Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

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…

On Being Connected and 3.2 Beer

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Virg, Nyel, Sydney, Cheryl

I often think that, for such a tiny corner of the world, Oysterville is a hub for connectedness.  Our last Friday’s evening gathering was a prime example.  Cousin Cheryl and her husband Virg had arrived for the weekend in time to be here when many of the “regulars” arrived.  I think that there were sixteen of us at the peak of the evening.

Many already knew Cheryl and Virg from ten-plus years ago when they lived out in Surfside and were often a part of Oysterville activities, so there were fond greetings and “remember whens.”  When the conversation veered to last week’s House Concert, Cheryl mentioned that they missed coming to them — especially to any of Aaron English’s concerts.

Aaron English – FB Profile Picture

“He was my student at Discovery Elementary School in Gig Harbor,” she said.  “I taught music there for 27 years — until I retired in 2004.”  So far, though, she has never met up with him since those school days and has never seen him perform.  I wish we could make that happen, somehow, but now that Aaron is living full-time in Nashville, it might be tricky.

I should also add that as soon as my blog of yesterday hit the world wide web, Cuzzin Ralph (Cheryl’s brother) weighed in with an email from the state of Virginia: you and Pat [Wollner in Gearhart] are 3rd cousins, straight across—no removed’s.  The easy way to remember your 3rd Cuzzin twice removed relationship to Cheryl and me is to think of that commodity that has nearly disappeared these days (except for a few states)— “3.2 beer!”

"Land of Sky Blue Waters"

“Land of Sky Blue Waters”

Later, he wrote a little more about 3.2 beer:  I wasn’t quite correct in one statement—-there is only ONE state that still has 3.2 beer and that is Minnesota.  I know I cringed just this last fall when Utah changed their laws and stores had to DESTROY beer that didn’t sell. That got me to thinking about Hamm’s beer, brewed in Minnesota, with their ditty and the cartoon bear:  “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters.”  I listened to the commercial on Youtube and it was just as I remembered. Drank a lot of Hamm’s back in college…”

I might remember the 3.2 mnemonic, not  because I’m a beer drinker, but because  it’s quintessential Ralph!  Thanks, Cuzz!


The Broken Years

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

Nyel, October 2018

Last night, my cousin Ruth said, “I think our generation has reached the broken years.”

At first I wasn’t sure what she meant.  Was she talking politics or infrastructure or what?  Turns out that she was talking plain old bones.  When I think about it, I’m one of the few people I know in my generation who has never broken a bone.  (Knock wood!)  But already, my son has broken one.  And, I know a number of his generation who are beginning to “break.”

I thought about my parents.  My dad lived to 82 and my mother to 97 and, as far as I know neither had ever broken a bone.  I don’t know about my paternal grandparents, but my Oysterville grandmother, who lived to 76 had never had a fracture or a crack.  My grandfather, Harry Albert Espy, though… another story entirely.

Papa, 1920

Papa (as his family called him or Harry to his friends or Senator to his acquaintences) was a dairy farmer.  His broken bones were all work-related.  His nose had been broken more than once by a the kick of a recalcitrant cow, but his worst accident happened in 1925 and marked the end of his farming years.  My uncle Edwin wrote about it this way:

The accident occurred during the haying season.  Papa was driving his regular team of Empress and Dolly, who were hitched to the double-trees attached to a long rope cable hauling great slings-full of hay by pulley up to the second floor of barn No. One.  Papa was directly behind one of the horses when a single-tree broke and crashed back with great force against his hip-bone.  He was confined to bed in great pain for some time and he showed me the frightful black and blue area that must have been eighteen inches up and down the bone area and half way around the leg. 

A bit later the onset of flu, pneumonia, and finally an asthma condition  put him in bed for a long time and incapacitated him for any regular work for the rest of his life.  When all this occurred he was only in his late forties but he continued to live with his limitations, breaking through wherever he could, until he was nearly eighty-two.

Cast Off! December 2014

Although Ed doesn’t say so, I have always been under the impression that some bones had been broken.  However, as far as I know there was not a doctor involved and, when Papa did recover, he walked normally not with a limp.

And, as far as I know, he survived these “broken years” as Ruth calls them, just fine.  I hope I do, too!


Calling on Mrs. Wirt and God

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

The Oldest H.A. Espy Children – Medora and Albert, 1904

At noon as we sat at the dining room table, there was a fearsome clucking and crowing just outside the south windows.  When I looked to see the problem, there was the rooster, Big Red, making his way across the lawn toward the fence — not hurrying mind you, but scolding vociferously as he walked.  A glance toward the church revealed the reason for his distress.  His Rhode Island Red sister, “Gladys,” was waddling briskly down the walkway of the church, homeward bound.

My immediate and irreverently ridiculous thought was, “Well, at least she closed the church doors when she left which is better than lots of our non-feathered visitors do…”   And hard on the heels of that thought came another… the family story of my mother’s oldest brother, Albert.   I always heard it just as my uncle Willard wrote it in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village:
 At three, Albert once dashed out the door — he was always dashing — explaining over his shoulder that he was off  “to call on Mrs. Wirt and God.”  The second call followed the first by only a few months; he died in a Portland hospital of an undiagnosed stomach ailment.

Wirt House, 1939

Mrs. Wirt was our across-the-lane neighbor.  God, of course, lived across the street in the church…  Today I wondered if Gladys had gone to call on God but had found the door closed.  Would she have hung out and waited for someone to open it had Big Red not scolded?   I asked, but neither the rooster nor the hen was forthcoming with an answer.  That’s often the way it is with chickens.

This was always my mama’s day… Still is.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

Dale, Bill, Sydney – 1940

My mother, Helen-Dale Espy Little, was born 108 years ago today.  From the time of my birth in 1936 until her death in June 2009, we celebrated those days together — Mama and I — and for all but the last 17 years of her life, the celebration included my dad.

Granted, they weren’t always “in person” celebrations.  In 1958, I remember calling her from Europe — Madrid, I think.  And,  there was at least one year that we had to postpone the Happy Birthday Party until a day or two later, but the reason escapes me now.  Nevertheless, November 13th was a most important day in our family.

One of the things that always happened on Mama’s birthday was a telegram or telephone call from her brother Willard.  Willard (or “Wede” as we called him in the family) was eleven months older than my mother — almost exactly.  He was born on December 10, 1910 which meant that each year from Mama’s birthday until his, they were the same age.  They often called themselves “twins.”

Willard, Edwin, Dale – 1916

Some years ago when I was cataloging Willard’s personal papers and unpublished manuscripts for his archive at the Washington State History Research Center, I ran across this delightful description he had written of my mother:

Dale, the youngest of us three [the three youngest of the seven Espy children — Dale, Willard and Edwin who was born in 1908] Dale and a girl at that, suffered inevitable frustrations.  In fact, she was the only little girl in town, while there were thirteen of us little boys, every one of us feeling it beneath his dignity to play with a member of the opposite sex. One of our principal diversions was to try to hide where Dale could not find us; to escape her we even created a private club room in the empty heart of an enormous gorse bush.  But she always found us out.

Dale at 16, 1927

I remember her as a sometimes-but-not-always little girl.  She sometimes picked up her room, but not always.  She was sometimes gentle, but not always: once she dropped a score of those tiny bay crabs into a can of cold water and boiled them with gusto.  She was brave sometimes, but not always: if Lambert lifted his taurine head and looked in her direction, she promptly climbed a tree, even if the bull was a quarter of a mile away.  (It seems to me that she spent a considerable part of each day up those trees.)  She avoided accidents sometimes, but not always:  once she fell head-first into a rain barrel.

 I connect her with the number 13, for no reason I can think of except that she was born on the 13th of November and once received 13 dolls for Christmas.

Happy Birthday, Mama!  In my heart, this day will always be yours.


For whatever it’s worth…

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Nancy Lloyd – Photo by Andy Dolan c. 2003

There is something compelling about trying to set the record straight even though it is seldom a completely satisfactory endeavor.  Historians encounter the problem continuously.  There are always new facts being uncovered — additional information that changes or illuminates what we have “known” before.  Getting the word out about new data and then convincing the populace that it is true (or at least truer) is the difficult part.

Nonetheless, I feel obliged to continue my commentary on  Nancy Lloyd’s astonishing article that appeared in last week’s paper — an article headlined “Ah, Oysterville: Small skirmishes in a coastal village.”  In yesterday’s blog, I wrote of my own part in the matter of the Johnson Homesite marker and sign — a totally different story from the one our once-upon-a-time-neighbor Nancy described.  Since Emmett Oliver and I were the only ones involved at that point (and Emmett is now deceased) I have no witnesses to my version.  Suffice it to say, I know what I know.

Polly and Elmo – Photo by Spike Mafford c. 2003

Today, I want to correct some other errors of fact in the article — in particular the comments made about Polly Friedlander (or, as Nancy called her “Polly with the famous last name.”  Polly was controversial, to be sure, but she was, indeed, a force.  She came to the village in the mid-1980s, rented the Stoner house on the SE corner of Territory and Oysterville Roads and, in 1994, with Bob Thurston, built a home on the old Bardheim Dairy property at the north end of town.

During the mid-nineties, Polly became active in the Oysterville Restoration Foundation and was serving as its president about the time that Emmett Oliver was lobbying for recognition of the Johnson family and their homesite.  It was the place where Myrtle Johnson (Woodcock) — called “the last princess of Oysterville” — had been born and was a location important to both the Quinault and Chinook tribes as well as to the National Historic District.  Or so Emmett Oliver, a Johnson descendant pointed out to ORF.  To no avail.

In 1998 — some years after the Johnson signs had finally been installed — Polly turned her attention to the arts and established the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation.  In her article, Nancy attributes Polly-the-WRE Literary-Foundation-CEO with some responsibility for the Johnson sign.  The timing says that was not possible.  Nor would it have made any sense.

Myrtle Johnson (Woodcock)

Nancy also says of the “Last Princess”:  The lady had lived in a house now gone, right next door, south of the Church.  She might have been spoken of as the last Indian born in the village.  No, Nancy.  Myrtle, the ninth child of Cecile “Jane” and James Johnson, was born in that house in 1889, several months after her father had drowned in the bay.  She lived there for a few years until the family moved to South Bend.  Myrtle was then still a child — not yet a lady grown.  She was descended from chiefs — both Quinaults and Chinooks — and it was not because she was “the last Indian born in the village” (which is doubtful) that she was notable.  It was her distinguished heritage that gave her the title.

Oysterville by Willard Espy

And… one other thing.  It’s about the use of the word “prevailed” in relationship to Rose Glynn’s donation of that ten foot strip of property adjacent to the church.  The intimation is that ORF leaned on Rose for the donation.  Not so!  Rose had “discovered” Oysterville through my Uncle  Willard Espy’s  1977 book, “Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village” and made the trip west from Illinois to meet her newly-discovered cousins. (Her maiden name was Espy.)  When she found that the house next door to Willard’s cottage was for sale, she bought it, fixed it up, and became an enthusiastic supporter of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation.  “Prevail” was not the operable word concerning Rose’s generous gift.

So… there you have it.  Another account by a “regional historian” as  I have been called and as the Observer identified Nancy in in her recent article.  Like most other facts these days, readers have a choice of which to believe… as will the historians of the future, no doubt!

Cousins & Chickens & Swallows , Oh My!

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

My Cousin Gin

Two Red House Cousins came calling yesterday.  Actually, they are my second cousins once removed and first cousins to each other.  Gin Ronco and Kahrs Bemis.  I think they are ten and Kahrs told me that even though he is a bit older, Gin is a bit bigger.

We didn’t measure this time, but I think she is pushing my five-foot-two mark and when I asked about her shoe size — (she had nicely removed them when she came inside and they looked… well, big) — she told me “Eight and a half.”  Is that a woman’s size?” Kahrs asked.  “Yep,” she said.  I got a pitying look from them both when I admitted that I only wore a seven-and-a-half.

Barn Swallow Nest, Church Porch

Before they came calling on us, they had checked out the chickens.  “We’ve named them,” they announced.  “The red one is Rosemary.  The white one is Ella.  And that fluffy one in the nest box is…”  I have to confess that I’ve forgotten what they said.  I was too taken with their descriptions of Svetlana (alias Slutvana, though I didn’t tell them so).

“She’s the nicest one,” they told me.  “She let us pet her.  For a long time.”  I didn’t explain about her being broody and not knowing about it.  I wasn’t sure if they were up on their chicken reproduction facts and really didn’t feel in a teaching mode…

Oysterville Church, South Side

Instead, we went over to the church to look at the swallow nests.  There are not only more of them this year, but for the first time in my memory we have two kinds of swallows and two kinds of nests.  On the porch and, also, up on the eaves on the north side are several barn swallow nests — rather traditional-looking cup-shaped nests built of mud and carefully lines with moss or down.  Barn swallows are the ones with forked tails.  Swallow-tailed coats are named for them.

Cliff swallows have short, square-tipped tails and, though their nests are also made of mud, they are gourd shaped with a small, round entrance hole.  Like their cousins, the barn swallows, they often build their nests near one another, though some might say that the cliff swallows carry neighborliness to extremes.  In the top eave of the church there are five — count ’em, five! — nests snuggled one against the other!

Cliff Swall Nests — Five!
Photo by Tucker Wachsmuth

Both Kahrs and Gin were full of swallow stories — babies rescued, nests found in unexpected places, and…  But all of a sudden, it seemed it was time to go!  “We’ll try to come back!” they promised.  Wow!  I hope so.