Posts Tagged ‘R.H. Espy’

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.”

Robert Oliver, are you still out there?

Friday, October 3rd, 2014
By Robert Oliver

By Robert Oliver

Robert Oliver is a name I know well. Actually, it’s the name “Cousin Bob” I know best. During the years 1914 and 1915, that name showed up frequently in the correspondence between my grandmother and my Aunt Medora and in Medora’s diary, too. Medora was my mother’s sister – the aunt who died long before I was born and about whom I wrote in Dear Medora.

Her diary entry for April 11, 1914, for instance said: Cousin Bob was in. He is lots of fun. Later that year, on July 12th Medora wrote: After dinner Bob was in. He got to joking and fell back in his chair. That sure did make him laugh. Spent so much of the evening talking to Cousin Bob that we had to leave the dishes. Later that month, on the 26th, Medora wrote:  About nine Cousin Bob came up and we developed two rolls of films. Had loads of fun laughing at our mistakes, one of which was attempting to develop the protective brown paper.

Even my mother, who turned three in November that year, spoke fondly of Cousin Bob – whether because she actually remembered him (perhaps he visited again in later years) or because he was so beloved of the family, I don’t know. He was somewhat older than Papa (my grandfather) and was his first cousin, the son of Jane Espy Oliver who was my great-grandfather’s older sister.

Cousin Bob on the Right

Cousin Bob on the Right

Cousin Bob came from Portersville, Pennsylvania. I don’t know how much visiting there was between Oysterville and Portersville, but I do know when my grandfather was an alternate Washington State delegate to the 1912 Republican Convention in Chicago, he took advantage of being “in the East” and went to visit the Portersville relatives. He stayed with Charlie Oliver, who may have been Cousin Bob’s father.

My mother thought that perhaps Cousin Bob was in Oysterville for that extended period of time because his own wife had died. I’m not sure about that. Perhaps if I could locate his grandson, Robert Oliver the writer of Our Barn In Summer; Remembering Portersville I could find some of the answers. However, finding him doesn’t seem likely.

The book was published in 2008 and the last section of the book is called “At 85.” On the back cover there is a little biographical material about Bob: Robert Oliver spent all his early years in the small farming and coal mining community celebrated in this book of verse. His adult life has taken a varied path: WWII (destroyer duty in the North Atlantic, aircraft carrier duty in the Pacific), the business world, the music world (bass soloist in two Stravinsky world premieres, oratorio and opera performances in Europe and North America), and clinical psychology. He is retired and lives in Los Angeles.

Another Cousin Bob! How I’d love to meet him! His book is an absolute delight and I know he would be, too.

Whale Ribs and Chicken Perches

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
Oysterville’s Territory Road, 1902

     After a hiatus of more than year, I am back to a book project that threatens to last for the rest of my life.  Like Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years, it is based on family information – letters, diaries, photo albums and the like.  It goes slowly, partly because I become immersed in my research and have difficulty getting down to the writing part.
     Yesterday I was dealing with some of my grandmother’s recollections of her first visit to Oysterville in 1898.  She (Helen Richardson) was a city girl from East Oakland, California where she had grown up with all the ‘modern conveniences’ such as running water and electric lights and trolleys into town.  She had married my grandfather from far-off Oysterville in November 1897.   The following summer they made the arduous journey to Oysterville so that she could meet her new mother-in-law, Julia Jefferson (Mrs. R. H. Espy.)  In the 1930s Helen wrote down some of her first impressions:
     When I came here forty years ago Mother Espy was using whale ribs as chicken perches. The highway along the Bay front was referred to as the Road to Nahcotta.  It was a three hours’ ride from Astoria to Ilwaco by Baker’s Bay.  From there we travelled on a narrow gauge train which ran by the tides.  The boat, which it met, could only come in at certain heights of the tide, I doubt if the train traveled 25 mph…
     Just before that first trip north, her new brother-in-law, Ed Espy, had been visiting in East Oakland.  They talked a bit about Oysterville, but even so, she was totally unprepared:
     I didn’t know what to expect of Oysterville.  Ed … kept talking about “the ranch” – when I asked him if he lived in the country he said, “Oh no, our house is right in the center of town.”  I saw people pumping water out in their front yards and taking it into the house in buckets.  But the Espys were more civilized.  Their pump was on the back porch.
     We arrived on a fairly decent day.  But a day or so later there was a big storm with a tremendously high tide.  We were surrounded by water.  Tina Wachsmuth came down the street in a rowboat.  I was on the front verandah.  Waves came up to the front fence.  The ocean was roaring just as if it were trying to break loose.  I never wanted to see the place again.     I was just barely nineteen years old.  I have often wished I were older and more experienced and tolerant.
     Little did she realize that five short years later she and her husband and first two children would move to Oysterville for a “temporary stay” which would turn into a lifetime residency.  The adjustment to “country living” took her a long time, but she eventually grew to love Oysterville and the people who lived there and the way of life which was so different from what she had known as a girl. 

Everybody knows… or do they?

Saturday, September 24th, 2011
At The Village Entrance

     As a writer of local history, one of my primary sources of information is our very own Pacific County Historical Society.  Established in 1966, it is (according to its official website) a private, not-for-profit, charitable organization devoted to preserving and presenting the history of Pacific County, Washington, USA.  I am proud to say that I have periodically volunteered my services to them by writing/editing issues of their magazine The Sou’wester.
     So, I was truly amazed, to say nothing of being a bit embarrassed on their behalf, to learn that they have a sign posted at their museum in South Bend crediting the founding of Oysterville to early settler John Douglas in the year 1841.  No mention of my great-grandfather R.H. Espy who, with I.A. Clark, actually did found the town in 1854.  I don’t have a copy of that signage, but if memory serves, I think it does accurately credit Clark for platting the town the following year.  Hooray for that bit of accuracy, anyway!
     This information was conveyed to me and to a number of other people last night at our usual Friday evening gathering.  One of our Oysterville residents (whose roots here go back to 1863) had visited the museum with his cousin from Santa Fe.  They were confused about the information conveyed on the sign, took a photo of it, and through the magic of digital cameras and their screens, read it to the six or seven Oystervillians gathered in our library.  Quite a hubbub ensued.
     All eyes looked to me for clarification and I guess I could have felt very much “on the spot” but, fortunately, John Douglas is a well-known historic character to me.  He was, according to his daughter Mary Garretson’s 1939 account, the first settler on Shoalwater Bay.  His donation land claim was about a mile south of Oysterville; my house on the bay was built on what was originally the John Douglas Claim.
     Whether or not Douglas was still in the area when Oysterville was founded, I don’t know.  I’ve never seen his name mentioned in connection with Oysterville’s first pioneers.  In her book, Coast Country, Lucile Mac Donald says only that “the family lived alone except for the Indians.”
     There are several interesting stories about Douglas, one being that he literally died with his boots on.  Somehow, one of his feet got infected and swelled up.  The only way to deal with the injury was to cut the boot off which Douglas would not allow.  They were brand new boots and a good pair of boots was hard to come by!  As far as is known, those boots went to the grave with him.
     Well, it didn’t surprise me that the Friday night crowd didn’t know anything about John Douglas.  He is a rather obscure character.  But it does indeed surprise me that the Historical Society doesn’t know about the founding of Oysterville.  After all, it is the oldest extant town in Pacific County and it’s not like there hasn’t been a lot written about it.  In fact numerous books sold in the PCHS’s own bookstore are about Oysterville.  You’d think they would know…

Few and Far Between

Sunday, September 11th, 2011
Ready for the Rods!

     We were excited at the prospect of the Rod Cruise through Oysterville yesterday afternoon.  We positioned our chairs to maximize our view.  We filled the ice bucket and made the dip.  We were ready.
     The rods were scheduled to leave Wilson Field at 4:00 o’clock, drive through Ocean Park, north through Surfside and on into Oysterville, making the cannery loop and then driving south past our house and the church.  The first spectators arrived about 3:00 and set up their chairs and coolers and other paraphernalia across the street and a little to the north.
     That was a bit worrisome.  We had heard stories of the “troubles” of past years when the Cruise went through Long Beach and Seaview.  Unruly onlookers had sometimes egged on the drivers, throwing buckets of water in their path and urging them to spin out.  Arrests were made.  We hoped that things would be calm in Oysterville.
     Maybe we hoped too hard.  Except for our ‘party of six” and the eight or ten people across the street, no one else arrived to watch.  Very few rods arrived, either.  They came in clusters of eight or nine with lengthy breaks in between.  We had been told there would be flaggers to manage traffic along their route, and we figured that the lag between groups reflected hold-ups for cross streets.  Almost every group included a couple of non-rods, too, – folks who were seriously trying to travel south or who had just joined in for the fun of it.
     Despite our disappointment in the numbers of rods, we had a lovely time.  The sun shone, the drivers waved, the refreshments were refreshing and our companions, companionable.   As a bonus, a friend from Astoria who was giving a visitor ‘The Tour’ stopped by to say “hello,” and a distant Espy cousin came by to introduce himself and show me his family tree.  I wished our current family genealogist, Cousin Ralph, had been here – especially since they are both descended from William “Kentuck” Espy, brother of my great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy.  Maybe next year…

On The Horns Of My Heartstrings

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
The John Crellin House, 1867

     One of the centerpieces of Oysterville is the John Crellin House.  For most of my life it was known as the Heckes House as that was the family who had lived there for several generations.  Many people call it the Bottle House because of Helen Heckes’ bottle collection.  Some of those bottles still glint in the street-side windows.  Now that we are a National Historic District, it is called by the original owner’s name as are all of the residences in town.
 
     The house was built in 1867 using plans that the owner brought from his native Isle of Man.  Two years later his brother Tom built the house down the street – ‘our house’ these days.  He used the same plans,  so originally our houses were ‘twins.’  Changes to both have occurred over the years, but basically they are still enough alike that their relationship shows.
     The Crellins were oystermen in the very early days and did business with my great-grandfather, R. H. Espy.  Our families still are still in touch with one another after all these 150 years.  Perhaps that is why the deteriorating condition of the John Crellin House tugs at my heartstrings.  Watching it go downhill feels a lot like watching an aged family member slip away.  The difference, of course, is that the house could be saved.  Potentially, its lifespan is infinite, at least in comparison with the mortals who have loved it.
     The Oysterville community clucks and clacks about it.  In recent years, even visitors ask about it – who owns it?  Do they ever come to Oysterville?  Why are they letting it go downhill?  Why don’t they sell it if they can’t take care of it?  Don’t they care?
     Several months ago, the owner was in town and came over for a visit.  We’ve known one another for a long time and so, though in the strictest sense it’s none of my business, I asked some of those very questions.  I was told in no uncertain terms that they love the house, that they have no intention of ever selling,  and that it is in great shape.  No problems, not even the roof.
     If I were to go back to my ‘aged relative’ analogy, I’d say that there was a lot of denial going on there.  So what is the answer?  An intervention… for a house?  And to what end?  Unfortunately, there is no angel waiting in the wings to swoop in and solve the problem… even if the owners would allow it.   It is a dilemma of major proportions.

Aunt Kate

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
R. H. Espy and Aunt Kate, 1918

Note: The following account of Aunt Kate has been excerpted from my book Oysterville, The First Generations. In recent weeks, (perhaps because Nyel and I have been dealing with some of the inevitable issues of aging)  I’ve been thinking a lot about her and other elderly characters of Oysterville’s past. 

  As in most small villages in rural areas, Oysterville has had its share of “characters.”  One of the most beloved was Aunt Kate.  Everyone in town called her that, though she wasn’t actually related to a single person here.           
     My mother and her brothers and sisters remembered Aunt Kate well, for she was the third wife of their grandfather, R.H. Espy.  She was 70 (he, 81) in 1907 when she married “Mr. Espy,” as she always called him, and she lived in Oysterville until her death in 1924.
     She wore long skirts, high buttoned shoes, and was proud that she could scrape the meat from an apple with her one remaining tooth.  Although all agreed that she did a fine job taking care of the house and looking after R.H., even he conceded that she “cooked the long way of the flour.” My mother always remembered tossing Aunt Kate’s caraway cookies into the blackberry bushes on her way homeward after a visit.  She considered those cookies a treatment, not a treat.
     In his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, my Uncle Willard remembered:  “At all times of the year, Aunt Kate kept her house stifling hot, and wore a dark dress which reached to the floor.  Perpetually tied about her waist was a spotless white apron, scored with deep net lace.  Outdoors, her face was always shadowed by a sunbonnet.”
     She felt that walking or riding in a wagon, buggy, or even a boat were proper methods of transportation.  If absolutely necessary, she would take the train, but she drew the line at riding in a car.  She said that the only way she would ever travel in “a machine” would be if she were laid out for her funeral.  However, a few years before she died she reluctantly accepted a ride in Mr. Lehman’s truck when a high tide covered the road and kept her stranded at a neighboring house.
     Aunt Kate had first come to Oysterville in 1878 as the mail order bride of the Baptist minister.  She was 40 years old – long since considered an old maid by the standards of the day.  She had traveled west from Wisconsin to marry Reverend J. Wichser who, like most of the Baptist preachers in Oysterville during those years, lived in the R.H. Espy home.  The bride and groom continued there for the better part of a year, during which time Kate and R.H.’s wife, Julia, became good friends.  The Espy children respectfully called her “Aunt Kate,” as would the entire community in later years.
     For the next ten years the Reverend and Mrs. Wichser worked establishing preaching stations, prayer meetings, and Sunday-schools in the Puyallup area and later in Oregon.  When Mr. Wichser died in the 1880s, Kate married another Baptist preacher, a Reverend Miller of Oregon.
     As the years passed, she continued writing to her friend Julia Espy and, on occasion came to Oysterville “for a good and proper visit.”  Six years after Julia’s death in 1901, Kate Hulbert Wichser Miller moved back to Oysterville and married R.H. Espy, widower of her good friend.  Aunt Kate had outlived two husbands and was to outlive the third by a good many years.  Once, when my Great Uncle Cecil was in his nineties, my mother and he were reminiscing about Aunt Kate and her quaint ways.
     “I think Aunt Kate must be one of the few women who was married three times and died a virgin,” my mother remarked.
      “Not if you knew Father,” was Uncle Cecil’s wry reply.

By Any Other Name

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Our Place

       The sign on the porch above our gate has been there as long as I can remember.  It says “TSAKO-TE-HASH-EETL” and means “place of the red-topped grass.”  It is what the Chinook Indians called this area because in the summer, beginning about now, the seed heads on the native grasses turn red.
     I’ve never thought of tsako-te-hash-eetl as a house name, although I’ve heard visitors refer to the house that way.  As I understand it, they are the words Old Klickeas used to describe this northeastern shore of the peninsula to my great-grandfather, R.H. Espy, in the fall of 1853.  It’s a place name, not a house name.
    Tourists often want to know how to pronounce it (pretty much like it looks) and ask, “exactly what language is it, anyway? Japanese?  Finnish?”
     “Chinook Jargon,” I tell them.  At least, I’ve always thought that because I’ve been told Espy was fluent in the Jargon; I’ve never heard that he knew the actual Chinook language.  Of course, the Jargon was a spoken, not a written language, so the words on our sign must be an approximation only.  One of my friends who was trying to learn the Jargon told me he didn’t believe I was right about those words; he couldn’t find anything similar  in Edward Harper Thomas’s Chinook: A History and Dictionary.
     Another friend working toward her PhD in biology at the University of Washington picked samples of all the red-topped grasses in our meadow in front of the house.  She identified three different kinds but said none of them were “native.”   She said they are all “introduced” species.  Hmmm.  Foiled again!
     Nevertheless, I’m sticking to the explanation that my mother, my aunt, and my uncles always gave about the sign and its meaning.  Throughout my lifetime it has defined this place in a very special way.  And that’s good enough for me. 

Looking Backward

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
George Hunter, Pacific County Sheriff 1860-1862

     I’ve just begun reading a book that is making the rounds among some of my friends.  It is called “Reminiscences of An Old Timer” and was written in 1887 by Colonel George Hunter, a “Pioneer, Hunter, Miner and Scout of the Pacific Northwest” according to the title page.  Hunter also happened to be the fourth sheriff of Pacific County in Washington Territory.  He lived in Oysterville in the 1860s and counted my great-grandfather, R. H. Espy, and sheep farmer Lewis Loomis (later of railroad fame) among his friends.
     The book, itself, is a first edition, is in amazingly good condition for its age, and contains fifteen beautiful illustrations – lithographs, I think, but I am not very knowledgeable in that arena.  Unfortunately, I could find no acknowledgement as to the illustrator.  These days we would assume, therefore, that they were done by the author.  If that was the case, George Hunter was a very talented man, indeed.
     Like many other books of the period, it does not offer the benefit of an index.  Instead, on the table of contents, each chapter is described in detail through a list of the topics covered.  James Swan’s “The Northwest Coast or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory,” written a generation earlier, also uses that style of detailed chapter listings.  (Swan, however, included an index.)
     I’ve browsed the book a bit – looking for the Oysterville portion! – and have now begun reading in earnest.  I am well into Chapter I in which Hunter describes his family’s trek over the Oregon Trail in 1852.  As he says, “Of the dangers, trials, privations, hardships, heart-rendings and sufferings endured by those who crossed the plains in the early days, very much has been said and written, but not enough…”  I am greatly enjoying what Colonel Hunter has to add to the record.

Happy Birthday to Oysterville!

Monday, April 12th, 2010



A Salute to Oysterville


Hip Hip Hooray!  Raise the Flag!  Fire the Cannon!  Today marks the 156th anniversary of the founding of Oysterville!  According to the account by Robert Hamilton Espy, he and Isaac Alonzo Clark kept their rendezvous with Chinook elder Klickeas on April 12, 1854.  This is what Espy said: …when came along front [what is now] Oysterville tide was out – was foggy – could not see shore but heard something tapping in shore.  Tied up & came in.  Found Klickeas pounding on old stump on beach (one had been washed in).  He had seen [us] coming & tried to call…