Posts Tagged ‘Oysterville’

Down Memory Lane – On Gravel Roads

Monday, September 21st, 2015
The Wirt House, 1939

The Wirt House, 1939

I ran across a picture of the old Wirt House where my friends Johnny and Ruthie Holway lived when I first knew them. I still think of it as “across the lane” from us – probably because we always used the side door not the front door on what is now Territory Road. I remember every inch of that house even though it was replaced by the current house back in the late forties.

Stackpole Harbor

At the End of Stackpole Road

What struck me most about the photograph, though, was the gravel road in front. The picture was taken in 1939 – part of a WPA project documenting rural areas. I’ve been trying to remember when the road was finally paved. Probably Jim Sayce knows. He’s good at remembering things like that.

And when did Stackpole Road get graveled? I remember when it was still just sand and there were hardly any houses along the way at all. We would drive out there in my grandfather’s old Plymouth – usually for a picnic at The Point. Even though it seemed a long way north of Oysterville, it wasn’t as far as it is now with all the accretion. And, of course, there wasn’t a wildlife refuge or a state park there in those days.

North of Joe John's Road, c.1946

North of Joe John’s Road, c.1946

The changes I notice most, though, are along Sandridge between Joe Johns Road and Oysterville. They have all happened so gradually and over so much time that I can hardly remember when there were just meadows and forests for most of the way – until the Espy Ranch House. Nowadays, when people ask me which house that was, I’m hard pressed to tell them. No longer is it ‘the only house just beyond Oysterville.’

Thank goodness for these old photographs! I wish there were more. We’ve put on a lot of miles since those days of gravel roads and I’m grateful for opportunities to travel down them once again.

Would Medora miss the windmills?

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
Medora's Diary

Medora’s Diary

One hundred years ago today, my Aunt Medora wrote in her diary:

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 1915            

We arrived in Astoria at five thirty this morning and it was a typical Oregon day, cold and rainy. We had breakfast at the Imperial, then crossed the bay on the Potter. Took the train at Megler and all the way down the beach. I didn’t see a soul I knew… Oysterville is just the same and so very uninteresting. We had dinner at Mrs. Kistemaker’s, then went to Grandpa’s to see Aunt Dora, Verona, the cousins Mary and Julia.

Medora's House

Medora’s House

Medora was returning with her family from a trip to California where they had been “wined and dined” by my grandmother’s childhood friends and had spent many days at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition which was a world’s fair held in San Francisco. The ostensible purpose of the Exposition was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, but it was widely seen in San Francisco as an opportunity to showcase its recovery from the 1906 earthquake. No wonder Oysterville seemed “so very uninteresting” to sixteen-year-old Medora!

I often wonder what she and my grandparents would think of Oysterville today. I’m sure they would be amazed at the number of visitors streaming into the village, even at this time of year, and they would find it somewhat strange that there are so few full-time residents.

Medora, 1915

Medora, 1915

No doubt they would be favorably impressed by innovations such as electricity and indoor plumbing but I wonder how they would feel about all the “automobile machines” and the absence of horses and cows and barns and chicken sheds. Would they wonder what had happened to all the boats on the bay – such a common sight a hundred years ago? And what would they think about paved roads and a population that doesn’t include children? Would they miss the windmills?

Would the “historic character” of Oysterville – the ambiance that we 2015 residents so cherish – seem familiar to them? I know they would recognize the streetscape. “Grandpa’s” house (the R.H. Espy place) would look the same except that it is now painted red. Medora’s own house (where we live now) would look the same (both outside and in) and, though the Monterey Cypress trees that Tom Andrews had planted in 1900 are now immense, I do believe Medora and her family would feel right at home on Territory Road.

I hope the same same can be said of us one hundred years hence.


Please make it a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. In red!

Monday, August 3rd, 2015
With Ann (Memi Sherwood) Anderson

With Ann (Memi Sherwood) Anderson

Yesterday we took our annual stroll down memory lane at the Concours d/Elegance. This year we went to the one at Fort Vancouver, rather than to the larger one in Forest Grove. Our review is mixed.

We thought that there would be some definite pluses to attending this one – closer venue and therefore at least two hours less travel time; not so many cars (180 versus 300+) so we’d have more looking leisure; on a historic site we’d like to re-visit if time allowed; the strong possibility that Ann (Memi Sherwood) Anderson and Don Baulig would be there with his 1957 Corvette. Like most ‘best laid plans,’ only some of these worked out.

1948 MG TC - deja vu for me!

1948 MG TC – deja vu for Sydney!

Best of all was spending time with Don and Memi. They were able to leave the Vette for a leisurely lunch at The Grant House, one of the classic homes on Fort Vancouver’s Officers Row that is now a lovely restaurant. Great food, reasonable prices, and a wonderful opportunity for Memi – who lived in Oysterville from 1938 to 1947 – and me to “catch up.” It amazes me that we’ve known one another almost 80 years and yet Memi never seems to change! How does she do that?

We did have a bit drooling (whoops! make that looking) time, but not really enough because  cars began to pull out about an hour and a half before the 3:00 closing time. Don thought that it was probably because the judging was over and those who weren’t winners decided to split. That was a disappointment – especially because the weather was unexpectedly cool and walking the grounds was absolutely no sweat. Not like in Forest Grove the last few years when temperatures soared close to 100°F.

The Coveted Gullwing

The Coveted Gullwing

Which brings me to my most serious complaint. Unlike the Forest Grove venue on the Pacific University campus, there were very few benches or other seating possibilities for visitors at the Officers Row site. Vendors, of course, brought their own chairs, but the rest of us could grab a patch of lawn or stay upright — both hard choices these days.

And speaking of Officers Row – I was truly misguided in thinking that we’d have access, somehow, to Fort Vancouver proper. The former is part of the Fort Vancouver National Trust, a nonprofit organization that has little to do with the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site which is a National Park. They are in close proximity but…

We did get to see our all-time favorite cars. For me it was the 1948 MG TC, bright red like the one Charlie’s dad and I had when he was born. For Nyel, it was a tossup between the gray 1960 356B Porsche (but the one he had was red) and the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing (which is on his life list of coveted automobiles).

We arrived home before five, unaccountably tired. This trips down Memory Lane take it out of us these days!

Seeing Oysterville Anew

Sunday, May 31st, 2015
Sydney and Deirdre

Sydney and Deirdre

The meadow, the bay, the pews in the church, ‘stuff’ in the Wachsmuth boathouse, pots and pans in our kitchen – the images in Deidre Purcell’s “Oysterville Series I” exhibition are oh so familiar. And, for me anyway, they were a compelling new look at my everyday life as seen in black and white and through the eyes and lens of a remarkable photographer.

Last night was the artist’s reception for the exhibit which will be in place at the Camerawork Gallery in Portland through June 26th. There were refreshments, live music by the Swingmasters and people I knew including Kuzzin Kris but, even so, it was hard to look anywhere other than at the photographs. And every time I looked I saw another well-known nook or cranny and was again surprised that Deidre had seen it, too. Not only ‘seen it,’ but captured it for others to enjoy and remark upon.

At Cameraworks Gallery

At Cameraworks Gallery

And, in the ‘remarks department’ – what fun it was to listen to viewers as they looked and commented! “Look at that photograph! It could have been taken a hundred years ago!” It was a close-up of our mantle with the Crellins and my great-grandfather in attendance. And, yes, it could indeed have been a century ago as those who know my never-changing-décor could verify.

I was surprised, too, at how many folks had been to Oysterville “once – long ago” and remembered the bay or the cypress trees or the old houses. I had the passing fancy that Deirdre’s images lead to memories that might not even have been grounded in fact. The Oysterville of her exhibit are of a real-yet-imagined place that we’ve all been to, somehow.

By Deirdre Purcell

By Deirdre Purcell

And yet… I’ve scrubbed those very pots and pans and sharpened those very knives. My Oysterville? Deidre’s Oysterville? Fantasy Oysterville? All of the above.

We ooohed and aaahed and schmoozed but I didn’t get enough. I will be back before the exhibit comes down. And I’m already looking forward to Series II. And to the book! Surely there will be a book…

Oysterville’s Changing Demographic

Monday, May 25th, 2015
...and the beat goes on!

…and the beat goes on!

By my calculations, as of last week the full-time population of Oysterville is up by a goodly percentage. We were at 13 and are now at 15! The increase is due to the change in status of Bob and Charlotte Jacobs who have sold their winter home in Sun City, Arizona and are now in Oysterville permanently. “It was always going to be Oysterville,” Charlotte told me Saturday.

Contrary to my erroneous report of a year or so ago, Charlotte was born in Oysterville and spent a good portion of her childhood vacations here visiting her grandparents Minnie and Bert Andrews, as well as her aunts, uncles and cousins. Her Oysterville roots – like Tucker’s and mine and Bud’s and the Freshley brothers’ – go way back to the 19th century. It’s a warm and comforting feeling when people “come back to Oysterville for good.”

There are quite a few Oysterville residents who are second and third generation, too. Their forebears arrived in the early part of the 20th century and, as the years have passed, family members have stuck through good times and bad or, perhaps, have come “back” to retire. I think the fact that many of us have history here gives our community a special flavor.

Oysterville Memory

A Bright Oysterville Memory

Among our part-time residents, the demographic has also changed, but not for the better. Within the last few months we’ve lost Mike Gray of the Tom Crellin House and my cousin BG Hook of the Red House – BG, old family, and Mike a relative newcomer but both with children who chose Oysterville as the place to exchange wedding vows, giving the next generation another sort of bond with the village. Perhaps some day they, too, will “come back.”

I can’t help but think of an article that appeared in the Seattle Intelligencer on August 17, 1881. The author was comparing Oysterville of 1873 “a busy and growing town” to the “deserted village” he visited eight years later: “It would be difficult to imagine a more dreary place than Oysterville. It contains about 100 houses of which not more than 12 are occupied, the entire population not exceeding fifty of whom the greater proportion are children…”

Our total population (full- and part-timers) probably just about matches that 1881 report. But these days it seems like we might be on the upswing demographically. We can but hope…

Brotherly Houses; Neighborly Remorse

Saturday, May 16th, 2015
John Crellin, Jr. circa 1870

John Crellin, Jr. circa 1870

In 1852, Oysterville on Shoalwater Bay, Oregon Territory was only an adventure or two away from The Isle of Man in the Irish Sea off the coast of England. Nineteen-year-old John Crellin, Jr. made the 5,000 mile journey the soon after he heard the news of the big 1848 gold strike in California.

Tom Crellin, circa 1870

Tom Crellin, circa 1870

My knowledge is sketchy as to what came next except that John returned home, consulted with his family, and, all of them – father, mother, teen-aged brother and sister – pulled up stakes and left home for good. They crossed the plains in 1852 and, in 1855, took out a Donation Land Claim in the area that is now Nahcotta. It would be a good many more years before John and his younger brother Tom would build their homes in Oysterville – John in 1867 and Tom in 1869.

John Crllin House with Stevens Hotel in background, c. 1920

John Crellin, Jr. House with Stevens Hotel in background, c. 1920

They built twin houses (almost) on Territory Road facing the bay – not quite next door to one another. The Stevens Hotel was in between. The Crellins had brought their house plans with them from the Isle of Man and though the shape and layout of the buildings were identical, younger brother Tom made all his rooms just a tad larger, added bay windows on the east and north, and made the gingerbread a bit fancier than older brother John’s.

Tom Crellin House, c. 1930

Tom Crellin House, c. 1930

The Crellin brothers were both active in community affairs – John was an early County Commissioner, both were members of the Pacific County Reserve Volunteer Rifle Company, and eventually they invested heavily in Lewis Loomis’s railroad. Their primary focus was in the oyster business which had been the source of their livelihood on the Isle of Man, as well. In the late 1870s, they moved to California to concentrate on the business end of their oystering interests.

In our family it has always been said that the Crellins were the only people to arrive in Oysterville with money and to also leave with money. I don’t know the truth of that, but I do know that it didn’t seem to bother them that their substantial, nearly new houses remained empty for a good many years.

Eventually, in 1892, my great-grandfather purchased Tom’s house to be used as the parsonage for the new Baptist Church across the street. Ten years later, my grandfather Harry bought the house and our branch of the Espy family has been here ever since. John Crellin’s house, on the other hand, has had a number of owners. In 1884, Richard Carruthers, owner of the Pacific House Inn, bought it. Subsequently it was owned by Sid Slingerland, T.J. Andrews, Glen and Helen Heckes and, most recently, by Mike and Mary Gray of Portland.

Mike Gray died last month after a long battle with cancer. During the past ten or twelve years, Oysterville neighbors have watched the deteriorating John Crellin house with increasing concern, hoping for a miracle that would save it and its owner. Even as we mourn the loss of our friend Mike, we are hoping that the John Crellin house can yet be rescued. It is, after all, our house’s brother – or at least that’s how I think of it.

A Note to My Grandfather

Saturday, April 11th, 2015
Helen and Harry Espy Golden Wedding Anniversary

Helen and Harry Espy
Golden Wedding Anniversary

The other day I ran across the most interesting file folder – Photostat copies of some of the earliest business considered by our Pacific County Commissioners way back in 1857 — back in the day when we were still Washington Territory and the only way to get to Oysterville was by water. In fact, these documents have to do with the very first roads here on the Peninsula.

The documents were accompanied by a cover letter to my grandfather from Verna Jacobson. She served as County Auditor from 1947 to 1974. Beyond that she was the Daughter of North Cove pioneers, wife and mother, County Clerk, WWII Veteran, concert singer, world traveler, founding member and first Secretary of Pacific County Historical Society (PCHS.)

1857 Petition, Pasge One

1857 Petition, Page One

My grandfather, Harry Albert Espy, also descended from pioneers, had been a State Senator, long-time Justice of the Peace and, like Mrs. Jacobson, was one of the founders of the PCHS. The Espys and the Jacobsons were acquainted and the note begins with a reference to my grandparents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary which they celebrated on November 24, 1947:

Mr. H.A. Espy, Oysterville, Washington
Dear Sir:
May I extend my congratulations to you and Mrs. Espy with my very best wishes.
In rearranging my office I came across a very old record or as nearly as I can ascertain it is the oldest document in the office as to Commissioners Proceedings. I am enclosing a Photostat copy for you as I think you will find it most interesting as I did. This is not the complete record but only the first entry.
Verna Jacobson

1857 Petition, Page Two

1857 Petition, Page Two

What follows are copies of ten handwritten pages of petitions to the Pacific County Commissioners – seven petitions in all with dates spanning the years 1857 to 1865. Most have to do with roads, or more specifically, the need for roads. The very first, dated October 1857, begins:

We the undersigned would respectfully represent to your honorable body by petition that we are without a direct road from Oysterville, Pacific Count, W.T. westwardly to the Pacific Ocean on 3weather beach and knowing that it is essential for it would be a general benefit to the travelling wayfarer or emigrant who is looking for a home and by locating this road, it being only one and half miles from Oysterville directly westward to the Sea Shore and from thence southerly toward Bakers Bay on the Mouth of the Columbia River for eighteen or twenty miles an excellent hard Sea beach Shore but aside from that it would connect a few miles South with the Territorial Road from Pacific City, Columbia River to Narcata landing in Shoal Water Bay, and would afford an easy ingress and egress, both to citizens and travelers and then would have both to choose whether to take Mail Stage or his own private conveyance in the more rugged way in an open sailboat up to the portage, through or over that dismal road (especially for families at any season of the year is unfit) to get at Baker’s Bay on the Columbia River…

Repair Work on Oysterville Road, 1880s

Repair Work on Oysterville Road, 1880s

Twenty-five men signed the petition. Most of the names are familiar in the annals of Pacific County History, among them R.H, Espy, Abe Wing, Andrew Wirt, Ezra Stout, I.A. Clark, Gilbert Stevens, Ed Loomis.

I had always ‘heard’ that Oysterville Road was the first in the county and that it was built in 1858. The information in this long-neglected file folder would seem to corroborate that information.

Charlie Nelson and the Espy Boys

Monday, November 24th, 2014
Will Espym Cecil Espy, Dora Espy Wilson, Harry Espy, Charles Nelson at the 1954 Oysterville Centennial

Will Espy,Cecil Espy, Dora Espy Wilson, Harry Espy, Charles Nelson, 1954 Oysterville Centennial

Yesterday I spent a pleasant hour or so with Charlie Nelson through the miracle of some oral history transcripts done back in 1975. Charlie was in his late eighties and was being interviewed by David Meyer for a Washington State Oral/Aural History Project. In one interview he talked about the “Native Oyster Industry: techniques, early oystermen, bed division, labor, work, towns, and storms” and in the other he focused on “The History of Oysterville and Work in Oysters and Cranberries.” All great stuff!

I was especially intrigued by his story about the now infamous 1893 break-in at the County Courthouse here in Oysterville when ‘South Bend Raiders’ made off with all the records and stole the County Seat. He and my great uncle Cecil were right there in the thick of things – Charlie was ten and Cecil was seven.

Oysterville Courthouse c. 1895

Oysterville Courthouse c. 1895

According to Charlie, the whole thing lasted about an hour and a half and they were on their way back to South Bend with their loot…we saw the gang arriving in Oysterville and we didn’t know what was going on, so we went right along in with ‘em to see what was going on. Finally we got in [and] found out that they were looting the county records. Cecil got scared and hid behind the front door and I was out among the crowd and I had to watch my toes so they didn’t get tramped on; I was barefooted at the time…

The raid happened on a slushy Sunday morning in February and, according to the more-or-less official account given afterwards by Commissioner John Morehead, all the good citizens of Oysterville were in church. I don’t know about Charlie, but Cecil must have been playing hooky from the newly built Baptist Church just around the corner from the courthouse. I’ve never heard what kind of trouble he faced when he exited the bushes and went home.

Nahcotta 1889/1890

Nahcotta 1889/1890

There’s another story, though, about Charles Nelson and Will Espy who were exactly the same age and did lots of adventuring together. According to Raymond J. Feagans in The Railroad that Ran by the Tide: It must have been quite an affair when the first train from Ilwaco arrived in Nahcotta in May 29, 1889. Charles Nelson and Willard Espy, both six years old at the time, remember going to see it. Charlie went with his folks but Will was forbidden to go. Will escaped, “requisitioned” someone’s horse, and galloped off to the celebration. He says his mother made him stay upstairs in bed for two days for running away, but that it was well worth it.

I don’t know if Charlie teased Will into disobeying his mother or not but, somehow, now that I’ve heard the story of Cecil and Charlie at the Courthouse, I have the feeling that Charlie was quite the instigator among the boys of Oysterville in the 1880s and ’90s.

The Consummate Storyteller

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
Willard Espy, 1989 Video

Willard Espy, 1989 Video

Yesterday afternoon I spent the better part of an hour with my Uncle Willard. He was telling stories about Oysterville – familiar stories that I had heard him tell many times previously. On this occasion, though, he was ‘in person’ but not ‘live.’ He was speaking through the magic of a digitized tape-recorded talk he gave at the Ocean Park Timberland Library on July 29, 1989. Oyster documentarian Keith Cox had sent it to me on a DVD in a digitized version.

It was a pretty poor quality recording all the way around – lousy camera angle, horrible background of empty bookshelves, a very difficult-to-understand audio. But it was Willard in all his storytelling glory and I watched it eagerly, thinking all the while that he was just the age I am now when the original tape was made.

DVD Case

DVD Case

He told about Espy and Clark’s arrival in Oysterville and when he messed up some of the facts I found myself calling out to him: “No, it wasn’t Nahcati; it was Old Klickeas who told Espy where the oysters were.” and “No, not April 3rd; it was April 12th that they arrived.” But I soon got caught up in the magical world of his stories and I didn’t listen for facts anymore.

Willard never did claim to be a historian, just a storyteller. When his works were published, though, he was as meticulous as he could be about the facts. But somehow, it wasn’t those details that mattered a twit back on that Saturday afternoon twenty-five years ago. The audience, heard but not seen, loved every bit of it.

I found myself trying to analyze what made Willard the consummate storyteller. Was it his slow, deliberate, thoughtful delivery? Was it his obvious delight in pointing out the foibles of the people he talked about? Was it the confidence with which he spoke? Was it some unknown undefinable quality of charisma?

Whatever the combination, I wish I could replicate it next Spring when I teach “Putting the Story Back in History” at Grays Harbor College. Maybe if I watch the DVD again. And again…

“Meet Jirina” at the Oysterville Schoolhouse!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014


Jill Trenholm Presents Jirina

Jill Trenholm Presents Jirina

Jirina is not a common name, at least not among my friends and acquaintances. So, when the notice came that Nina Macheel would be unable to do a presentation at the Oysterville Schoolhouse tomorrow and that, instead, we are all invited to “Meet Jirina” I thought, “I’ve met someone named Jirina. But where? Who is she?”

I called Diane Buttrell who is the organizer of the Fall Lecture Series at the Schoolhouse and when she began talking about Jill Trenholm, I knew. Of course! Jirina is a charming storybook character – and so much more – that Jill has created. I have, indeed, met Jirina and many of her friends, as well, right in Jill’s Ocean Park studio.

Jill, in case you don’t know her, is truly a Renaissance woman. As she says on her website: When I was young, art took ahold of my right hand. Music took ahold of my left. They’re always trading places but have never let go.

Jill Trenholm

Jill Trenholm

She is a performing singer/songwriter (she’s one of our House Concert alums), an artist (painter, sculptor, designer, illustrator), writer, and educator. Plus she is an extraordinary chef – just ask any of last September’s pilot group of Willapa Bay AiR residents for whom she prepared three meals a day for an entire month. There were rave reviews from everyone.

But in that instance, Jill was just “filling in.” Her passion and focus right now is Jirina. She has just launched Book One: The Rescue, the first in a series of six illustrated children’s books which make up Jirina’s Journey. It is just the beginning of a whole world of wonderful characters which will “come to life” through a line of products Jill has designed.

The most intriguing aspect of all, to me-the-writer anyway, is the fact that Jill has imagined and created an entire world and long ago envisioned how she would develop and present the story of Jirina. Talking with Jill about Jirina sheds a whole new light on the creative process. At least it did for me.



Jill’s audience at tomorrow’s Schoolhouse Lecture is in for a real treat. Her talk begins at 10 a.m. and is free (suggested $3.00 donation) to the public. You’ll love meeting Jill… and Jirina!