Posts Tagged ‘history’

Hope you were there! It was terrific!

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

Phil Allen talks about his great-grandfather, the ship-wrecked Billy Begg. Looking on from l to r: Michael Lemeshko, Doug Knutzen, me.

The History Forum met at the Oysterville Schoolhouse this morning — our next to last meeting for this Sept ’23 – May ’24 season.  The subject:   Wrecks’n’Rescues — the main speakers Michael Lemeshko, Phil Allen, Doug Knutzen and me (a little bit.)  For the wrecks part, our focus was on a few of the wrecks that have most obviously had a direct and lasting impact on the Peninsula.  When you consider that there have been at least 2,000 large ships wrecked in the area of the Columbia River Bar and over 700 lives lost (and that’s not counting fishing boats or fishermen), picking and choosing was difficult.

Both Michael and I talked about the Strathblane — I, because one of the rescued crew members was 16-year-old Jack Payne (who miraculously became 19 when he hit the beach!), vowed never to return to the sea, and stayed on the Peninsula long enough to share honors with George Hibbert for getting the Chinook Observer under way. And the Observer has certainly been a force in our history for more than a century!  Michael talked about the direct influence the 1891 wreck of the Strathblane had on getting the North Head Lighthouse built — long talked about, but finally acted upon after the ill-fated end of the British ship.

The Alice, wrecked January 15, 1909.

And there was more — Isabelle le Coquille who came here the summer of 2018 looking for the rest of her grandfather’s story,  He had been rescued from the French ship Alice in 1909 but the story he told his family years later was quite different from the way it is remembered here at the beach!  Isabelle and I are still Facebook friends and, though her return trip to the Peninsula was interrupted by the pandemic, she still hopes to return to get to the bottom of granpère’s story.

Phil Allen, the great-great grandson of Adelaide and Will Taylor (of the Taylor Hotel in Ocean Park) told about his great-grandfather Billy Begg’s rescue from the Glenmorag of Glasgow, how he fell in love with young Maud Taylor and stayed here on the Peninsula.  Many of Maud and Billy’s descendants still live in the area.  Phil talked about his boyhood treks out on the beach with his great-grandfather who would pace off so many steps, tell Phil to “dig!” and there would be the Glenmorag’s bow!

“The Life Line” by Winslow Homer — showing breeches buoy

And, finally Doug Knutzen, founder and current president of the South Pacific County Technical Team talked about some of the old equipment used in the rescues we’d been discussing — the Lyle gun and the breeches buoy, in particular, and how they have been adapted and improved upon for modern rescue purposes.  He told about some of the new rescue techniques that are being developed for new situations, and answered numerous questions from interested, admiring Forum members.

It was super!  Hope you were there.  If not, don’t miss next month’s Forum — the last until next Fall.

History Forum on You Tube!

Monday, March 11th, 2024

Pacific County History Forum 3-6-2024 On YouTube!

Gillnetter Kent Martin explains how a drift works.

I hope you have time to look at this video.  It’s the best one yet!  As usual a great Forum AND the best video. Except for the body in the red jacket that keeps getting in front of the camera in the first few minutes.  Sorry.  I need to find a different place out of the camera’s relentless eye.

I LOVED hearing everything again!  And was I seeing all of us for the first time?  It sort of seemed like it.  This time around, I could really listen and look at the faces and the interest and the buy-in.  It was grand.  There’s something about being able to revisit an activity that you’ve participated in that makes it really special.  I suppose sportsmen know this in an absolutely visceral way — and probably are looking at their performances with a critical eye.  I’m sure I should have been, and maybe will next time, but mostly I was interested in hearing and seeing without having a little voice nagging at me about what I needed to do next.  Or not.

Dick Wallace tells about his summers at Derbyville when he was a kid.

I’m sorry all over again, of course, that we ran out of time before we got to see Michael’s presentation on the Ilwaco Fish Wars.  Maybe we can convince him to share it before we actually get started with our Wrecks ‘N’ Rescues Forum in April.  Speaking of which, we are already lining up some community experts to talk about shipwrecks and the long-lasting impact many of them have had on our community and on our development of rescue techniques and early warning systems.

Meanwhile, do look at Michael’s YouTube posting.  It is inspirational!  What a great community we have!

Fish Tales & Memories at the History Forum

Wednesday, March 6th, 2024

Irene Martin. her foghorn, and me!

Today’s History Forum — our seventh! — was all about fish!  Pacific County fish tales going all the way back to the 1860s  and right up into present times.  The changes on the river and the riverbank — the methods, the equipment, the boats, and the memories — were shared by fishers who had been there, done that and loved it all!  Many of the rest of us joined in with our own memories.  And we asked questions:  “What’s a drift?”  “Where, exactly, was McGowan?”  “How did the Boldt Decision affect Sports Fishing?”

The experts were there to answer us and tell us so many things we wouldn’t have known to ask.  Irene Martin brought artifacts — a foghorn which looked a lot like a toy horn but was the only “protection” an early-day fisher had when fog shrouded the fishing grounds.  She also shared one of the earliest cans made on the river, with ends probably soldered with lead in those days.  The “opened” can (actually only barely opened and pried up — lethal looking) and an early can opener that looked a lot like a bayonet and for good reason.  Until some time after the Civil War, bayonets were exactly what were used for opening cans — until someone got inventive!

Oysterville Schoolhouse 2008 Today it wasn’t snowy but even though the heat had been turned to “comfort zone” yesterday afternoon, it was chilly around the edges!

Irene’s husband, Kent — a fourth generation fisherman with 40 years experience gillnetting on the Columbia and in Bristol Bay– explained what a “drift” was — how it was prepared, how the fishers used it, how one differed from another.  (You had to be there!)  It was a side to fishing that most of us landlubbers knew little about — and you could feel our appreciation expand!

Bill Garvin gave us an overview of his great-grandfather’s “company town” McGowan — how many year round workers lived there, how many seasonal workers, and an overview of living in a place where the only transportation out or in was by water.  Bill also had some great memories of  the McGowan of his childhood and of the stories  his mother told about growing up there in the teens and twenties.  (His mother and my mother were lifelong friends and, when I come to think about it, had many things in common, including grandfathers who had founded a town and growing up where transportation by land was the exception.)

Dick Wallace shared his boyhood memories of Derbyville which was a sports fishing summer camp owned and managed by his Grandfather Provo in the 1940s and 50s — a magical place for a young boy to make enough pennies to buy a pop at the Derbyville Store and to learn the ins and outs of boat-launching and fish-cleaning and all the other fishing lore necessary to an eight- or nine- or ten-year-old boy.  So many memories of a time along the River just west of where the bridge is now.  And so many heads nodding and that far-away look in the eyes of his listeners.  Remembering history!

Residences at McGowan, “A Company Town”

Pat Schenk shared great stories about his charter business — it, too, now in its fourth generation.  He spoke of the changes since the Boldt Decision, but not with complaint — mostly with a huge appreciation for his years in the business and the wonderful memories and fish tales he still enjoys telling.  And then… we were out of time!  I hope Michael Lemeshko will find a way to work in the Ilwaco Fish Wars next time.  I was looking forward to that.

But even so, it was a morning to remember and to share.  It was exactly what the History Forum is meant to be.  Thank you to all the participants.  Once again I felt the joy of living in a small community where we can learn from those who have lived history and so willingly share with the rest of us!  Now if only we can pass it on to those who are coming up — those whose memories will be of screen time and traffic jams and maybe, just maybe, if they are lucky, of catching their first salmon on the River.

I try to keep chastity of my eyes.

Friday, March 1st, 2024

Highly Recommended!

When it comes to internet information about Oysterville, I try not to look.  It’s better for my peace of mind, my blood pressure, and my general feeling about the intelligence of my fellow-historians and travel enthusiasts, in general.  But, sometimes I get sucked right on in which says very little about my own intelligence… or my will power.

The last few days there have been a lot of pop-up sites appearing about visiting “the oldest cities” in Washington.  On one of said sites, I was amazed to see Oysterville listed — as in when did we become a “city” and how did the article justify  our population of “20” (their figure) with the term “city.”  I couldn’t help myself.  I read further.

I found pictures of the church and my house along with other old residences in town.  Yep.  It was the Oysterville  my great-grandfather co-founded but… “in 1841″ said the article.  I don’t think there were any white settlements at all in Washington in 1841.  Espy and Clark arrived here in 1854, Clark took out a donation land claim and they platted the town.  For all of the years since, the date of Oysterville’s founding has been said to be April 12, 1854 — the day Espy and Clark arrived on the salt marsh drummed in through the fog by Espy’s Indian friend Klickeas.

“Oysterville” – Facts, Pictures, and More!

And, we’ve never claimed to be first.  We were founded a bit after Steilacoom which, according to its “official website” celebrated the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of its incorporation as the first city in Washington Territory on April 20, 2004. Presumably it took a bit to become well enough established to incorporate — a fete Oysterville never undertook, even in its heyday.  And I remember specifically in 1975 when Oysterville was awarded its “National Historic District” designation, that it was pointed out that Steilacoom had existed for a longer time that we had.

But being first is not the issue — certainly not for me or any of our family.  However, the year is important.  And what’s the bottom line, anyway?  If its incorporation, we are out of the running on all counts.  No matter.  I’m really getting tired of “arguing” with all the nitwits who can’t do a little research — as in Lord knows, there have been enough reliable books and articles written about our history.  1841, indeed!  No wonder I didn’t like history in school.  It is completely f***ed up.



















Back in the family, again! Well, more-or-less!

Sunday, February 18th, 2024

February 18, 2024

Sydney’s Bay House c. 1985 Photo by Dick Hawes

Tucker is my seventh cousin on the Espy side if I’m remembering correctly what Cousin Ralph told us long ago.  That being true, his children are my seventh cousins once removed and (I think) they and Charlie are eighth cousins!  Which is really neither here or there except that Tucker’s daughter Lina and husband Dave  have bought my old “Bay House!”  I couldn’t be more delighted that it’s back in the family!

They are the third owners since Nyel and I sold it in 2001 to Ann Chiller who, in turn, sold it to Cyndy Hayward.  Ann kept all the furniture and knick-knacks we didn’t have space for in this old house,  and she added and outside bat house and bird feeders with microphones.  Inside ssounded like outside and we often sat there over a cup of tea just wondering what those birds were chattering about!

Charlie made a model house…

It wasn’t long after Ann moved in that our cat, Bowser, died  — of old age mostly (she was 19) — but she never really adjusted to being an inside cat here in Oysterville after having 18 acres as her own personal prowl.  Nyel used some of the left-over blue-stained pine from the inside walls to build her a little coffin — so she’d be surrounded by “home” –and Ann allowed us to bury her under a large spruce just south of the house.

I can’t remember how long Ann had the house — maybe six or seven years.  She returned some of its treasures before she left — she thought they should stay with us.  One was “Fern” the granddaughter of a plant Sue Cowell had given me from the library back in the seventies.  (Fern is still thriving, now at age twenty or so.)

… and sent instructions all the way from Valencia, CA where he was a Senior at Cal Arts!

My friend and neighbor Cyndy Hayward was the next owner.  I don,t think she ever lived there — maybe for a minute or so — but mostly she provided it as housing for her CEO at her Artist’s Residency.  He and his family were there for a good many years and it was during that period that a number of changes took place to the house.  Even so, like other aging beauties (human or otherwise) her bones are good and she is still a delight.

Today Lina and Dave came by and picked up the original architectural plans and other “beginnings” — including the first rough sketches Noel Thomas made when I was confiding my dream to him back in, 1977 or ’78.  I also showed them my first house “scrapbook” documenting the step-by-step building process by Ossie Steiner and the Mack Brothers!  Lina and Dave would like a  copy of the whole book — “I’ll bet Tucker could make one!” Dave said.  “Maybe two,” we agreed.  After all,  the other seventh cousin should have one, as well.

Fern’s Grandmother Would Be More Than 50 by now!

Know any old loggers? We’re on a quest!

Thursday, January 4th, 2024

Our 150-year-old Pear Tree — on Kathleen’s Heritage Fruit Tree List

Despite several setbacks (speakers who were unable to attend due to illness) our History Forum yesterday was grand!  The subject was Agriculture in Pacific County in all its facets — from its beginnings to now and concerns for the future.  Kathleen Davies spoke about her Heritage Fruit Tree Project and the discovery of old homesteads (and possible burial site of a murdered pioneer.) Tucker Wachsmuth told about his great-grandfather coming north by schooner from San Francisco in 1864 to buy potatoes at Woodard’s Landing (now Willapa).  Mike Lemeshko spoke of the “prairies” on the Peninsula where John Briscoe and Annie Stout had their farms — areas that have not yet been “developed” and where the grass still grows thick and green.

Ardell and Malcolm McPhail told about the development of cranberries — from the wild variety that James Swan and other early settlers tried to cultivate to present-day domestic varieties,  farming techniques and concerns for the future.   Malcolm, who never seems to forget a name or a face, involved several of the “audience members” in the “conversation” — Jean Nitzel (whose father’s place Ardell and Malcolm bought when they first got into the business) and Melinda Crowley who has been the the main force in establishing the Cranberry Museum and Gift Shop on Pioneer Road.  Each added another aspect to the historical conversation.

Even afterwards, there were questions and comments from the attendees — people wanting to know more specifics about Kathleen’s discoveries or wanting to take a better look at Michael’s map showing the vegetation patterns on the Peninsula in the early 20th century. And several folks, (especially those interested in Kathleen’s Heritage Fruit Tree Project stayed to learn more about her “discoveries”  and to share a few of their own with her!  Yay!  Long may the conversations continue!

Just north of Black Lake…

All-in-all, our monthly Forum is beginning to actively involve more of the community in our conversations about history and, hopefully, is enticing others to get involved in adding to our historical record.  I’m always amazed at the little pieces of information that are offered at each gathering which, bit-by-bit, give us a picture of the way it was and where we are heading.

Meanwhile… Bob Rose of the Rose Ranches in the Bay Center/South Bend area became ill and could not attend.  I don’t know who was more disappointed, Bob or me.  His cattle ranch is now in its fifth generation (!) of Rose ownership and he and I (though we’ve never met) were both looking forward to his participation.  He called me about nine yesterday morning (sounding dreadful “but it’s not Covid”) and said he’d like to come next month,  “Let me think about that,” I told him.  “Steve Rogers is scheduled to talk about early logging at our February Meeting.”

The Rose Ranch – In its 5th generation!

Just about then, Steve walked through the schoolhouse door.  When I asked how he felt about sharing the spotlight with Bob next month, he said, “Perfect!  He actually has a small logging operation on his ranch!”  So it sounds like we’ll be talking about multiple subjects at our February Forum — which is the way our history develops, after all — intertwined.  Meanwhile, I am on a quest for old loggers — or young loggers or those with knowledge about logging then, now, and in-between in Pacific County.  If you know of someone who would like to join our conversation next month please let me know.  Or let them know.  Or somehow connect them up with the History Forum.  Our next get-together will be Wednesday, February 2, at the Oysterville Schoolhouse!

Is Wed. Dec. 6th marked on your calendar ?

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Inside an Oyster Station

Will we see you next Wednesday, December 6th at the Oysterville Schoolhouse?  I surely hope so.  It’s going to be all about oysters and clams — history, stories, maybe even a recipe or two for your holiday enjoyment!

If you’ve been attending our first few History Forums, you know that they are informal and definitely a work-in-progress.  Our goal is to get as much participation at possible — especially as we get a little farther along in our chronological look at Pacific County.  So, I was so pleased to learn that Dobby Wiegardt and Tucker Wachsmuth are going to have a discussion between themselves and act as “Discussion Leaders” with the rest of us.  No more “Speakers and Audience”… we hope.

Tonging Oysters

I’m eager to see how it goes.  We are hoping that some of the many experienced and knowledgeable oyster workers and aficionados will be among us to weigh in.  I have a couple of interesting letters from from the days of the native oysters that I hope to have time to share and perhaps others will bring some family memories along with them.

I am always impressed as how much collective information we have once we have an opportunity to put it together.  I hope Wednesday will be one of those times!

Little-known Facts and Quirky Truths!

Thursday, November 9th, 2023

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15th 2:00-3:00 p.m.

And no, this is not a children’s book!

When the Timberland Library asked me to give a book talk about ANY of my books, I just plain couldn’t decide.  So, if you come to Ocean Park Library next Wednesday at 2:00 you will hear me talk a bit about each of my books that is still in print.  That’s seventeen (count ’em 17) altogether.  Their unifying theme is, of course, the history of this area — the North (or Long) Beach Peninsula and (a few) about Pacific County.  But… how to narrow all those books into a one-hour talk?   I stewed about it today while I was polishing silver.

Thus far, I think I’ll give a one- or two-sentence overview about each book and then read one little-known or unusual bit of historic information from that same book — the quirkier the better.  Hopefully, if it’s from a book you’ve not read, you’ll be tempted to buy it.  And yes… I’ll have a few of each book for sale, after my presentation.  (I can take checks or cash, but not credit cards.)  But… no pressure!  Just come and enjoy!



Author Talk with Sydney Stevens
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Ocean Park
Ocean Park Meeting Room

And the answer to Question #3 is:

Tuesday, November 7th, 2023


Ed Loomis 1825-1889

Another question asked at last week’s History Forum was: What ever happened to that infamous sawmill — the first in Washington Territory — that Ed Loomis and Wallace Stuart set up?  After a bit of hemming and hawing, several of us had part of the answer but we weren’t very coherent about it.  It was another one of those “I know I should know this” kinds of things and I knew right where to look once I got home.  I’m embarrassed to say that I had written about it, myself, for the Chinook Observer back in 2020.  Well… all I can say is, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

In my series, “Once Upon A Time In Pacific County,” I wrote an article called “Pacific City: Almost But Not Quite Real.”  As part of that article, I wrote a sidebar (I love sidebars!), ” The First Saw Mill.”  All of those bits of information went rattling around in m head and I could almost see the last two paragraphs which would answer the question.  They included information provided by Ed Loomis’s nephew, L. E. Loomis (1877-1955) of Ocean Park which went like this:

When the Federal order came to vacate Pacific City, the Milling Company’s buildings had to be removed, as did all the other structures in Pacific City.  Loomis dismantled the mill, plugged the flues of the boiler, and floated it down Tarlett Creek to Shoalwater Bay.  A start was made for a mill structure near Nahcotta, but the project was abandoned when there came news of a gold strike in northern Idaho in 1855. 

Yesler’s Steam Sawmill in Seattle, 1853 (The 2nd one in Washington Territory)

The Pacific Milling Company’s machinery was used again in the first mill at South Bend, built by the Riddell Brothers in 1868-1869. The bricks that had surrounded the Loomis/Stuart mill were gathered by the residents of Ilwaco and surrounding settlements to be used for various purposes – from fire places and chimneys to garden walkways.  And, for years, the shell of the boiler was on display in Nahcotta at Morehead Park – a true artifact from the first sawmill to operate in Washington at Dr. Elijah White’s “imaginary metropolis.”  Sadly, in recent years, the boiler has disappeared.

Well… at the Forum we had bits and pieces of this entire story but in a bit of confused order.  So, now we have at least part of the boiler’s later provenance in correct sequence.  Perhaps a reader will weigh in with what happened next…





If you missed the Nov. 1st History Forum…

Saturday, November 4th, 2023

…or even if you didn’t, pour yourself a cup of coffee, fire up your computer and go to  Michael Lemeshko’s video (all in one piece this time and complete with visual aids!) is up and running.  And, even if you were there, if you are like I am, you will come away hearing more than you did when you were up close and personal!  Annoyingly, I even knew immediately the names of things I couldn’t think of at the time!  Doncha just hate when that happens?

Dr. Elijah White

Besides the story of Willie Kiel’s unusual trek along the Oregon Trail to get to Pacific County in 1855, Steve Rogers peppered his talk with lots of fascinating information about North County, about Baby Island, and about other bits of fascinating early Pacific County history.  And besides that, he had us all laughing with his banter about the infamous Kidnapping of the County Seat from Oysterville and some gentle offers of loaning it back to us… or something like that!

Michael’s presentation on Pacific City turned out to be a Power Point Program complete with plat maps and photos of a few the early property owners of that ill-fated endeavor.  We all got a better idea of just where Elijah White’s dream city might have been located and a  glimpse of the man himself — just enough to make us all wonder if he was an impassioned promoter or a downright shyster.  In addition, Michael had some great suggestions for sources for those who would like to follow-up with a bit of research of their own.

And as for the “audience” — fabulous participation!  In fact, let’s scratch the word “audience” and call the participants exactly what they were — a forum-in-the-making!  Hooray!  Next step (maybe) a website where we can “carry on” between our First Wednesday get-togethers!  Fingers crossed!