Journey to Oysterville: Spring 1898

Sep 29, 2020 | 0 comments

The IR&N

My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, was a “city girl,” used to the amenities of a cultured household.  She first came to Oysterville on her honeymoon trip in the Spring of 1898.  She and my grandfather had been married at her home in East Oakland, California, the preceding November, and though the groom’s father and older brother Ed were in attendance, she had yet to meet her mother-in-law or any of the other R.H. Espy children.  Years later, she  would write her recollections of her introduction to them and to Oysterville:

When I came here forty years ago, Mother Espy was using whale ribs as chicken perches.  The highway along the Bay front was referred to as “the road to Nahcotta.”  It was a three hours’ ride from Astoria to Ilwaco by Baker’s Bay.  From there we travelled on a narrow gauge train which ran by the tides.  The boat which it met could only come in at certain heights of tide.  I doubt if the train travelled 25 m.p.h.  When we got on it that first day the gawky old conductor asked Papa if his wife had seen the Potrimpos.  He said, “No.”    “All right, we’ll stop the train  and she can go down and see it.”

Potrimpos wrecked on North Beach Peninsula, December 1896

I had always been taught to never attract attention to mysef.  It was embarassing.  To see the boat, the Potrimpos, we had to walk over soft sand — what is now called “The Prairie.”  It must have taken us at least 15 minutes…

When we returned to the train, nobody seemed too annoyed.  I was almost afraid to come back in.  It was 45-minute ride to Nahcotta.  There was a single carriage there for us.  The rest came down by stage.  On the road to Oysterville, the sand was soft and deep just as it is on the Ocean Beach.  The wind covered up the tracks.  If anyone had asked me the distance to Oysterville, I would have said 20 miles.  [It’s actually 4 miles. SS]  We were nearly home when the horse shied.  He ran into an alder tree.  It bent down, passed under the carriage and popped out at the back like a cannon shot.  Papa was a wonderful horseman and the sand was soft or we would have had a real runaway.

Territory Road circa 1900 – Stony Point Pictures

I didn’t know what to expect of Oysterville.  Ed had said… he kept talking about “the ranch” … when I asked him if he lived in the country: “Oh no, our house is right in the center of town.”  I saw people pumping water out in their front yards and taking it into the house in buckets.  But the Espys were more civilised.  Their pump was on the back porch.  We arrived on a fairly decent day.  But a day or two later there was a big storm with a tremendously high tide.  We were surrounded by water.  Tina Wachhsmuth came down the street in a rowboat.  I was on the front verandah.  Waves came up to the front fence.  The ocean was roaring just as if it were trying to break loose.  I never wanted to see the place again.  I was just barely nineteen years old.  I have often wished I were older and more experienced and tolerant…

H.A. Espy Family, 1904

Four years later, Papa’s mother died and, of the family members, he was the most logical one to go home to Oysterville to look after his father.  “It will just be for a short time,” Mama assured her two little youngsters.  But, as it turned out, she lived here until her death in 1954, a dairy farmer’s wife, raising seven children, burying two of them, assisting Papa in his brief foray into politics, joining the women of the village in the Sewing Circle and earning the devotion and respect of all who knew her.  In the end, she came to “an accommodation” with Oysterville.  She once told me that she felt like Lord Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon” who, when all was said and done, had grown to love the place of his imprisonment.


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