’s  1977 book, “Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village” and made the trip west from Illinois to meet her newly-discovered cousins. (Her maiden name was Espy.)  When she found that the house next door to Willard’s cottage was for sale, she bought it, fixed it up, and became an enthusiastic supporter of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation.  “Prevail” was not the operable word concerning Rose’s generous gift.

So… there you have it.  Another account by a “regional historian” as  I have been called and as the Observer identified Nancy in in her recent article.  Like most other facts these days, readers have a choice of which to believe… as will the historians of the future, no doubt!

The Blurry Edges of Memory… and History

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Emmett Oliver

Many of us who live within the Oysterville Historic District were somewhat dumbstruck a few weeks ago when we read our erstwhile neighbor Nancy Lloyd’s Observer article, “Ah, Oysterville: Small Skirmishes in a Coastal Village.”  Perhaps you felt the effect of all of us gasping at the same time – it sorta sucked all of the Peninsula’s air northward.

Those of us who still live here don’t remember the “skirmish” quite the way Nancy described it.  In fact, we don’t really remember a skirmish at all.  It may be one of those in-the-eye-of-the-beholder things, but even so…  If the incident Nancy speaks of is the one I was directly involved in, her version and mine are the proverbial apples and oranges.

Johnson House to left (south) of Oysterville Baptist Church c. 1902

The way I (and several others) remember the story, it began some twenty-five years ago, back in the mid-nineties.  Emmett Oliver (1914-2016),  was a Quinault elder and an educator and a friend.  Most pertinent to this remembrance, he was a descendant of James and Cecile Haguet Johnson who lived in Oysterville from 1870 to 1896.  Emmett felt strongly that the place where they had lived should be recognized in some way and he approached the Oysterville Restoration Foundation (ORF) to see what could be done.

They were not responsive, mostly because they felt (perhaps understandably) that they couldn’t honor just one once-upon-a-time family.  Where would it all end?  Emmett was insistent.  “That was where Myrtle Johnson Woodcock was born,” he said.  “The last princess of Oysterville,” he said.  To no avail.

Somehow, perhaps because I was a fellow-educator, he came to see me where Nyel and I then lived on the bay just south of the Oysterville Historic District.  “Will you help me?” he asked.  I had long felt uncomfortable that Oysterville had not given so much as lip service to  the Indians who had lived here, albeit seasonally, for centuries before white settlers arrived.  At Emmett’s pleas, all my sense of fair play (and no doubt a large dollop of white man’s guilt) kicked in. “What can I do?” I asked.  “How can I help?”

Johnson Homesite Sign and Marker

As it turned out, Emmett had had a marble marker made at his own expense.  He met me by the Oysterville Church one afternoon and while I fetched water from the hose bib on my folks’ property (where Nyel and I now live), Emmett dug a hole and mixed the cement to set the marker just outside the churchyard fence, about in line with where he determined his ancestors’ house once stood.

No one noticed for a long time.  When they finally did, the ORF Board felt that perhaps an explanatory sign might be in order.  To make the marble marker look less like a gravestone.  They had a sign made in the manner of the signs that the Shoalwater Chapter of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington had provided for other historic properties a decade or two previously.  And they placed it on the fence just behind Emmett’s marble marker.

There is, of course, more to the story.  Tune in tomorrow… as they used to say in the old radio serials.  Quick!  Before our history gets changed once again!

A flurry of fame but, alas, no fortune!

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

Almost to Ourselves

Last Wednesday when New York Magazine article about ICE and the Peninsula was published online — and even afterwards for a day or two — I got a bit of (probably undeserved) attention.  Emails and phone calls from friends and strangers came one after another.  Pretty heady stuff for this old lady.  But the headiest (if that’s a word) was when I got a call on Friday from our Lt. Gov.’s assistant that he would be in town and would like to meet with me.  Really?

But, in actuality, that wasn’t totally strange.  Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib and I had met before.  He had come to our house four or five years ago with a mutual friend.  I remember that visit vividly and, as it turned out, so did he.  “When I read the New York Times article and saw your name, I remembered our visit at your place in Oysterville. I thought maybe there was a chance we could renew the acquaintance,” he said.

Sunrise in Oysterville – One of the “Thin Places” ?

We met in the early evening at the Pickled Fish — the Lt. Gov. and two aides and me.  We had the place very nearly to ourselves and so we spent a pleasant hour reminiscing, among other things, about our earlier conversation about the “thin places.”  Oysterville is said, by some, to be one of those unusual spots in the world where the veil between  this world and the eternal world is thin… where one can walk in in two worlds at once.   The Lt. Gov. remembered that conversation; so did I.

Of course, we talked about other things, too.  His recent climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with his assistant, Kristina.  Neither had even had backpacking experience before — never mind that Cyrus has been fully blind from early childhood — due to cancer, as I recall.  I remember asking him when we first met if he could remember colors and shapes — if he was old enough to have retained those concepts before he lost his sight.  And now?  Backpacking to the top of a 19,341-foot mountain?  In Africa?  Wow!

Kristina Brown and Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib on Mt. Kilimanjaro

The climb was  in support of a new statewide program called Boundless Washington that “integrates fun and challenging outdoor activities with leadership development training for young people with disabilities in our state,” according to one website. The program, set to launch in the winter of 2020, was established by the Association of Washington Generals  through a partnership with the Office of the Lt. Governor, Outdoors For All, and No Barriers.  Wow some more!

And, of course we talked about our Hispanic community here at the beach — how so many are still being targeted and, in fact. how the wait for  hearings has become longer and chances of being allowed to stay even less certain.  “How can we help?” he asked.  Oh, how I wish I had a ready answer.  Push for more federal judges?  Say no more private for-profit prisons?  Help us get to the bottom of why Pacific County has been such a target?

A Goodbye Portrait — The Lt. Gov. and Woman in Yellow Rain Hat

We talked until it was time for him to go to the reception he was hosting for “his” senators. (“I am in charge of the senate,” he reminded me with an impish smile.  Somehow, I was reminded that he is young enough to be my grandson… if I had one. )  He had called for a retreat here on the Peninsula to examine Rural Tourism.  The perfect place for such a discussion, I thought.  Almost as good as Oysterville where our visitors’ logs document an average of 10,000 tourists a year.  That’s a pretty good draw for a village of 15 full-time residents, eh?

It was a fun visit — a great conclusion to my two-day flurry of fame.  Too bad there was no “fortune” part along with it.  Or maybe it’s on the way…


and still the dahlias bloom…

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019


On October 1, 1912 my Aunt Medora wrote to my grandmother:  There are loads of dark red dahlias, some brown ones, pink ones and a few white ones; then some nasturtiums and roses.  Except for the “brown ones,” she could have been writing about our garden on this very day 107 years later!

White Dahlias

But, at that particular writing, Medora was not at home in Oysterville; she was in Olympia checking on the house the family would soon move into in anticipation of Papa’s first term as Senator.  Medora, the oldest of the seven Espy children,  was now in high school and, so as not to miss any classes, she was boarding with a classmate’s family for a few months ahead of the Espys’ arrival.  As it turned out, twelve-year old Medora was of great help in getting rental house “ready” by their  move-in day.  But that’s another story…

Red Dahlias

It’s the flowers in that long-ago early October garden that I was reminded of today.  I was out in our garden early.  The grass crunched underfoot and the air was decidedly nippy.  After I checked on the girls and collected one warm brown egg (dawn delivery!), I took a little walkabout to see how the flowers were holding up.

Pink Dahlias and Dorothy Perkins Roses

That’s when I was reminded of that century-old description by Medora.  Some things don’t change — or at least they haven’t yet.  The dahlias and nasturtiums and roses are still blooming here in Washington on this first day of October.  At least they are in Oysterville, and I have no doubt that Olympia is enjoying similar garden bouquets!  Thank goodness!


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…”