Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

It’s one of those “I shoulda known” things!

Saturday, February 17th, 2024

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Papa and Aunt Dora c. 1896

If you are one of my faithful (or even not-so-faithful) blog readers or a follower of  my “Saints or Sinners?” stories in the Observer you are likely acquainted with my Great Aunt Dora.  I credit her with my interest in storytelling — especially stories about the sinners which were always Aunt Dora’s favorites.  She also is the one who referred to any woman she admired as “a fine double-breasted sort of woman” and, though I’m not just sure what she meant by that,  I’ve always considered her to be that sort of woman, herself.

As I mentioned in my blog a few days ago,  I was contacted by someone working on an exhibit about women in Lake Oswego’s history asking for photographs of Aunt Dora.  Yesterday I received a “thank you” for the ones I sent plus a great deal more information about Aunt Dora than I had ever heard from her or from other family members.  And what’s more, I might have been given a clue as to that pithy saying of hers.

First, what I already knew about her:  Born in 1872,  she was the oldest of  my great-grandparents’ seven children and was 4 years older than my grandfather, Harry.  She grew up in Oysterville, became a teacher, and in 1895 married King Wilson, an attorney from from the East Coast who had received his law degree from  the University of Oregon in 1893. They lived for some years in Portland before moving to Lake Oswego where King became mayor and served until the time of his death in 1918.  They had three children, all of whom I also knew well.  Aunt Dora never married again and I think lived in (or perhaps ran) a boarding house in Portland.  She lived until 1955, visiting family often.  I think it was my mother who told me that she had several rather serious “suitors” during her widowed years and when her daughters Julia and Mary found out about that (when they were in their 30s I think) they never called her “mother” again– only “Dora.”  (I don’t think her son Bob was so self-righteous.)

So… what I learned yesterday:  “Mrs. A. King Wilson, Oswego, Ore.” was listed as a member of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association in 1912   In 1916, she was elected to the Oswego school board, was reelected in 1917, and served as chair of the board.  The Oswego Times article (22 June 1917) announcing her reelection also noted that the district budget report was exemplary. Her name appears often in Oregon City newspapers.  Until 1929, Oswego did not have a regular newspaper (except for the Oswego Times 1916-1917) so local events were covered in the Oregon City papers.

Dora and King Wilson wwith Robert(“Bob”) and Mary, 1903

And, best of all, my correspondent said this:  “When I get back to the library next week, I will take a picture of Dora’s voter registration card from 1913.  It was the discovery of a set of these cards in the Lake Oswego Public Library’s collection that set me off on this project.  As you may know, Oregon women got the vote in 1912, so these cards are particularly exciting.  One of the cards, for a Mrs. S.H. Crookes, is signed by’Dora E. Wilson, chrman Election Board.’  I will send that image as well.”

So Aunt Dora was a suffragette!  Why am I not surprised.  Right at the time she was casting her first vote, her brother Harry (my beloved grandfather) was serving in the 13th session of the Washington State Legislature as the Senator from Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties.  And, over the years, more than one person has suggested that “a fine double-breasted sort of woman” might have alluded to a man’s double-breasted suit (popular in those days) and to the fact that such a woman had a mind of her own and was not one to be left at home, still widely thought ‘a woman’s place!’    How I wish I’d know all of that long ago.  But. as I think about it, I didn’t really need to.  Aunt Dora was a force to reckon with and even I, yet too young to vote, myself, when she died, knew she was special. What I didn’t know was how much she would influence my life!

A good number to stop on!

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy 

I’ve been giving my great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy,  a bit of thought these last few days, primarily because I’ll be talking about him at the History Forum on Wednesday.  I do wish I “knew” him better.  Unlike my grandfather (Harry, or “Papa” as his family all called him) and my great Aunt Dora, old R.H. Espy was not a talker.  He was one of the “silent Espys” and most of his children were much the same.  Thank goodness for Papa and Aunt Dora, or my information about “the olden days” in Oysterville would be meager, indeed.

My grandmother did have one or two stories about R.H, though.  One occurred when he was well into his eighties and was using two canes.  He always sat in the front pew at church, the better to hear the preacher, but he often left early — especially if the sermon was not to his liking.  Of course, when he stumped up the aisle with his two canes, everything came to a halt until he left and peace and quiet reigned once more.

On the occasion that my grandmother remembered, R.H. stopped by the back pew in his exiting process  where Mrs. Sargant sat nursing her baby, surrounded by several others of her large family.  “What number is this?” bellowed R.H. (for, of course, he spoke loudly as deaf folks often do.}

“E-e-eleven, sir,” responded Mrs. Sargant, no doubt mortified at being singled out by the village patriarch..

“Eleven, is it?” R.H. said.  “Good number to stop on!  Good number to stop on!”  And she did!  (The babe’s name was Alice, a life-long friend of my mother’s.)

REALLY? Am I now the oldest?

Monday, August 28th, 2023

Sydney with cousins Wallace and Charles, Ft. Canby, WA, 1939

It came as a bit of a shock to me the other day to realize that I am now the oldest living descendent of the H.A. Espy Family — maybe even of the R.H. Espy Family,  YIKES!  My grandfather, Harry Albert Espy was Robert Hamilton Espy’s second son.  Of all the R.H. children, Harry had the greatest number of children, but not the greatest number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

There were nine of us H. A. Espy first cousins. Three were older than I.  They (all men) died at ages younger than I am now and two others — one man, one woman — are also gone.  That leaves only four of us — all women with me the oldest by at least five years.

I don’t think we ever all spent time together.  That’s odd when you come to think of it — especially considering that there were eighteen first cousins in my mother’s generation and, despite the transportation difficulties of 100 years ago, they did have family gatherings right here in Oysterville.  And, fairly frequently, too.

Jefferson Espy, Six Weeks Old, 1953

But in our third (from R.H.) generation, there were other complications.  My mother’s sister Sue, mother of our two oldest boy cousins, died before any of the rest of us were born and her sons, Wallace and Charles, were raised in Minnesota by their father’s people.  As long as my grandparents lived, Wallace and Charles came to Oysterville every summer, and I knew them both throughout their lives.  But we never seemed to have a reunion with all nine of us together.

Then, there were divorces in the second generation, which meant that Willard’s oldest son was raised in Scotland by his mother and step-father,  I never did meet him.  And so it goes.

Joey, Mona, Freddy, Cassy, 1954

It’s scary being the oldest one, now.  I feel some sort of responsibility toward getting the rest of us together, but I don’t think I have “the where-with-all to do all the above things” as my mother would have said.  Not “where-with-all” as in money (though that always factors in!) — but more in stamina and arranging and getting agreement.  Probably a lot like herding cats.

I think I’ll leave the possibilities to the younger ones and rest on those old-age laurels.  “Wouldn’t it be loverly…”

“One of them arty fellas is over by church…”

Tuesday, July 11th, 2023

Oysterville Church and Steeple

On page A8 of last week’s Observer was an article headlined “Sunday Music Vespers features Peninsula Guitar Trio.”  Above it was a picture of the Oysterville Church’s steeple with a caption that started like this:  “Oysterville Church is one of the most photographed buildings in Southwest Washington and…”  That came as no surprise to any of us who live nearby.  According to the Visitor’s Register in the Church, more than 10,00 people visit each year — and most of them take a picture or two.

Oysterville Church 1952

But that wasn’t always the case.  When I was a kid, the church had long since been abandoned by the Baptist Association.  We were just too small and too remote to support a preacher.  And so, my grandfather, H.A. Espy, became the caretaker — a sort of sexton for the church.  By then, he was old and infirm.  He couldn’t do much more than patch the roof now and then and board up the steeple and a window or two where they were leaking — never mind painting it or keeping it open for visitors.  It wasn’t much photographed in those days.

When Oysterville became a National Historic District in 1976, the Espy Family prevailed upon the Baptists to divest their interest in the church and return it to the Espy Family.  (In 1892 R.H. Espy had donated the property and paid $1500 for the building of the church as a gift to the American Baptist Church Association with the provision that it be returned to the his family should it cease being used by them. (No regular Baptist services were held after the 1930s.)  Once the “return” was accomplished, The Espys donated the church to the Oysterville Restoration Foundation which took on the responsibility for its upkeep and maintenance.

Sketch by Noel Thomas from our garden c. 2018

And so… it has become a visual (and acoustical) treasure — one of the most photographed buildings in the region, as the paper said.  Or as our 1980s neighbor “Old Bob Meadows” used to point out about the many people who set up their easels nearby to paint its likeness — “There’s another one of them arty guys over at the church!  Ain’t that something!”  Indeed it was and continues to be to this day!

Some things don’t change much, thankfully!

Thursday, May 25th, 2023

Memorial Day 1917

Oysterville is gearing up for Memorial Day Weekend — the biggest weekend of the year here in our little village.  Traditionally, it has been when families gather together to clean up the cemetery and decorate the graves of our forebears.  “Decoration Day” it was called from its earliest beginnings… until 1971.

Though the grave cleaning and decorating tradition goes back to our earliest settlements, it was during the years following the end of the Civil War in 1865, that so many American communities were tending to the remains and graves of an unprecedented number of war dead.

2014 Memorial Day, Oysterville Cemetery

Soon, the idea for an official, nation-wide holiday occurred on May 30, 1868 when Ohio Rep. James A Garfield, a former general and future U.S. president, addressed a crowd of 5,000 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery.  After his speech the 5,000 visitors made their way into the cemetery to visit the tens of thousands of graves in the newly formed cemetery.

Gradually over the following years, local municipalities and states adopted resolutions  to make Decoration Day an official holiday in their areas.  As time went on, “Memorial Day” began to supplant “Decoration Day” as the name of the holiday, and it soon became a day to honor all fallen American troops, not just those from the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1968 that “Memorial Day” became an official national holiday.

Here in Oysterville we’ve celebrated our loved ones at the cemetery for 150 years or more.  These days,  the weekend is replete with meetings (The Water Company, The Oysterville Restoration Foundation, The Cemetery Association) on Saturday.  Cemetery decorating occurs on Sunday.  The VFW gathering to honor the war dead occurs early on Monday followed by (since 2004) the firing of their cannon by The Honorary Oysterville Militia.

And all weekend long, it is a time for visiting and renewing old friendships, sharing meals and stories and remembering why it is we are so connected to this village  and to one another.


Cuzzin Ralph Confronts the Crouches.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

Cuzzin Ralph and Sydney Working on WRE Archive, 2008

So many folks have asked me how I thought the ghosts of the unrighteous Reverend Crouch and his once-upon-a-time bride Sarah would react when Cuzzin Ralph came to spend a day or two.  It’s not that Ralph hasn’t been here before — many times in fact.  The Crouches (either or both) have had plenty of opportunities to make themselves known to him.  But so far…

Cheryl, Ralph, Sydney, Nyel, Virg — Christmas 2021, Oysterville

Not a moan or a groan or a typewritten note.  Not even the lid of an incense burner tossed across the room.  And if you have read my two books, “Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula” (2014) and “Haunted Histories of the Long Beach Peninsula” (2021), you will know exactly of what I speak.  I believe that ghost buster Madam X, who also made her appearance in “Haunted Histories…” would have had the perfect explanation.  In fact I think that my mother did, too.

Mrs. Crouch, as my mother often said, hung around this Oysterville parsonage because she was happy when she was living here in 1893.  My ghostbusting friend, Madam X, often said the same thing about the souls she confronted.  Some just didn’t want to leave — they liked where they were.  And if they were bothering those still on this side of the veil, it was usually because they didn’t realize it.

Cuzzin Ralph At My Gate, 2023

Mrs. Crouch has never really been more than a playful nuisance to anyone living in this house.  We’ve all been curious about exactly what happened to her and to her womanizing husband.  But, we’ve just been after the historical facts — especially Ralph who has used his internet research skills to great advantage.  Since the Reverend never tried to cover up his behavior — or to change his ways –I can only conclude that he was well-satisfied with himself and has no grudge to bear against Cuzzin Ralph for telling his story the way it was.

But… we will see.  The cousins are only halfway through their stay here.  So far, the Crouches have maintained their silence and have “behaved” as far as we know.  But… you never can tell for sure with ghosts.


A day late and… you know the rest.

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

Cheryl and Virg, 2016

I promised myself that when the New Year began (as in yesterday), I would write one short story a day toward the eventuality of a new book I have in mind.  Well, here we are at Day Two of 2023 and Story Number One is still safely locked in my head.

I’m not beating myself up over it — not even vowing to get it plus Story Number Two done today.  That’s because my promise-to-self was not a New Year’s Resolution — just a way of setting a goal.  In fact, my actual resolutions — to develop more compassion and empathy — are being given a test with this very story-a-day promise.  “Cut yourself some slack, Sydney,” I say to myself.  “You had other fish to fry yesterday.”

Cuzzin Ralph, 2019

That’s the thought I woke up to this morning, anyway, and I do think compassion and empathy can be directed toward oneself as well as toward others.  Don’t you?   Besides… my Jeffords cousins are arriving this afternoon for a few days of visiting.  That’s my Cuzzin Ralph (who has done all the Rev. and Mrs. Crouch research for me), plus his sister Cheryl and her husband Virg who used to live here at the beach.  I’m so excited!  I haven’t seen Ralph since the sheltering began and Cheryl and Virg only oh- so- briefly at Nyel’s Bon Voyage Party.

So that’s why I had other things to do yesterday — making ready for the relatives!  But, honestly, they are the easiest guests EVER!  They bring food for the main meals AND do the cooking and, even in the days when Nyel was fit and well, they’d come and help with various projects around this old house.  (I have a little list of things for them if they will be so kind… mostly involving Ralph, who is tall, getting the top ornaments off the Christmas tree.)

Nope.  Not a bit hard to cut myself some slack this time!



We are as usual…

Saturday, November 26th, 2022

Julia Jefferson Espy c. 1895

If my great-grandmother Julia’s letters are typical of those of others of the 1800s, it seems to me that  a good deal of time was spent discussing the various health issues of family members.  This was especially true in her weekly letters to her three eldest children, Edwin, Dora, and Harry (my grandfather) when they were away at school.

In those days, the 1880s and ’90s,  the Oysterville School went through the 8th grade but there was no practicaL way for students to continue with their secondary education here on the Peninsula.  For the R.H. Espy children, the solution was to send them to Grace Seminary in Centralia where they boarded during the school year, returning home for vacations much as students in boarding schools of today do.

It was Julia’s  habit to write to her absent children each Sunday afternoon, presumably the only time during the week that she really had to herself.  From reading those letters of long ago, I think it was a time (perhaps the only time) Julia had for reflecting on the everyday things that consumed her life as mother of seven, wife and helpmate to one of the most prominent men in the County, and the friend and acquaintance known as “Mother Espy” to every other woman, young or old, of the  village.

Harry and Dora Espy circa 1894

Besides village and family news, Julia’s letters are peppered with health advice for her children.”  On March 4, 1894, she wrote to my grandfather (then 17 years old): I am sorry you have such a cold and advise you to put a wet pack on your throat at night, not forgetting to rub it well with cold water when you take it off in the morning.  I think it would take 3 doses of Belladonna (not too large) about 6 hours apart for the sore throat.    If the croup indications continue, take Aconite and Hepar Sulphur alternately.  I will send you some Spongia, put 1 powder in 4 spoonsful of water and take 1 spoonful at a dose half an hour apart in the morning if you are threatened with croup.  Then in six hours take the Belladonna as directed above, if the throat is sore only and no croup, leave out the Spongia.   Be careful to keep the mouth closed and breathe through the nose when out of doors.  I hope you will soon be better.

Julia Jefferson Espy’s Funeral Cortege, 1901

Interestingly, Julia seldom used the word “Mother” in any of its forms to sign the weekly letters to her children.  Occasionally, she did use “Mama” but even that was followed  using her full name, “J. A. Espy.”  And, if she had not included specific health news about any of the family members, her final line before closing was, “We are as usual.”


Oysterville Tradition Alive & Well!

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

A Thirsty After-Vespers Crowd at the Oysterville Lemonade Stand

As the adults spilled out of the Oysterville Church a few Vesper Sundays ago, they were greeted by the youngest generations of village entrepreneurs — my Red House Cousins of  the Alpha Generation and Generation Z (the “Zoomers”) — otherwise known as Oysterville’s Sixth  Espy Generation.  They had set up their lemonade stand right across from the exiting hoards, just as their parents had done years ago.  And probably their grandparents before that.

They were doing a booming business — especially with the Blackberry Lemonade.  “We picked the blackberries ourselves!” we were told.  I was mortified that I didn’t have any money with me.  “That’s okay.  You can have some anyway,” they chorused.

Red House Cousins’ Lemonade Sign from 2013

I demurred.  They had a lineup of thirsty buyers and I thought it would be yet another family story if Cousin Sydney got a freebie that could have been sold at the going rate — $1.00 a glass.  Besides, I really enjoyed watching their casual salesmanship (it was all about the blackberries!) and their even more casual handling of the cash flow.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the next generations — Beta and Gamma — will be using Bitcoin or some sort of cryptocurrency as yet unnamed.  Or perhaps they’ll just take plastic.  But it probably goes without saying that the blackberries will still be picked by hand and the cousins will still be full of giggles at their accomplishments!  And the lemonade will still be Oysterville’s finest!

Taking history too seriously? Guilty!

Friday, June 3rd, 2022

A Composite Map of Historic Oysterville

There are several things I tend to take too seriously — history, my family (and its history), and myself (when it comes to history and my family.)  As Dorcas-the-Postmistress said in “Larkrise to Candleford” — it’s my one weakness.  Of course, like Dorcas, I have been know to claim different things to be “my one weakness.”

I gave that weakness considerable thought when reading my friend David Campiche’s article in Wednesday’s paper.  It was the lead story in the second section of the Observer and was titled “QUEEN OF HEARTS – The Oysterville Spring Garden Tour.”  It began full of soft-sounding sentences and descriptive adjectives creating a lush gardeny mood — the kind of writing David does best.

But then came the sentence: “Isn’t Oysterville a delight, always a delight, always Grandpapa Espy’s road that leads to where?” Huh?  I read it again.  My grandfather was Harry Espy.  His seven children all called him “Papa” as did his grandchildren.  No one to my knowledge called him Grandpapa.  Or maybe David meant R.H. Espy, co-founder of Oysterville and my great-grandfather.  But no.  He was a stern, matter-of-fact man, already 44 years old when the first of his eight children were born.  They called him “Father” and my mother’s generation called him “Grandfather.”

No.  There was no Grandpapa Espy in our family.  (Although it must be said, that my uncle Willard did use the term “Grandpa” in his book title, “Oysterville: The Roads to Grandpa’s Village.”  Hard to say if the title was his idea or Clarkson Potter’s or even the marketing folks.  Publishers do put their feet down now and then.)

Perhaps David is thinking of another Espy — though he makes a clear connection to Oysterville.  Or perhaps it’s wishful thinking on his part — wanting an Oysterville “Grandpapa” of his own.  Go figure.

Nyel with Territory Road Sign

And what is this “Grandpapa’s road” of which he speaks?  Or “Fifth Street” for that matter?  We’ve never had a “Fifth Street.”  Fourth Street, yes.  It was once the name of present-day Territory Road — so named when we became a National Historic District.  Proceeding east, toward the bay were Main Street (which still exists), First Street (now reverted to meadowland) and Front Street which my mother said was built mostly on pilings and was devoted to marine-related businesses such as sail-makers and boat-builders.  That street has, indeed, been taken by the tides — but only one as far as I have seen documented; not four as David would have us believe.

All-in-all it was a charming article — flowery like the garden tour David described.  But, in my mind, a bit of a mis-representation of both my family and the village that I have known for all my life.