Posts Tagged ‘history’

Nahcotta’s Mail and The Case for History

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Sealand-Nahcotta 1890s – Morehead’ & Co, General Merchandise at middle right


In the on-going discussion about the closure of Nahcotta’s Post Office, someone wrote to me:  … It’s pretty hard to make the argument that the community will lose service, which is the case with some of these contract offices in extremely remote areas. (If anything, we on the peninsula have a lot of post offices to chose from!) So it’s really the historic aspect that’s the sticking point. From that point of view, are postal customers “entitled” to receive mail service in a charming, historic environment? Maybe another blog? “At What Price Charm?” 

I’d prefer the title:  “Charm Ain’t In It.”  While “charm” might be the take-away about historic connections for some people — newcomers to our area, I’d suspect — the history of Nahcotta and of Oysterville and of every other settlement on the Peninsula has to do with people — their dreams, their grit, their amazing accomplishments.  Those people are my pioneer ancestors (perhaps yours, as well) who lived and died right here.  They worked hard to tame this wilderness and to bring “civilization” to this far western region so that their descendants might have a better life.  One of the those civilizing influences was the establishment of a reliable mail service

Oysterville Stagecoach, 1885

Ironically, the very building that has been housing the Nahcotta Post Office for 115 years was just steps away from Morehead’s General Merchandise Company.  John Morehead had been a stagecoach driver for Lewis Alfred Loomis before Loomis developed his railroad company.  The stage ran along the weatherbeach from Oysterville to Ilwaco and was a necessary link in the transportation chain that delivered mail between Astoria to Olympia. Of that service, Morehead himself later wrote:

The operation of three steamers and three stage lines was necessary in the carrying of mail and passengers from Astoria, Oregon, to Olympia, the capital of Washington Territory.  The first leg of the journey was by steamer.  The General Canby, a tug of considerable size, built in South Bend, was run between Astoria and Ilwaco by way of Fort Stevens and Fort Canby.  The next leg, from Ilwaco to Oysterville, was by the Loomis Stage Line.  The stage coach travelled right along the ocean beach!  Part three of the journey was by the little steamer Garfield which crossed Shoalwater Bay from Oysterville to Bay Center, South Bend, Riverside, Woodard’s Landing, and North Cove.  At North Cove, passengers and mail were again transferred to a stagecoach for the run to Peterson’s Point, now known as Westport.  The fifth leg of the journey, from Peterson’s Point to Montesano was again by water on the little stern-wheeler Montesano.  The sixth, and final leg of the trip was by stage line from Montesano to Olympia.  Total time for this incredible mail run – 60 hours!  Bet that beats today’s record!

J.A. Morehead House, Nahcotta – 1890

Morehead went on to  say: The beach driver was obliged to get out of bed at the unholy hour of two o’clock in the morning, go to the barn and feed, groom and harness his horses, eat his breakfast, hitch up and drive around the town and out on the oyster beds gathering up his load so as to leave the hotel door promptly at four o’clock a.m.  All this by the light of a smoky lantern and very often in a driving storm.  As the steamer awaited the return of the stage to Oysterville, before leaving, and another was awaiting his arrival at Ilwaco, he was hurried at every point of the trip.

The driver’s seat was perched on the outside where it had no protection, whatsoever, from the storms.  There were no springs, either, under the seats or the body of the stage.  The road was confined to the hard sands of the ocean beach, and it made an ideal road when the tide was out, but a very unsatisfactory one when the tide was high. The incoming swells would be allowed to come as high as possible around the stage before it would be swerved off the hard sand, then back as the water receded.  This would be repeated with each incoming swell until the trip was completed.  Care was always needed to watch for the drift logs being carried back and forth on the swells, which would work havoc with the horses and the stage, should they be struck by them…

Those faithful drivers…Jack Winchell, Bill Denver, Bill Taylor, Lew Slack, and Charlie Burch have passed to their reward, leaving a record of devotion to duty seldom equaled.  Many of their descendants still live on the Peninsula.  Charm???  No… I don’t think that’s the historic reason that  the Nahcotta Post Office is important.  Historic importance goes far beyond charm.


Treasure Maps without the X or the Spot!

Friday, January 29th, 2021

Mapus Terra Sydney by Nancy Lloyd

When I was a kid I went through what I think of as my “Treasure Island” stage —  looking for old maps that might lead to buried treasure, or even drawing my own maps for the neighbor kids to find.  That shivery old skull-and-crossbones feeling still surfaces these days  when I run across a hand-drawn map even if  there’s no “X” to mark a spot.    Especially if it’s a map of this very area — Pacific County. or more especially, Oysterville, or even of a specific nearby acreage.

Take the old leather map made for me in 1980 by Nancy Lloyd.  It is framed and hanging in our kitchen — quite faded these days despite a refurbishing done by Nancy, herself, some years back.  It’s  title “MAPUS-TERRA-SYDNEY” is still clear, however, as are the picture of “Sydney’s House,” “Mr. Bear’s Turf,” “Bowser’s Prowl” plus Ossie’s “Magic Gate”, and the marsh with its resident blue heron.  I love it!  It is a treasure map of a different kind — the map, itself, is the treasure!

Pacific County Map by Arnold Shotwell

Then, there is the map drawn by Arnold Shotwell for one of the Sou’wester issues.  He gave the original to Editor Larry Weathers who had it framed and hung it in his office.  When Larry died, suddenly and unexpectedly, his family gifted me with the map.  I treasure it for all sorts of reasons — none of which has to do with X-Marks-the-Spot.  And I never cease to pause and wonder when I look at the familiar slogan Mr. Shotwell used as its title:  “Pacific County Washington: Nature’s Best Effort.”  What exactly does that mean?  Wasn’t the best effort quite good enough or…?

From Maureen Mulvey’s 1964 Shipwreck Map

And then, of course, there is the Shipwreck Map by Maureen Mulvey and the old composite map of Oysterville by Charles Fitzpatrick.  Also, the huge North Beach Peninsula map by Joe Knowles that now lives at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.  My favorite all-time map story goes with that one.  Never mind that Knowles was famous and that his paintings and etchings had become quite collectible.  And never mind that the map was displayed prominently in the Washington State Exhibit at the Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  Mr. Knowles never got paid for his twelve-by-three-foot oil “North Beach Peninsula” map.  Though the city fathers of Long Beach had commissioned him to paint it, they refused to pony up, claiming it was incorrectly named; Mr. Knowles stood his ground because the official name of the Peninsula (then as now) was North, not Long, Beach.

They certainly don’t need to be associated with treasure, these hand-drawn maps.  I love the details that each mapmaker included — how they saw the area and what things they thought it important to note or to sketch or even to omit.  They each tell wonderful stories and are treasure troves all by themselves!



King Tide News from Down Under

Saturday, December 19th, 2020

The Briscoe Residence, Oysterville c. 1890

Yesterday I received a note from my Australian friend Rosemary Peeler.  I think of her as a blog/community historian connection.  We actually “met” on the internet through some blogs I had written about Judge Briscoe and Michael Lemeshko’s subsequent Briscoe research.  The Judge was one of Rosemary’s ancestors.

She is a serious genealogist and came all the way to Oysterville from her home in Melbourne to meet Michael and me and to see where Briscoe and his family hung out beginning in the 1860s.  Actually, she came visiting twice during that summer of 2018 when she was in the States.  We’ve been friends ever since.

Her note yesterday included an attachment — an article dated Saturday, April 20, 1935, in the Northern Champion, which was a bi-weekly newspaper published from 1912  to 1961  in Taree, New South Wales.  The clipping was headlined “King Tide – Why He Rolls In.”  In her accompanying note, Rosemary  said she had remembered reading something about King Tides long ago.  She pointed out that information in my recent blog (about the term “King Tide” perhaps being coined  in connection with Climate Change) was probably not true.  And here was an article to prove her point!  It began:

Michael Lemeshko’s Book about Briscoe

The annual appearance of he King Tide recently was noted by mariners and fishermen, but probably few of us in the ?? atmosphere of clerical routine took the trouble to mark the occurrence…

The report went on to mention that King Tides usually happen in January, explained the influence of the moon at perigee, and told how favorable winds enhance the extra high tide.  Nowhere was “climate change” mentioned.

Wow!  I don’t know what impresses me more — that I have a friend in Australia who reads my blog or that she remembered reading of King tides long ago and was able to come up with documentation to correct my mis-information.  Thank you, Rosemary!

And speaking of our most recent King Tide  — I noticed in our own Chinook Observer that he made quite a splash out at Cape De last week.  However, for the record, he hardly set foot in Oysterville at all.  He didn’t even bother to come up the lane or to rest by Willard’s bench in the meadow like he did the time before.  Perhaps those “favorable winds” were the missing element on this side of the Peninsula.




Those were the days, my friends…

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

I’ve just finished reading (or probably re-reading, though it surely didn’t seem familiar) Dick Francis’s book The Edge.  Written in 1988, it dealt with the fictional “Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train” and, though I’ve never traveled by train in Canada, — or anywhere else after 1964, for that matter — it all seemed wonderfully familiar.

I have made transcontinental trips in North America, however — three of them here in the United States, from Boston to Portland and back in the summers of 1938, 1939 and at Christmas in 1946, the same trip, though the other way ’round.  I have few memories of the first two journeys.  I was 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 and made the trips with my mother from Boston where we lived to Portland, Oregon and then, of course, on by car to Oysterville to visit my Granny and Papa.

My mother told me two things about those trips.  On each of them, all I was interested in doing was walking the length of the train and back, through the many cars and over the scary couplings between them. Over and over again!  She claimed that we walked the full 3,000-mile distance to Oysterville!  And, secondly, after my first terrifying trip to the bathroom where you could see the railroad tracks when you flushed, I simply refused to go.  Period.  I didn’t have any “accidents;”  I just shut down.

My mother was fit-to-be-tied and finally appealed to the conductor who found a little potty and then, apparently, the problem was solved.  I think it might have been that same conductor who took pity on her and offered to do the walking with me for some of the time.  (I always did like a man in uniform!)

During the war when we lived in Alameda California and  had no car, we travelled by Pullman train from Oakland to Portland and always had a sleeping berth which the porter made up while we were eating dinner in the dining car.  Once or twice we made the trip at Christmas and I remember that the train was jam-packed with servicemen going home on furlough for the holidays.

“The Shasta Daylight”

By the time I was a teenager, Southern Pacific’s Shasta Daylight was making the trip — which they advertised as “a fast 15-hour-30-minute schedule in either direction for the 713-mile  trip through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery of any train in North America.”  I travelled back and forth several times that way, once with my Aunt Mona, once with my mother, and once with my best friend Joanne Bruner.  (All I remember about that particular trip is that Joanne and I made ourselves sick on fig newtons.  I still can’t eat them.)

In the fifties and early sixties, I travelled a little by train in England and Europe but found that it was less expensive in the long run to buy a car and then bring it back to the U.S. at the end of the summer.  And, besides, we weren’t stuck on the main rail routes that way and could really get away from the beaten path.  We were living on Arthur Frommer’s recommended $5.00 a day and travel was far cheaper by car if you could manage the initial outlay.

I don’t really miss train travel. Even back then, I found it more “romantic” to talk about it or see in the movies than to actually experience it.  But I am sorry that most of our recent generations haven’t had the opportunity — just like I’m sorry I didn’t have my grandparents’ experiences with horses, carriages, and buggies.  Again, it probably sounds more appealing than it was.

Pearl Harbor Day

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Infamy:   evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

“December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…”  It was the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and I remember listening to the radio as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke those words to Congress when he asked them for a declaration of war.  I was “five-going-on-six” and I remember it all clearly – the barbed wire on the beaches, the Victory gardens, the tinfoil drives, the air-raid wardens and rationing books, Kilroy, Lucky Green going to war, and being allotted only one pair of shoes a year – unless you were a kid.  We got two.

We hadn’t been at war – not with anyone—for five years, which at that point was my entire life.  I had no idea what a Big Deal that really was.  Perhaps no one else did either at the time.  As it turns out, that five-year period from 1935 through 1940 has been the longest time the United States has been at peace in our 232-year history. Both beforehand and afterwards we’ve had several periods as long as three years without being involved in a war, most recently 1976, 1977, and 1978 after the Vietnam War.  But mostly… we live with war.

IF you were born after 1978, you may have memory of two separate years that were not  involved in a major war – 1997 and 2000.  Other than that… not so much.  Since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years of existence.

Gun-toting Robotic Combat Robots

Yes, FDR had it right.  We remember Pearl Harbor – at least some of us do.  But how many more days of infamy have we forgotten?  When did we and the rest of the world go numb? Perhaps it was when researchers began using their knowledge of how human emotion develops to try to build robots that can feel.  But are they teaching those bots to remember?  Especially, to remember the important things?  Like Pearl Harbor.

Wind-ups and Lesson Plans in Oysterville

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Sydney Winding Down After Winding Up

Yesterday, it was ‘get out the wind-up toys’ night, and I was fearful.  In my mind (as I planned our holiday activities) it would be a time of play and laughter and reminiscing.  We’ve given wind-up toys to one another as stocking-stuffers for years, but this is the first time in forever that we’ve had the leisure to get them out and put them on display for ‘the season.’  Usually, Nyel and I do it hurriedly to have everything at-the-ready and the family blows in at more-or-less the last minute.

This year I asked that things be different – that everyone gather ten days ahead so that we could talk about the house, its generational contents, and its future disposition.  Hard topics, in a way, but, joyful, too.  There are few subjects as close to my heart as Oysterville and this old family house – the house we’ve all taken for granted for our entire lives.

‘The Kids’ – Christmas 2017

I was lucky enough to be living on the Peninsula for twenty years before my mother died – a whole generation of time to hear her stories of times past and to learn the history of the beloved objects I had never even been curious about.  Much of that information has found its way into one or another of my books and, probably, much has crept into the family-memories of Charlie and Marta.  But, with only short ‘special occasion’ sorts of visits, I am not confident how much has stuck with them.  It’s partly the historian in me but mostly the family DNA in me that wants to convey whatever I can before it’s too late.

So… here we are.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured decorating the house, cooking festive meals, and talking about this and that with the historic information just coming in willy-nilly the way it had for me.  But twenty days doesn’t equal twenty years of incidental ‘indoctrination’ (which sounds severe but I can’t think of another word that fits.)

Who is this guy? Is he flipping us off? Or picking my teeth?

Unpacking and playing with the wind-up toys went perfectly!  Just as planned!  And, right on cue, Charlie asked, “When are you going to talk with us about the house?  Isn’t that why you wanted us up here early?  Don’t you want to show us about things in each room or something?”  Gulp!  Suddenly, I realized that the way I learned my Family/House/Oysterville history lessons isn’t quite the way it will work this time around.  And, just as suddenly, the teacher in me kicked in.

I awoke this morning with my ‘lesson plans’ completed. I fully expect our ‘classes’ and ‘field trips’ to be as much fun as last night’s wind-up experience was.  How did I get to be so lucky as to have two such wonderful ‘kids’ home for Christmas, indulging me in my desire to give them Lessons for Posterity?  I hope I’m up to the task.

Let the lessons begin!

Deferring Judgement

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Time and time again, I have found that my first knee-jerk impressions of things should be kept to myself.  And, time and time again, I have ignored that little voice in my head that says, “If you act on this impulse, Sydney, you will be sorry.”  I don’t know why I go ahead and act anyway.  It is a curse.

So… here I go again.  This time it’s about the invitation to an exhibition received a day or so ago from the venerable Washington State Historical Society.  I truly have no idea what the exhibit will be about beyond what the (to me) very startling announcement said:  “GLASNOST & GOODWILL:  Citizen Diplomacy in the Northwest.”

On the reverse, an explanation to “Dear Members and Friends:  You are invited to a special evening preview of our newest exhibit…an in-depth exploration of how citizen diplomacy in Washington and the greater Northwest contributed to the thaw of the Cold War.”

Say what?!?  They’ve got to be kidding!  I really couldn’t give a fig about the contribution of the NW or any other place to the thawing of the Cold War – not right now.  Not when things look to be pretty dicey with Russia.  What is this all about, anyway?  A plea for us Northwesterners to be diplomatic once again?  Is it a commentary on our present-day difficulties with our democratic voting process and it’s apparent interference by Russia?  What…?

Like most people born around the time of World War II, I lived through the Cold War years.  I remember the bomb shelter our neighbors built.  I remember the faculty meetings when I was first teaching during which we were told that if worse-came-to-worse during school hours, our place was with the children until each and every one could be collected by a parent.  Since my husband and I were both teachers… what of our own children?  Oh yes… I well remember the anxieties of the Cold War.  Years and years and years of wondering about that red telephone at the White House.

The invitation further says, “Join us for [a] presentation by special guest Dr. Richard Scheuerman,  Professor Emeritus at Seattle Pacific University, about the remarkable 200 year history of friendship between the peoples of Russia and America.”  All very well and good, say I.  But, what about that old standby, “timing is everything”?

I know I should go and see, first-hand, what the exhibit and the presentation are all about.  Will I?  Maybe.  It depends what else is happening on October 5th…  I’m not feeling very compelled to learn about our historic relationship with Russia.  Maybe later when we’ve managed to sort out a few pressing domestic problems.  Maybe.

Of Ghost Ships and Ancient Mariners

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

British Ship Glenmorag, wrecked near Ocean Park, March 18, 1896

In an area such as ours with its stormy winters and many creaking old structures, it’s not surprising that ghost stories abound.  But, what is surprising to me is that we have no stories of phantom mariners or ghost ship sightings – or at least none that I’ve heard.  Since the waters adjacent to us have long been called the “The Graveyard of the Pacific” that seems odd.

According to James Gibbs in his 1950 book, Pacific Graveyard:  Losses total well over 200 deep-water ships with damages inflicted on an additional 500.  The fishing fleets alone have suffered about 500 loses and another 1,000 fishing craft have been damaged.  Within one hour in a sudden gale of Cape Disappointment, May 4, 1880, 200 fishermen were drowned when their vessels capsized.  That makes for a good many ghostly possibilities.

Astoria’s “Butterfly Fleet” lost off the Mouth of the Columbia, May 4, 1880

It’s been seventy years since Gibbs wrote his definitive book on shipwrecks there have been many additional wrecks and a rising toll of loss of life.  If you have lived here for any time at all, you undoubtedly know someone from a fishing family who has suffered the loss of a loved one.  Perhaps that is the very reason we don’t hear much about the local version of The Flying Dutchman or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Our waters are still the most treacherous in the world and maybe, for many of our neighbors, stories of Davy Jones’ Locker are difficult to deal with – not fodder for tales around the evening campfire.

Rescued crew of the French ship Alice at the Taylor Hotel, Ocean Park, January 1909

Yesterday at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Chris Dewey from the Maritime Archaeological Society.  The group is new – less than two years old – and its mission is “to seek out, investigate, and document shipwrecks and other maritime archaeological sites; conserve artifacts from those sites, when appropriate; and educate the public in areas of maritime cultural heritage, historic shipwreck preservation, and the science of maritime archaeology.”  They use amazing high tech equipment to locate, measure, and document wrecks and parts of wrecks in and around the mouth of the Columbia River.

I had hoped to ask Mr. Dewey if he or team-members have heard of or, perhaps, experienced first-hand, any ghostly sightings in line with their work.  But, before I could approach him, he was gone…  Probably just as well.  Even if I explained that my search for ghosts of the area is for the serious underlying purpose of documenting our history, he might have been a bit skeptical.  Still… I have his card and it might be worth a shot.

The Days of Infamy

Sunday, September 11th, 2016
9/11 - AP Photo

9/11 – AP Photo

I woke up this morning remembering the September 11th of fifteen years ago.  It was a Tuesday and we were ‘sleeping in’ after a big weekend celebration for my mother’s 90th birthday.  A phone call from North Caroline woke the household.  It was Frances Mitchell’s pilot son who had received an early a.m. standby alert.  He was calling to tell his mother to stay put.

Too late.  Frances and her friend Dick had left the day before to drive down the coast.  “Something has happened,” he said.  “Turn on your television set.”  And so we sat with Charlie and Marta and watched the horror of the day unfold.  Charlie decided to drive his rental car back to L.A. despite the contract he had signed to return it to PDX.  Marta stayed an extra day and then went up to the San Juans to visit friends as previously planned.  I’m not sure what we did.  Only that first part of the day is forever etched in memory.

FDR Delivers Pearl Harbor Speech, 12-08-1941

FDR Delivers Pearl Harbor Speech, 12-08-1941

It was “a date which will live in infamy” as President Roosevelt had said of December 7, 1941 and, like Pearl Harbor Day, 9/11 would be forever etched in our minds.  I was five when Pearl Harbor was bombed and I remember clearly sitting in front of our big console radio with my mom and dad, listening to FDR’s speech.  If I didn’t exactly understand the words, I fully realized that something terrible and important had happened.  My dad’s tense expression and my mother’s anxious insistence that I sit in her lap while she held me tight told me more than the tinny-sounding words coming from far, far away.

The other date that is clearly etched in the minds of my generation, of course, is November 22, 1963 – the day President Kennedy was shot.  I was in the middle of teaching a math lesson to my second grade class at Southgate School in Hayward when the principal came to the door and beckoned me into the hallway with the news.  At that point, JFK was still alive.  Teachers were informed but we were cautioned not to tell our classes…yet.

November 22, 1963

November 22, 1963

I’m sure there are people far wiser than I who could tell us why those days of shocking uncertainty stick in our minds so vividly – more clearly defined than most joyous celebrations that we’ve also experienced over the years.  Why do we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and then, not two months later, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated?  Not that I’m am regretting those memories… We need to remember.  Just as we need to redouble our efforts toward peace and harmony and understanding.  Now more than ever.

Rolling on through those Triple Digits

Saturday, June 25th, 2016


Southwest Roadscape

Southwest Roadscape

In some ways, a twenty-first century road trip is more a “beam me up, Scotty” experience than a “head ‘em up, move ‘em out” sort of ordeal.  I’m talking air conditioning, cruise control, books-on-cds, etc. here.  All those ‘creature comforts’ that we’ve incorporated into modern car travel that make the miles fly by in relative comfort.

As we rolled through Arizona yesterday and we watched the “outside temperatures” soar into the triple digits, I thought about those days of my childhood when the radiator would overheat, the tires would go flat and traveling in summer was always as much ordeal as pleasure.  It was when “horses sweat, men perspire, women glow” were words to live by. (Well, maybe not the horse part so much.)  Road trips were definitely Adventures with a capital ‘A.’I

On Our Dashboard

On Our Dashboard

have memories of interminable roadside construction delays, of driving with all windows open despite having to breathe the dust stirred up from miles of unpaved, graveled roads, and of carrying extra water and two spare tires against the inevitable breakdowns of one sort or another.  Getting ‘roadside assistance’ was a matter of waiting for a kindly motorist to stop or maybe even leaving the carat the side of the road and hitching a ride to the nearest service station. No cell phones.  No rest stops.  No radio reception.  Road trips were hard work.

Our Santa Fe, New Mexico to Hurricane, Utah leg yesterday was really a piece of cake.  The 570 miles sped by as we listened to one of the Charles Todd “Bess Crawford mysteries and enjoyed the view from our 65° cocoon.  Outside temperature: 107!  Really?

A Perfect Ending to a Day of Travel!

A Perfect Ending to a Day of Travel!

“But it’s a dry heat,” everyone says, apologetically.

“Doesn’t really matter.  We’re enjoying it all,” is our response.  Especially when compared to what we remember from ‘the olden days’ of travel!