Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

Forty-four years and the counting is over!!

Thursday, April 6th, 2023

In the summer of 1978, I moved to the Peninsula full time.  I would live in Oysterville, dividing my time between my folks’ place in the H.A. Espy House across from the church and my Uncle Willard’s “Little Red Cottage” a few doors to the south.  In the fall I would begin teaching in the Ocean Beach School District and, in the meantime, I would begin the process of building a house on my acreage on the bay, about a mile south of the village.

Ossie Steiner had agreed to do the building — to begin after he  finished his part of renovating the Historic Oysterville Church.  His step-sons Guenter and Wolfgang Mack would join him.  I would act as “General Contractor” (with a LOT of guidance from Ossie!)  Meanwhile, Ollie Oman put in a 1,000 foot road from Sandridge to the building site, Bill Niemi located a good water source for my well, and the little mill at the old Martin Bog cut the framing lumber and cedar siding to my specifications.

Soon I had PUD put in a trench beside my road into which would go the electric line, the telephone line, the water line.  I called Cox Cable in Long Beach — at least my memory says “Cox” but there have been many changes over the years — to ask about getting Cable TV.  “Well, we can lay the cable from the road to the building site using the PUD trench, but we aren’t yet installed north of Joe Johns Road so there won’t be a hook-up yet.  It might be a while.”

Nyel and I lived happily for twenty years in that house with an antenna jury-rigged by one  of our ham radio operator friends.  Periodically we’d call about the progress of the cable as one company after another took over the business.  By the time we moved into the Family House in Oysterville in 1998, we were getting internet service through the PUD, later through CenturyLink, most recently through StarLink — none of whom were at all satisfactory.

TODAY, 44 YEARS LATER, SPECTRUM CAME AND HOOKED ME UP!  They had begun laying their CABLE along the right-of-way by my  house last summer.  I began calling them just after Christmas to find out what was going on.  And then today, slick as a whistle, it took Casey, Riley, Justin, and Kodi just four more hours to get my “devices” hooked up and running!

They told me that I am the first in the village to have CABLE.  Well, I should hope so.  I’ve been trying for almost half of my life for this hookup!  YAY!

Kuzzin Kris and Cuzzin Ralph Weigh In

Monday, April 3rd, 2023

The Red House in Oysterville where Kris spent many a happy summer!

Why was I not surprised?  Interestingly (but not at all surprisingly), the only folks to weigh in on Saturday’s Daybook entry concerning the Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club were Kuzzin Kris and Cuzzin Ralph. Perhaps they, both being connected to the history of Oysterville through kinship and historical caring, are the only ones who really “got” my concerns.

Kris, bless her heart, expressed outrage: The Very Idea! Sheesh. I am so disappointed in the establishment that hacked together this slur on the original Oysterville Yacht Club! And she went on to suggest that the local paper publish something about this heresy and then said: other old time peninsulites will agree fully and completely.  As I have often told her, she leads a rich fantasy life!!!

R.H. Espy, Co-founder of Oysterville and brother to Cuzzin Ralph’s ancestor,  William “Kentuck” Espy

Ralph, on the other hand was rather matter-of-fact and forthright as usual:   I just have to put in my two cents even though I’m a complete goddamn outsider to the local politics. This seems to be part of almost “gentrification” of the Long Beach Peninsula area. First there was the exclusive garden club, with outrageous prices for the tours that precluded many of the long established local people.  Now this group of young whippersnapper outsiders trying to horn in on the traditions without giving proper credit to the past.   I think it is just a gimmick to push their restaurant/bakery trade but the sailing part will fall flat on its ass!

I truly do love my relatives!  And I do believe that blood is thicker than water.  And it is also patently clear (to me at least) that the history of the area matters most to those with deep roots here.

Sad.  But true.

On Being Politically Correct… Or Not

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023

Gathering Oysters In “The Olden Days”

I guess it’s a given these days that historical research is automatically on a collision course with political correctness.  As I see it, though, you can’t have it both ways.  If you are trying for historical accuracy, I don’t see any way to be PC in “reporting” what you find out.  Even though my present project is mostly focussed on re-telling some of the wonderful stories about our past, I’m pretty sure I’ll run up against a sticky wicket or two.


And then I wonder if I will get any blowback from those who would sooner erase our history than face up to the facts of how we were — of what we said or of how we behaved.  I don’t really expect that all my readers will enjoy my stories with historical perspective in mind or will rejoice that change is gradually taking place.

I thought about that a lot today as I was writing about “Old Cripple Johnson” — a beloved Oysterville character of my mother’s childhood.  His given name was George and he was crippled and there were extenuating circumstances.  Will modern readers “get” that he was beloved by the entire community and the feeling was reciprocal?

Clamming In The Days When Commercial Diggers Averaged 500 lbs. per tide

Perhaps it will help that I’m telling stories often through the eyes of people who witnessed the experience.  In my mind, using their words (no matter how non-PC they have become) gives us in the here-and-now an opportunity to understand a different point of view — one developed within a context almost completely unexperienced by most of us.

Still… I think about all that as I look for 150-year-old “facts”  to corroborate the stories I am telling or re-telling.  There is no doubt that sensibilities were different in the 1800s than they are today.  Can I honor the past without offending the present?  I hope so.

I love the old stories just as I love these old photographs.  I do so hope my readers will love them, too.  And I hope they’ll give me some feedback along the way.  (You’ll see a story each week in the Observer. So far there have been three.)






Two full lifetimes ago today…

Tuesday, February 21st, 2023

Our 2023 Telephone Directory – 24 white pages; 48 yellow pages. Period.

Our latest telephone book is really a laughing matter.  When it arrived, I threw it away in the basket so kindly provided as a junk mail receptacle at our Post Office;  I really thought this skinny little excuse for a directory qualified as junk.

But then I heard that voice in my head say, “Self.  Wait!  This could be a collector’s item — the very  last- ever telephone book issued by Century Link in Pacific County!”  So I retrieved it and looked up my name.  As expected:  not there.  But… Nyel’s was!  Now that was really weird.  He had died even before I had cancelled our landline which had always been in both our names.  Go figure.

I thought of all of this a few minutes ago when I saw online that the very first telephone book was issued in New Haven, Connecticut on February 21st 1878 — 145 years ago today.   However, it was a little different from what we’ve been experiencing since then.

L Connecticut District Telephone Company List of Subscribers, February 21, 1878

According to a fascinating entry on  On February 21, 1878 the New Haven District Telephone Company issued its first list of subscribers–a broadside listing about 50 subscribers with no telephone numbers included. The University of Connecticut Library copy, one of two surviving,  is reproduced on the website.  Maybe not a telephone “book” exactly, but a forerunner of what was to come.

In November 1878, the company, by then renamed The Connecticut District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, issued the world’s first actual telephone book. This telephone directory booklet or pamphlet contained the names and addresses of 391 subscribers who paid $22 per year for service. There were no phone numbers, but there were advertisements and listings of businesses in the back of the book—the first, embryonic “yellow pages.” The advertisers included physicians and carriage companies. Customers were limited to three minutes per call, and no more than two calls an hour without permission from the central office.

Besides rules, this first phone book also feature tips on how to place calls:  — pick up the receiver and tell the operator whom you want — and how to talk on this gadget. Having a real conversation, for example, required rapidly transferring the telephone between mouth and ear. “When you are not speaking, you should be listening,” it says at one point. You should begin by saying, “Hulloa,” and when done talking, the book says, you should say, “That is all.” The other person should respond, “O.K.” Because anybody could be on the line at any time, customers should not pick up the telephone unless they want to make a call, and they should be careful about what others might hear. “Any person using profane or otherwise improper language should be reported at this office immediately.”

(This entry was last revised on 02-21-2018. Thanks to Laura Smith, Archivist at the University of Connecticut Library, for pointing out the existence of the February 1878 directory.)

Maggie’s New Book – COMING SOON!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2023

In less than a week– on February 21st to be precise — Maggie Stuckey’s new book, The Container Victory Garden: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Groceries will be in readers’ hands.  Order now (from your local bookstore, from your favorite online source, from wherever) to make sure that you are one  of those readers!

This is a book that is after my own heart.  First and  foremost:  Victory Gardens!  You have to be older than dirt to remember them during World War II, but maybe you can remember your elders talking about them or, if you were lucky, you had a part in the gardening “bug” that took hold during that time of desperate need, and “Victory Gardens” became a part of your life.

By Lee Johnston

Maggie’s book was inspired not by war but by Covid — a time when many of us stayed close to home, sheltering and staying far from grocery stores and produce stands.  Many of us didn’t really have garden space and, anyway, who would think of seriously growing a garden in containers?  Maggie, that’s who!  Once again she brings her expertise and her understanding of the limited spaces and resources of others to offer delicious solutions right to our dinner tables.  And what’s more, she brings our friends right along with her!

Farmer Nyel, 2016

Of the twenty stories Maggie includes about World War II Victory Gardens, six are told by people we know:  Margaret Staudenraus, Clay Nichols, Sandy Stonebreaker, Dobby Wiegardt. Mary Funk and my own beloved Nyel Stevens!  And in addition to the six rich original acrylic illustrations by Oregon City artist Janice Yang, are 25 detailed line-art drawings that illustrate gardening techniques and set-ups especially valuable for container gardens by — drum roll — our own Lee Johnston, one of the gardening team who keep many of our local gardens picture perfect year ’round.

I can hardly wait!  Oh boy!  Oh boy!  Oh boy!



Visiting… and Broadening My Horizons!

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

Entering Chinook

Yesterday I went visiting — clear to Chinook!  In some ways it seems ridiculous to think of a community with so many similarities to Oysterville  (and only 22.8 miles distant) as being “far away.”  Especially when I drive through it several times a month on average and, in doing so, go right past the houses of a number of folks I know.

But yesterday I had made a date and I actually stopped and had a lovely visit with my friends the Kragers.  I was gathering information for a new book I’m noodling around — this one not a book of ghost stories, but one about real people —  especially the “characters” in our communities from the years of earliest settlement up to and including present times.  Amazingly however, although my notebook was bulging with names and ideas and anecdotes, it was another aspect of our visit that I thought about on my drove homeward.

        The Donaldson House, Chinook

Jon’s great grandfather, W.B, Donaldson, arrived in Chinook in 1860 and soon went into the fish trap business.  I can’t help but wonder if he became acquainted with my own great-grandfather, R.H. Espy, who had arrived in Oysterville just six years earlier and was already a mogul in the burgeoning oyster business.

Even though the distance from Chinook to Oysterville may have been greater in those days — or did the Bear River portage make the towns closer? — there seemed to be a lot of interaction between the two settlements.  That the court house was located in Oysterville, the county seat, explained the business connections. The courtships and marriages among members of the two villages are probably best explained as “human nature.”

Downtown Chinook 1930s

I’m looking forward to more visiting, more note-taking, more speculating about our past and how it informs the present and future.  And along the way… gathering more information about the “characters” of Pacific County!



I noticed in the paper this week…

Sunday, February 5th, 2023

Steamers Shamrock and Reliable — Passenger Ferries on Willapa Bay in the early 20th century

I have to admit that I very nearly skipped that front page article headlined “Partners envision county’s housing future.”  And then as I glanced at it, phrases like “local livability” and “hybrid launch event” added to my distaste and… even now I can’t believe I read the whole thing!

Maybe it was the image of UW students working side-by-side with our County Codgers that kept me reading.  Or perhaps it was the LCY (Liveable City Year) track record that impressed me.  But what really really gave me hope was their statement that “in looking at the permitting for building in Pacific County, the  group found it to be a long and arduous process compared to that of other communities in the State …”  Why am I not surprised?  And raise your hand if you aren’t either!

I do look forward to seeing some (but perhaps not all) of their plans for the County coming to fruition.  The one I’m a bit hesitant about (and probably won’t be around for) is their interest in the Willapa Bay Ferry feasibility study.  Should the County ever go forward with such a plan, a pedestrian and bike ferry would travel from the Port of  Peninsula in Nahcotta to the Tokeland Marina and possibly to Bay Center or South Bend, as well.  This would be the final leg in a “round-the-county tourism trail.”

Victoria Clipper – Passenger Service between Victoria B.C. and Seattle

I can only envision the parking lots at the various docking points — acres and acres of asphalt where you could leave your car for the duration.  I mean, how long would it take to go from Nahcotta to Tokeland and don’t you need a good high tide to get from portal to portal on our bay?  So…several small ferries or one very large one to make things “feasible?” Then the visitors would explore and visit and wait until the next high tide to return for their cars?  And would the approach look a lot like those ferry terminals around Puget Sound — one huge asphalt covered parking area so bye-bye little old Nahcotta?

Finally! My very own little red wagon!

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

In my mind, roller skates didn’t quite cut it.

When I was in primary school, I lived next door to a boy I decided should have been my brother and kitty-corner from a boy who I was thankful was no kind of relation at all.  They each had one thing that I coveted.

The boy next door had a Radio Flyer wagon.  He knelt in it with his left knee and pumped himself all around the block (and-even-across-the-street-don’t-tell-our-moms) with his right leg.  He hauled all kinds of important “stuff” in that wagon but one thing he wouldn’t give a ride to was me!  Oh how I wanted a little red wagon of my own.  I had roller skates, but they just weren’t quite the same.

I still remember looking — but not touching!

The kitty-corner boy (who was sort of mean) had an electric train.  Once he let me watch him run it around his living room.  But would he let me manage those controls, myself?  “Not on your tintype,” as they used to say.  Then he got his arm caught in his mom’s washing machine wringer (how dumb can you be?) and broke it and, somehow, we never got back to playing with that train.

A gazillion years later, I was so pleased to learn that among the boxes of “things” that came into our house when Nyel and I married was an American Flyer train from Nyel’s long-ago days.  Every Christmas we’d talk about getting it out and setting it up — but we never did.  Nor did I this Christmas.  Maybe some day…

My Little Red Wagon! – A Most Practical Gift from Charlie and Marta!

But what did happen this Christmas was that I finally got my little red wagon!  Charlie and Marta gave it to me — ordered it through Jack’s Country Store and Charlie picked it up when he came for the holidays!  He wrapped it while I slept in my nearby bedroom and I wondered for days what that huge package under the tree might be.

It’s not a Radio Flyer.  IT’S EVEN BETTER! It’s made of red canvas and has a metal frame that collapses on demand.  I can put it in the car to take it shopping or I can use it in the garden to haul “stuff” or bring in more than two sticks of fire wood at a time from the woodshed!

So, I think this is it!  I’ve officially entered my second childhood!  Yay!

Me too, Stephanie! Me too!

Thursday, October 20th, 2022

Isaac Alonzo Clark (1828-1906) – Co-Founder of Oysterville

My friend Stephanie wrote yesterday, “All of Sydney Stevens’ blogs are interesting, but I particularly like the ones about Oysterville history.”  I appreciated that comment for several reasons but mostly because I’ve been thinking about gathering together some of the stories about “Oysterville Characters” to take a look at our history through the eyes of those who created it.

My first thought was of the earliest codgers and crones I know about — those who were around in the Pioneer Days when my Great Grandfather, R. H. Espy, was still around.  Then,  I began to think ahead, generation by generation.

Papa and Aunt Dora when they were young – 1896

My Great Aunt Dora, R. H.’s oldest child, had some great tales of the characters who were around during her childhood in the 1870s and ’80s.  Come to think of it, so did her brother, my own beloved Papa.  As I have remarked before, though, his stories were more about the “saints” while Aunt Dora favored telling about the “sinners.”  They all expose aspects of Oysterville’s history that should be told and retold (in my opinion) so the human side of things doesn’t get sanitized or changed as our culture and sensibilities morph ever-onward.

When it comes to my mother’s generation, it gets harder.  These are people I knew and, no matter their foibles or forcefulness, I’m not sure how objective my stories of them would be.  Ditto when it comes to Oystervillians of my own generation.  Can I tell their stories capturing their unique force and influence on our little village.  Can my words ever express the joy one feels at hearing a certain neighbor’s laughter from afar or the “here we go again” feeling when another neighbor sets his jaw and “starts in” on an old sore point?

Helen Thompson (Heckes), c. 1927

But… does that really matter?   Is the point to be objective or to capture the uniqueness of some truly special, maybe even quirky, individuals as I have known them?    So far, I’m still pondering — at least regarding some of the more recent “characters” of our village.    And, no.  I’m not interested in changing the names or circumstances.  That removes some of the most important history.  And like Stephanie, that’s the part I like best.

Some things don’t change…

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022

John Didion, Pacific County Sheriff 1998-2010

Last week’s paper, our esteemed Chinook Observer — the  October 5, 2022 issue — was hard for me from the first cursory glance.  “Serial rapist faces life ‘treatment’ on remote island – Sheriff Didion tried to warn county” was the week’s top story.

And just below it — “Grayland killer gets 21 years in prison – Emotional families make contrasting pleas.”

Certainly not the community news I was hoping to delve into in our faithful weekly periodical.  And, probably, not the news they would choose to deliver.  But the news is the news…  And, once again, I miss my friend John Didion.

I set the papers aside and directed my attention to some file folders I was reorganizing.  “Newspapers” said the label and the very first article dated October 14, 1892 (130 years old this very month) was from the front page of the South Bend Journal.  Here is what it said:

The would-be Wife Murderer of Ilwaco, Sentenced to Three Years Imprisonment
Astoria, Or, Oct. 12 — W.W. Ward was today sentenced to three years and four months in the penitentiary.  The court stated in passing sentence, that it was his intention to give Ward the full limit of the law, but his children had come to him in tears pleading for leniency for their father, and that they would be more miserable than their father were he to be given the full sentence of the law. Hence the light sentence.

Now known as “The Murakami House,” this building at 270th and Sandridge in Nahcotta was the original Pacific Journal building in Oysterville and was moved to its present location (then Sealand) in 1892. Photo Credit – Stephanie Frieze

Ward ran a saloon at Sealand for some time but with the removal of the Pacific Journal to Ilwaco, he had to close up on account of lack of patronage.  He afterwards engaged in business in Ilwaco.  The crime for which he was sentenced was that of shooting his wife.  He had some trouble with his wife and they had separated.  Both were in attendance on celebration of Gray’s discovery of the Columbia river, held in Astoria last May, and on the morning of May 12, as Mrs.  Ward was leaving the dining room of the Hotel  Northern her husband fired four times at her wounding her severely but not fatally.  He was promptly arrested and as he was being taken away he expressed the wish that he could “finish her.”

So… there you have it.  Some things don’t change, as I stated at the get-go.  On the other hand… quite a few things have changed, apparently, whether for better or worse is hard to tell.  All of which makes me wish we could read “the rest of the story!”