Posts Tagged ‘Espy Family Archive’

One Month (and 18 years) Too Late

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

“1912 Middy Blouse”

Yesterday I had the great urge to clean out my closet and to inventory my sartorial needs for the coming of fall.  I made a good start on filling the Goodwill bag with clothing that has been (literally) gathering dust for uncounted years.  You know – the blue jeans that were perfect when you were a few inches slimmer around the middle.  Or the bolero jacket that doesn’t quite go with anything but, surely, just the right skirt or blouse will come along soon.

I was ruthless. And, I felt “very much accomplished” as my Aunt Medora used to say.  But the bottom line is that I left myself exceedingly limited in clothing choices beyond my usual at-home-uniform – jeans and a sweatshirt.  I had the sudden urge to go “back-to-school shopping.”  Never mind that it is seventeen years since I stopped teaching and, even then, any additions to my wardrobe were usually acquired at the last minute – probably in August before the school year got under way.

As I thought about the situation, I remembered something my grandmother had written to Medora (the one and same, just mentioned) regarding her wardrobe.  The letter, which hints at my grandmother’s struggle with the transition from homemade to store-bought clothing, was dated September 4, 1912:

Elizabeth Ayer, Marie Strock, Medora Espy – 1912

The express has come at last and I am greatly pleased with the things.  All of the dresses were substitutes, as what we ordered were out but anyway the choice is fine.  There is one bad thing tho, your dress is too long and I do not see how it can be shortened.  I would not wear it if I were you unless there is some very special occasion.  Then when I come up we can take it to a dressmaker and see how it can be shortened.  It may not look too long with low shoes in the evening but with high shoes will reach the tops…

The white skirt to your middy was too short and I sent it back for a longer one…  Go into Harris and see if you can get a separate white skirt to wear with your middy – something plain and suitable for school…  I should not think it would or should cost more than two dollars for your whole middy suit only cost $2.25…At the same time get yourself three union suits part wool – you know the ribbed kind.  Do not pay more than $1.75 or $2.00 a suit.

I decided to use my own judgement about your coat and dress so as to save time, so ordered them delivered direct to you and I surely hope you will be pleased.  The coat was the best shown – cost $14.00 – a black silk plush lined with tan satin.  The hat a black beaver turned up in front.  Then a brown corduroy soft hat to go with your storm coat.  Your dress is a good quality brown corduroy trimmed with brown messaline and a large, lace collar. Do these sound all right?  I sent for best of everything in your clothes.

Bon-Ton Catalog, June 1913

The girls’ dresses look very nicely on them.  Sue’s is much coarser than Mona’s but very effective and at a distance does not show the difference in quality.  Mrs. Parant has Sue’s dress to work on.  I have ordered satine for new bloomers for you and goods to match the girls’ school dresses for bloomers.

Well, at least I don’t need to worry about putting union suits or bloomers on my shopping list.  But I do think that shopping by catalog (or, in today’s world, online) is the way to go from Oysterville.  Some things don’t change.

Appreciating Willard Some More!

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Willard’s “Bound” Copies

I may not have thought so at the time, but one of the enduring gifts that my uncle Willard Espy gave me was a sense of stewardship of “the family papers.”  That’s what we all called those boxes and boxes (about 100 of them eventually) of documents, letters, junk mail etc. that were stored in the “woodshed” as Willard called it.  He had been working with those papers since the 1930s.  They were the basis for his family genealogical work and ultimately for his 1977 book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.

Truth to tell, by the late 1970s, those papers were stored in the woodshed, as well as in the attic, the barn across the street and in the house just south of town that had served as home to my grandfather’s ranch foreman.  When my folks retired to the H.A. Espy home in Oysterville (where my mother and Willard and the rest of their siblings had grown up), they gathered all of those papers into one place for “safekeeping.”

One of Willard’s Labels

Shortly after I moved here full-time in 1978, Willard hired a student from Evergreen College to sort and catalogue them.  He asked me if I would help her out and for a year and a half Barbara Hedges (now Canney) and I forged a forever-friendship and learned more than we could ever have imagined about the Espy family, the pioneer days in Oysterville and the Peninsula, the trek across the Oregon Trail, the Civil War, the voyage around Cape Horn and on and on.

When we were “finished” the material was contained in twelve four-drawer, ‘fireproof,’ file cabinets in the storage area between our house and garage.  Willard still called it the “woodshed” as it was in the general area that had, indeed, been the woodshed of his childhood.  My folks called that area “the workroom” because my dad continued working there for a few years after they moved here, manufacturing plastic gift items.   Nyel and I now call it the “back forty” and it serves as a catch-all place for everything we have no room for elsewhere – the picnic items, card tables, chairs, Christmas ornaments – you name it.

A few years before he died, Willard made arrangements to gift all of those family papers to the Washington State Historical Society.  They would be transferred up to Tacoma to the Washington State Historical Research facility “at my discretion.”  That happened in the early 2000s, although we continue to find and deliver bits and pieces.

A New Project Begins

Meanwhile… I still have at my fingertips the typewritten (on a manual typewriter, no less!) copies of hundreds of letters that Willard transcribed back in the 1930s.  He felt the originals should stay here, undisturbed, but he wanted them in New York where he was living for reference.  So, each time he was here in Oysterville, he made copies – a laborious task in those days before copy machines and electric typewriters and the computers, printers and scanners we take for granted now.

And, once again, Willard has me involved!  I am transferring all those letters – from my great-grandparents and beyond – into archival sleeves and accessible binders.  The old spring-closed albums they have been in are beginning to deteriorate and… thanks again, Willard, for another “project” but, mostly, thanks for the hours and hours and hours you spent transcribing for posterity!  I hope I gave you enough hugs when you were still with us!

My Uncle Ed

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Dr. R.H. Edwin Espy, c. 1975

Among the many people in my life whom I never fully appreciated was my mother’s older brother, Ed.  For one thing, we lived on opposite sides of the country, so we didn’t see him very often.  For another, he had the rather imposing name, Robert Hamilton Edwin Espy and after receiving his doctorate from Columbia University was known to those beyond the family as Dr. R.H. Edwin Espy.  I was always impressed by that.  Not that we ever called him anything but “Ed”… but even so…

For another thing, from 1963 to 1973 he was the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and, as such, was known as the “Protestant Pope.”  That was the culminating job in a lifetime devoted to the ecumenical movement – a lifetime spent traveling the world meeting with religious leaders of every denomination and working with youth groups everywhere.  That was not just impressive to me, but somewhat overwhelming to consider.

From the time I was born in 1936 until his retirement in 1973, he brought me a souvenir doll and a souvenir spoon from each country he visited. Most of the spoons, alas! were stolen in a house break-in years ago. I still have the dolls – most with heads and hands made of bisque and with cloth bodies and hand-made clothing.  (Does it go without saying that they were pre-plastic?)  Because he had no children and I was his oldest niece, I always felt that I received special treatment – which I loved, but it was a bit intimidating.  Even as a little tyke, I was not comfortable crawling up into his lap like I might with my Uncle Willard.

Willard, Edwin, Dale in 1916

My mother, Willard, and Edwin were the youngest of seven children and, because they were within three years of each other, were referred to as “the babies.”  Throughout their lives, they shared a closeness that I was always a tad bit envious of – particularly (probably) because I had no brothers and sisters, myself, and realized from an early age that such a bond would forever be foreign to me.

But, it is in the area of history and memories that I feel I most missed out with Edwin.  I just ran across these notes that he wrote for a never completed book of Willard’s: 

Ed Espy Horse Seining on the Columbia, 1924

 …In the spring months I had to get up at 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. to dig razor clams at the ocean beach on the early morning tides – the best time for this in the twenty-four hours.  This was not a picnic.  It would be in March or April or May, when it always was cold and usually raining.  The combination of salt water, cold, gritty sand and sometimes a miscue with the special clam shovel was not designed for people finicky with their manicures.  When I got home from clamming later in the morning – barely in time for a change of clothes, a quick second breakfast and a dash to catch the school bus – after my mother had done her best to treat my hands – there was not much capacity for study on the ride to school.  But it was a good opportunity to catch a nap!

Just that single paragraph evokes so many questions!!  And thoughts about our changing times…

“For Want of a Nail

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
King Richard at Bosforth Field

King Richard at Bosworth Field

Horseshoe nails are not something most of us think about on a regular basis.  In fact, when I ran across my great-uncle King Wilson’s description of their manufacture, I was momentarily surprised.  But then I reflected a bit about the letter I was reading, written by him to my Great Aunt Dora in 1902.  It was a time when horses and their shoes were still a crucial part of everyday life.  It put me in mind of the old nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

            The poem is meant as a proverb, of course, pointing out that each of our actions, no matter how small, will have a consequence.  The proverb first showed up in relation to King Richard III’s death during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – later memorialized in Shakespeare’s history play, “Richard III.”

Capewell Horse Nails Shipping Box

Capewell Horse Nails Shipping Box

Uncle King was on a part-business-part-pleasure trip in June 1902 when he visited the Capewell Horse Nail Company in Hartford, Connecticut.  In a letter home to Dora in Lake Oswego, Oregon, he wrote:

They say they sell more nails than all their competitors.  I shook hands with Mr. Capewell.  He patented the machine that does the work.  The iron is purchased as wire after it is tempered and made of uniform size it goes in this machine and comes out nails.  There are 100 of these machines, and a compete machine shop to keep them in repair. To make the nails bright they are put in an iron barrel with sawdust, and the barrel is rolled over and over.  They are then inspected, each nail separately by girls, then they are weighed in boxes of 5 pounds each.  These boxes are pasteboard.  5 of these boxes are put in a wooden box for shipment.  Two hundred fifty men work for the company and about that many girls.

Alexander King Wilson - "Uncle King"

Alexander King Wilson – “Uncle King”

Such an interesting ‘dated’ paragraph!  Not only the subject, itself, but the manufacturing methods described, the use of the term ‘pasteboard,’ and the reference to ‘girls’ in the workforce.  Thank goodness someone had the foresight to save (and bind into a book!) these letters.  They provide a fascinating peek into our past.

And thank goodness for Uncle King’s interest in describing everyday sorts of things in everyday language!  So much more enlightening than the dry explanations in history texts or old encyclopedias.  The letters actually seem to illustrate the horse shoe nail proverb.  Certainly King Wilson could never have dreamed that his detailed description in a letter to his wife would be read and pondered over by his great niece by marriage more than a century later!


Picture Perfect in Oysterville

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
Our Pear Tree

Our Pear Tree

Our old Bosc pear tree is in full bloom right now – a sight to behold, for sure.  I think it is close to sixty feet high and I know for a fact that it is over 100 years old.  One of the favorite condiments of my mother’s generation was my grandmother’s pickled pears.  Nyel has made them from her recipe but I can’t say we are crazy about them, though pickled is one of the few ways those pears are edible.  They are still rock hard when they ripen and fall from the tree.  Even the birds shy away from them. One peck is usually all they try and I strongly suspect the result is a bent beak.

I usually don’t give that pear tree much thought.  I am grateful to it, to be sure, but mostly because it serves as a ‘trellis’ for the honeysuckle that will bloom in June and always fills our entire garden with the sweet smell of summer.  But, truth to tell, if I consider that old tree at all, it’s to marvel at its age and to wonder how many more years it will survive.

Fruit Trees at Left?  c. 1920

Fruit Trees at Left? c. 1920

This year, though, there is talk at our Community Historians class of a “Heritage Fruit Tree” project.  There are thoughts of locating some of the surviving fruit trees planted by Pacific County pioneers, taking scions from them, and grafting them to younger trees – or something like that.  I understand the concept but not how you do it.  Anyway… our pear tree has come into my focus a bit more fully in recent weeks.

Medora in the Garden c. 1913

Medora in the Garden c. 1913

I began to wonder if we have any early photographs of the tree that would help pinpoint its age.  I know that my grandmother had a camera as early as 1915. Medora, her oldest daughter (then sixteen) gave it to her for her 34th birthday on May 28th of that year.  Although the camera was an Ansco (we still have the manual) the family always referred to it as “the Kodak” and it was responsible for most of the early snapshots taken around our house.  I’m not sure how we came by any earlier views, though we have a few.

My mother remembered that there were “quite a many” fruit trees in the southeast part of the yard and said that the pear tree was the last of them.  The only photos I found of that area do, indeed, show trees but I am not knowledgeable enough to identify their age or type.  Maybe someone else will know.  Meanwhile… perhaps the Community Historian Heritage Fruit Tree will involve our pear tree.  My forebears would have enjoyed that – probably more than they enjoyed the pears!

Thoughts of Medora

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016
Medora, 1914

Medora, 1914

DATELINE January 1, 2016. One hundred years ago today, my mother’s oldest sister, Medora, wrote this in her diary:

The first day of the New Year – May 1916 accomplish more than 1915 did in building my character! Though I feel far better satisfied with the past year than the one before, and thus may the years continue, each one more perfect than the last until I find everlasting peace. A complication of affairs is keeping me at home this next week from school and in those extra seven days I want to help my dear family as much as possible. There is so much to do in a household of eight which my little frail mother can not manage.  

"Dear Medora"

“Dear Medora”

Two days later she wrote:

My seventeenth birthday. Why I am really becoming a young lady! I shall live this year cheerfully without any sentimental attachment awaiting my prince, and preparing for him. If in all the long years he never comes, I have lots to do for others.

Unfortunately, Medora would never have the opportunity to fulfill her dreams. Just two weeks later, she died in her sleep. But unbeknownst to her, she did, indeed, manage “to do lots for others” – not the least of which was to inspire me to write her story and see it into publication. I think of her this day with a mixture of deep regret and eternal gratitude.

on being ‘a tracker on the paper trail’…

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
File Drawers

File Drawers

As I age and I begin to have trouble accessing information on my personal ‘memory chip’, I am increasingly thankful that I have kept “documentation” of important decisions and transactions. And, specifically, I’m glad that I keep “hard copies” of meeting agendas and minutes, of correspondence by both snail-mail and email and other items that may not even seem important at the time.

It is comforting to know that even though email messages get erased and (worse!) hard drives fail, there is a more permanent record of the past than my own recollections. Saving hard copies, of course, is not a habit by design; it is genetic. More than a hundred boxes of correspondence and other paper goods – “The Espy Archive” – at the Washington State Historical Society Research Center give testimony to that inherited condition.

An Ever-Growing "To Be Sorted" Pile

An Ever-Growing “To Be Sorted” Pile

The difficulty in dealing with such a trait, of course, is what to do with the “stuff” that accumulates. File folders, file cabinets, paper piles waiting to be organized are the story of my life. It’s one thing to save everything; it’s quite another to find space for it to say nothing of organizing and keeping things up to date. And then there is the matter of exactly how to sort and catalog and index.

Diane Buttrell talks about taking a trip with the Oysterville Science Academy Fourth Graders this summer. They were working on this very problem of sorting and organizing. They went to Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park and looked the store over. When asked how they would arrange things for easy access by workers and customers, their answer was simple: “by color.” I love that! Would that the world was so simple!

Cuzzin Ralph and Sydney Working on WRE File, 2008

Sydney and Cuzzin Ralph Working on WRE File, 2008

Right up there with the problem of how/where to store ‘stuff’ is the even greater difficulty of trying to access a specific bit of information later. Sometimes, years later. I spend half my life, or so it seems, being a tracker on the paper trail of my own making. Still… when push comes to shove (and it seems to with most things), having hard physical evidence of ‘what he said’ or ‘what she said’ nothing beats having it “in writing.” Or so I believe.

Putting the ‘Story’ back in History

Thursday, April 16th, 2015
History Books

History Books

It came as a sort of epiphany to me recently to realize that I’ve always enjoyed history. I thought that it was one of my least favorite subjects in school – right up there with geometry and chemistry. It was all those battle names and dates that turned me right off. Still do.

Besides that, I never can get my eighth grade history teacher, Miss Timothy, out of my mind. For one thing, she was the first woman I ever knew who had a full-blown mustache. And, for another, I remember when she made Elsa Laine sit in the front of the room for the whole class period with a wad of bubble gum on her nose in punishment for disobeying the “no chewing” rule. No, history as I remember it being taught in school was not a favorite.

Papa and Aunt Dora circa 1896

Papa and Aunt Dora circa 1896

On the other hand, I could sit by the hour and listen to my grandfather and his sister talk about the days when they were kids back in the 1880s right here in Oysterville. Papa was inclined to talk about ‘the saints’ and Aunt Dora was more interested in the stories about ‘the sinners.’ No matter what, it was the stories I enjoyed – plus the great delight expressed in the telling.

So, when I was asked about the possibility of teaching a Continuing Education class at Grays Harbor College, I thought it would be fun to develop a course of study based on stories. Specifically, the stories behind our local history. Over the years, I’ve collected lots of them – stories about the settlers who came here, the hardships they faced, the adaptations they made. Like the stories I remember hearing in childhood, they are stories about the saints and the sinners who made this little corner of the world the place we call home.

GHC Columbia Education Center, Ilwaco

GHC Columbia Education Center, Ilwaco

I’m calling the class “Putting the Story back in History.” It begins (assuming anyone signs up for it)  on Tuesday, May 5th (5:30-7:20 p.m.) at Grays Harbor’s Ilwaco campus down at the port and will continue each Tuesday evening through June 23rd. Eight weeks of stories! And, did I say pictures? Historic photos gathered over the years that I hope will bring some of the people and circumstances to life – presented through the magic of computers and PowerPoint programs and other miracles of technology.

Bottom line: I’m hoping the class will inspire others to document their own stories. It’s the way history is preserved and enjoyed, or so I believe. I do wish Miss Timothy had known that.

Cornelia’s Log: “Around Cape Horn” (1854)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014
Rounding the Horn

Rounding the Horn

Lately, Tucker has been talking about how it must have been to come ’round Cape Horn back in the days of sailing ships. It was the route that many of the early Oysterville pioneers took as they headed out from the East Coast to the gold fields of California. When the search for gold didn’t pan out (so to speak), many fortune-seekers headed north to take their chances with the oyster treasure of Shoalwater Bay – or so they hoped.

My two-times-great-grandfather Horace Richardson, an upright and God-fearing clergyman from Massachusetts, took his family around the Horn, not to seek his fortune, but to save the multifarious sinners of California. At Long Wharf in Boston on November 28, 1854 Horace and wife Sarah (his second) and their family boarded the good ship Reindeer captained by Obed Bunker.  With the Richardsons was Sarah’s spinster sister, twenty-three-year-old Cornelia Elizabeth Rand.

Cornelia's Log: February 23, 1855

Cornelia’s Log: February 23, 1855

During the long voyage, Cornelia kept a log. Almost every day, in neat schoolgirl penmanship, she made an entry in a ruled copybook – often no more than a line or two and, most days, she included their latitude. She told about the sightings of other boats, the fish that were seen, and noted the birthdays and anniversaries of family members while at sea (Dec. 2nd…This is Horace’s birthday – 40.)

Cornelia talked about at length about the food they ate – onions, shark, whortleberry pie, pancakes, bonito, gooseberry and peach pie. Feb. 22nd. This is Washington’s birthday. We tried to celebrate it by eating nuts, candy and raisins. She also mentioned that she hooked a hundred pound shark and found that its heart continue beating several hours after its death.

Sarah (Rand) and Horace Richardson

Sarah (Rand) and Horace Richardson

She wrote about catching sight of novelties such as stormy petrels, the Magellan clouds, the Southern Cross and the island spotted by the mate that turned out to be an iceberg. And, though she didn’t complain, she did say on December 5th: A wave came in at our window and wet our berths. On the other hand, she said hardly anything about a poor sailor named John Roan who fell overboard on the second day out of Boston Harbor and could not be rescued.

On April 17, 1855, having arrived at last at the City by the Golden Gate, Cornelia wrote: Mr. Briarly again came and we went to his house happy enough to tread upon firm ground. Here ends our voyage of twenty weeks – weeks in which we have seen and heard many things that we could not learn elsewhere than upon the ocean; and we have gained an interest in sailors that we think we shall never lose, knowing well their hardships and the privileges of which they are deprived.

Of Cornelia’s log my grandmother said, “I never read anything more barren. Can you imagine taking a six-months’ journey and never expressing a single reaction, or any sign of interest in a fellow passenger?”

My own thought is that perhaps Cornelia was paying more attention to the sailors…

On Account of Reverend Crouch

Friday, January 24th, 2014
Oysterville Baptist Church Ledger Page, 1893

Oysterville Baptist Church Ledger, 1893

Among the bits and pieces of “stuff” in our house that are yet to be turned over to the Special Collections Department of the Washington State Historical Society is an account ledger for the Oysterville Baptist Church.  It spans the years 1879 (before the church was built) through 1895. Of particular interest to me are the pages devoted to payments made to Reverend Josiah Crouch.

Crouch, of course, is the infamous preacher who served at the church the first year it was built and left town in a hurry after his wife was drowned on the Willapa under questionable circumstances.  They lived here in this house which was then the parsonage and it is Mrs. Sarah Crouch who is our beloved resident ghost.

Four pages of the ledger are devoted to Mr. Crouch.  The first is titled “Copy of Subscription of the Members of Oysterville Church and their Pastor.”  It goes on to say:

We the Undersigned hereby agree to pay the amount set opposite our names toward the salary of Rv. Josiah Crouch for his services as our Pastor for one year, said year beginning Nov. 1st 1892 and ending Nov. 1/93.  We further agree to pay our stated amounts of subscription quarterly on the dates that it becomes due.
D.O. Parmeter  $40.00
S.S. Slingerland  $25.00
R.H. Espy  $150.00
Gordon G. Wahr  $20.00
A. Wirt  $10.00
John Osborne  $10.00

There follow three pages of notes concerning amounts advanced to Rev. Crouch for items of furniture – Bedroom Set (Herbert Clark’s) $37; 2 chairs, $10;46 yds Carpet at 1.50 pr yd, $69 – and so forth for a total on February 11th of $146.45.


Oysterville Baptist Church 1902

His wife was drowned on July 15, 1893.  There was much concern regarding the incident.  The body was exhumed, there was a coroner’s court convened, and it was concluded that there was not enough evidence to hold Crouch for trial. However, according to the jury foreman,  ”We were at the time unanimous in our opinion that it would hardly be just to hold him for trial, and were as firmly of opinion that we could not declare him innocent.  Hence we aimed to construct our verdict so that the world might know that we entertained doubts.”

There is no record in the ledger that the pastor’s contract was renewed or even if he fulfilled his first year’s duties.  According to Tommy Nelson who was a teenager at the time, the good people of his congregation were not happy with Mr. Crouch and “they made it too hot for him and he left town.”  So far the record is silent on exactly when that happened.