Nahcotta’s Mail and The Case for History

Sealand-Nahcotta 1890s – Morehead’ & Co, General Merchandise at middle right


In the on-going discussion about the closure of Nahcotta’s Post Office, someone wrote to me:  … It’s pretty hard to make the argument that the community will lose service, which is the case with some of these contract offices in extremely remote areas. (If anything, we on the peninsula have a lot of post offices to chose from!) So it’s really the historic aspect that’s the sticking point. From that point of view, are postal customers “entitled” to receive mail service in a charming, historic environment? Maybe another blog? “At What Price Charm?” 

I’d prefer the title:  “Charm Ain’t In It.”  While “charm” might be the take-away about historic connections for some people — newcomers to our area, I’d suspect — the history of Nahcotta and of Oysterville and of every other settlement on the Peninsula has to do with people — their dreams, their grit, their amazing accomplishments.  Those people are my pioneer ancestors (perhaps yours, as well) who lived and died right here.  They worked hard to tame this wilderness and to bring “civilization” to this far western region so that their descendants might have a better life.  One of the those civilizing influences was the establishment of a reliable mail service

Oysterville Stagecoach, 1885

Ironically, the very building that has been housing the Nahcotta Post Office for 115 years was just steps away from Morehead’s General Merchandise Company.  John Morehead had been a stagecoach driver for Lewis Alfred Loomis before Loomis developed his railroad company.  The stage ran along the weatherbeach from Oysterville to Ilwaco and was a necessary link in the transportation chain that delivered mail between Astoria to Olympia. Of that service, Morehead himself later wrote:

The operation of three steamers and three stage lines was necessary in the carrying of mail and passengers from Astoria, Oregon, to Olympia, the capital of Washington Territory.  The first leg of the journey was by steamer.  The General Canby, a tug of considerable size, built in South Bend, was run between Astoria and Ilwaco by way of Fort Stevens and Fort Canby.  The next leg, from Ilwaco to Oysterville, was by the Loomis Stage Line.  The stage coach travelled right along the ocean beach!  Part three of the journey was by the little steamer Garfield which crossed Shoalwater Bay from Oysterville to Bay Center, South Bend, Riverside, Woodard’s Landing, and North Cove.  At North Cove, passengers and mail were again transferred to a stagecoach for the run to Peterson’s Point, now known as Westport.  The fifth leg of the journey, from Peterson’s Point to Montesano was again by water on the little stern-wheeler Montesano.  The sixth, and final leg of the trip was by stage line from Montesano to Olympia.  Total time for this incredible mail run – 60 hours!  Bet that beats today’s record!

J.A. Morehead House, Nahcotta – 1890

Morehead went on to  say: The beach driver was obliged to get out of bed at the unholy hour of two o’clock in the morning, go to the barn and feed, groom and harness his horses, eat his breakfast, hitch up and drive around the town and out on the oyster beds gathering up his load so as to leave the hotel door promptly at four o’clock a.m.  All this by the light of a smoky lantern and very often in a driving storm.  As the steamer awaited the return of the stage to Oysterville, before leaving, and another was awaiting his arrival at Ilwaco, he was hurried at every point of the trip.

The driver’s seat was perched on the outside where it had no protection, whatsoever, from the storms.  There were no springs, either, under the seats or the body of the stage.  The road was confined to the hard sands of the ocean beach, and it made an ideal road when the tide was out, but a very unsatisfactory one when the tide was high. The incoming swells would be allowed to come as high as possible around the stage before it would be swerved off the hard sand, then back as the water receded.  This would be repeated with each incoming swell until the trip was completed.  Care was always needed to watch for the drift logs being carried back and forth on the swells, which would work havoc with the horses and the stage, should they be struck by them…

Those faithful drivers…Jack Winchell, Bill Denver, Bill Taylor, Lew Slack, and Charlie Burch have passed to their reward, leaving a record of devotion to duty seldom equaled.  Many of their descendants still live on the Peninsula.  Charm???  No… I don’t think that’s the historic reason that  the Nahcotta Post Office is important.  Historic importance goes far beyond charm.


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