Archive for the ‘Oysterville’ Category

Happy Birthday, Oysterville!

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Robert Hamilton Espy

It’s hard for me to picture my great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy, as a young, vigorous man.  Let alone adventurous.  Most of the pictures we have of him are when he was an old man.  Even in his wedding picture, he looks quite staid and proper, as well he should have.  By the time he married in 1870, he was forty-four years old.  Middle-aged by the standards of the day.

But when Hamilton (Yes!  That’s how he was listed on the 1855 muster roll for the Pacific County Reserve Volunteer Rifle Company) paddled northward on Shoalwater Bay with his twenty-six-year-old friend Isaac Clark, he was in his prime.  He was twenty-eight and looking forward to a venture in the oyster trade. As they kept Espy’s rendezvous with Klickeas, it is doubtful that either man realized that their lives and the lives of their descendants would forever be associated with the shore where they made landfall.  The date was April 12, 1854.

The two men built a cabin of alder logs a few hundred feet from where they had landed and there they lived for next four years.  Unlike the “Bruce Boys” across the Bay, Hamilton and Isaac were not opposed to sharing the Bay’s bounty and oyster prospectors converged on the area.  In 1855 “Oysterville” (said to have been named by Elvira Stevens of the Stevens Hotel) was made the Pacific County Seat, shipped 50,000 bushel baskets of oysters to San Francisco, and quickly became the most important anchorage north of the Columbia River.

Isaac Alonzo Clark

Clark settled in almost immediately.  He became a storekeeper, platted the town and, within four years, had married Lucy Briscoe and moved out of the ten-by-twelve-foot cabin he and Espy had continued to share. Espy, on the other hand, seemed not quite ready to settle down.  He busied himself in the oyster trade, invested in timber and city (San Francisco and Portland) real estate, served a short stint as County Sheriff, and was elected Major in the Oysterville Militia.

During those early years, he took two “vacations” – once to the Blue Mountains to prospect for gold and, in 1859 after a bout with scarlet fever, he served for almost a year at the North Cove lighthouse at the mouth of the bay.  It wasn’t until he married the nineteen-year-old schoolteacher, Julia Jefferson, that he finally built a fine two-story house (still owned by his descendants) and moved out of the little cabin.

And that’s when my “vision” of him really begins. I think of him often and wonder what he’d make of Oysterville these days.  I wonder if he’d be wishing it “Happy Birthday and Many Returns of the Day.”

Sorry. The cannon is indisposed.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

BOOM!

By rights, THOM (The Honorary Oysterville Militia) should gather day after tomorrow to fire their cannon in commemoration of Oysterville’s founding.  It was April 12, 1854, according to accounts by both Isaac Clark and Robert Espy, that they paddled their canoe shoreward to the sound of Old Klickeas’s drumbeat.  That foggy day, as far as we know, marked the beginning of a permanent settlement here.  Worth noting with a cannon salute, eh?

But, unfortunately, THOM’s cannon is confined to quarters for a time.  After fourteen seasons – and not even the winter ones – out of doors in our northwest weather, her underpinnings are needing replacement.  New carriage wheels!  Nyel is ordering them today from an outfit in Pennsylvania and until they get here, the cannon will remain indisposed.  Which means she will stay tucked away in our garage until the new wheels arrive.

“Obviously, a canon of living in Oysterville is to have a gorgeous garden.” Diedre Duewel

We have been custodians of the cannon– a full-sized replica of an 1841 mountain howitzer made by Cannon Ltd. of Coolville, Ohio – for some years now.  We purchased it just in time to be used for Oysterville’s 2004 Sesquicentennial celebration. And, of course, as with most things in Oysterville, there is a story to go with it.

Oysterville has a long history of celebrations marked by cannon fire. According to my esteemed late Uncle Willard Espy’s account in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, in the 1870s R.H. Espy would don special black broadcloth pants, a maroon and black brocaded vest, a light linen duster, a stiff shirt with boiled bosom, a stiff collar, a bow tie, and a beaver hat and would discharge the cannon to begin festivities such as the annual regatta.

There are accounts that Oysterville’s original cannon was blown to bits by a rowdy group of midnight revelers, so for several generations we had to make do with only the stories about it. Hardly satisfactory thought Nyel. We happened to be in Gettysburg a few years before Oysterville was to observe the sesquicentennial year of its founding, and all those cannons on display prompted Nyel to make inquiries. He learned that for a mere ten or twelve thousand dollars Oysterville could once again have a cannon.

Cannon Squad, 2007

We pondered… and on the long road trip back home we conceived the idea of forming The Honorary Oysterville Militia. We would sell commissions to our friends and relatives and buy the cannon with the proceeds. General Nyel was the first to invest. The plan was successful beyond our wildest expectations and in early 2003 the cannon was ordered. It arrived in the spring of 2004, just in time for Oysterville’s 150th celebration. We’ve been celebrating loudly ever since!

Focus of the Month

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

The Cliff House, c. 1900

I remember specifically when I became aware of concept of ‘critical mass.’  It was 1952, I was sixteen years old, and I was working at the Cliff House Gift Shop in San Francisco.  It was a summer job between my junior and senior years in high school and I used my mother’s old Plymouth to commute across the Golden Gate bridge to and from San Rafael where we lived.

The Gift Shop was huge and sold every imaginable high-end souvenir to low-end tack – something for everyone.  And, it seemed that ‘everyone’ came every day to the popular tourist destination out on Sutro Heights.  They spilled out of tour buses, they came in fancy limousines, they came to enjoy the view, to dine in the world class restaurant, or to take in the Sutro Baths which, by then (1952) had been converted to an ice rink.

Cliff House Gift Shop, 1950s

In my memory, my first-day orientation focused on the huge north wall of teacups and saucers – every one different and, as I was told, Big Sellers (capital B Capital S).  A large, couldn’t-be-missed sign above the display said, “Lovely to look at, Delightful to hold, If you should drop it, We mark it sold.”  I remember being traumatized by the thought that I might have to tell a careless customer that they would have to pay for their breakage.

Days went by and, though I was busy ringing up sales at the old-fashioned cash register, not a teacup or saucer came my way.  I couldn’t imagine why the manager had emphasized how popular they were.  And then, one day I sold eight of them.  And the next day, four.  And, unbelievably, eleven on the following day!  It was as though the dam had broken.

My Grandmother’s Teacups

But, just as quickly, the interest in teacup collecting abated for a few days.  Then, it came again.  In droves.  Not just one teacup here and another there, but many in a day – sometimes several to one customer.  I remember talking to my dad about that.  He was a sales representative for gift lines from India and he said that it was a common phenomenon in his line of work.  Interest in an item happened in waves, he told me.  The trick for the seller was to catch the crest.

I don’t think Dad used the term ‘critical mass’ but that’s how I think of it now.  Somehow, those runs on an item have to do with a size, number or amount large enough to produce a particular result (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary).

Right now in Oysterville ‘No Trespassing” signs and their relatives ‘Private Property’ and ‘Keep Out’ seem to be the focus of many of our visitors.  I’ve had at least a dozen questions in the last few weeks about the proliferation of those sorts of notices on the fences in the village.  I can really only answer the ‘why’ of it with regard to the sign on our own gate.  Years ago, when my mother and father were still living here, Mom walked into the living room to find a group of strangers who inquired about a tour of the house.  They apparently had the idea that this was a museum.

At Our House

Our ‘Private Home’ sign has been on our gate ever since.  I can’t speak to the others.  Nor do I know if the critical mass phenomenon is in the sudden appearance of the signs or in the sudden noticing.  Whatever the reason, those signs seem to be the focus of the month here in the village.

A Name for the Books

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Oysterville by Willard Espy

“Oysterville!  Is that the name of your town?” asked Kelly-the-nurse in some disbelief.  Nyel conceded that it was.

“Great name!” she said.  “Sounds like it should be in a book!”

“It is,” was Nyel’s amused response.  “Lots of them.”

“Oh, really?  What kind?  Romances?  It sounds like a place for romance!”

It always surprises me when I come across someone who has never heard of Oysterville – a testimony, for sure, to my self-centered nature.  With 10,000 plus names added each year to the guest book at the Oysterville Church, it seems as though the whole world should know about Oysterville by now.  But of course, they don’t.

I suppose my surprise should be reserved for those who do know about our little village and I should be registering true amazement when someone says they’ve actually been there.  Once upon a time, most of the folks one ran into in Portland had, indeed, been to Oysterville – or at least to the Peninsula.  Now… not so much.  Newcomers in Portland have outnumbered ‘the old guard’ and our little corner is not the primary get-away attraction it once was.

“So, I guess there are a lot of restaurants in Oysterville where you can get fresh oysters,” Kelly continued.

“Not really.” said Nyel, “Not even one.”

Oysterville by Sydney Stevens

“Really!  With that name, Oysterville?  Someone’s missing a bet.  Bigtime!”

Nyel and I exchanged a brief look.  Brief, but loaded with past conversations about the one-time fabulous self-serve al fresco dining on the deck at Oysterville Sea Farms.  Not to mention the on-going, relentless legal harassment by Pacific County of our neighbor Dan Driscoll, Sea Farms’ owner.

Now, there’s a book that should be written!  Certainly not a Romance.  And not a Western or a Thriller or a Fantasy sort of book.  Not even in the Mystery or True Crime genre.  Maybe a new category altogether?  Where are Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward when we need them?

A Windy Day in Oysterville

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Oysterville Regatta 2017 – Photo by Mark Petersen

Sailing.  It’s a delicate balance in more ways than one.  No wind and you are dead in the water.  Too much wind and bad things happen.  Like at yesterday’s Oysterville Regatta.  Two broken tillers, two ripped sails, a broken boom and more dumps than we could keep track of.  Everyone agreed that the 2017 Regatta will be talked about for years to come.

I don’t really like the wind.  It’s unsettling to me.  So, living here on the beach where we have wind every day of the year is a little bit challenging.  On the other hand, I love the recreational activities associated with wind.  As a spectator, only, I hasten to point out.

I love to watch the kites flying at the ocean beach and remind myself that it’s not an accident that The International Kite Festival was born here and has been a huge success, year after year. And where else but on Willapa Bay could there be a regatta – dated (intermittently, to be sure) from the 1870s?  And where but Oysterville would you find a whole family of sailors whose great, great-great, and three-times-great grandfather participated in some of those early regattas of 140 years ago?

2017 Oysterville Regatta Invitation

But, during yesterday’s regatta, I was very happy to be enjoying the spectacle from dry land.  Oysterville’s event is pretty bare bones – no microphones or fancy visual enhancement aids at the seashore.  We walk to the end of the lane laden down with chairs, binoculars, something to eat and/or drink and buoyed up by high anticipation.  Tucker, who is Admiral of the Fleet, supplies a list of sailors, boats, and sail numbers by which to identify who is where.

Yesterday, with boats going out of commission and ripped sails being replaced by spares, sailors were often unidentifiable from our vantage point and we had to ‘guess’ who was in which boat and who was ahead, behind, or in the water.  It was great sport all the way around.  We kept a close eye on Doug Knutzen, the rescue volunteer who was zooming hither and thither on his jet ski.  When he didn’t pause for long at his destination, but went whizzing off in another direction, we breathed a sigh of relief.  All was well…

Spectators – Oysterville Regatta 2017

Periodically, Tucker would leave his post at the waterside and come and tell us what was going on.   But it wasn’t until the Awards Ceremony last night that we learned that only one boat has finished the first relay race!  One out of six starters.  And… he had to be towed into the bank once he crossed the finish line because of … wind damage!  All agreed that Chris Fuller more than earned his trophy!

What a day!  It’ll go down in history!  I’m sure of it.

Going Gray in Oysterville

Friday, August 25th, 2017

The Red House

It’s been seventy years since my Uncle Willard Espy began painting the town red.  Well… maybe not the whole town of Oysterville, but certainly two of the most significant buildings in this little village.  It was 1947, the year of his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  The celebration was to take place around Thanksgiving and, even that summer, preparations were under way.

At that time, Willard owned his grandfather’s house up the street a block or so from where he and his six siblings had grown up.  He and his (then) wife, Hilda Cole Espy, had purchased the house from the R.H. Espy Estate shortly after World War II.  Or maybe during the war – I don’t really remember.

1947 Golden Wedding Dinner

What I do remember is that for several summers in a row (including 1947) their four daughters – my ‘much younger’ cousins were here, as was I.  Willard, wo was then Public Relations Director for the Reader’s Digest in New York.  He took his vacation weeks here and, that year, he painted the R.H. Espy House red.

I was eleven that year and I don’t specifically remember the painting project.  My oldest cousin, Mona – never mind that she was a twin; she took great pride in being the eldest daughter, even if only by a few minutes – was six and she does remember.  Sort of.  She remembers her father laughing and laughing after painting the horns of the bull out in the pasture – red!  We both think that Willard had taken a break from painting the house to have a little fun with the neighbor’s bull and, in our minds, that dates the year that the house color changed from yellow (we think) to the red it is today.

The Little Red Cottage, 1977 – 2017

For the next thirty years, people referred to the R. H. Espy house as the “Red House” because it was the only one of that color in town.  Then, in the mid-seventies, Willard and his (then) wife Louise purchased the little cottage that had once served as the first courthouse in Oysterville.  It, too, was soon painted red and we began to refer to the two structures as “The Big Red House” and “The Little Red Cottage” to distinguish which we were talking about.

Yesterday, as we drove into town after being gone for eight days, there were indications are that we will not need to differentiate between red buildings from this point forward.  We noticed that the erstwhile “Little Red Cottage” now has a gray façade – perhaps the first step in the newest owners’ renovation scheme.  For now, the rest of the house remains red – a two-toned look that is distinctive in itself.

The Little Gray Cottage, 2017

Whether in his parents’ home, his grandfathers’ home or the erstwhile first courthouse, Willard spent much of his life here in Oysterville.  He, himself, grew gray over his long lifetime and I think he would be amused to think that his beloved Red Cottage had now entered its own gray stage.  Like Willard, himself, it’s looking quite dignified and distinguished in gray!

The Espy Family Seat and Other Stuff

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Sometimes I feel that Oysterville must qualify as the Espy Family Seat – the place Espys come when they are on the search for family information.  Or maybe, as my sainted Uncle Willard claimed, all roads lead to Oysterville when it comes to Espys.  I’m not sure the reason, but one way or another, we get to meet a lot of fabulous Espy relatives.

Yesterday, it was Debi Snyder, a fifth cousin twice removed (is that what we decided?) who is on a road trip from Provo, Utah with her husband Ron.  Our common ancestors are Thomas Espy and Anna Hamilton – Debi through their son William and me through their son Robert.  That much is well-documented, apparently, so there is no question of our cousinship.

Fifth Cousins Twice Removed

The big question among the genealogists seems to be about Anna Hamilton Espy’s parentage and that was part of the reason that Debi looked me up – hoping for a family Bible or other documentation (Sorry! Not here!) that would firmly establish Anna’s parentage.  That her father was Alexander Hamilton (not the famous one) seems to be true.  It also appears that for some years in the 1750s, after Anna’s mother died and while Alexander was off fighting Indians, young Anna lived with his parents, presumably her grandparents.  Anna rejoined Alexander (presumably her father) in 1760 when he remarried a woman named Amanda and began his second family of .

As far as my newly-discovered cousin and I are concerned, Anna’s parentage is neither here nor there.  But, Debi’s sister is apparently interested in qualifying for the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Being descended from Alexander Hamilton (not the famous one) seems to qualify you and until recently that’s been a fully legitimate reference.  But now, apparently, the DAR is questioning Anna’s paternity and until it’s all resolved… no acceptance by the DAR.

DAR Constitution Hall

I’m afraid I hold a “so what?” view of that entire DAR thing and my new-found cousin seems to agree, though she is pursuing the documentation quest out of sisterly loyalty.  My father’s mother was a passionate and active member in the DAR and, when I was a teenager, was eager for me to join.  I had absolutely no interest then or now. In my mind, the DAR is forever tainted by their treatment of opera singer Marian Anderson back in 1939 when they denied her the opportunity to perform in DAR Constitution Hall because of her race.

Actually, that fact has shaped many of my decisions through life.  I chose Stanford because it didn’t then have sororities; I have never joined AAUW and in several (though not all) other instances I’ve tried to avoid ‘exclusive’ groups which set their members apart from the rest of the world.  But that’s another story…  Yesterday I was proud as punch to be a member of an even more singular group – the Espys – and to welcome yet another cousin to the seat of the Oysterville branch of the family!

You just can’t get there from here…

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Headed north for the bridge???

Some of the local wags probably still direct tourists to Leadbetter Point when asked about the bridge over to North Cove and Tokeland.  I must say, it is tempting advice to give.  I wish I had a nickel for all the drivers who have stopped me as I walk toward the post office to ask if this is the right road for the bridge.  Often, they have a map in hand and, usually, they argue with you when you tell them there is no bridge.  It’s hard to be polite when you know they are thinking “Dumb Yokel!” and you are thinking… well, never mind what you are thinking.

I can empathize just a tad with those insistent visitors — but in a twenty-first century way – when I get that eternal runaround by email or telephone.  It’s another one of those ‘you can’t get there from here’ deals.  It’s the game I’ve been playing the last few weeks with my publisher whose March 31st royalty check has not yet shown up. (Perhaps I should mention here that said royalty payment will cover four books with this publisher for all sales from July 20th to December 20th of last year.)

Robo Responder

After waiting a suitable time (two weeks) for my payment to show up, I emailed a polite query that got this response:   Due to the high volume of inquiries we receive on a daily basis regarding Royalties, please allow 5 business days for a response to your email sent to the Royalties Department.  So, I waited some more.  After eight business days without a peep, I called the phone number that was included in the email.

“Dial one if your inquiry concerns sales; Dial two if your inquiry concerns submissions; dial three if…”  I think my magic number might have been four.  And, guess what!  A robo-voice said to leave my call-back number but “Due to the high volume of inquiries we receive on a daily basis regarding Royalties, please allow 5 business days for a response…”           

Sydney’s Books with Arcadia Publishing/History Press

On Business Day Nine after my first email inquiry I received a snippy email response saying they had notified me on March 31st (no, they hadn’t) and on April 17th my royalty payment (which I think will come to about $272) had been directly deposited to my bank account.  So, yesterday, April 21st, I stopped at the bank and inquired.  “Sorry, Sydney.  Nothing has come in.”

I can’t decide whether to continue looking for the bridge on this road or just to write it off as a bad trip all the way around…

“Sound Your Claxon”

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Looking West On Oysterville Road, 3/30/2017

For some time now we’ve been hearing the word “infrastructure” bandied about in the news.  Worrisome statistics about failing bridges and inadequate public transportation systems assail us and mind-boggling trillion-dollar budget proposals make my head spin.

Meanwhile, we are so used to stopping somewhere on the Megler-Astoria Bridge while workers scrape and paint and maintain that we automatically factor an extra fifteen minutes into our travel time.  And, though we are told that our County’s money for road maintenance is sacrosanct – a percentage of the budget that cannot be used for other things – we know that costs multiply faster than the wear and tear around us.

Looking Southeast On Oysterville Road 3/30/2017

Road damage is one of the ways our rainy winter has taken its toll here in Oysterville – and everywhere else in the County, no doubt.  Oysterville Road – the oldest north end thoroughfare from ocean to beach – is crying out for repair. Not all of it, though.  Just the east end – the County part.  Looking weat, at the junction of Sandridge and Oysterville Roads, the highway to the beach looks pretty good.  That’s the State part of the road (SR103).  To the east – the part with the potholes – is the responsibility of the County.   I imagine the repairs will be done when the weather improves.  In the meantime, I think about an article in the 1971 Sou’wester by George “Dewey” Delong.  He was born in Long Beach (then called Tinkerville) in 1898 and documented some of his reminiscences in an article called “Slick and Slide: The Story of My Life.”   His section on Trails, Roads, and Highways is worth reading – especially to appreciate how far we’ve come in the last few generations.  An excerpt: 

Repair Work on Oysterville Road, 1880s

The original roads were narrow, with one-way traffic and turnouts; if you met a car with no room to pass, one driver would be required to back up. The first graders were pulled by horses–a man in front guided the animals while the one behind managed the blade, ‘but when I began road work we used wheelbarrows and shovels for equipment. When we got trucks, we had the F.W.D. Pierce Arrow and Liberty. I ran one of the first gas-powered graders, a Fordson.

 My favorite tidbit from Mr. Delong’s article is this:  In the beginning there were no road signs; drivers used their instincts and sometimes disaster resulted. One of the first road signs I remember read “Sound Your Claxon.”

Great advice if you are traveling through Oysterville these days!

The Gathering Place

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

A Party of Jays at T&C’s

When I was growing up, there was always a place in the neighborhood that was like a kid magnet.  There was the Heckes House (or the beach in front) in Oysterville or the Reading House in Alameda or the Dangerfield’s in San Rafael. But never our house.  I always attributed that to the fact that there were siblings (and often their cousins) in those other places.  The homes I lived in were more adult-centered.

As an only child, I didn’t give the ‘gathering elsewhere’ phenomena much thought.  It was just the way it was.  And when Charlie was little it was the same in our neighborhood in Castro Valley – except for the occasional convergence on our swimming pool on hot summer days, there were more possibilities for fun where families were larger.

Mom and Bambi Heading for T&C’s

I don’t think about that ‘gathering’ aspect of our lives nowadays.  We are mostly too occupied with other things to spend hours and days just hanging out with friends.  Hip-hopping over to the neighbors to find out if they can come out and play evaporated, as Corinthians suggests, when “I put away childish things.”

But, lately, I’ve noticed that there is another type of magnetic gathering place here in Oysterville.  It’s where our furry four-legged friends converge.  Not all at once, but fairly consistently throughout the year.  The deer and the bear, the raccoons and various other critters (even our chickens!) seem to gravitate to Tucker and Carol’s place.  I know that they come through here, too.  We see the chomped leaves of our camellias and the scat on the lawn but the furry folk don’t often hang out and pose for pictures here.  Not like at the Wachsmuth place around the corner.

Yesterday’s Seed Thief at T&C’s

For instance, for the last few days Nyel has been doing wild bird seed duty while Carol and Tucker have been gone.  He goes over about at first light (a detour after his chicken duties) to open the smokehouse door and the plastic tub of birdseed and scatter a cup or so in the yard.  Yesterday, he had been beaten to the punch by a saucy little squirrel who had managed to pry that plastic lid up and probably thought he had died and gone to heaven.  He didn’t scamper off immediately, either.  He took time to pose for several pictures first – if a bit belligerently,

I’m sure the magnetism has a logical explanation but I think it’s a subtle one.  Kids and animals instinctively know the most welcoming places.  It’s no doubt a measure of my curmudgeonliness (is that a word?) that I’m sorta glad it’s Tucker and Carol’s place, not ours.

Can T&C come out to play?