Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

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.



Metes and Bounds and Willow Posts

Sunday, April 18th, 2021

Repair Work on Oysterville Road, 1880s

It seems to me that almost every time a property is re-surveyed here in Oysterville, the new dimensions are off a little from the last known survey.  The former surveyor is usually blamed for that and probably that surveyor blames the one before him.  I know less than nothing about surveying, but I blame change.  Yes — changing landscapes, changing landmarks, and changing technology.

I do believe it all began with metes and bounds.  In case you don’t know what those are, here is an explanation from the PDH Academy (look it up):  “Metes and bounds is a method of surveying land that is centuries old. It was the principle way to measure land before the Land Act of 1785, when parcels were often defined by formations such as rivers, trees, roads, or other landmarks.”  It seemed to stand everyone in good stead until more sophisticated measuring instruments (and then technology) came into play.

Oysterville Methodist Church (1872-1921) – First Church in Pacific County

Here is what the 1880 survey for the Oysterville Road said:
Begin in Oysterville at a Rock marked R.O.B. and continued by naming Corner of Caruthers [sic] Hotel… – Corner of Briscoe’s fense [sic] … Corner of M.E. Church…  Door of Saloon…  Culbert 2500 top of hill or Sandridge by F.C, Davis House… a Sanded Bridg [sic]… a Willow Post marked R1N…

 The ‘Caruthers Hotel’ was Richard Carruthers Pacific House built in 1873 and located on the northeast corner of what is now Oysterville Road and Main Street.  The M. E. Church refers to the Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1872 and also located just across Main Street to the east.  F.C, Davis lived to the west at the base of the hill now known as Davis or Cemetery Hill.  That Willow Post is anybody’s guess!

I’m not sure if this was the first official survey of the road but I do know that the road, itself, was there from the very earliest days of Oysterville.  Perhaps it had followed an Indian trail.  And even though I don’t know whether there was a survey, I do know that there was a petition:

Jim Kemmer, Aunt Rye, Judy Heckes circa 1943 – at the west end of Oysterville Road

Petition, October 1857
We the undersigned would respectfully represent to your honorable body by petition that we are without a direct road from Oysterville, Pacific County, W.T. westwardly to the Pacific Ocean on weather 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…

I think of these matters occasionally when I travel along the Oysterville Road to get the mail.  And sometimes I wonder just where that Willow Post was…





Due Diligence with Capital D’s

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Cover Design by Mark Nero

The 12″x 12″x 5½” box arrived by priority mail day before yesterday.  It was heavy — $21.90 worth of heavy — and mailed from Seattle by Marilyn Nero.  Perhaps you remember her?  She and her husband Mark Nero ran the Cranberry Press which had an Oysterville address but was physically located in the 1990s in Ocean Park — in the  area where Anita’s Coastal Cafe has been in recent years.

The Cranberry Press was an elegant operation.  They did small, specialty press runs and my uncle Willard had them publish his book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (illustrated by Nancy Lloyd) in 1998, the year before he died.  The book design and typography were by Mark, himself.  His expertise in those areas are part of what made Cranberry Press special.

Original Cover Design on Printmaking Stone

Sometime in the early 2000’s, Mark and Marilyn moved — to Arizona, I think.   Some years later, Mark wrote and asked if Nyel and I would like to purchase (at wholesale) the remaining copies of the book.  Even though we no longer had the Bookvendor, we did buy the copies.  Several years after that Mark sent a package of still more of the books– this time no charge.  He said he was going out of business.

Last February (2020), I received another message concerning Skulduggery — this time from Marilyn Nero.  She said that Mark had passed away several years previously and she was closing up the studio.  Did I want “a collection of paperwork and original correspondence regarding the publication in 1998 of Willard Espy’s book, Skulduggery?”  She said she’d send it when the weather warmed up and that she was moving to Seattle…

Detail from Original Skulduggery Cover Art

I am so grateful for Marilyn’s diligence in returning these materials to me.  Willard’s original, typewritten manuscript, corrections and commentary on correspondece from both Louise and Willard, plus the cover design on lithographic limestone (I think) were included in the package.  Plus a few more copies of  the book.

I will be taking them up to the Washington Historical Society Research Center to be added to Willard’s section of the Espy Family Archive.  Maybe when the weather warms up a bit…

A Truly Wonderful “Normal” Morning!!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

Michael and Charlie at Our Grand Affair, Sept. 2019

Yesterday morning our friend Michael Lemeshko came bearing drinks (café mochas and English Breakfast tea) and a book (UNSETTLED GROUND – The Whitman Massacre and Its Shifting Legacy in the American West by Cassandra Tate.)  It was so great to see him and have a “good-and-proper visit,” as my Great Aunt Minette used to say.  My cheeks still ache from all the  smiling!

It was our first visit with Michael since long before we went into sheltering mode.  We had lots to catch up on starting with the changes at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, the future prospects for the Community Historian program, and the status of local history in general.

Grandpa Michael with Two of Six!

We lamented the many “academic” and “otherwise” sites on the internet that are grabbing their history from who-knows-where and disseminating amazing flat-out-lies about once-upon-a-time here in Pacific County.  And we hope Frank Lehn’s ears were ringing — he is our hero in the local history department and if you haven’t caught his FaceBook site you are definitely in the minority among local history buffs.

All-in-all, it was a lovely visit.  Long overdue doesn’t begin to cover it!  And we hardly even touched the important stuff — like family and book projects and when “next time” will be.  We’re hoping it’s just the beginning of the New Normal around here!

My new Observer series — coming soon!

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

In The Works

I’ve recently completed the first article in my new “Doctoring in Early Pacific County” series for the Chinook Observer.  Watch for it!

Like my last series about Pioneer Schools, the doctoring series has been prompted by some of our major concerns during the pandemic.  It seemed to me that as we began to break new ground with virtual schooling at all educational levels, it might be interesting to look at how far we’ve come (or perhaps not) education-wise in the last 170 years here on the Western Edge.  It was great fun to research and write about the one-room-schools, the valiant teachers who taught in them, and the obstacles that our forebears overcame to get an education.  I hope readers got as much enjoyment from reading the articles as I did in writing them.

Image from the Internet

The doctoring series is even more interesting in some ways, perhaps because there have been such strides in medicine during that same 170-year time period.  It’s hard to believe that many of the diagnostic tools such as X-rays and medicines such as penicillin didn’t come into use for generations after our pioneer ancestors were carving out their homes in this wilderness of early Pacific County.  And yet, they endured and recovered from many an illness or accident without benefit of “modern medicine” or hospitals or even doctors.

The Sou’wester

I’m so grateful that our forebears sometimes wrote of their “doctoring” experiences and that the Pacific County Historical Society’s quarterly magazine, the Sou’wester, has published these accounts over the years.  As you might expect, however, the most difficult part of my research, so far, is finding illustrations.  Schoolhouses were easy.  Sick rooms… not so much.



Talking With Dorothy Trondsen Williams

Sunday, March 7th, 2021

Dorothy Trondsen c. 1942

Yesterday, with the Nahcotta Post Office closure still foremost in my mind, I called Dorothy Trondsen Williams who is now living in Seattle.  Dorothy is the “nearest relative” to the suddenly closed Post Office that I know of.  I had some questions for her.

Dorothy’s relationship to the Nahcotta Post Office goes like this:  Her grandfather was J.A. Morehead, stagecoach driver, county commissioner, and owner of Morehead’s General Merchandise est. 1889, the first store in Nahcotta.  By the time Dorothy came along in 1926, Morehead had sold the business to Dorothy’s father and great-uncle and the name had been changed to “Trondsen and Brown.”  Perhaps by then it was even under its final name, Trondsen and Petersen.  Under whichever name, by that time, too, there were two stores — the original one in Nahcotta and a “satellite” store in Ocean Park (where Jack’s Country Store is now.)

The New Sign – 1914

“So, is the building where the Nahcotta Post Office has been all these years the actual Morehead (and, later, Trondsen and Brown) building?” I asked.

“Oh yes!” was Dorothy’s reply.  “Only, when I was growing up the post office was way around in the back of the building.  The front was all general merchandise — everything from jewelry to produce to farm implements.  Everything!  Deane Nelson, Charlie’s wife, was in charge of both the post office and the store.”

My Grandmother’s Teapot

I’m quite sure Deane had been in charge for a number of years — at least since 1918 when my (then) six-year-old mother rode her horse from Oysterville to Nahcotta and Deane helped her choose a blue china teapot for my grandmother’s 40th birthday present.  I count the teapot as one of our family treasures and the story of my mother’s four mile ride to Nahcotta and back as an early sign of the grit and determination that characterized her for her entire life.

“I remember that my father had to get up very early and meet the mail delivery each day,” Dorothy told me.  “He placed it all in the post boxes and had it ready for Deane before the store opened.  Then he went on into Ocean Park to manage the store there.”

Admiral Jack’s Uniform Cover – John G. “Jack” Williams, Jr. (1924-1991) Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet– CPHM

We talked of other things for quite a while — caught up with our mutual relatives who are scattered over much of the world.  Dorothy shared with me that she now has ten great-grandchildren with another expected soon.  She still knits for every newborn (and probably beyond!) and I could just see her smile right over the telephone as she talked about her big, ever-growing family.

“Do you know that it’s been 30 years since Jack died?” she said.  Thirty years!!  How fast the years go by.  How glad I am that that she and I are still “connected” and can keep some bits of the history of this area in proper perspective. At least for now.

Nahcotta’s Mail and The Case for History

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

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.


Well, maybe not 1,000 words…

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

Princess of Garlic, 1983

This photograph from 1983 came in our mail yesterday with an accompanying note from Cristl Mack:  “I came across this fun memory while going through Trudel’s photos.  Thought you might enjoy it — we sure did!”

Wow!  Talk about “a trip back in time.”  There I was, “Princess of Garlic” (or something to that effect) helping set up the Garlic Festival in the parking lot of the Ark Restaurant.  It must have been Year #2 and, for the second time, I was playing my role opposite Lawrence Lessard, the “Garlic King” (maybe).  I also remember that none of us quite knew what we were doing or what to expect.

It was still a brand new by-the-seat-of-your-pants celebration that only Nanci and Jimella could have dreamed up.  I have no idea what I was doing at the moment Trudel’s camera caught me but it seems to have involved a gigantic roll of paper towels!

That night there would be a huge banquet in the Ark for all the participants — no doubt with music by Spud and Crabbo.  I’m sure none of us imagined that almost 40 years in the future the Ark would be gone but the Garlic Festival would carry on — for many years at Sheldon Field across from Ocean Park School.  There is an online announcement that  (fingers crossed) the 39th Annual is planned for September 18th-19th, 2021, and will be held at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta.  Fingers crossed, indeed!