Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

Oysterville or Espyville? Six of one and… ?

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Oysterville Sign

According to family lore as recorded in Willard Espy’s Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, once Espy and Clark realized that they had fathered a village, Mr. Clark said, “We’ll call it Espyville.”  “We’ll do nothing of the sort,” snorted grandpa, perhaps recalling that a couple of villages called Espy and Espyville back in Pennsylvania never had amounted to much; “we’ll call it Oysterville.”

Somewhere else I read that it was Elvira Stevens – first village midwife and proprietor (along with her husband Gilbert) of the Stevens Hotel and, incidentally, not related in any way to my husband Nyel — who suggested the name Oysterville at an early town meeting.  Somehow, though, even without Espy’s name being  used, Espys from all over the United States seem to find this tiny west coast village.  Usually they are on the search for information about their Espy ancestors  or are curious to learn if this branch of the family is up to snuff.

Reproduction Map – Espyville, PA 1865

What happens, of course, is that they fall in love with Oysterville and its history — not especially with the R.H. descendants.  But most come back periodically and our relationships become more than just the family tree variety.  Debi Snyder (who is my fourth cousin twice removed according to Cuzzin Rallph) writes that she is coming back to Oysterville for a visit next month.  She apparently visited here in 2017 for the first time.  I had forgotten that and I hope seeing her will joggle my aging mind…  Also, if I remember, I want to ask if she has ever visited Espyville in Pennsylvania.  Just curious.

According Wikipedia, Espyville is an unincorporated community in North Shenango Township, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, United States — several sentences shorter than the initial Wikipedia entry about Oysterville.  On another site concerning the history of Crawford County, I found that Espyville, in the westernpart, was laid out about 1833 by John Espy who (perhaps) was the son of George Espy who had built a saw and grist mill about one fourth mile west of what is now Espyville. He also operated a distillery.

Postcard of Oysterville Post Office Outside and Inside

According to Crawford County, Pennsylvania History and Biography written in 1885: The village [of Espyville] has not attained any great size and now contains a store, two blacksmith shops, one wagon shop, one paint shop, a jelly factory and cider mill, Collins Bros. saw and planing mill, a school, church, about twenty families, and the only post office in the township.

I wish Nyel and I had thought to visit Espyville when we were in the neighborhood some years ago.  It sounds to me like there were (and perhaps still are) a lot of similarities between Espyville and Oysterville, no matter how hopeful R.H. Espy was that this settlement would do better by another name.  Probably one of those six-of-one-and-half-a-dozen-of-the-other situations.  Or maybe a town by any other name…


The question everybody asks…

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Swan Restaurant c. 1880 — Moss Freland, Owner

Well, probably not everybody…  probably not even every tourist who comes to town… but you can bet your last ten dollar gold piece  that a good number of people who visit Oysterville around the lunch hour or dinner time is sure to ask, “Where’s the best place in town to get oysters?”  Usually, they are talking about a prepared meal — a plate of fried oysters or a serving of oysters on the half shell.  Once in a while someone also remembers the “all you can eat” oyster dinners that Nanci and Jimella’s Ark Restaurant used to serve in nearby Nahcotta.

The Heckes Inn, c. 1930

Sad to say, of course, there’s ‘nary a restaurant in town.  Hasn’t been since the old Swan Restaurant closed down back in the 1880s or 1890s.  They undoubtedly served the little native Willapa Bay oysters on the half shell and maybe even offered a version of Mother Almira Stevens’ (of Stevens Hotel fame) oyster pie.

I know the Heckes Inn served oysters to their summer boarders in the 1920s and ’30s.  They were fresh every day, brought from the beds by young Glen Heckes.  The Inn got several wonderful write-ups over the years by food critic Duncan Hines’  in his column, Adventures in Good Eating at Home, which appeared in newspapers all across the US.

Oysterville Sea Farms, c. 2018

More recently, Dan Driscoll tried mightily to get the County’s okay to let people sit on the deck at Oysterville Sea Farms so they could enjoy the view while partaking of oyster shooters and maybe some bread and cheese.  The County, in a fit of Bureaucratic Bullying, fought him through two long, ugly lawsuits and, by the time he won… well, things just weren’t the same.

Apparently, Sea Farms’ new owners (who are calling the business “Willapa Wild”) got their restaurant permits right away.  Go figure.  The Oyster Shell Telegraph has it that they will be offering stunning wines at $500 a bottle and food with prices to match.  If those are “true rumors,” I’ll still be hard-pressed to know how to answer most of the tourists wanting directions to the best place in Oysterville to get oysters…



I’m sure I heard him say, “By cracky!”

Friday, August 13th, 2021

H.A. Espy. circa 1940s

Today seemed all about memories of Papa, my grandfather H.A. Espy (1876 – 1958).  I’m not sure why.  It’s not like it was his birthday which, as I remember, was in November.  I’m certain of the year, mostly because he was, too, even though he was off by a century by the time he reached his dotage.  “Yes,” he would chuckle, “our country and I were born in the same year — 1776!”  None of us ever disabused him of this notion.  After all, he stood for all the good things our nation stood for — back in the days when we were all young.

For whatever reason, as I was pouring my first cup of coffee this morning, I could have sworn I heard Papa’s voice.  “By cracky!” he said, apropos of nothing at all — unless it was something about the day that was about to break through the foggy-foggy-dew.  I hadn’t heard or thought of that expression in years and it reminded me of a lot of other expressions he used — most of them in lieu of swearing.

Sydney and Papa’s Car, 1941

As my venerable Uncle Willard wrote in Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village:  “Papa was the most powerful nonswearer I ever heard.  His most common expletives were Son of a sea cook!  Consarn it!  Dad durn it! Dad gum it! Dad cuss it! Ding bust it! and “Sou’wegian!  The ultimate in frustration emerged as Devil! or Devilation! These harmless-appearing epithets burst from his mouth like thunderbolts.”

Sydney and Sherry & Ray’s 1931 Model A Ford, 2021

I don’t think “By cracky” falls into the nonswearing category, however.  I think he used it, rather, as an exclamation, perhaps to emphasize a comment — as in “It’s going to be a fine day, by cracky!” And, it was, too.  But not so much in the weather-sense.  More in the Visitors-to-Oysterville-sense.

A couple came in their 1928 Model A and parked in front of the church.  I couldn’t resist telling them that that I had a photo of myself standing in front of our house with my grandfather’s Model A — taken in 1941.  Whereupon, they moved their car across the street, replicated the photo with me in front of their Model A, and photographed “us” eighty years later!  I do wonder what Papa would have said about that, by cracky!!

The Very Best Part of A Book Talk

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

Sydney talks about Madam X at the Senior Center

Yesterday I gave a Book Talk about Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula at the Senior Center in Klipsan.  It was the third event in as many weekends and I didn’t have high expectations for attendance or sales.  However, what I didn’t factor in was how much fun I would have talking with the people who were there!

I met several women who read my blog every single day!  They asked after the chickens, were pleased to meet Farmer Nyel (who was helping Vicki sell books for me) and one expressed a desire to meet Tucker.  “I want to find out if he is related to the Glass family.  They were best friends to my husband and me.”  I know that Tucker is related to the Glass family but I don’t know if it’s the right Glass family.  Even so, I found myself saying, “Why don’t you come by the house sometime and we’ll walk over and I’ll introduce you.”  I hope she does.  She and I were “of an age” as they say, and had it not been for people waiting in line for my autograph, we probably could have spent the rest of the afternoon becoming best friends!

A Small but Mighty Interesting Audience

Actually, there were several encounters like that and I did think to myself, “Well, after all… it’s the Senior Center and I’m bound to meet a few soulmates here.  I should come more often…”  But, it wasn’t just ‘Senior Serendipity’.  Along came a good looking “young” (50s?) man named Paul who said that we are “sort of related.”  And, indeed we are!  My first cousins were brought up by his mother’s inlaws (got that?) in Minnesota in the 1930s.  Paul was visiting the Peninsula and had just happened upon the book signing and… here he was!

Sydney with Wallace and Charles, Ft. Canby, WA, 1938

As it turned out,  when  Nyel and I returned home a half hour or so later,  we saw Paul taking pictures up the street.  I hailed him, invited him in, and we spent a pleasant half hour looking at family pictures and sharing information about my cousins Wallace and Charles Pearson whose mother Suzita was my mother’s older sister.  As Sue was dying of pneumonia on December 27, 1932, she asked her mother (my grandmother) to send the boys to Lake City, Minnesota to the Pearsons, her husband’s people.  At that time her father (my grandfather)  was in a sanitorium recovering from a horrendous automobile accident and my grandmother, always frail and losing her sight, could not have coped with two young boys.  Even by pooling our information, there is much that Paul and I don’t know.  Time to get Cuzzin Ralph looking on once again!

And… even so, I sold a fair number of books.  But the best part of all (as usual) was meeting and talking with everyone!  Even my Facebook friend, Terry Eager. came all the way from Chinook to meet me in person and say “hello.”  Wow!  What a fun afternoon!


I keep waiting for Mrs. Crouch to join me…

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Cover: Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula

Every time I give a book talk, I halfway expect to “hear” from Mrs. Crouch.  Not that she appears on demand, mind you.  In fact, as far as I know, she has never appeared at all.  But she does, occasionally, make herself known.  Years ago — in the mid-seventies — when my mom was talking to  friends  Patty and Noel Thomas about her, Mrs. C. knocked some heirloom incense burners off the bookcase here at our house.  I wasn’t among the witnesses, but there were several.  In fact it was before I had moved here and before I had met P&N, but I’ve heard the story many times.

So, though I’m always hopeful she’ll give me a sign that she’s attending one of my book talks, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be in any way what we might expect. She is anything but predictable.  But I do believe she likes the attention she is getting from the stories I’ve written about her.  On the other hand, I’ve never known her to manifest herself in any place other than right here at the erstwhile parsonage.  One of the few things we know for sure about her is that she was shy.  Tommy Nelson who lived down the street when the Crouches were here said years later: She could sing like a mockingbird.  But when a stranger was around, she had nothing to say.  

Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula

Still, it would be fun if she or one of the other “spirited” characters in my ghost books would make themselves manifest in some way at one of my book talks.  The last one I’m giving — probably until the month of October — will be tomorrow at the Senior Center from 1:00 until 3:00.  After the question and answer period, I’ll be selling books — both the new one,  Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula  and the first one, Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  Bring your check books or cash — I can’t take credit cards.

Oh… and in case I haven’t mentioned it before — this new book does include some honest-to-goodness photographs of Mrs. Crouch’s husband, the unrighteous preacher!  Mug shots from his stay in the California State Prison at San Quentin! (But you’ll be surprised at the circumstances of his arrest — it wasn’t for the reason you might expect!)  In my opinion, seeing him “up close and personal” is worth the price of the book!



Knock! Knock! Adventure calling!

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Kevin West at the Oysterville Cemetery 7/11/21

I was just in the midst of gathering my wits in preparation for my book signing at BOLD on Sunday when there was a knock at the door.  It was my neighbor Tucker and with him a personable young man named Kevin West.  “Kevin is looking for some historical information about Oysterville,” Tucker said, “so I told him I knew just the person for him to talk to.”

And then he laughed in that charming way of his and before you know it, the two of them were sitting in my library and we were talking about Oysterville’s founding fathers and about the rowdy days of old and about Mrs. Crouch, our resident ghost.

As it turned out, Kevin is a filmmaker and an adventurer and a follower of whatever takes his fancy.  He asked if he could film me for his You Tube “channel” and, without really understanding what it was all about, I said, “Sure!”  The next day, he gave Tucker the following information so that we could see for ourselves what he does:  Copy it into your browser when you have 30 or 40 minutes to “visit” Oysterville and come sit with me in our library for a bit.

 I am passing it on to you “warts and all” as they say.  I’m not sure who the local was that told Kevin about the cemetery — I itch to edit that part and maybe you will too.   I thought the interview with me was fairly okay — I await your “review.”   (I think the episode is titled “This Town Is Haunted.”  If you know me at all, you know how I feel about that, too.)


The Pattern of Our Days

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

It’s interesting to look back over a significant chunk of your life — especially to remember and reminisce with the person who has most closely shared those years with you.  That’s what Nyel and I are doing these days as we look back on the scrapbooks I’ve been keeping since 1979.  Which doesn’t half tell the story.  For some years there were as many as five scrapbooks but, thank the stars, not for all.

Each day we try to look at three or four of them. It doesn’t go as smoothly as we might wish.  They are not necessarily in order and there were at least a eight or nine that were badly damaged when we had an upstairs hot water heater disaster in 2002.

I remember that morning with all the clarity of a first-hand memory of a train wreck or volcano eruption.  Early morning.  Getting ready to go to Seattle to stay for two days at the Olympic for my birthday.  Hot water pouring through shelves below. Frantic call to  plumbr Don Anderson and then to neighbor Leigh Wilson.

Nyel rescued books, separated wet pages, put them in the freezer.  Leigh and I used every paper towel in her house and ours — sopping up water, separating pages, spreading scrapbooks all over the upstairs bedroom floors.  At Leigh’s insistence we packed and left while she continued working.  Bless her!  We saved them all (only about fifteen actually got badly damaged) and now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve only had to get rid of three or four.  Some, of course, are a little the worse for wear but, so far, 38 (most perfect) have gone to the Heritage foundation.  We’re about one-third through.

So many memories — so many good times, hard times, new babies, weddings and, again, new babies.  In recent years, old friends departing — too many final goodbyes.  How glad I am that Nyel and I have taken time to revisit those years once again, no matter how briefly. And how grateful I am that their stories (at least parts) will stay in the community for a while longer!

Hip! Hip! Hooray! Winter Hiatus Is Over!

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

THOM Cannon – May 2021

General Nyel gave the order yesterday that the cannon belonging to The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) should be returned to its place of honor at the west end of The Willard R. Espy Memorial Croquet Court just north of our house.  Private Eugene Busenius did the honors, returning the replica 1842 Howitzer from its winter resting place to its customary cement pad along with the bronze plaque listing the names of the Militia’s founding members.

Created in 2004 at the time of Oysterville’s Bicentennial, the group’s purpose was to acquire a cannon to replace the one originally used for ceremonial purposes in Oysterville during the 19th century.  That one met an inglorious end when some over-zealous revelers inadvertently blew it up.  Although I told the story not many months ago, it’s well worth re-telling — for the happy ending if nothing else!

Early ‘Oyster Boys’ Abe Wing and Jimmy Johnson

From one of Frank Turner’s “From Auld Lang Syne” columns written back in the 1950s for the Ilwaco Tribune.  (Perhaps Mr. Turner’s great-grandson, Keith Cox, can weigh in with the exact date.)  The column fills in some of the information about that first cannon that had heretofore been missing:

There was little in the way of entertainment for the young people and bachelor oystermen, aside from church and school, and the young men, waiting between tides for their work on the oyster beds were accustomed to displays of strength and skill for a certain amount of recreation.  There was a pile of pig iron, and one stunt was to lift it by the teeth.  Shooting with the white man’s gun, and with the Indian’s stout yew wood bows, was practiced in competition.  But top competition in weight lifting was practiced on a 400 pound cannon, or cannonade, that had been unloaded from shipboard on the high tide bank of the bay.  It took a he-man to lift the three-inch cannon as some claimed they did.  However, although the remains of the cannon are still said to be here and there in Oysterville, there is now no way to check on the prowess of the young pioneers.

THOM Plaque – May 2021

The fact is, the thing blew up.  It happened, according to the best recollection of the late Mrs. J.A. Morehead, on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1878 — perhaps a year or so earlier.  The young men waiting on the tide, including Captain Peter Jordan and Johnnie Clark, loaded her up good, ramming home a big charge of powder, followed by a heavy round rock from the pile of discarded ballast on the beach.  They touched her off.  There was a mighty roar.  One chunk fell through the roof of the Chris Johnson home 500 feet away and others in sundry places about the village.  But the worst was one that slapped Peter Jordan on the side of the head.

It was nip and tuck with Jordan in the days that followed, whether he would live or die.  Possibly the skill of  Mrs. Stevens, as a nurse, and the prayers of her daughter, Laura Belle, pulled him through.  On a July day in 1881 Captain Jordan married Laura Belle, but he carried the scars of the cannon all through life.

It certainly wasn’t the first time…

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Historically Speaking – The Baptist Church and Parsonage

I had to chuckle a bit at someone’s remark about our house a few days ago.  I had written something on my blog about Oysterville needing a museum and a reader responded, “I thought your home was the Oysterville Historical Museum.”  It’s not the first time that the “museum” word has come up in connection with this old house but, usually, it’s in the context of a question and not always with complimentary overtones —   As in, “Don’t you feel like you’re living in a museum?”

The answer to that, of course, is easy.  I’ve known the furniture and many of the other contents of this house for my entire life.  At various times I lived here or stayed for prolonged periods with my grandparents and with my parents.  The old rocking chairs have associations going back to sitting in granny’s lap to have my tears dried or a skinned knee bandaged or just to hear a story on a rainy afternoon.  I’ve set the table with my great-grandmother’s silver and my mother’s china a gazillion times.  Not once have I ever thought or uttered the word “museum” in connection with any of it.

All Set for Dinner

Nyel, on the other hand, as the most recent full-time occupant of the house, may feel differently.  We met shortly before he received his Master’s degree from the UW in museology and the only remark I’ve ever heard him make relative to the house is something like, “…and little did I know that before long I’d become an owner and full-time curator of our very own house museum!”  But said in a joking way.

But, I do sometimes feel a bit of responsibility beyond family when it comes to some of the “stuff” that has been deposited here.  Take Reverend Robert Yeatman’s chair, for instance.  His daughter, Dorothy, brought it to my mother shortly after my folks had retired in the early ’70s and moved into the family house.

Reverend Yeatman’s Chair

Dorothy, who lived in Ocean Park,  had spent several years in this house when she was a little girl.  “My father used to sit in that chair when he was writing his sermons,” Dorothy told Mom.  “The chair belongs here as a reminder of the days the house served as the Parsonage for the church across the street.”

And, though I never knew Reverend Yeatman, I do think of him each time I use that chair!  I “remember” that he and his family lived here from 1898-1901 — just before the Reverend Josiah Crouch took his infamous turn as the Baptist pastor and left behind his ghostly wife.

In a way, I guess, that sort of memory-association with the things in the house do make it seem a bit like a museum. The house not only provides a context and an environment for the artifacts that are associated with it, but it also helps keep the stories of those artifacts “alive.”  The downside, though, is that our “artifacts” are still in use so there are no guarantees about their longevity or protection.   And, as wonderful as it would be to have an honest-to-goodness Oysterville Museum, the reality is that it takes more resources than our little village could possibly provide.

So, until that changes,  let’s hear it for the Columbia Heritage Museum and the Pacific County Historical Society Museum – two worthy institutions that we all need to support in order to keep our local history alive — even the history associated with our old houses and old folks!  Hear! Hear!





Lest you have doubts…

Saturday, April 24th, 2021

Driving across the frozen Columbia River – January 25, 1930

I’m not sure who brought it up last night, but suddenly the focus was on ice and snow and if there had ever been much freezing weather in our neck of the woods.   And was it true that the Columbia had frozen completely over back in the twenties or thirties.  And questions about other snow stories that I thought were common knowledge.

I was so glad there were a number of people among us who had been on (or associated with) the Peninsula for five or six decades and more.  And,  I was a bit amazed that those who really didn’t know “for sure” hadn’t at least read about some of our cold weather episodes.  (Or maybe, I was just disappointed that they hadn’t read what I’ve written along those lines.)  Maybe it’s time to tell some of those tales again.

Charles Fitzpatrick photographed the Troyer Fox on frozen Willapa Bay near Nahcotta, January 19, 1930 — CPHM

Like this story from my book Oysterville, Arcadia Publishing ©2007: “On the night of January 1, 1875, the weather turned sharply cold, and the thermometer hovered at zero.  When morning dawned, parts of the bay were sheets of solid ice, with the oysters embedded within it.  As the tide moved in and then out, the oyster-laden ice simply floated out to sea, totally wiping out many beds.  The freezing weather continued for eight long days and nights.”

Dennis Driscoll’s Snowman in Oysterville – February 2014

Or from Dear Medora, WSU Press, ©2007:
Monday, January 11, 1908
Mama, I wish you could see me.  My cheeks are as red as my sweater.  Skating yesterday, snowballing and sliding today.  It has snowed all day long exsepting [sic] a little this evening. The weather here gets worse and worse all the time.  Papa says it will soon be too cold to snow.

I’m not sure if the conversation last night began with commentary about climate change.  But, if there’s doubt in anyone’s mind about long-ago (or  even short-ago) weather events here at the beach, I recommend a little reading about local history.  And just as important — write up some of your own “weather reports” — for the Friday Night Gatherings of posterity.