Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

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.

My Mother — The Fourth Espy Girl

Monday, February 21st, 2022

Medora, 1915

Of the four daughters of Helen and Harry Espy of Oysterville, my mother was the youngest.  Oldest was Medora (1899-1916), then Suzita (1903-1932), then Muriel who we all knew as Mona (1904-1970).  Only Mona was still living when I was born and it goes without saying that I knew her best. Although…  after spending a number of years with Medora’s letters and diaries and then writing Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years (WSU Press, 2007) perhaps it was teenaged Medora I knew the best.

Each of the four had distinctive characteristics.  Medora was steadfast, practical, responsible — called by her mother:  “Mama’s  strong right-hand.”  My grandmother wrote this poem in her scrapbook after Medora’s death:


Dear helping hands that led,
Down life’s thorn strewn way.
Dear loving hands that fed,
The wants of every day.

Now in my greater need
And loneliness for thee
Dear gentle hands O, heed
The anguish of my plea.

Lean a bit across the strand
And lead me where you are
A beckon of your guiding hand
Will prove the gates ajar.

Suzita Espy, c. 1920

I always think of Suzita (or “Sue” as most of us called her) as a flapper (which she was) who married a rum runner (which she did).  My grandmother wrote this of her: “Suzita dashed into the world one bright July morning before I could even get my shoes off.  There is not a definite incident that seems to mark the memory of her – just her glowing personality and gorgeous eyes that won the hearts of all men from the time she was two years old.  She could achieve her own ends and dismiss obstacles like a magician.  Brighter than average, she bluffed her way through school – was asked by a teacher in the third grade once what a dumb waiter was.  ‘Mama is a waiter,’ she said, ‘she waits on everyone, but she isn’t dumb.’  Suzita – staunch, loyal, loving, reckless Sue, my beautiful red rose.”  Sue had several bouts of pneumonia during her life, finally dying of it four years before I was born and leaving two young sons, Wallace and Charles Pearson.

Mona circa 1946

Mona was tiny — maybe five feet tall — a practical nurse, an Eisenhower Republican, and taught me how to smoke and how to drink my coffee black.  (“You’ll always enjoy it that way, whether or not cream and sugar are available.”)  Of Mona, my grandmother wrote:

Little Mona, born the night Albert was taken ill – a two and a half pound wisp – had 75 convulsions in five days when five weeks old.  Up she came, frail, unstable, completely dominated by Suzita’s force and vividness.  Twice during her fourth year she had pneumonia, and had to learn to walk all over again.  It was about this period that she used to sleep with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.”’  Always a pathetic hungry little creature unable to assimilate her surroundings.  At four she used to sit by the hour perched on the fence accosting every passer-by with “Hellow what you goin’ to do tomollow? ”

Dale c. 1928

I once overheard a conversation between my grandparents. the gist of which was that Mom had all the best qualities of each of her sisters.  Many years later, Mom told me that her folks had shared that thought with her, too.  Typically, she blew it off but I could tell that their expressing it meant the world to her.

About Aunt Dora and the Christmas Roast

Monday, December 27th, 2021

Dora Espy Wilson at 80, c. 1951

Leave it to my friend Maggie to remind me about my Great Aunt Dora’s story of the Christmas roast.  I mentioned it in my blog about holiday dinners “In The Best of Regulated Families” the other day and promised to tell about it later. Then, of course, I promptly forgot about it.  (My Forgetter is the best of all my faculties, bar none, these days!)

Well… Aunt Dora was my grandfather’s older sister.  When I was a child, the two of them were known as “the talkative Espys,” unlike their three surviving siblings (Will, Susie, and Cecil) who were “the silent Espys.”  Aunt Dora lived in Portland and when she came visiting, she and Papa would sit in our library and tell story after story about their early days in Old Oysterville.  Papa was said to talk about the saints, Aunt Dora, the sinners.  You don’t have to guess which stories I liked (and remember!) best.

I believe the events in “the roast story” occurred during my mother’s childhood, perhaps before she was born, but during that generation.  The various Espy siblings and their children had gathered here at the Red House (the “family seat”) for Christmas dinner.  The women were busy in the kitchen with last minute touches and beginning to carry the laden serving dishes to the dining room table.  Someone took the roast out of the oven, “done to a turn” said Aunt Dora, and finding no counter space available at the moment, set down the roasting pan, roast and all, on the kitchen floor.

Aunt Dora with Hilda and the Espy Girls, Mona, Joey, Freddy, Cassy – 1947

“One of the little boys — I don’t remember which — but a youngster about two or three years old, dashed into the kitchen just then,” said Aunt Dora.  “For some unknown reason, he pulled down his Christmas britches and tinkled right on that gorgeous roast!  We women all looked at one another in horror and then did the only sensible thing.  We pulled up the culprit’s rompers, sent him on his way, and transferred that gorgeous roast to the serving platter!”

At that point in the story, Aunt Dora would interrupt herself with her contagious chuckle and (every time we heard it) we asked, “And what did you do with the roast?”

“Ate it for dinner, of course,” she laughed.  “It was, after all, the main dish and a ‘culinary masterpiece’.  Everyone said so!  In fact, for years (at least until the story came out) everyone remarked on that being the best piece of beef they’d ever eaten!”  And we all laughed along with her, all the while looking at our uncles and cousins and wondering which of them that little boy had been…

And Cuzzin Ralph Got His Limit!

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

Cheryl, Ralph, Syde, Nyel, Virg

Third cousins two times removed, Cheryl Kocher and her brother Ralph Jeffords, arrived yesterday with Cheryl’s husband, Virg.  It was SO great to see them!  It had been four-and-a-half years since we’d seen Ralph (who lives in Virginia) and a bit less than a year since we’d seen Virg and Cheryl who divide their time between Lacey and Manson here in Washington.  But even so…   This time we were unmasked, not very distanced, and not only had lunch together but spent the afternoon visiting and catching up.

It was one of those Virg-and-Cheryl-haven’t-changed-a-bit (probably in the 20 years we’ve known them) but OH THAT RALPH!  When he walked in the door Nyel immediately asked if he had come directly from the set of “Duck Dynasty.”  I said not a word.  I was too busy wondering which of our Mountain Men ancestors Ralph might be a throwback to.  (Probably a badly worded sentence — but you know what I mean.)

Nyel and Virg — Soup’s On!

I don’t even know if we have Mountain Men in our background, but if we do, Cuzzin-Ralph-the-family-genealogist is the one who would know.  Unfortunately, I never got around to broaching the subject.  We were too busy catching up with one another, eating Chef Nyel’s fabulous lunch — African Peanut Soup, fresh-out-of-the-oven sourdough rye bread, and green salad with pears — and just plain old basking in familiar company.

Later we sat swapping reminiscences in front of the library fire and Cheryl presented Nyel and me with Christmas socks and documented our visit with a few photos.  They left in time to hit the beach so Ralph could go clamming.  Later, another photo from Cheryl showing Cuzzin Ralph and his successful clam hunt results.  Yay!  Nyel says the photo should get a place of honor in the Family Gallery in our stairwell.  Great idea!

Cuzzin Ralph and Clams


But I just had it a minute ago…

Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

Senator H.A. Espy at his desk, 1911

It really is nuts-making.  Now that I am actually gathering together some final bits and pieces of things to take up to Ed Nolan at the Washington State Research Center, I cannot find Papa’s diary — the one written when he was sixteen in 1892/93.  The one telling about the Reverend Josiah Crouch’s stay in Oysterville!

Papa (aka Harry Albert Espy, my maternal grandfather) was an inveterate note-maker and diary-keeper.  I still have several of his diaries in my possession and have, at long last, decided that they need to join the other family papers in Tacoma.  The most important of the diaries, at least by my reckoning, is the one which includes his father’s 1913 statement about his trip across the Plains, his first months in  Pacific County, and his journey in 1854 with Isaac Clark to the shores of what is now Oysterville.

I also have my grandmother’s book of poems “Compiled and Arranged” in 1895 and 1896 and presented in a leather bound book to Harry, probably on the occasion of their engagement.  All in her gorgeous spidery handwriting and all credited to the poets she loved.  She told me long ago, before I was old enough to appreciate it, that she and Papa would sit under a favorite oak tree overlooking the Golden Gate (not the bridge — it wouldn’t be built for another 40 years) and read poetry to one another.  Do you think young couples do anything half so romantic today?

H. A. Espy Children, 1913

While I was madly searching for the missing diary, I ran across a news column, perhaps from the South Bend Journal, perhaps from 1912 or 1913.  It is titled Not For Sale and begins like this:

At the beginning of the school year of 1912’1913, a bright young family from Pacific county was moved into a quiet residence on a side street in Olympia, leaving the comforts of their own home, because the head of that home was called to spend sixty days of the coming winter in the State senate.
It was the family of our senator Espy.  He had rented or leased out his dairy farm to attend the duties of his office.
It would be no trifling matter for a young couple, graduates of the University of California, to have their children’s schooling broken into by a move into the capitol later, or for the family to be separated for a large part of the winter.
Also it takes great economy for any family to pay the prices the Olympians charge during “the Session” and comes out even on the salary allowed by the state.
So it is no wonder that Espy said, when we were last together, that he was uncertain whether he would run again or not…

It was interesting to read what the editor’s take on Papa’s situation was and even more interesting to speculate whether the family version of our history or the public version (at least this particular public version –there were many) was accurate.  There’s no telling what else I’ll run into while I continue the search for that diary.

I just know it’s here somewhere…  Mrs. Crouch, do you know anything about this?

A News Clipping of Note

Friday, November 26th, 2021

Part of Early News Clipping

There are several things that drive us collectors of bits-and-pieces-of-history to distraction — old photographs with no identifying names or dates and yellowing news clippings without any indicators of when or whence.  I think the following excerpt from just such a clipping was from the The Tribune of Ilwaco — probably in the late 1940s judging by snippets of ads on the reverse side.

Under the headline Espy Describes Early Settlement is an article about my grandfather’s talk at a dinner meeting of the Ilwaco-Long Beach Kiwanis club.  The part of particular interest to me describes the first road survey on the Peninsula.

An interesting document read by Espy was one made under date of October 1859, a petition addressed to the commissioners of Pacific county, Washington Territory, requesting the building of a road due west out of Oysterville to connect with the “weather beach” route to Pacific City at Baker’s Bay.

Isaac Alonzo Clark

The petition was signed by 25 pioneers of Oysterville including E. Ward Pell, R.H. Espy, Chas. Anderson, H. Wing, A.C. Wirt, Geo. Dawson, H.K. Stevens, Frank Warren, G.W. Warren, G.S. Foster, I. M. Chichester, J.A. Cole, Irving Stevens, Il Wheeler, Ezra Stout, George Wills, F. Hopkinson, W.H. Gray, E.G. Loomis, I.A. Clark, W. Sutton, Jr., and Thomas J. Foster, Jr.
The penmanship of the petition was very well done, and easy to read, in spite of an ornate style.  The language used was on the flowery side, and in true chamber of commerce optimism indicate a huge influx of business and visitors over the proposed road.
The following May of 1860 the records of the county commissioners, who are not named, signed by H.K. Stevens, clerk of the board, reveal that E.G. Loomis, George Willis and Dennis Colby were appointed “viewers” for the road project.
 Their detailed report was accepted by the board of commissioners and placed on file July 2, 1860.  (For a description of that survey, read my April 18, 2021 blog, “Metes and Bounds and Willow Posts”
A photostatic copy of this original record was recently made by Verna Jacobson, county auditor, who reported to Mr. Espy:  “As nearly as I can ascertain, it is the oldest document in the office as to commissioners’ proceedings.”

Harry and Dora Espy circa 1896

The concluding paragraphs of the article amused me greatly.  My grandfather was known as a man of many, many words and, according to the reporter:
H.A. Espy was accompanied to the meeting of the Kiwanis club by his sister, Mrs. Dora Wilson of Portland, who, according to Harry “pulled my coat tail three times” when she felt it time for him to conclude his address.
However, the Kiwanians appeared to enjoys both the amusing anecdotes and the historical documents of the oldtimer of Oysterville, giving him a hearty round of applause.


My crowning glory? Not so much.

Saturday, November 20th, 2021

Medora, circa 1913

My grandmother felt that a woman’s hair was “her crowning glory” and,  was full of advice for her eldest daughter, Medora — even by letter when Medora was away at boarding school.  In this note, written on November 2,  1914, she said:

 I do hope you are not slicking up the sides of your hair.  I know it will take the curl out.  Ruth ought to be a continual object lesson to you as to how pretty hair can be ruined.  You can leave it soft and curling around your face and still show your ears.  In fact, when you take the frame of your hair from your face it is like plucking the petals off a daisy and leaving the bald pod.  Some people’s hair is not a necessity.  Yours is – so is mine.

I’m not sure what she meant about her sister Ruth’s hair.  Try as I might, I can find no pictures of Ruth that show “ruined” hair.  But, Medora’s hair, was definitely an “issue” as the letter written just a week later demonstrates:

Medora, 1915

Tuesday, November 10, 1914
       Remember, I don’t want you to wear your hair up.  It does not matter who likes it up.  Up in back makes you look like a Dutch waitress in a German bakery.  On top is becoming, but too old.  With little curls sticking out of a psyche, you would be a picture, but wait for awhile.  I was in a rush to get mine on top, but am thankful my mother had me keep it down until graduation year.

I think that epistle would have stopped me dead in my tracks, but if it slowed Medora down, it was not for long.  In her diary of Thursday, March 18, 1915, Mama’s sixteen-year-old first born wrote:

I have been wearing my hair up for two weeks and I don’t like it at all but I want to impress people that I am old

Ruth Buzzi and Her Hairnet

She was still a year and a half away from graduation.  Perhaps in the interim Mama had relented.  I hope so because, against all odds, this lovely, vibrant girl died in her sleep, perhaps of an aneurysm, on January 18, 1916 — just 15 days after her 17th birthday and six months before her graduation.

I thought about my grandmother and Medora and crowning glories early this morning when I woke up from a fine night’s sleep during which I had apparently had been wired into an electrical outlet.  My hair, short and fine and tending toward frizz, was standing straight up all across the top of my head.  I think what I need is a Ruth Buzzi hairnet.  But don’t mention it to Granny!






Her Death Was Front and Center

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

R.H. Espy Family, 1895

Page 1 of the April 26, 1901 South Bend Journal features a small headline, Death of Mrs. R.H. Espy and  one two-column photograph of the R.H. Espy Family taken on the occasion of eldest daughter Dora’s wedding some six years previously.

I don’t really know much about my great-grandmother.  By the time my mother and her siblings were born, R.H. had remarried “Aunt Kate” and  Grandma Julia had already become a shadowy, saintly woman who “had been taken much too early from this mortal coil.”  So I was interested in reading the news story about her:

Mrs. R. H. Espy died Monday afternoon at the home of her daughter in Portland Mrs. A. King Wilson from abscess of the brain.  The disease first affected the right eye of which she lost all control and the various muscles of the body were in turn affected.  She was first taken to St. Vincent’s hospital in Portland, Feb. 12 and later removed to her daughter’s home.  On her death bed as through her entire life she thought of others first.  Her entire life has been one of unselfish devotion to her family and to those in need of sympathy and help.  She was a consistent Christian woman, a member of the Oysterville Baptist church and one of its main supporters.

Julia Jefferson Espy’s Funeral Cortege, 1901

Her remains were taken to Oysterville for burial where the funeral took place Thursday afternoon, Rev. Yeatman officiating.  The funeral train was crowded with people from Portland and along the line while many came from Bay Center and other points so that the funeral was one of the most largely attended ever seen in the county, testifying to the esteem in which the deceased was held.

Mrs. Espy was the representative of two of Oregon’s eldest families, the Appersons and the Jeffersons.  Her father Delos Jefferson came from Ohio to Oregon in 1846 by way of California, stopping there to do some mining.  Arriving in Portland, he engaged in carpentering and building, also did some school teaching from ’49 until ’52.  In 1850 he married Miss Matilda Apperson, who had crossed the plains with her mother, Mrs. J.G. Apperson, afterwards Mrs. Robert Moore, and family, in 1847.

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

In 1852, Mr. Jefferson sold his Portland claim and removed with his family to Waldo Hills, and later to Salem Prairie.  Here Mrs. Espy, with the other children attended public school, and later, in 1867-68, the Williamette University, in Salem, making her own way by working for her board and teaching school during vacation.  While thus occupied, she took charge of the school at Oysterville, Wash. where she met R.H. Espy, a pioneer of 1852.  She was married to Mr. Espy at her father’s house on Salem Prairie, August 7, 1870.  He survives her and is 75 years old.  Seven children — Mrs. A. King Wilson of Portland, R.H.E. Espy and H.A. Espy, of San Francisco, Susie M. Espy, T. Willard Espy, Cecil J. Espy, and Verona I. Espy of Oysterville, Wash., were born to this union.  The deceased was born Sept. 6, 1851, in Portland.

Come to think of it, I guess I did know all of this.  My own knowledge only differs from what the Journal reported in one respect, and that was how Julia happened to become the Oysterville schoolteacher.  For that bit of information, check out  (It was probably a little bit too racy for the 1901 readers of the Journal!

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!