Posts Tagged ‘history’

A Most Hopeless, Most Interesting Task!

Monday, September 18th, 2023

Ruth Dixon

I’m trying to clean out, consolidate and, in general, make sense of my files.  However, I’ve  all but given up after just two days.  The problem is, I saved these “gems” because they are just that and I’m just not ruthless enough to pitch and toss.  Just now, for instance I ran across a note from historian and journalist Ruth Dixon (1906- 2001) to my Uncle Willard, probably written to him when he was collecting information for his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.

Copied from the diary of Patterson Fletcher Luark, a pioneer of the vicinity of Westport:

Wednesday, Feb. 11,1863:
Went to lighthouse with team.  Found 7 or 8 men here from Bruceport pretending (?) to hunt for the body of Captain Wells; he and a stranger from Oregon in crossing from Bruceport on the 15th instant were both lost off Tokes Point.

From James A Gibbs Pacific Graveyard: Willapa Bay Light Station shows two lights. The shorter tower, proving too low and threatened by erosion, a higher tower was bult at right.

Friday, April 3, 1863:
The bodies of Capt. Wells and Cline, lost on the 15th of February off Tokes Point were found yesterday and today.
(Mr. Luark refers to giving Mrs. Wells a ride to his house for a visit, or returning her home.  They seemed to be very good friends.)

This is just a few of the tidbits I have, but not knowing just what you lack, and what you have, this will give you some idea.

Our history is so lacy — full of holes, it is a great feeling to be able to smooth it out a bit.

Thank] you for writing.

And, yes, please do send me a copy of Isaac’s letter.  [Isaac Clark, ss ]  Quite a few members of the family (mostly Wilsons) are collecting data, and I enjoy helping, and sharing.

The information about the July 4, 1872 boat race will be so welcome.

Signed [Ruth Dixon]



Have you marked your calendar? Sept. 6th!!

Thursday, August 24th, 2023

Oysterville Schoolhouse

We* are gearing up for the first session of the History Forum here in Oysterville and hope those of you interested in SW Washington history will be among our participants!  We begin at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6th at the Oysterville Schoolhouse – but if you can get there a tad early so you can “register,” we can be sure to keep you posted month-by-month in the future.  Better yet, if you are planning to come, write and I’ll “pre-register” you!.

Charlotte and Her Button Blanket, 2019

There will be an article in the Chinook Observer next week giving some particulars about our speakers and telling you a little about our initial plans for these monthly get-togethers.  When I was talking to our Editor, he mentioned that the History Forum is reminiscent in some ways of Diane Buttrell’s “Oysterville Talks.”  Certainly as to place and frequency (and I hope as to popularity!), that is true.

However, the big difference is that the intent of the Forum is that it be as  participatory as possible.  After a short presentation by each of our panelists (two to three speakers each week who will set the stage for the day’s topic) it will be up to the rest of us to discuss, question, speculate, suggest and, in general examine the topic and the avenues it takes us.

“Town of the Old People” by Charles Funk

I’m excited about the possibilities!   I so hope that some of you readers who have responded to my blogs over the years with history questions or comments of your own will come if you are able.  Also, we fully expect to record each session and post it on YouTube so those who don’t have the opportunity to be here in person can “weigh in.”  See you soon!

*At this point “We” includes Michael Lemeshko, Tucker Wachsmuth, Kathleen Davies, Dayle and David Olson, Jim Sayce and myself.  The History Forum is “a work in progress” so DO join us and invite your friends who might be interested!

Coming Soon — The PC* History Forum

Saturday, April 29th, 2023

Jim Sayce, Storyteller

*As in Pacific County — not as in politically correct (although it could be.)

I don’t think today was a “launch” exactly, but when Community Historians gathered for a little reunion prior to the CPHM Annual Meeting, I was given an opportunity to talk about a plan that is slowly hatching among a group of us Community Historian “alums” (Michael Lemeshko, Tucker Wachsmuth, Jim Sayce, David and Dayle Olson, Kathleen Davies, and me.)

Nancy Bell Anderson, Storyteller

Thus far, the plan is to hold monthly meetings — the 1st Wednesday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon, September through May — open to all members of the public who are interested in local (i.e. Pacific County) history.  The format will feature a  speaker on a specific topic for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes with the remaining time devoted to discussion about that topic or any other “historic” interest brought forward by the assembled group.

Mary Garvey, Storyteller

We are planning to focus on early jobs and industries in Pacific County for the first year and to solicit speakers with expertise or knowledge of the specific topic — hopefully some of the revered elders of our Pacific County community — perhaps singly or in group presentations.  We are looking at subjects such as early oystering, logging, farming, blacksmithing, storekeeping, fishing etc.  We are somewhat past the brainstorming stage but are very much interested in soliciting additional ideas for topics and/or speakers, so please feel free to respond to this blog with ideas you might wish to add.

Irene Martin, Storyteller

We will begin our History Forums at the Oysterville Schoolhouse which has been generously offered to us by the Oysterville Community Club at no charge — though we will have a donation box available to show our appreciation for their generosity.    If we find need of a larger venue, or if there is any other overriding reason for changing sites, we can cross that bridge later.

Tucker Wachsmuth, Storyteller

So… I hope those of you with questions/answers/concerns about local history will bear all this in mind and begin to spread the word.  And I would feel remiss in not giving a shout-out to Diane Buttrell who set the tone for talks of this sort at the Oysterville Schoolhouse several years ago — her focus on contemporary rather than historic concerns and minus the “forum” aspect.  Nevertheless, she was definitely inspirational in our vision of answering Jim Sayce’s question to me back in 2010:  “Sydney, when we are gone, who will tell the stories?”  We hope it will be you!

Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club? APRIL FOOL!!

Saturday, April 1st, 2023

A bit of April Fool’s history?

Perhaps you have seen the sign on the west side of the Taylor Hotel that identifies it as the Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club.  Or perhaps you have visited the Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club website which says, among other things:  Established 1877. Rejuvenated 2023.  We are a yacht club that is open to the public!

Wow!  And right in the heart of Ocean Park, too.  Not really within sight of Shoalwater Bay, though.  And, says the logo, it was “established in 1877” at the Taylor Hotel which wasn’t built until 1886.  And it was in Ocean Park which didn’t exist even as a Methodist Campground until 1883.  I am so confused.

To convolute matters even further — there really was a Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club established “in the early ’70s… (1870s that is) with headquarters at Oysterville.”   And the annual regattas that have been held in Oysterville for the past twenty years were established by Oysterville residents with deep roots here to honor those early Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club regattas.  I doubt if it has ever occurred to any of them to consider a Headquarters in Ocean Park.

Oyster boats called plungers were used in the first regattas in the early 1870s.

Did “headquarters” in Oysterville in the early 1870s mean that they had a building?  So far, there is no evidence to substantiate that idea.  And, Ocean Park is not mentioned at all in the Regattas’ historic record.  Oh!  Wait!  There was no Ocean Park in the early 1870s.

Interesting that it was all brought to my attention today.  Does that mean someone will soon say “April Fool!” and it will go away?  Or is it more like convoluting history — one of those “George Washington Slept Here” sorts of promotional deals?  (When I was a kid, every hotel on the Eastern Seaboard seemed to sport one of those signs.  I wonder if it really did help the bottom line of those establishments.)

Well, to those of us trying to shed a little light on our actual (and truly amazing) history, this convoluted version of a small piece of it seems really weird — at least to me.

I know I’m way too critical, but…

Thursday, January 12th, 2023

Those were the days!

I don’t know if it’s the 39 years of teaching in me or the life-long interest in our local history or the fact that I majored in journalism back in the day when there were proof-readers and copy-editors. Probably a combination of all the foregoing, but sometimes I get irritated at the errors I read in our local paper concerning historical information that I feel everyone who cares about our history (and dares to write about it for publication) should know.

Not that I haven’t made my own errors — and some of them lulus — but I do hold writers of our local history to a high standard.  Especially when you consider that future historians will be researching “facts” in the archives of these very newspapers.  And, the whole thing is compounded when some of the “history” now being written about has occurred in my own lifetime!  YIKES!  So, sometimes, I feel obligated to try to correct the record, at least for my own satisfaction.

What set me off this time is the article in this week’s Chinook Observer on Page B4, “Recalling the historic ferries of the Columbia.”  The picture of Captain Fritz Elfving’s Tourist No. 3 just under the word “historic” brought a smile.  How many times had I ridden that ferry as well as the Tourist No. 2?   I guess that makes me “historic” too!  And many of my friends and neighbors, as well.

Until the Oregon Coast Highway was completed in the 1930s, tourism was for the intrepid only.

But the part of the article that I found jarring (and as far as I know, inaccurate) was this sentence:  Elfving founded the Astoria-McGowan Ferry Co. in 1921, capitalizing on the sudden popularity of the Oregon Coast as a travel destination.  Maybe so, but approval for the road that we now know as the Oregon Coast Highway did not occur until 1919 and Highway 101 was not paved and finished until the early ’30s (parts of it later). Then, and only then, could coastal towns connect with each other. Perhaps, Elfving saw the hand of tourism writing on that proverbial wall, but I do not believe that was the immediate reason for his ferry enterprise.

By 1921 when Elfving loaded up his first ferry, summer tourists had been coming down the Columbia to “the beach” for more than sixty years.  But it was the “North Beach” they came to because of its easier accessibility — not the “south beaches” of Oregon.  Commerce, too, between Astoria and the North Beach Peninsula was vigorous.  By my childhood in the 1930s and ’40s, Astoria was the closest “city” for shopping and all sorts of commercial enterprises.  And the only way to get there short of hitching a ride with a fisherman headed in that direction, was by Fritz Elfving’s ferries.

Nowadays, with the big box stores crowding out the fields and forests along the northern Oregon Coast, it’s had to believe that our still rural Peninsula was the big draw for 19th and early 20th century tourism.  No wonder Captain Elfving’s motives in beginning his Astoria-McGowan Ferry Company back in 1921 are a bit confused these days.  Historians, be alert!



Attn: All History Buffs!!

Monday, December 5th, 2022

If there had been space, the title of today’s blog should have been:  ATTENTION ALL HISTORY BUFFS — ESPECIALLY LOVERS OF COMMUNITY HISTORY AND OF AUTHOR LOUISE PENNY!!

Inside the Library of Congress — is our history here?

And, although the passage I will quote below is from her latest book, A World of Curiosities, no spoiler alert is necessary if you’ve not yet read your copy.  The quote has much to do with the subject of the book but gives absolutely nothing away.  Nothing about the book that is.  But it, once again, tells so much about the author.

Reine-Marie sighed. “It’s our fault. Historians, archivists, researchers, professors, biographers.  We look to the so-called importan figures.  We value papers left behind by Premiers, Prime Ministers, Presidents — by the most prominent witnesses to history — and forget there are other witnesses.  The people who actually lived it.  The First Nations.  The farmers.  The cooks and cleaners and salespeople.  The laborers.  The immigrants, the minorities.”

Medora Espy’s Diary, August 1915 – Or is our history here?

I just want to jump up and down and shout and cajole (as I have done so numerous times in these blogs!) — Keep a journal, folks!  Write in a daybook or a diary or note events on a calendar!  Tell what something looks like, why you love dit or hate it or what the neighbors are saying about it.  Those are the descriptions of the now.  Of December 2022.  Probably not worth noting or even remembering in the now.  But in December 2122 or even 3022 it will be “history” — the real deal!!

Me too, Stephanie! Me too!

Thursday, October 20th, 2022

Isaac Alonzo Clark (1828-1906) – Co-Founder of Oysterville

My friend Stephanie wrote yesterday, “All of Sydney Stevens’ blogs are interesting, but I particularly like the ones about Oysterville history.”  I appreciated that comment for several reasons but mostly because I’ve been thinking about gathering together some of the stories about “Oysterville Characters” to take a look at our history through the eyes of those who created it.

My first thought was of the earliest codgers and crones I know about — those who were around in the Pioneer Days when my Great Grandfather, R. H. Espy, was still around.  Then,  I began to think ahead, generation by generation.

Papa and Aunt Dora when they were young – 1896

My Great Aunt Dora, R. H.’s oldest child, had some great tales of the characters who were around during her childhood in the 1870s and ’80s.  Come to think of it, so did her brother, my own beloved Papa.  As I have remarked before, though, his stories were more about the “saints” while Aunt Dora favored telling about the “sinners.”  They all expose aspects of Oysterville’s history that should be told and retold (in my opinion) so the human side of things doesn’t get sanitized or changed as our culture and sensibilities morph ever-onward.

When it comes to my mother’s generation, it gets harder.  These are people I knew and, no matter their foibles or forcefulness, I’m not sure how objective my stories of them would be.  Ditto when it comes to Oystervillians of my own generation.  Can I tell their stories capturing their unique force and influence on our little village.  Can my words ever express the joy one feels at hearing a certain neighbor’s laughter from afar or the “here we go again” feeling when another neighbor sets his jaw and “starts in” on an old sore point?

Helen Thompson (Heckes), c. 1927

But… does that really matter?   Is the point to be objective or to capture the uniqueness of some truly special, maybe even quirky, individuals as I have known them?    So far, I’m still pondering — at least regarding some of the more recent “characters” of our village.    And, no.  I’m not interested in changing the names or circumstances.  That removes some of the most important history.  And like Stephanie, that’s the part I like best.

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.