Archive for the ‘Oysterville National Historic District’ 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.

Oysterville’s Oyster Shell Telegraph!

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Oysterville Sea Farms, 2015 — A Bob Duke Photo

The Oyster Shell Telegraph has been working overtime here in the village.  Rumors have been flying — all about Oysterville Sea Farms!  Perhaps you have heard some of them, yourselves:

Dan is selling the business.
Oysterville Sea Farms has been leased.
Dan and Linda are moving!

So on Saturday… I messaged the source — our shouldabeen County Commissioner, Dan Driscoll —  and asked him flat out.

Northern Oyster Company 1940s

“Yes to all the above,” he said.  “Things are still developing.  Since OSF is no longer my story—I am leaving the telling of this story to new management. Linda and I are in Portland right now. The new management is running OSF tomorrow.  If you want, I can message you and the new manager and you can ask her any questions you have about OSF.”

I didn’t take him up on his offer.  I figured it would be better to come to grips with the news first.  “The Cannery” as we old-timers have called the building and the business(es) that it has housed, has been the northernmost anchor to Oysterville since 1939.  I was three that year when Dan’s grandfather, Ted Holway, along with Roy Kemmer and Glen Heckes, bought Eddie Sherwood’s Opening House and began the Northern Oyster Company.  After the Company moved to Nahcotta, Dan and his dad, Les Driscoll, sold fresh oysters there during summer vacations.  And, eventually, Dan started Oysterville Sea Farms, refurbishing the old cannery site and bringing the weathered buildings back to life.

From Dan’s FB Page!

Dan took well deserved pride in the fact that his was the last business in Oysterville that reflected the town’s beginnings.  He carried on the tradition of hiring locals to work out on the beds and in his tiny retail outlet, blending the old traditions with the up-to-date demands of his customers.  Next to Oysterville’s iconic old church, Oysterville Sea Farms was, without a doubt, the most popular place in town.

Yesterday I had an “Oysterville Visit” out on the street with my neighbor, Sue, who happens to be Dan’s aunt. And today I talked with  few more of the neighbors.  The Oyster Shell Telegraph continues to clicklety clack on the subject of Oysterville Sea Farms.  (Is it really going to be called Willapa Wild?)  Stay tuned…





The Blurry Edges of Memory… and History

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Emmett Oliver

Many of us who live within the Oysterville Historic District were somewhat dumbstruck a few weeks ago when we read our erstwhile neighbor Nancy Lloyd’s Observer article, “Ah, Oysterville: Small Skirmishes in a Coastal Village.”  Perhaps you felt the effect of all of us gasping at the same time – it sorta sucked all of the Peninsula’s air northward.

Those of us who still live here don’t remember the “skirmish” quite the way Nancy described it.  In fact, we don’t really remember a skirmish at all.  It may be one of those in-the-eye-of-the-beholder things, but even so…  If the incident Nancy speaks of is the one I was directly involved in, her version and mine are the proverbial apples and oranges.

Johnson House to left (south) of Oysterville Baptist Church c. 1902

The way I (and several others) remember the story, it began some twenty-five years ago, back in the mid-nineties.  Emmett Oliver (1914-2016),  was a Quinault elder and an educator and a friend.  Most pertinent to this remembrance, he was a descendant of James and Cecile Haguet Johnson who lived in Oysterville from 1870 to 1896.  Emmett felt strongly that the place where they had lived should be recognized in some way and he approached the Oysterville Restoration Foundation (ORF) to see what could be done.

They were not responsive, mostly because they felt (perhaps understandably) that they couldn’t honor just one once-upon-a-time family.  Where would it all end?  Emmett was insistent.  “That was where Myrtle Johnson Woodcock was born,” he said.  “The last princess of Oysterville,” he said.  To no avail.

Somehow, perhaps because I was a fellow-educator, he came to see me where Nyel and I then lived on the bay just south of the Oysterville Historic District.  “Will you help me?” he asked.  I had long felt uncomfortable that Oysterville had not given so much as lip service to  the Indians who had lived here, albeit seasonally, for centuries before white settlers arrived.  At Emmett’s pleas, all my sense of fair play (and no doubt a large dollop of white man’s guilt) kicked in. “What can I do?” I asked.  “How can I help?”

Johnson Homesite Sign and Marker

As it turned out, Emmett had had a marble marker made at his own expense.  He met me by the Oysterville Church one afternoon and while I fetched water from the hose bib on my folks’ property (where Nyel and I now live), Emmett dug a hole and mixed the cement to set the marker just outside the churchyard fence, about in line with where he determined his ancestors’ house once stood.

No one noticed for a long time.  When they finally did, the ORF Board felt that perhaps an explanatory sign might be in order.  To make the marble marker look less like a gravestone.  They had a sign made in the manner of the signs that the Shoalwater Chapter of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington had provided for other historic properties a decade or two previously.  And they placed it on the fence just behind Emmett’s marble marker.

There is, of course, more to the story.  Tune in tomorrow… as they used to say in the old radio serials.  Quick!  Before our history gets changed once again!

Sad Commentary… Or Maybe Not

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

A brief, neighborly visit with Tucker last evening revealed that we had each spent part of the day perusing the new Our Coast magazine and both of us for the same reason.  We were looking for Oysterville.

We agreed… found it!  A dot on the map on page 107.  As far as we could tell, that was it.  “Times they are a-changing,” said Tucker.  “Past tense,” said I.  “Times have changed.”

This is year seven of Our Coast, described in this week’s Chinook Observer editorial as “this newspaper’s annual gift to the region’s travelers and residents.”  And what a gift it is!  Gorgeous pictures, interesting articles, colorful (almost glitzy!) in its presentation of our little corner of the world.  Minus Oysterville.  Mostly.

There was a time when Oysterville got its own. special attention – National Historic District, Oldest Town on the Peninsula, Site of Pacific County’s First Courthouse, yada yada yada.  Apparently, all that is no more.  Tucker and I sadly agreed that that is probably for the best.  Oysterville has lost its distinction, lately – blended in to all those communities up and down the coast that are full of second homes for the affluent, mobile set.  We, we decided, are an anachronism… and that is, perhaps, as it should be.

I remember years ago, in 1947, when my grandfather had me fetch him the old Revised Encyclopedia Britannica published in 1891.  Never mind that it was considerably out of date.  What he wanted to show me was the map of Washington on which Oysterville was in far bigger print than Seattle.

My Uncle Willard’s comment in his Oysterville book says it best: …The name O Y S T E R V I L L E plowed across the ocean on that map like a frigate under full sail.  By contrast, SEATTLE was printed in such trifling type as to be illegible without a magnifying glass.              The editors of that Encyclopedia considered Oysterville a name to reckon with, and they were right… 

But now… not so much.  There are other, more interesting and important things to reckon with, apparently.  Tucker and I agreed that the best part of this year’s issue was seeing our friends and acquaintances pop out at us – Noel Thomas, Jean Nitzel, Israel Nebeker, Bill and Sue Svendsen, Shawn Wong – and those are just the photos.  Never mind the familiar places that are, happily, a part of our daily lives.

Come to think of it, if it were my turn to choose what to include in Our Coast, Oysterville would not have made the cut, either.  It’s hard to say what, exactly, we have to offer the bright-and-shiny new visitors who come our way.  We know the ones that can see beyond the slick pages of this new publication will find their way here.  And they will come back.  No matter the changes, Oysterville endures… if only in our hearts.

Next Door, North

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Heckes House with Annex (r.) circa 1930

When I was a little girl and continuing into my mid-adulthood, the house next door to the north of ours was the Heckes House, called that because the Heckes family lived there.  Now it’s called the John Crellin House because he was the one who built it – not personally but, as the owner of the property, he had it built back in 1867.  It’s only since Oysterville became a National Historic District (1976) that the homes have been known by the names of their original owners.

The old map of Oysterville shows that, in the early days, the Stevens Hotel was once just north of our house — between our place and the Heckes House.  My mother remembered it as very run down and the place where “the old bachelors lived.”  In the late 1920s, when the building was beyond saving, the Heckes family used some of the old lumber to build an “annex” to the Heckes Inn.  The annex morphed into a garage and, finally, in its turn, had to be torn down a few years back.

Papa in his Victory Garden, c. 1947

For most of my mother’s childhood and for all my growing-up years, my grandparents owned all of the property between Clay and Division Streets and on out into the bay.  After the Stevens Hotel was dismantled, much of the area north of our house became Papa’s vegetable garden.  It was large enough that he used a horse and plow to get it ready for planting each spring.

Beyond the garden … nothing, really.  Grass (meadow, not lawn) that my grandfather kept under control with a scythe.  By the 1970s, it was just another empty space in this little tumble-down village.  And then, we were placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the gentrification began.

Hampson House, 1987

In the mid-eighties, my folks sold the north half of our property to John and Joan Hampson.  Their house was completed in 1987, the year Nyel and I were married.  It has been a matter of “discussion” ever since.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  There isn’t much middle ground.  Few people think it “fits in” with the general architecture and feeling of Oysterville.  My mom always tried to defend it on the basis of the north and south ‘wings’ — one a workshop, the other a garage – attached to the main house by covered walkways.  “Those were typical of early Oysterville homes; look at Uncle Cecil’s house,” she would say.

Proposed Changes to Hampson House

The house has recently been sold again and we have been notified that there will be a hearing on January 29th concerning the new owners’ proposed changes to the exterior and their application for a building permit.  All things being equal, Nyel and I will attend in the hopes that we will get a clearer idea of the planned changes.  From the elevation drawings posted online, I’m having a hard time seeing whether the new façade will be a better “fit” with Oysterville   But then I never was very good at the ‘spatial perception and imagination’ parts of aptitude tests.  I hope that there are some architects familiar with Oysterville structures who will attend the hearing and weigh in.  Until then, I’m trying to keep an open mind.

A Salute to the First Forty!

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

At The ‘Y’

In January 1977, an organizational meeting for the Oysterville Restoration Foundation was held at the Stoner House, then owned by Jim and Meg Donaldson.  Every property owner in the newly created Oysterville National Historic District “in residence at the time” was in attendance.  That, in itself, must have been a historic occurrence!  I doubt if all of us residents have ever been present and accounted for at any single meeting (or other event) since that stellar occasion!

The purpose of that meeting was to establish an organization that “could raise money, accept donations, and guide restoration of the National Historic District.”  There must have been great enthusiasm, for not only did they elect members to the Board of Trustees, but they also elected a full slate of officers, only one of whom (my dad, Wm W. Little!) was also a trustee.   Though most of those first volunteers have now gone on to their Greater Reward, I salute them here in the name of history and posterity.  They did a great thing!

Historic Oysterville Church

Chris Freshley
Helen Heckes
Pat Lantz
Dale Espy Little
William W. Little

President – Jim Donaldson
Vice President Ruby Andrews Danowitz
Second Vice President – Dee Dutchuck
Third Vice President – Bob Kemmer
Secretary-Treasurer – Wm. W. Little
Assistant Secretary-Treasurer – Meg Donaldson
Auditor – Ted Holway

I must say, these days we are hard pressed to find five volunteers to serve as trustees and, for the same reason, we long ago settled into the pattern of having trustees do double duty as officers of the Foundation. I understand that other organizations have similar difficulties.  But in 1977— five trustees and seven officers!  My oh my!  And second and even third vices?  Lordy me!

ORF Logo by Tucker Wachsmuth

Today marked the 40th Annual Membership of the Foundation.  It was a red-letter day for me – off the Board after three consecutive three-year terms, to say nothing of the number of other terms served since the early eighties.  They say. “never say never” but I’m pretty sure I’ll not be on the Board again.  However, I intend to be enthusiastically clapping and cheering from the sidelines from now on.

September 8th – An Oysterville Day!

Thursday, August 25th, 2016
Bud Goulter

Bud Goulter

Two weeks from today – on September 8th – two potentially historic events are scheduled to happen.  Both concern Oysterville.  One will occur right here in town, and the other will take place around the bay and up the Willapa River at South Bend. And, as is so often the case, we want to attend both.  For once it looks like we actually can!

Scheduled for ten o’clock that morning is the first of the 2016 Fall Schoolhouse Lecture Series.  Bud Goulter is scheduled to talk.  The theme for this series is “Local Lore” which gives him a wide frame of reference.  As far as I know, Bud is the oldest of Oysterville’s ‘old-timers.’  His memory is sharp and his stories are fascinating.  It’s bound to be a morning to remember and we have every intention of being there – sitting front-and-center, as they say.



Secondly, according to an official looking sign posted in front of the W.D. Taylor house, the first of the Oysterville Design Review hearings under the newly revised Section 20 of Ordinance #162 will be held at one o’clock that afternoon in South Bend.  We are eager to see how the Review process will work with a Hearing Examiner replacing the Oysterville Design Review Board.  We will make every effort to attend.

All in all, it should be a memorable Thursday for Oysterville – a day for looking backward through the eyes of our most venerable neighbor and a day for catching a forward glimpse at a new planning era for the National Historic District.  A visit to the past and the future all in one day!  Outstanding!

…you be the judge!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
Chinook Observer Editorial 8/3/2016

Chinook Observer Editorial 8/3/2016

As far as I can tell, this week’s Chinook Observer contains more mentions of Oysterville than have ever occurred in any single past issue.  Beginning with an article about Oysterville Sea Farms (“Judge delivers clear win to Driscoll in land-use case”) and an editorial (“Preservation still possible in Oysterville”) followed by a number of letters to the editor and even a guest column, our little village is certainly in the spotlight.

In one way or another, they all have to do with legal process.  And, as we all know, once you get involved in that can of worms, reason and logic seem to fly out the window right along with facts and other pertinent information.  As Shakespeare wrote back in 1597 in King Henry VI, Part II:  “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”  (And, wouldn’t you know – lawyers have been arguing over what he meant by that ever since!)

Maybe the controversy in Oysterville boils down to semantics.  The headline “O’ville design guidelines wouldn’t withstand legal test” summarizes what a Gig Harbor attorney wrote in her guest column on the subject.  I don’t know much about the law, but I do understand something about the English language.  It seems to me that “guidelines” and “laws” are totally different.

Oysterville Design Guidelines

Oysterville Design Guidelines

According to my old copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary  a guideline is “an indication or outline of policy or conduct”; a law is “a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or firmly recognized as binding or enforced by a commanding authority.”

Furthermore, synonyms for law are listed as “rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, and canon.” Guidelines ain’t in it!   In other words, guidelines are used to guide – which, to the best of my knowledge, is how the Oysterville Design Review Board utilized the Oysterville Design Review Guidelines for almost forty years.  I think Robert Freed’s letter (page A7) of explanation is the most cogent of all the opinions expressed.  In particular, I suggest you read his next-to-last paragraph which begins: “Design review guidelines are intentionally prepared with ‘gray areas’…

But to quote yet another of those common knowledge things, “You can’t fight city hall”… or in our case, the various boards, agencies, and departments of Pacific County.  In that regard, I wish the Observer would have an investigative reporter take on yet one more of those expressions that have become so prominent in twenty-first century parlance:  “Follow the money.”

A Reason for Rejoicing

Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Porch Roof, John Crellin House, 2015

Porch Roof, John Crellin House, 2012

Lately, there have been few reasons for collective celebrating here in Oysterville but, as of a few days ago, you could almost feel the whole town jumping up and down for joy!  The roofers have arrived and are swarming atop the John Crellin House.  It is, indeed, reason to rejoice!

The house was built in 1867 – not the oldest house in Oysterville and not unchanged over the years.  But it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the twelve “Primary” historic structures in the village.  Of those designated buildings, only eleven remain, and two of that number have been changed so much since the nomination in 1976 as to be unrecognizable.  We feared that the John Crellin House would soon disappear entirely.

Roofers at the John Crellin House, Juky 2016

Roofers at the John Crellin House, July 2016

I don’t think there is a single resident who has not expressed dismay over the last half-dozen years at the condition of the venerable old house.  We have talked among ourselves, tried to come up with solutions to the problem and have tried to put private ownership in context with a publicly acclaimed Historic District. Some of us have talked with the absentee owners and commiserated with them over their personal circumstances – horrific situations which have caused the appearance of ‘benign neglect’ of their place.

John Crellin House, 2009

John Crellin House, 2009

And now, at a time of confusion and angst for Oysterville as we try to foresee a future without our Design Review Board, help for the old house has arrived!  I can’t think of anything better for lifting village spirits and helping us all look on that elusive ‘bright side’ in the midst of anxious times!  Even our house seems pleased!

Ours is the Tom Crellin House – built in 1867 using the same plans by the younger brother of John.  As I look back upon the history of both houses, I can’t help but think “there but for the grace of God” goes our place.  Or any of the other old structures in town.  Surely, in addition to the town’s  current residents, there must be relief and joy among all of Oysterville’s ancestors. Once again things are looking up in the village!

In times of stress…

Saturday, September 19th, 2015
Helen & Harry Espy,1947 by Hilda Cole Espy

The H.A. Espys,1947 by Hilda Cole Espy

In all likelihood, it’s living in her house and among many of her treasures that I feel so close to my grandmother, even though she died in 1954 shortly after I had begun college. For special dinner parties, when I set the table with her china and crystal and silverware, I can’t help but think about all the times she must have done the same thing. Conversely, in times of stress I often wonder what she might have done in a similar situation.

Just now with all the angst in the village surrounding our relationship with the County, I idly wondered what was going on in this household a hundred years ago. I took a look in my Dear Medora book and found that on this very date a century ago my grandmother had written this letter to her eldest daughter.

Mrdora, 1916

Mrdora, 1916

Sunday, September 19, 1915

            Is there any place you could get a suit not to exceed twenty-five dollars and charge it? We cannot pay more than this, and want you to get it as much cheaper as possible. Do be careful. Don’t buy one the scale that you got your shoes. Six dollars was dreadful. This would get two or even three pair for the rest of the family. There is a saying that nothing is so bad but what it can be worse, but I verily believe the worst stage has reached us financially. We don’t know from day to day how things may turn. However, I know there will come a time when we can make up to you for this skimping.
Papa says he wants you to make better marks during this your senior year. Send for your application blank right away to enter Stanford.
Hastily, Mama

Unfortunately, the time that they could make up for the “skimping” never came. Not in Medora’s lifetime, anyway. She died less than four months later, a few days past her 17th birthday – suddenly, in her sleep, of a cerebral hemorrhage. According to my mother and her siblings, my grandmother never completely recovered from Medora’s death. She was a devoted and loving mother to each of her remaining five children but, they said, there was always an air of melancholy about her. My mother was certain that my grandmother could never come to grips with the things that had been left unsaid and undone or, contrariwise, with the expectations and demands she had made upon Medora as ‘the oldest.’

Charlie, 2011

Charlie, 2011

I don’t know that any of these thoughts helped me out directly with regard to the current happenings in Oysterville. But, thinking about my grandmother’s grief and its enduring aftermath does make me reassess (once again) the things I think are important. With that thought in mind, I called my son. We had a long chat about all manner of things and, especially, about the village and its struggles. After all, his relationship with Oysterville will outlast mine and I can only hope that it is a stress-free one – probably not very different from every mother’s wish for her child, no matter in what regard.