Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

I think Uncle Cecil gets a bad rap…

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021

Sydney and Uncle Cecil, 1979

What I’ll be the first to say about my grandfather  and his brothers and sisters is that there were the taciturn Espys and the loquacious Espys — about an even division among the ones I knew well.  Uncle Cecil and Uncle Will were the quiet ones; Papa and Aunt Dora were the talkative ones.  But, I think they all had a sense of humor, though it was sometimes harder to tell with the quiet ones.  And even though many of my Red House Cousins would disagree.

However, two stories involving Uncle Cecil (Grandy to those RH Cousins) stick out in my mind and I think of them as the tip of the proverbial funny-bone iceberg.  If you could have seen the twinkle in his eyes when he was delivering his punchlines, you’d have to agree that, though it was tinder-dry, Uncle Cecil’s sense of humor was completely intact.

The first incident involved a party — a Christmas party, I’m sure — hosted by my folks a year or so after I moved here fulltime — 1978 or ’79.  Uncle Cecil, a retired banker from Portland and a widower, had been living by himself at the R.H. Espy House for some years.  He took pride in the fact that he was sleeping in the very bed (“NOT! “said my mom) and in the very room (“probably” said his children) in which he’d been born in 1887.  Mom worried about him being too solitary and so, of course, invited him to every event that came along.

On this particular occasion, Mom had teased him ahead of time and said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting who’d be willing to cook you a dinner now and then.”  Uncle Cecil “harumphed” but the night of the party I did notice him sitting on the sofa between two local widows who seemed to be vying for his attention.  The next evening when he came for a dinner of left-overs, I mentioned the two ladies who had him “captivated” the night before.  “Oh, those two!” he said.  “Lemons!  Both lemons!”  His eyes twinkled and so did ours!  He was spot on in his assessment.

R. H. Espy and Aunt Kate, 1918

It was at another dinner at our place  (Mom tried to have him often; she didn’t trust him to cook himself a balance meal) that the subject of R.H.’s amorous proclivities came up.  R.H. had married “Aunt Kate” as all the village called her, some years after his wife had died.  R.H. was Aunt Kate’s third husband, the first two having served at Baptist preachers in Oregon and Washington.

Aunt Kate had been a friend of the family for more than fifty years and,  shortly after she was widowed for the second time. she got in touch with “Mr. Espy.”   My mother and her siblings remembered her as wearing long dresses, high-buttoned shoes, and taking pride in “the one tooth in the front of her head with which she could scrape the meet from an apple.”

“I’ll bet Aunt Kate is one of the few women who was married three times and died a virgin,” my mother announced over dessert.  Back came Uncle Cecil’s twinkle:  “Not if you knew father,” he said.



And suddenly… summer begins!

Saturday, July 17th, 2021

Sydney in Oysterville, Summer 1940

In the “olden days” of my childhood, summer in Oysterville meant visitors.  Lots and lots of visitors.  The relatives came from Portland and Puyallup and California and they usually came for two weeks or more.  Often, they “overlapped” and we were hard-pressed to find sleeping spots for everyone even though there were five bedrooms and all but one had double beds.

As I remember, the “overflow” relatives stayed at The Red House three properties to the north.  I’m no longer sure how many beds and bedrooms there are in that old house, but I think it can comfortably accommodate seventeen or eighteen people — more if there are a lot of little kids.

Many friends from afar visited, too, but they seemed to arrive more according to a “schedule” and so we devoted ourselves specifically to that group or that family.  I think the attitude about the relatives was that the houses belonged as much to them as to us — most, whether of my grandfather’s generation or my mother’s, had grown up here, after all.  There was always room and, as I remember, they immediately helped out by taking on any extra host and hostess duties when non-relatives arrived.

H.a. Espy Family Reunion 1943

I’ve been thinking about those days as we plan for the arrival next week of our bonus daughter extraordinaire, Marta. to be followed in short order by Randal Bays and Family, Cuzzin Ralph from Virginia, Cousin Alex and friend Katie from New York, Kuzzin Kris from Sacramento (who is actually staying at the Red House but we hope we get our share of her!) and then the Rose City Mixed Quartet!!!  And at the very beginning of this grand parade will be Cousin Ruth and Cindy from Mercer Island who are staying somewhere spiffy with a whole raft of children, grandchildren, and I don’t know who all.  I think our house is on the schedule for a “tour and history lesson.”

I can’t wait for it all to begin!  It will be like summers of old but “on steroids” as we are all eager to make up for the Sheltering Year that we hope against hope is over for good and all!  Now… if the sun will come out and the soft breezes blow — just as I remember from those olden days! — it will be a perfect summer, indeed!


Bonding Across The Generations

Friday, June 11th, 2021

Maddie and Sydney, First Cousins twice removed

It was Maddie’s third visit to Oysterville but the first that was a prolonged (four days and nights) stay.  On each of her previous visits, she had been all eyes and ears –looking, looking, looking and asking myriad questions about Oysterville.  Between visits she has read my first ghost book and parts of Willard’s Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  

This time she came prepared to work on her “Oysterville Project” — an extensive multimedia look at Oysterville through the generations of our Espy family.  She had written up her proposed topic for school, it was accepted, and she asked if I would allow her to interview me — both in the “traditional” way and for the video camera.  I was thrilled.  Imagine being interviewed by the three-times-great-granddaughter of your own great-grandfather!

Maddie and Julia, June 10, 2021

She began our interviews by saying that she was especially interested in R.H. Espy, founder of Oysterville, and his much-younger wife Julia, as well as their eight children.  She had questions prepared — “Did R.H. and Julia absolutely ADORE their children?” and “Is it true that Julia taught them all at home for their early years?”  We talked about child-rearing in the 1800s — the differences between then and now — and about the senior Espy’s emphasis on education.  Maddie was interested in the hardships Julia faced here in isolated Oysterville and expressed sadness that this great-great-great-grandmother had died so young (49) before all her children were even grown and before most of her grandchildren had been born.

We talked and laughed and lamented.  Occasionally one of us would get up and grab a photo from mantle or wall to see exactly who we were discussing.  We spent several hours on two separate days on Maddie’s Oysterville Project.  I loved every minute!  Later, Alex took his kids up to the cemetery and sent me a picture of “Maddie and Julie.”  It made me a bit teary and so very pleased, all at the same time.  I so hope that Maddie’s interest will continue and that she, in her turn, will answer the questions of future Espy generations!

Off on the Great Clam Hunt!

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

The Intrepid Clammers

Chef Nyel sent us intrepid ones off to tideflats to get a few clams for the paella.  “A couple of dozen should be plenty,” said he, and off we went — Alex and three of his kids with me as guide.  It was seven ayem; Charlie slept in.

Hard At It!

The morning was fabulous — blue skies with patches of fluffy white, still and windless.  We had the bay to ourselves and it seemed we could see from one end to the other.   Besides one another, the only signs of life to be seen were a few teeny-tiny crabs scuttling southwards.  I couldn’t help think how lucky we all are that our family has retained these second-class tidelands.  We represented three of the five generations since our great/great-great/great-great-great grandfather R.H. Espy first arrived on these very tideflats in 1854.  My fondest hope is that there will be many more Espy desescendents who will enjoy “Grandpa’s Village” of Oysterville and all it has to offer…

Dinner Companions’ First Meeting

There seemed to be a plethora of clams — but quite small.  We filled the chef’s request plus a few more and were back at the house by eight o’clock to scrub them clean and put them in a bucket of fresh bay water.  They spent yesterday cleaning themselves until the chef is ready to begin tonight’s dinner!  YUM!  I can scarcely wait!

Blotting Your Copybook & Other Dreaded Deeds

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

Helen Richardson’s Copybook, 1895

I was surprised when I wrote to a friend that we didn’t want to blot our copybook about an Oysterville issue and said friend didn’t know the meaning of the metaphor.  Granted, she is a decade or so younger than I, but I was a bit surprised.  So I looked the expression up just to check on how old I really was.

According  the online Free Dictionary. blotting your copybo0k means to  tarnish, damage, or ruin one’s reputation by behaving badly or committing some mistake or social transgression.  Refers to a child’s copy book, the blotting (staining with ink) of which ruins one’s work.  Primarily heard in UK. .

There was no frame of reference for time and I don’t know why the expression is familiar to me.  Maybe all the British novels I’ve read?  Or maybe because I’ve run across lots of copybooks in my family research.  Most don’t have many blots, though.

Blotters! Blotters! Blotters!

We do have a plethora of blotters, however.  Books of blotters, individual blotters, advertising blotters, blotters given away with purchases.  So it was in the early 1900s when my mother and her siblings dipped their pens in the inkwells built into their school desks.  I had blotters in my day, too.  I think it was in fifth grade that we “graduated” to using fountain pens with real-for-sure liquid ink after four years of pencilwork.  Those pens didn’t cause much blotting, but woe be unto your careful work if you forgot to blot before you turned or left the page.  Smears or smudges forevermore!

I think kids across America could be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when ballpoint pens came into general use in the 1950s!!!


about teeth and siblings…

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

“Do you still have all your own teeth?”

Dale Espy Little, “Mom,” and Her Million Dollar Smile, 1928

After a prolonged absence, it was the first question my mother and her brother Willard asked one another when they’d get together — especially as they aged.  Willard died in 1999 at the venerable age of 88 and, as far as I know, his answer was still “yes.”  Ditto for mom who was eleven months his junior.  She lived until 2009 and, but for a fall in 2007 which knocked out a front tooth, she still could have answered “yes,” as well.

Willard “Uncle Wede” Espy, 1981

I thought about the two of them and their teeth questions the other night when I bit down on a lemon drop and broke a molar.  It had been filled probably 60+ years ago, so I really can’t complain.  It has lasted through a lot of chewing even though compromised all those years ago.  It is also one of the teeth that the clasps of my lower partial cling to — more stress no doubt.

And it’s not the first tooth I’ve lost — starting with nine front ones in that 1961 auto accident when I broke my mouth on a steering wheel.  Although I lament the teeth, an even greater lament is that I never had a brother or sister who would have cared.  But I’m so glad Mom and Willard did.  And who’duv thunk that teeth would become a point of pride between siblings as they entered their dotage?

Anyone else feeling vaguely “unwanted”?

Friday, December 18th, 2020

R.H. Espy, born 1826 in Allegheny County, PA – died 1918, a 64-year resident of Pacific County, WA

Somehow, Wednesday’s front page headline in the Observer — “Out-of-state seniors drive up county age” — was a bit unsettling.  As I read the article, I realized that the finger-pointing by the U.S. Census Bureau was specifically directed to a group of us old ducks that I don’t quite fit into.  Almost but not quite.  And I’m not at all sure why I care.

The article’s statistics specifically target an influx of older residents who were born in states other than Washington and who moved here between 2015 and 2019.  Well, I moved here permanently (check!) and was born in Massachusetts (check!) but that was in 1978 and I was still twenty-plus years shy of being a senior.  Even so, the tone of the article made me feel a bit uncomfortable about being old and born out-of-state.  And then I felt annoyed.  And then totally pissed off.

I dragged out my copy of the 1860 Pacific County Census and took a quick look.  As expected, the only residents listed as born in Washington Territory were under seven years old!  Duh! At a time when our indigenous people were not allowed to be counted in the U.S. Census and when Euro-American settlers were just beginning to arrive, ALL  adults who were counted in Pacific County had been born elsewhere.  Double duh!

The one exception to the 7-or-under pattern  was 16-year-old George Johnson who my great-grandfather, the census-taker, counted despite George’s Indian heritage.  Knowing what I do of Great-Grandpa R. H. Espy, he snuck in as many Indians as he could.  I’ve been told that he mostly preferred their company to many of the early “born-elsewhere” settlers.

Julia Jefferson Espy born 1851 in Marion County, OR – died 1901, a 31-year resident of Pacific County, WA

Granted, most of those listed in the 1860 count were not “seniors.”  Actually, make that “none” were seniors in the present-day understanding (65-and-over) of the term.  Settling the wilderness was not an occupation for old folks.  The oldest people listed were John Crellin, Sr. from the Isle of Man who was 60 and George Wills from Kentucky who was 58.  Both were farmers and came here with younger family members.

The total number of residents in Pacific County in 1860, according to my GG and the U.S. Census Bureau, was 470 — all born out of Washington Territory with the exceptions noted above.  The total number today is 21,668, 46.9% of whom were born out of state.

I don’t find these latest statistics very compelling.  As in so what?  What I’d much rather like to know from our present-day, newly arrived, born-out-of-state residents is this:  What brought you here and what, if any, “connection” do you have to our area?  I’ll bet the answers would be fascinating.  Much more interesting than the latest census analysis of our changing demographics.  Just sayin’…



Journey to Oysterville: Spring 1898

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

The IR&N

My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, was a “city girl,” used to the amenities of a cultured household.  She first came to Oysterville on her honeymoon trip in the Spring of 1898.  She and my grandfather had been married at her home in East Oakland, California, the preceding November, and though the groom’s father and older brother Ed were in attendance, she had yet to meet her mother-in-law or any of the other R.H. Espy chldren.  Years later, she  would write her recollections of her introduction to them and to Oysterville:

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 tide.  I doubt if the train travelled 25 m.p.h.  When we got on it that first day the gawky old conductor asked Papa if his wife had seen the Potrimpos.  He said, “No.”    “All right, we’ll stop the train  and she can go down and see it.”

Potrimpos wrecked on North Beach Peninsula, December 1896

I had always been taught to never attract attention to mysef.  It was embarassing.  To see the boat, the Potrimpos, we had to walk over soft sand — what is now called “The Prairie.”  It must have taken us at least 15 minutes…

When we returned to the train, nobody seemed too annoyed.  I was almost afraid to come back in.  It was 45-minute ride to Nahcotta.  There was a single carriage there for us.  The rest came down by stage.  On the road to Oysterville, the sand was soft and deep just as it is on the Ocean Beach.  The wind covered up the tracks.  If anyone had asked me the distance to Oysterville, I would have said 20 miles.  [It’s actually 4 miles. SS]  We were nearly home when the horse shied.  He ran into an alder tree.  It bent down, passed under the carriage and popped out at the back like a cannon shot.  Papa was a wonderful horseman and the sand was soft or we would have had a real runaway.

Territory Road circa 1900 – Stony Point Pictures

I didn’t know what to expect of Oysterville.  Ed had said… he kept talking about “the ranch” … when I asked him if he lived in the country: “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 civilised.  Their pump was on the back porch.  We arrived on a fairly decent day.  But a day or two later there was a big storm with a tremendously high tide.  We were surrounded by water.  Tina Wachhsmuth 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…

H.A. Espy Family, 1904

Four years later, Papa’s mother died and, of the family members, he was the most logical one to go home to Oysterville to look after his father.  “It will just be for a short time,” Mama assured her two little youngsters.  But, as it turned out, she lived here until her death in 1954, a dairy farmer’s wife, raising seven children, burying two of them, assisting Papa in his brief foray into politics, joining the women of the village in the Sewing Circle and earning the devotion and respect of all who knew her.  In the end, she came to “an accommodation” with Oysterville.  She once told me that she felt like Lord Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon” who, when all was said and done, had grown to love the place of his imprisonment.

A Time to Reflect and A Time to Vote

Friday, July 17th, 2020

R. H. Espy, 1870

Both Oysterville and the Espy Family have had a complicated relationship with Pacific County since the beginning.  Well… almost the beginning.  Pacific County was formed on February 3rd/4th 1851 with Pacific City as the county seat.  My great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy, arrived here in what would soon become Oysterville on April 12, 1854.

By then the county seat was “in flux” — Pacific City had been closed down so Chenookville (about where the bridge begins now) was designated to serve as county seat but, apparently, travelling there was too difficult and they could seldom get a quorum.  County business, such as it was, languished.   So, the commissioners met a few times at Holman’s Schoolhouse in what is now Ilwaco.

Oysterville was just a year old when the county seat moved here in May 1855, and here it stayed for the next 38 years.  Early on, November 4, 1862 to be exact, Espy was appointed sheriff.  He stuck it out for a year and nine months and then resigned because the county commissioners refused to supply him with a sheriff’s badge.  They told him to buy his own.  For Espy, that was a line over which he would not cross.  Good for him, I say!  Cheeky commissioners.

I don’t know what other problems they had with their sheriffs in those days, but between 1860 and 1871, there were 10 sheriffs, three of whom resigned and one who was murdered while on county business.  Stability was a big problem in early Pacific County.

A Sign Marks The Site

Fast forward to the early 21st century.  Nyel and I, at the urging of one of our neighbors, were interested in having Pacific County take advantage of a federal program which provides residents of historic homes with a tax break.  Several other counties in Washington participate in that program and we were hopeful that our county might do so, as well.  Little did we realize that the commissioners not only had no interest in the Oysterville National Historic District — the only designation of its kind in the county — they had no interest in historic structures.  Period.

We attended the county commissioner’s meeting when they were to make their decision in the matter.  We listened in absolute amazement as the (then) director of the Department of Community Development said, “We have nothing against historic buildings.  In fact we oversee their construction every day.  You just have to wait fifty years.”  His testimony was duly noted by the county commissioners.  Our proposal: denied.  Did the commissioner who represented Oysterville speak out for us?  Nope.

Fast forward once again to the matter of the Oysterville Design Review Committee which the county commissioners decided to abolish in favor of a Hearing Examiner a few years back.  It wasn’t only R.H. Espy’s descendants who spoke out at the SRO hearing in Oysterville.  Were any of us listened to?  Not that you’d notice.  As the years passed and the guidelines for the Historic District were bypassed, ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood by the hearing examiner, my cousin David finally asked him at one of the hearings, “Have you ever been to Oysterville?”  Guess what the answer was?

Dan Driscoll

So, after reflecting on all the above (and a good deal more), this Espy descendant heartily endorses our neighbor Dan Driscoll for County Commissioner.  I think he has our interests at heart but, more importantly, I think he’ll listen to all viewpoints on the issues at hand, try to make the best decisions, and try to inform and educate his fellow commissioners. It’s the year to vote for change.  Change for the better!  Beginning right here at home!


Robert, Julia, Lewis, and Louise – 1869-1871

Friday, April 10th, 2020

Photo Courtesy of the Pacific County Historical Society

Yesterday, this marvelous photograph of the Teachers’ Institute, September 1-6, 1902 was posted on the Pacific County Historical Society’s facebook page.  It was labeled “Oysterville” and Keith Cox tagged me, asking if I could identify the setting more specifically.  I couldn’t.  Neither could Tucker.  But I do have a related story…

Some of the names were written on the back of the photo, though they are not matched up to the individuals pictured.  One name called out to me:  Mrs. L. A. Loomis.  I doubt very much if she was teaching in 1902.  More likely the Institute included a luncheon for all Pacific County teachers and former teachers.  (Those pictured here probably number many more than all the teachers in the county at that time.)

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

My story about Mrs. Loomis begins in the late spring of 1869.  My great-grandfather, Robert Espy, and his friend Lewis Loomis were both on the Oysterville School Board and they were going to need a teacher for the following school year.  (Felicia Brown who had held the position for the 1868-1869 year had taken a position elsewhere.)

So, in the Spring of 1869, Loomis and Espy journeyed to the Normal School at the University of Salem (now Willamette University) to interview young graduates who might be interested in the job.  They chose Miss Julia Jefferson.  She was 18 years old, was graduating with honors, and was the prettiest young lady in her class.

In Oysterville, she managed the school, grades one through eight (sometimes numbering 50 students), with a firm hand and boarded at the Stevens Hotel.  Two of the Stevens girls who were near her age were not at all pleased with the attention Julia received throughout the year from Robert Espy.  He was, after all, one of the most eligible bachelors in town and they felt that, as long-time neighbors, they should have proprietary rights.

Oysterville School 1875-1907

When Robert proposed to Julia, she agreed to a late summer wedding and the Oysterville School was again without a teacher.  Again, Robert and Lewis journeyed to Salem to interview prospective teachers and again they chose the prettiest and brightest member of the graduating class:  Miss Louise Glover.  The following summer Louise married Lewis, becoming Mrs. L.A. Loomis.

End of story.  Except that the teacher who was hired next was an Oysterville woman, Harriet Wing…