Archive for the ‘Oysterville’ Category

What’s a few years or a few miles anyway?

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Oysterville Store, July 2015

And back to “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town” — the skewed, some-right-some-wrong sort of article in the 2019-2020 issue of Discovery Coast.  Paragraphs #11 and #12 are mostly correct. Except for the parts that are totally wrong:

Eight houses, a church, the  cannery and a one-room schoolhouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.  And some structures date back to the 19th century.
Though Oysterville might be considered a ghost town, it does have life.  The post office is the oldest continuously operating post office in Washington.  The Oysterville Store sells groceries, souvenirs and gifts.  Oysterville Sea Farms sells harvested seafood.

Oysterville Store c. 1940

Once upon a time, the Oysterville Store did indeed sell groceries, souvenirs and gifts.  But not recently.  As many a tourist or out-of-town visitor can tell you, the little store has not been open for some time — maybe two or three years now.   I understand, though, why Mr. Webb didn’t think to come all the way north to Oysterville to check it out.  Everyone we know is in agreement that it is very much farther for people who live in the southern regions of the Peninsula to drive north “clear to Oysterville” than it is for us Oystervillians to drive south to their neck of the woods.  Go figure.

Oysterville Sea Farms, 2018

Oysterville Sea Farms, July 2018

But, it’s the Oysterville Sea Farms reference to selling “harvested seafood” that really flummoxes me.  I can’t imagine anyone in the greater Peninsula area or even in Pacific County — especially anyone associated with the Chinook Observer — not knowing that Sea Farms owner Dan Driscoll finally won his fight with the county and can now sell all manner of things (including the souvenirs and gift items erroneously credited to the Oysterville Store.)  Even some of my books are sold there!  Especially the ones about Oysterville!  Perhaps they could have been useful in fact-checking the article for Discovery Coast.  Perhaps a radical idea…



In the beginning…

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

“Native American Tribes at Time of Columbus’s Arrival” wall poster

As promised yesterday, here is Installment #1 of my commentary on the article, “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town” in the recently published Discovery Coast 2019-2020,

Mr. Webb begins his Oysterville story with this one-sentence paragraph:  Oysterville could be the only place in the United States that has always had human occupants.

A short paragraph, to be sure, but I had to go back and read it several times to see if I was missing something.  Since the next paragraph begins The Chinook Peoples… (and will be examined tomorrow), I can only assume that the writer means that no other place in the United States was inhabited by indigenous peoples before pioneer settlers arrived.

First Map of United States — by Abel Buell, 1784

Really?  Oysterville was the ONLY place?  Not Boston, not Sarasota, not Yosemite, not even Bay Center or Tokeland?  Just Oysterville?  Wow!  I wonder how one could arrive at such a conclusion.

Or maybe — though I don’t see it so stated — the “always” is taking into consideration scientists’ best guess as to the age of the Peninsula.  About 8,000 years old, isn’t it?  Maybe all other places in the United States pre-date the appearance of humans entirely.  Hmmm.  Does Oysterville occupy the very youngest sandspit in the United States?  Wow!

But, perhaps I am mis-reading it.  Perhaps the emphasis should be on HUMAN rather than on “only.”  So just who or what were the occupants of Boston or Sarasota or Yosemite early on?  Mastadons?  Dinosaurs?   Aliens?

Map of Historic Oysterville by Charles Fitzpatrick with information by H.A. Espy, Dewitt Stoner, H. Wirt, Charles Nelson, Eva Slingerland

Well… I am obviously getting carried away.  But, upon re-reading the paragraph —  Oysterville could be the only place in the United States that has always had human occupants — I find myself totally flummoxed.  Perhaps it will come clear tomorrow as I take a  closer look at Paragraph #2.  Or perhaps a reader will understand the words better than I.

Old News and Fake History

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Bob Duke’s Photograph of Oysterville — page 16, “Discovery Coast 2019-2020”

When our friends Susan and Randal came back from a foray to Jack’s Country Store yesterday, they were full of chuckles and questions.  Susan was carrying a copy of Discovery Coast 2019-2020, the publication put out each year about this time by the Chinook Observer.  It is geared for the tourist crowd.

“Look at this!” they said!  “Did you know that Oysterville is a ghost town?”  And they pointed to the headline, “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town.”

Superior Publishing Company, 1970

As a matter of fact, I did know that.  It has been a “ghost town” for some time now, at least by some definitions.  In 1970 when Washington Ghost Towns by Lambert Florin was published by The Superior Publishing Company of Seattle, pages 59 to 63 were devoted to “The Town That Oysters Built, Oysterville, Wash.”  It was among the 33 towns of Washington listed in the table of contents, and the book, itself, was part of the “Western Ghost Town Series.”

The publisher (or author) apparently felt compelled to explain how a town had qualified to be a part of this book.  On the page before the first entry (“Altoona, Washington”) they say:  One of several dictionary definitions of “ghost” is “a shadowy semblance of its former self.”  We have elected to prefer this somewhat ambiguous phrase  because it accurately describes many towns on the borderline of being dead or alive…  Works for me.

Randal Bays, Sunday at Vespers

So, I didn’t really share Randal and Susan’s amazement/amusement over the headline.  My eye was drawn, instead to Bob Duke’s absolutely stunning drone’s-eye-view of the village — or at least most of it.  Wow!  Whether or not you agree that Oysterville is a ghost town, the photo puts into full-color perspective its size and isolation relative to the rest of the Peninsula.

But, as my eye scanned the printed matter below the photograph, my blood pressure began to rise appreciably.  “Who,” I facebooked to Bob, “wrote the article?”  He didn’t know but Editor Matt Winters soon weighed in.  “Patrick Webb refreshed all the content this year, including Oysterville.”

Susan Waters, PhD – at Vespers Sunday, June 23rd

Wow!  I don’t know how that works.  The “Oysterville” article is largely about its history.  So… how do you “refresh” history, anyway?  Randal read it and declared it “Fake News.”  But I don’t think news and history equate any more than research and fact-checking do.  Mostly, I am appalled that with the plethora of historic information available about Oysterville, Mr. Webb apparently didn’t do a bit of homework.

On the plus side… there are fourteen paragraphs in the article and each one contains at least one whopper.  To me that translates into fourteen days of blogs in an attempt to correct the record.  Or not…  I’m trying to decide if anyone besides me gives a rip.  (Can you tell that my blood pressure is rising again?)

Oysterville Never Looked So Good!

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Our Southeast Corner

There’s nothing like home when you’ve been away!  And if your home is Oysterville, Washington, and your return is in the merry month of May — it is lovely beyond belief!  Gigantic rhododendron “bouquets” nod at me from every direction.  They are early this year and the brisk wind is causing the blossoms to cascade to the ground in pools of bright pink and snowy white.  Only my beloved Nyel is missing to complete the perfection of Springtime in the village.

Tucker put the flags up in the churchyard this afternoon.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed them all winter.  I feel like they are my personal weather vanes.  Each time I look out our dining room and kitchen windows, I know just how the wind is blowing!

Flags Flying May 20, 2019

On my walk about the garden, I purposely avoided looking at the flower beds.  I doubt that I’ll ever be able to make up for this month of absence.  If only I could train those chickens to weed!  Never mind that the weeds must be forest-like to them, towering way above their heads.

I left Portland at first light — about 5:3o this morning — and arrived in Ilwaco in plenty of time for my early doctor’s appointment.  Then, the mail which revealed an overdue bill (and late fee) — wouldn’t you know? — but several nice notes for Nyel, too.  They are lined up on the table ready to take back with me tomorrow.

We had hoped that all Nyel’s “surprises” were over but… no such luck.  When the surgeon cleaned up his “wound” Saturday night, he sent in another blood sample for culturing.  We prayed that it would reveal nothing new.  But alas!  Nyel called with the news that it is another infection — a bad one — not what they thought it was yesterday.  Whatever it is, hospital personnel are all required to wear “hazmat regalia” so that they will not spread it around to other patients.  Nyel says visitors are not required to “suit up.”

Our Northwest Corner

So, talk of swing beds and rehab are tabled for this week, anyway.   Sorry if I offend anyone but… shit! shit! shit!  Worst of all, along with this new infection comes great pain.  He is getting morphine periodically.  I hate being here and not there; I return early tomorrow.  Yet I know I will feel helpless there, as well.

Kudos to Nancy and Colin!

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Page 87

The day had been a long one.  I was at the hospital with Nyel at 8:15 to give him a little assistance in sending his cardio mem information to Seattle – an electronic (magic) cyberspace communication with his Seattle cardiologist telling what the pressures inside his heart are.  Then our Community Historian class at the Heritage Museum until noon – today all about the cutting-edge methodology for archival preservation of photos and documents.  And then back to spend three more hours with Nyel – strategizing with caregivers about next steps.

Home to work in the garden for an hour or two.  Mostly clean-up that should have been done last fall.  I can’t remember why I didn’t do it then…  When I finally decided to think about dinner, I noticed that today’s Observer was still tightly rolled up the way our postmaster puts it in our mailboxes.  I took a minute… and I’m SO glad I did.

Our Coast Artcle

Nestled within the paper was the annual copy of our coast magazine.  And on pages 86 to 91 is a marvelously illustrated article about our house!  “Historic House In A Historic Village” is the title.  I had all but forgotten the interview with author Nancy McCarthy and the follow-up photo session with Colin Murphey.  It all happened last September and, somehow, we’ve had a few other things to think about since then.  It seemed like a big surprise!

Best of all, I didn’t find a single factual error in the entire article and, I’m here to tell you as a writer who often interviews people – getting everything right in a long article isn’t all that easy.  Nancy did a beautiful job.  Kudos to her and to Colin who captured the visuals to perfection!  I hope you take a look – and mark September 22nd on your calendar.  (You’ll know why if you read the article.)

On a Tuesday in Oysterville

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

When the Travel & Outdoors reporter Crystal Paul from the Seattle Times arranged to come for an “introduction” to Oysterville, I didn’t give much thought to which day she would be arriving – only that a Tuesday in July would probably be pretty typical.  There wouldn’t be much going on in the village except for the stream of tourists in and out of the church.  I was only partly right.

She arrived mid-morning.  The street was fairly quiet except for the building activity at the Hampson House next door to us and… the sound of children’s laughter coming from a line of kids in lab coats headed back to the schoolhouse.  They had been checking out swallows’ nests on the buildings around town and documenting them with their cameras.   The Oysterville Science Academy (OSA) in full swing!

I introduced Crystal to Diane Buttrell, founder of OSA, who told her a bit about this year’s group of students – nine youngsters who will be fourth graders here in Peninsula Schools next fall.  “Would it be all right to take some photographs?”  She was given the green light – parents had all signed permission slips for such a contingency.  We said we’d be visiting them at the schoolhouse after lunch.

Lunch?  After a tour of the village, we dropped by Oysterville Sea Farms.  Salmon spread and rice crackers and smoked mussels for lunch!  On the deck!  A first, of course, for Crystal and a first also for us since Dan Driscoll’s troubles with the County began seven years ago!!  Even though it was a gray day and the tide was out (WAY out!), it was fabulous! We lingered, taking in the view of the village – the fronts of all the old houses that were built facing the bay – and the gorgeous, seemingly pristine shoreline to the east.  Really fabulous!

On the way back to our house, we stopped to see what the young scientists were up to.  It was “Da Vinci Challenge Hour” and they were in the midst of a Chalk Talk – “Why do we classify things? How is classification useful?”  They were sorting and classifying buttons and talking about the binary numerical notation system.  Crystal took a gazillion photos and had a peek at their notebooks – scientific journals detailing every observation and experiment they had done thus far this summer.  Reluctantly, we had to leave before they began to apply today’s classification discoveries in a “Design Your Own Store” activity.

Wow!  For a Tuesday in summer, there was a lot going on. But… come to think of it, there usually is in Oysterville!

Happy Birthday, Oysterville!

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Robert Hamilton Espy

It’s hard for me to picture my great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy, as a young, vigorous man.  Let alone adventurous.  Most of the pictures we have of him are when he was an old man.  Even in his wedding picture, he looks quite staid and proper, as well he should have.  By the time he married in 1870, he was forty-four years old.  Middle-aged by the standards of the day.

But when Hamilton (Yes!  That’s how he was listed on the 1855 muster roll for the Pacific County Reserve Volunteer Rifle Company) paddled northward on Shoalwater Bay with his twenty-six-year-old friend Isaac Clark, he was in his prime.  He was twenty-eight and looking forward to a venture in the oyster trade. As they kept Espy’s rendezvous with Klickeas, it is doubtful that either man realized that their lives and the lives of their descendants would forever be associated with the shore where they made landfall.  The date was April 12, 1854.

The two men built a cabin of alder logs a few hundred feet from where they had landed and there they lived for next four years.  Unlike the “Bruce Boys” across the Bay, Hamilton and Isaac were not opposed to sharing the Bay’s bounty and oyster prospectors converged on the area.  In 1855 “Oysterville” (said to have been named by Elvira Stevens of the Stevens Hotel) was made the Pacific County Seat, shipped 50,000 bushel baskets of oysters to San Francisco, and quickly became the most important anchorage north of the Columbia River.

Isaac Alonzo Clark

Clark settled in almost immediately.  He became a storekeeper, platted the town and, within four years, had married Lucy Briscoe and moved out of the ten-by-twelve-foot cabin he and Espy had continued to share. Espy, on the other hand, seemed not quite ready to settle down.  He busied himself in the oyster trade, invested in timber and city (San Francisco and Portland) real estate, served a short stint as County Sheriff, and was elected Major in the Oysterville Militia.

During those early years, he took two “vacations” – once to the Blue Mountains to prospect for gold and, in 1859 after a bout with scarlet fever, he served for almost a year at the North Cove lighthouse at the mouth of the bay.  It wasn’t until he married the nineteen-year-old schoolteacher, Julia Jefferson, that he finally built a fine two-story house (still owned by his descendants) and moved out of the little cabin.

And that’s when my “vision” of him really begins. I think of him often and wonder what he’d make of Oysterville these days.  I wonder if he’d be wishing it “Happy Birthday and Many Returns of the Day.”

Sorry. The cannon is indisposed.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018


By rights, THOM (The Honorary Oysterville Militia) should gather day after tomorrow to fire their cannon in commemoration of Oysterville’s founding.  It was April 12, 1854, according to accounts by both Isaac Clark and Robert Espy, that they paddled their canoe shoreward to the sound of Old Klickeas’s drumbeat.  That foggy day, as far as we know, marked the beginning of a permanent settlement here.  Worth noting with a cannon salute, eh?

But, unfortunately, THOM’s cannon is confined to quarters for a time.  After fourteen seasons – and not even the winter ones – out of doors in our northwest weather, her underpinnings are needing replacement.  New carriage wheels!  Nyel is ordering them today from an outfit in Pennsylvania and until they get here, the cannon will remain indisposed.  Which means she will stay tucked away in our garage until the new wheels arrive.

“Obviously, a canon of living in Oysterville is to have a gorgeous garden.” Diedre Duewel

We have been custodians of the cannon– a full-sized replica of an 1841 mountain howitzer made by Cannon Ltd. of Coolville, Ohio – for some years now.  We purchased it just in time to be used for Oysterville’s 2004 Sesquicentennial celebration. And, of course, as with most things in Oysterville, there is a story to go with it.

Oysterville has a long history of celebrations marked by cannon fire. According to my esteemed late Uncle Willard Espy’s account in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, in the 1870s R.H. Espy would don special black broadcloth pants, a maroon and black brocaded vest, a light linen duster, a stiff shirt with boiled bosom, a stiff collar, a bow tie, and a beaver hat and would discharge the cannon to begin festivities such as the annual regatta.

There are accounts that Oysterville’s original cannon was blown to bits by a rowdy group of midnight revelers, so for several generations we had to make do with only the stories about it. Hardly satisfactory thought Nyel. We happened to be in Gettysburg a few years before Oysterville was to observe the sesquicentennial year of its founding, and all those cannons on display prompted Nyel to make inquiries. He learned that for a mere ten or twelve thousand dollars Oysterville could once again have a cannon.

Cannon Squad, 2007

We pondered… and on the long road trip back home we conceived the idea of forming The Honorary Oysterville Militia. We would sell commissions to our friends and relatives and buy the cannon with the proceeds. General Nyel was the first to invest. The plan was successful beyond our wildest expectations and in early 2003 the cannon was ordered. It arrived in the spring of 2004, just in time for Oysterville’s 150th celebration. We’ve been celebrating loudly ever since!

Focus of the Month

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

The Cliff House, c. 1900

I remember specifically when I became aware of concept of ‘critical mass.’  It was 1952, I was sixteen years old, and I was working at the Cliff House Gift Shop in San Francisco.  It was a summer job between my junior and senior years in high school and I used my mother’s old Plymouth to commute across the Golden Gate bridge to and from San Rafael where we lived.

The Gift Shop was huge and sold every imaginable high-end souvenir to low-end tack – something for everyone.  And, it seemed that ‘everyone’ came every day to the popular tourist destination out on Sutro Heights.  They spilled out of tour buses, they came in fancy limousines, they came to enjoy the view, to dine in the world class restaurant, or to take in the Sutro Baths which, by then (1952) had been converted to an ice rink.

Cliff House Gift Shop, 1950s

In my memory, my first-day orientation focused on the huge north wall of teacups and saucers – every one different and, as I was told, Big Sellers (capital B Capital S).  A large, couldn’t-be-missed sign above the display said, “Lovely to look at, Delightful to hold, If you should drop it, We mark it sold.”  I remember being traumatized by the thought that I might have to tell a careless customer that they would have to pay for their breakage.

Days went by and, though I was busy ringing up sales at the old-fashioned cash register, not a teacup or saucer came my way.  I couldn’t imagine why the manager had emphasized how popular they were.  And then, one day I sold eight of them.  And the next day, four.  And, unbelievably, eleven on the following day!  It was as though the dam had broken.

My Grandmother’s Teacups

But, just as quickly, the interest in teacup collecting abated for a few days.  Then, it came again.  In droves.  Not just one teacup here and another there, but many in a day – sometimes several to one customer.  I remember talking to my dad about that.  He was a sales representative for gift lines from India and he said that it was a common phenomenon in his line of work.  Interest in an item happened in waves, he told me.  The trick for the seller was to catch the crest.

I don’t think Dad used the term ‘critical mass’ but that’s how I think of it now.  Somehow, those runs on an item have to do with a size, number or amount large enough to produce a particular result (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary).

Right now in Oysterville ‘No Trespassing” signs and their relatives ‘Private Property’ and ‘Keep Out’ seem to be the focus of many of our visitors.  I’ve had at least a dozen questions in the last few weeks about the proliferation of those sorts of notices on the fences in the village.  I can really only answer the ‘why’ of it with regard to the sign on our own gate.  Years ago, when my mother and father were still living here, Mom walked into the living room to find a group of strangers who inquired about a tour of the house.  They apparently had the idea that this was a museum.

At Our House

Our ‘Private Home’ sign has been on our gate ever since.  I can’t speak to the others.  Nor do I know if the critical mass phenomenon is in the sudden appearance of the signs or in the sudden noticing.  Whatever the reason, those signs seem to be the focus of the month here in the village.

A Name for the Books

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Oysterville by Willard Espy

“Oysterville!  Is that the name of your town?” asked Kelly-the-nurse in some disbelief.  Nyel conceded that it was.

“Great name!” she said.  “Sounds like it should be in a book!”

“It is,” was Nyel’s amused response.  “Lots of them.”

“Oh, really?  What kind?  Romances?  It sounds like a place for romance!”

It always surprises me when I come across someone who has never heard of Oysterville – a testimony, for sure, to my self-centered nature.  With 10,000 plus names added each year to the guest book at the Oysterville Church, it seems as though the whole world should know about Oysterville by now.  But of course, they don’t.

I suppose my surprise should be reserved for those who do know about our little village and I should be registering true amazement when someone says they’ve actually been there.  Once upon a time, most of the folks one ran into in Portland had, indeed, been to Oysterville – or at least to the Peninsula.  Now… not so much.  Newcomers in Portland have outnumbered ‘the old guard’ and our little corner is not the primary get-away attraction it once was.

“So, I guess there are a lot of restaurants in Oysterville where you can get fresh oysters,” Kelly continued.

“Not really.” said Nyel, “Not even one.”

Oysterville by Sydney Stevens

“Really!  With that name, Oysterville?  Someone’s missing a bet.  Bigtime!”

Nyel and I exchanged a brief look.  Brief, but loaded with past conversations about the one-time fabulous self-serve al fresco dining on the deck at Oysterville Sea Farms.  Not to mention the on-going, relentless legal harassment by Pacific County of our neighbor Dan Driscoll, Sea Farms’ owner.

Now, there’s a book that should be written!  Certainly not a Romance.  And not a Western or a Thriller or a Fantasy sort of book.  Not even in the Mystery or True Crime genre.  Maybe a new category altogether?  Where are Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward when we need them?