Archive for the ‘Oysterville National Historic District’ Category

…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.

Summing Up Summer (in 500 words or less)

Monday, September 7th, 2015


No matter what the meteorologists (or whoever they are) say, everyone around here knows that this is truly the last day of summer. It’s the day the visitors head home. It’s the day before school starts. It’s the day we take in the Oysterville Music Vespers sign until next Father’s Day and get back to “normal”.

Except there won’t be any “normal” in Oysterville for a while. We are feeling the threat of imminent obliteration due to the expressed desire by our County Commissioners “to give the Oysterville community local control.” Translation: to remove from the books Ordinance #162 Section 20 which is our only legal protection against the possibility of trailers and mobile homes and neon lights in our village. (And if you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at other nearby unincorporated areas without a special ordinance – Nahcotta, Surfside, Ocean Park.)

At The Oysterville "Y"

At The Oysterville “Y”

Like a big black cloud, this threat to our historic character and ambiance has loomed over our horizon since the County’s intent was announced to us two-and-a-half weeks ago. It has thrown us into a tailspin and has effectively wiped our memory cards clean of all the wonderful things this summer has brought – those visiting loved ones from everywhere, the bountiful harvests from orchard and garden, the fabulous 2015 Music Vesper series, the joyous Oysterville regatta. All of our summer activities are suddenly being remembered through a haze of hurt and fears of impotence.

Many friends of Oysterville have expressed their own dismay and support by writing to our County Commissioners, telling them of their own connection to Oysterville and reminding them that County stewardship of the Oysterville National Historic District has importance and impact far beyond the village’s eighty acres and twelve full-time residents. And, perhaps the County has taken notice.

Oysterville School

Oysterville School

Last week the Commissioners booked the Oysterville Schoolhouse for a public meeting on Tuesday, October 20 from one to three p.m. presumably to hear directly from all of us. Mark your calendar! Come if you possibly can. Speak out for Oysterville or just be a presence to show your support. Let our Commissioners know, “up close and personal” of the impact Oysterville has had on your life. Tell them how you bring your visitors here. Or that you chose our church for your wedding. Or how Oysterville brings tourism dollars directly into the County coffers. Or how much you appreciate the 37 years of support the County has already provided.

And meanwhile, if you haven’t written an email or a letter to the Commissioners, please, please do so. And spread the word! Our Commissioners are Frank Wolfe (, Steve Rogers (, and Lisa Ayers ( The snail mail address is P.O. Box 187 South Bend, WA, 98586. Bottom line: Save Section 20 of Ordinance 162. Keep Oysterville protected!

Patrick Henry and the Quick Brown Fox

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015
Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry

My very-first-right-away-out-of-the-box-early-morning thought was that at the present time, Oysterville needs a champion orator – you know, someone like Patrick Henry who could go around firing up the populace and getting them to write letters to our County Commissioners.

So many people have contacted us about their distress that our Commissioners are considering rescission of Pacific County Ordinance #162 – the only legal/official/bottom-line protection our little village has against the onslaught of the 21st century. It is the Ordinance and its accompanying Design Review Guidelines that keep trailer parks and mobile homes at bay (so to speak) and protect the historic character of our village.

Welcome to Oysterville!

Welcome to Oysterville!

We are gratified that so many people have weighed in through email and telephone and FaceBook to offer us encouragement. And we urge each and every one of them to write to our Commissioners. But what we really need is a modern-day Patrick Henry to inspire the masses. Not in a “Give me liberty or give me death” sort of way. More with a “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country” type of sentiment.

I looked up that “Now is the time…” phrase just to be sure that I was attributing the quotation to the correct patriot and… guess what? Patrick didn’t say it at all. It’s one of the standard phrases like “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” that was once used in beginning typing classes. Who knew?

Printype Oliver Typewriter, 1912

Printype Oliver Typewriter, 1912

Somehow, there’s a lesson to be learned here. The person we need to spread the word and get a letter-writing campaign organized isn’t so much an orator, but someone handy at typing (translation for the millennials: keyboarding,) Even better, we need everyone who loves Oysterville to use their  keyboarding and texting skills to write our Commissioners:

Frank Wolfe (, Steve Rogers (, and Lisa Ayers ( The snail mail address is P.O. Box 187 South Bend, WA, 98586.

The message we need to send: Save Section 20 of Ordinance 162. Keep Oysterville protected!

A Show of Solidarity in Oysterville

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015
Oysterville School, 1940s

Oysterville School, 1940s

Seventeen households were represented at the Oysterville Design Review Board meeting last evening. That’s well over half the residents of the National Historic District. It is not often that our meetings include such large numbers and it is even less often that we speak with one voice. Last night was the exception.

Under discussion was the announcement by County Planning Director Faith Taylor that the County Commissioners have recommended the dissolution of Pacific County Section 20 of Ordinance 162. That action would effectively remove any possibility of legal protection to the Oysterville National Historic District. Oysterville would be covered under the same zoning and building requirements as any other of the county’s unincorporated areas leaving us wide open to trailer parks, mobile homes and the modern intrusions found in neighboring Surfside or Nahcotta. Our historic character would have no legal status and, therefore, no stability.

Map of Historic Oysterville

Map of Historic Oysterville

The meeting was relatively short and absolutely non-contentious. We spoke with one voice as we developed a plan to try to circumvent such an action by the County. As contentious as many of our Oysterville Design Review Board meetings have been over the last forty years, there was no disagreement last night. Oysterville citizens wish to protect the integrity of the Historic District and we need the backing of the County to insure that the ambience of the village remains intact.

As might be expected, there was no representation from the County in evidence. No one from the Planning Department. No County Commissioner. No one to answer our questions or to provide explanations. What a difference forty years makes! Until recently, the County sent a representative to every ODRB meeting to help us in a shared desire to protect and enhance the village. In recent years that practice has been abandoned and we feel that we have too. The excuse, of course, is “no money.”

At the 'Y'

At the ‘Y’

I don’t think our County or anyone else can put a price on the preservation of our heritage. Oysterville is the oldest extant community in Pacific County and one of the oldest in Washington State. We were founded just one year after President Millard Fillmore announced the creation of Washington Territory. Our County should consider Oysterville ‘the star in their crown’ and give it every bit of protection they can. What the hell is the matter with them, anyway?

The Letter of the Law

Saturday, April 25th, 2015
Entering the National Historic District

Entering the National Historic District

For the last year or so, there has been much discussion in Oysterville about rules and regulations and the law. We residents have been in the process of reviewing and updating our Oysterville Design Guidelines as well as Pacific County Ordinance #162 which provides legal oversight for our National Historic District. The County is working on its Comprehensive Zoning Plan and now is our opportunity to update, fine tune, and generally overhaul our particular portion of it – or at least to have input into the process.

It’s not easy. It has fallen to the Oysterville Design Review Board (ODRB) and its current chairperson to co-ordinate the process and to insure opportunities for all residents of the Historic District to be involved. But, as is usually the case, some of the most vociferous critics of the ODRB over the years have been conspicuous by their absence at meetings. And, also as is typical, some of the most enthusiastic participants in the revision process are among our newest residents in town, yet have the least background regarding the management of the Historic District.

From Plan...

From Plan…

Participation in this review process has seemed to ebb and flow. Sometimes the meetings are well attended; sometimes not so much. Discussions have run the gamut from thoughtful and helpful to heated and unpleasant. Some committee members have ‘resigned’ through frustration or disagreement. Through it all, the ODRB has persevered and maintained a professional demeanor. I commend them all.

As one of the few residents who remember back into ‘the dark ages’ of the late seventies when the first Guidelines and Oysterville Ordinance were developed, I find myself increasingly concerned with “intent” rather than with the “letter of the law.” It seems to me that we are losing sight of the “why” of things and are becoming much more concerned with the “how.” But often the original intent and reasoning is unstated, and it’s left to the aging memories of only a few of us to try to clarify.

...To Reality!

…To Reality!

Which is best: to state only the rule? Or to also state its intent? We used to have this argument back in the days I was involved in collective bargaining for teachers – both in California and here. And, at meetings of various Boards on which I have sat there are often discussions about how much to state in meeting minutes. One major criterion seems to be that, should there ever be a lawsuit, only the letter of the law can be adjudicated.

That makes perfect sense to me, but in the day-to-day management of things, it is very helpful to know the whys of those rules. And, after all, we are dealing with a document called “Guidelines.”  It stands to reason that the more extensive the documentation about the reasoning behind a rule or regulation, the clearer the guidance and the better the resulting policy will be understood and interpreted as time goes by. (Currently the Oysterville Restoration Foundation Board keeps their minutes brief and to the point with only those motions that pass mentioned. However, we also keep on file extensive background notes reflecting our discussion and thinking – a great way to satisfy both approaches.)

In the matter of reviewing, revising and even following the Design Guidelines in Oysterville, we seem to have come to a Great Divide on those matters. There are those who feel that keeping Oysterville’s ambiance is a matter of clearly stating the do’s and don’ts so that we all can and will follow the letter of the law. And there are those who feel that the Guidelines merely help us understand how to do what we want to do anyway – protect the character of National Historic District. And so the beat goes on.

Raise your hand if…

Thursday, March 12th, 2015
Not In My Backyard

Not In My Backyard

First, some definitions:

Newcomer – what you are until the last person who remembers when you moved here is dead.

Old-timer – those who remember how it was before the newcomers arrived on the scene and began passing judgment on just about everything

An Oysterville newcomer wrote a letter to the Chinook Observer this week.   Among the ‘facts’ it presented were a number of half-truths, at least one untruth, and some serious sins of omission. I briefly considered writing a rebuttal but decided that a pissing contest is less than dignified and, rather than putting out the flames, it would no doubt draw further attention to Oysterville… and not in a good way.

From My Perspective

From My Perspective

Instead, I just want to go on record, once again, in commending the County for what they do manage to do for Oysterville.  First and foremost was the creation (back in 1980) of the County Historic District which provides a buffer between the National Historic District and “modern encroachments” such as mobile homes and trailers and neon lights.  So far, so good.  But it’s not a perfect world.

I, too, lament the fact that not all our Oysterville residents follow the architectural guidelines referenced by the ordinance. But, as far as I know, there isn’t anyone in town, other than that letter writer, who has a collapsed barn in their back yard. I don’t remember any effort to save it and I certainly haven’t heard it acknowledged by the homeowner. Interestingly, none of the neighbors has pointed fingers or name-called or notified the preservation police about that barn.

One other thing. That letter in the Observer says With only about 10 of the historic buildings listed in the National Register nomination surviving, the District’s viability is in question. What it doesn’t say is that there were only 12 primary structures listed in the first place. There were also two secondary structures listed. So that makes fourteen in all and, of those, we’ve lost two. By my math, that makes 12 still standing. Not bad for one year shy of 40 since we were listed.

Oysterville Streetscape

Oysterville Streetscape

The District’s “viability” is in question because the letter-writer is on a mission. The question many of us ask is “Why?” Why would you buy a second home in an area you say you love and then proceed to criticize everything and everyone in town – from the color we paint our buildings to the direction we dig our flower beds? And why would you go out of your way to misrepresent both Village and County to an advocacy group to get us listed on the 100 most endangered historic sites in the State?

At the end of the day, Oysterville is still special. Visitors still revel in the magical feeling that comes over them when they take that right hand fork in the road and enter the National Historic District. Just as you can’t legislate good sense, you can’t un-legislate charm or character or history.            Just raise your hand if you agree.

New and Gray (as opposed to…)

Thursday, February 26th, 2015
February 2015

Captain Stream HouseFebruary 2015

The Captain Stream House is looking great. And gray, much to my surprise. I hadn’t been up for a look-see for quite a while so I hadn’t known of the color change or, at least, hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. (It’s entirely possible that it had been mentioned and I forgot. There’s a lot of that going on lately.)

Looking at the familiar building from the front – from Main Street – gave me a peculiar sensation. The once-upon-a-time daffodil-yellow house had suddenly gone gray – a lovely storm cloud gray. I wish I’d asked the Mack brothers the actual name of the color although, these days, color names are often more imaginative than descriptive. Suffice it to say, I had the odd sensation of looking at an old friend (a very blond friend) who had gone gray almost overnight.

aptsin Stream House 1990

aptsin Stream House 1990

Certainly in terms of age the house has every right to be gray! Owner Martie and I are pretty sure that the original house was built in 1869 which is the same year our house went up. And look at ours – totally white (and green around the edges.) The white trim on the Captain Stream house reminds me of the way I am going white, myself – around the perimeter.


Captain Stream House 196

Captain Stream House 1963

The change will take a little getting used to but I remember back before the house was yellow. When that new coat of paint went on, it was such as cheerful contrast to the weathered old siding that everyone in town clapped and cheered. Little did we know that lurking behind that bright facelift was a morass of problems just waiting to be discovered.

This time, the lovely gray exterior speaks of maturity and thoughtfulness – or so it seems to me. The addition behind the replicated historic structure will update its usefulness by a century and a half and with master builders Wolfgang and Guenther at the helm, the Captain Stream house should weather many years ahead.

…and then there is benign neglect.

Monday, January 12th, 2015


The Greenman House, 1984

The Greenman House, 1984

“There is no way to legislate morality.” That was a popular lament during the sixties when we were trying to raise the collective consciousness about racial discrimination in this country – a lament and a truism that doesn’t go away. I thought about that yesterday at the Oysterville Design Review Meeting, not in terms of how we treat one another, but with regard to how we perceive the entire concept of preservation of historic structures, particularly here in our little village.

There was mention, though not a full-fledged discussion, about building demolition and the process property owners need to follow when a building needs to be destroyed or taken down. We’ve had a number of these situations in Oysterville since we became a National Historic District and, yet, the proper way to proceed continues to be a red flag discussion item.

Bard Heim Barn -- Anderson Collection

The Bard Heim Barn, circa early 1980s

Among the old buildings here in Oysterville that have “disappeared” over the last forty years are the Greenman House at the corner of Oysterville and Territory Roads, the Bard Heim Barn just off Clark Street, the “Teacher’s Cottage” on Territory Road, the “Annex” at the John Crellin House, also on Territory Road, and the Captain Stream House on Main Street — not to mention the old “Meat Market” and the original Freshley House, both lost to fire. As my mom would have said, “That’s quite a-many.”

Although I have been here during the demise of all those buildings, I am unclear which of the property owners actually went through the Oysterville Design Review process, which went directly to the county’s Department of Community Development, or which went to the State Office of Preservation and Archaeology for advice. Nor am I clear in all of the instances whether the buildings (other than those that burned) were purposely taken down or allowed to collapse without comment – a situation that seems to fall under the category “benign neglect.”

On Territory Road

On Territory Road

Of course, right now the central focus is the Captain Stream House. For one thing, it is the only such situation some of our newer residents are familiar with; for another, its demolition and replication are a shining example of what could have happened in all the other instances. Amazingly, there are community members who feel that the process should have been done differently and who seem to be trying to move heaven and earth to make the owners the bad guys rather than give them an award for their exemplary efforts.

After the meeting yesterday, Nyel and I traversed the town to see what might be the next controversial demolition project. As far as we could see, there is only one possibility – a barn behind the house of one of the most outspoken critics regarding this topic. Go figure…