Posts Tagged ‘Willard Espy’

In My Mind’s Eye

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Red Cottage 1984

After vespers Sunday, a man approached me to ask, “What happened to the roses that have always been on the fence in front of the old courthouse in Oysterville?”  I had to think for a minute to realize that he meant the profusion of Dorothy Perkins roses that once grew on Willard’s fence.  They grew there more recently, too, during the twenty years that the Accuardis owned the little red cottage.  In my mind’s eye, they are there still.

But, of course, I know better.  New owners.  New ideas.  No roses.  I imagine it’s a work in progress, which is what I told the gentleman who was asking.  I’m not sure why he targeted me as the one who should know except that I had been identified during the service as the one who had supplied the bouquets for that day – vases of Dorothy Perkins roses!

Red Cottage, July 2017

I felt pleased he had noticed that they were gone.  I thought it was just me.  And I thought, once again, how hard it is to deal with change as I age.  I guess, in a way, it’s good that I can still pull up  my mind’s eye memories.  And I so appreciate others who remember, as well.

Once, long ago, I walked into the living room and found my mother weeping over the paper.  Someone I didn’t know had died – a girlhood friend of hers.  “I’m so sorry,” I said and was a bit taken aback by her response: “It’s not that she died, exactly.  It’s just that she’s the last one who remembered Mama when she was a young woman. When we were children…”

At Vespers, July 16, 2017

Now, as I approach the age when my contemporaries are becoming scarce, I understand more fully what my mother meant. If we live long enough, we finally get to the place where there are fewer and fewer people who share our memories.  Whether it’s the particular quality of my own mother’s laugh or that twinkle in my father’s bright blue eyes, it’s nice to know that others remember too.  Even when it comes to the roses on Willard’s fence

Enjoying the Begats!

Thursday, January 21st, 2016
The Tiadaggtin Elm (in 1939), site of the Fair Play Men's Declaration of Independence

The Tiadaggtin Elm (in 1939), site of the Fair Play Men’s Declaration of Independence

Alexander Hamilton, Indian killer, was my grandfather’s great-grandfather, or my father’s great-great-grandfather, or my own great-great-great-grandfather, depending on how you want to put it. His daughter Anna married Tom Espy, who… begat the first Robert Espy, who begat the second, who begat papa, who begat me.

So wrote Willard Espy in his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village. If you know that my mother was Willard’s sister, it doesn’t take much to figure out where I hop into the picture in that long line of begats. Nor does it take much further reading to realize that this Alexander Hamilton isn’t the famous one. But, he had an interesting life all the same. Most importantly, he made his own contributions to the beginnings of our country as one of the signers of the Pine Tree Declaration of Independence, drawn up and dated (by extraordinary co-incidence) on July 4, 1776.

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton, of course!)

“Our” Alexander Hamilton and the other twenty-two signers of that remarkable document called themselves the “Fair Play Men” but have come down in history as a group of illegal settlers (squatters) who established their own system of self-rule from 1773 to 1785 in the West Branch Susquehanna River valley of Pennsylvania in what is now the United States. Or so claims the not-always-reliable Wikipedia Online Dictionary.

I’m not much of a genealogist, myself, but I sure am glad that Willard was. And I’m even gladder that he chose to write about our forebears in his marvelous book about Oysterville. I just love those begats – especially the way Willard told about them!

Playing Second Fiddle

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Willard Espy, circa 1980

I’ve begun to take a better look in the Crosscut file box – the work of Ilwaco High School journalism students in late 1970s. The notes and tapes from twenty interviews of local residents are a treasure trove of recent Peninsula history and, I hope, will make for an interesting Observer series.

The subject of one of the interviews (done by Paul Yunker, April Williams, and Lisa LeClaire) was ‘Sydney LaRue’. That, of course, was me-before-Nyel, and probably took place in 1979 or 1980 just a few years after I moved full-time back to Oysterville. Unfortunately, none of the interviews are dated, and I have absolutely no memory of the experience at all.

I had to smile as I read the first couple of questions: “How are you related to Willard Espy?” and “What is he working on now?” I wonder, in retrospect, why they didn’t just interview Willard, himself. He was living here six months of each year and was famously accessible. Even now, people love to tell me how they knocked on his door one afternoon to have him sign a book and he invited them in for a drink and a chat.

img388The interview eventually became more about me but the way it began – in fact the entire tone would be repeated many years later when David Campiche interviewed me for Coast Weekend. My Dear Medora book had just come out so it must have been 2007 and the resulting story that David wrote turned out to be almost entirely about Willard. Years later he and I laughed about that, he a bit apologetically as I remember.

The truth is, if it’s a matter of playing second fiddle to someone, I can’t think of any better company to be in than Willard’s. I adored him and vice-versa. He was my uncle, my Godfather, my friend and my mentor. How lucky I was to have him in my life!

My Uncle Wede? Feet of Clay?

Saturday, February 7th, 2015


Willard Espy, 1975

Willard Espy, 1975

When it comes to writing and storytelling, especially about Oysterville, my uncle Willard Espy has always been my role model. Even before Willard got into the book writing business and certainly long before my own writing interests became focused on this beloved little hamlet, Willard (or ‘Wede’ as the family usually called him) was my own, personal shining star.

Partly, it was because I considered his life romantic. He had gone to Paris to study at the Sorbonne in 1930 and eked out a living there as an artist’s model. He returned to the states and worked for a string of small newspapers in California’s San Joaquin Valley during the depths of the Great Depression. He went to New York City, lived in Greenwich Village, worked for an avant-garde magazine and eventually went to work at the Readers’ Digest.


Willard at Work, 1945

That was in 1941 just about the time I began first grade. During my most impressionable years I would hear about the interesting people Wede met in the course of his job with the Digest. His title was Public Relations Manager and part of his responsibility was to ghost write the back cover of the magazine which was always a testimonial by a famous personage. Over the years he interviewed folks even I, a little girl in far off California, had heard of – Groucho Marx, Albert Einstein, Lillian Gish.

In addition to all those romantic aspects to his life (he was even married to an artist/writer and they had four daughters within three years!) I was very early aware of Wede’s work ethic. No matter what else was happening in his life, Wede wrote. Beyond his everyday job (which, itself, involved writing), Wede wrote stories and articles and novels and news pieces. It was a lifelong habit. It wasn’t until after he had begun to collect social security and had semi-retired that his first book was published. There would follow many more.

Oysterville by Willard Espy

Oysterville by Willard Espy

Yes, he was a wonderful role model. But just recently I’ve begun to understand that he was not a perfect role model – certainly not in the matter of historical accuracy. Not that ‘historian’ was ever one of his claims to fame, but he was a genealogist and was meticulous in his searches for forebears back in those days before modern aides such as the internet. And he was a superlative storyteller, especially in the matter of family history.

So, it has come as quite a shock to me to find that several of the stories told in his Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village are riddled with inaccuracies. Take the story about how his grandparents met and married – that in 1869 R.H. Espy traveled to Salem with Lewis A. Loomis (later founder of the local narrow gauge railroad) to choose a teacher for the Oysterville School.  Loomis didn’t come to Oysterville from New York until 1872, though his brother Ed was here. Wrong Loomis, Wede!

And take the part of the story where the young (eighteen-year-old) teacher Julia boards at the Stevens Hotel where there are four unmarried daughters about her age. Not! The two eldest Stevens girls were married and long gone; the two youngest were nine and eleven – hardly competing for the eye of bachelor R. H. Espy.

Historical facts, notwithstanding, Willard was a consummate storyteller. He’s still my role model. It’s hardly his fault that I get hung up on the details. But I do wish he were still around so I could chide him… just a little.

Espy’s the name: E-S-P-Y

Friday, January 23rd, 2015
Espy Coat of Arms... Pehaps

Espy Coat of Arms… Pehaps

Last Sunday I met a woman who said she knows one of my relatives – “Sue Espy” who lives in Portland. I know (or think I know) all the descendants of my great-grandfather, R.H, Espy and, in addition, I know many of the descendants of his brothers and sisters, but I don’t know of a Sue with the Espy surname. I’m afraid my response to my new acquaintance was a bit skeptical but I hope someday to meet Sue Espy and learn more.

It was my uncle Willard who was considered the genealogist of our family and his response to such information was always, “Yes, we probably are related.” I concur with that. I just don’t know the how of my connection to Sue. If I had Willard’s interest in my family roots, I could undoubtedly find out, but I don’t so I probably won’t. I do often think, though, how much easier his quest would have been these days with internet access to sites like and social media conversations galore with the strike of a key.

Willard did most of his searching by good, old-fashioned longhand correspondence or by traveling to interview possible sources in person. His archive has entire boxes devoted to queries to and responses from county clerks and veterans’ organizations and individuals all over the country. He compiled his information into three large loose-leaf binders, copies of which he supplied to all of his immediate family and to all of his eighteen first cousins or their offspring. The pages of those books are chock-a-block full of amazing information!

He also checked out the origins of the family name. A certificate from Halberts in Bath, Ohio says that there are approximately 400 heads of households (yielding about 1,280 people) in the United States with the old and d Espy distinguished Espy name – a name with the most prominent variations being Delespie, Epis and Espie. (There is no mention of the Espey spelling which my own branch of the family used briefly in the 1890s.) Unfortunately there is no date on the Halberts certificate, but I think Willard received it in the 1960s or ‘70s.

Besides all that interesting information about our far flung “cousins” and their name-spellings, the certificate shows and describes the Espy Coat of Arms: Quartered: 1) and 4) blue, a gold ear of wheat in left diagonal position; 2) and ) silver, a red bull walking and in the black upper third, three silver shells. It goes on to explain: the surname Espy appears to be occupational in origin, and is believed to be associated with the French, meaning, “one who was a farmer.” Furthermore, according to Halberts’ certificate, Family mottos are believed to have originated as battle cries in medieval times. A Motto was not recorded with the Espy Coat of Arms.

Family Name Certificate

Family Name Certificate

So, if we were to believe all that, the Espys were farmers, not soldiers and possibly of French origin. I don’t know what Willard thought of Halberts’ information. He did claim that the origin of the Espy name was French – he said from the word espier meaning to spy. (The first known use of the word espy was in the 14th century – or so the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary reports.) So maybe we were spies and attached to the military, not farmers after all?  When all was said and done, however, Willard did not believe that any of our forebears were illustrious enough to have warranted a coat of arms.  Nor do I.

Perhaps of note:   the source of this lovely certificate, Halberts Publishing Company, is now out of business and according to many online reports, its information was not reliable. In fact, says   Beware of family history scams: First it was Halberts of Bath, Ohio Then Morphcorp in Denver, Colorado. is the latest to promote the scam!

Who knows… maybe Willard’s hand written queries and in-person visits were the best way after all.

“A Ready Reference Receptacle” – Part Two

Monday, December 29th, 2014


Signed: Porfirio Diaz

Signed: Porfirio Diaz

When I finished writing yesterday’s blog about the 1876 “newspaper cuttings” featuring my great-grandfather Daniel Sidney Richardson, I took a few minutes to look beyond those first few pages of the “Ready Reference Receptacle” as this once-upon-a-time blank book was described. Well affixed to almost every page are the columns and articles written by my forebear, each with his familiar D.S.R. notation on the final line.

But, there are other treasures, as well. On page 23, for instance, is a note to Señor D.D.S. Richardson (why the double D?) dated Mexico 22 Junio 1878 and signed Porfirio Diaz who was then President of Mexico. My Spanish is not quite good enough to get the nuances of the note, but it seems to be expressing appreciation for a photograph received from Dan the day before. Maybe. I’m sure my Spanish-speaking friends can help me out with this.

In any case, finding something signed by Diaz was a bit of a thrill. In his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, my uncle Willard Espy wrote this about Dan’s wife, my Great Grandmother: But Mexico remained her heart’s home. When General Diaz fell ill at the time President Garfield was shot, grandma’s whole concern was for the sick Mexican; her Richardson in-laws explained to her, using charts, that our own President was her husband’s sixth cousin once removed, but she could not have cared less whether Garfield lived or died.

To: Charles Warren Stoddard

To: Charles Warren Stoddard

On the very next yellowing, somewhat crispy page of this old scrapbook is another surprise – an envelope addressed to Charles Warren Stoddard, 616 Harrison Street, San Francisco, California with a notation in the lower left corner: Walt Whitman. The cancellation mark: LONDON ONT JU 25 80.

I have long heard that there are letters among our family papers from both Charles Warren Stoddard and Walt Whitman (as well as from Joaquin Miller and other notable California poets of the late nineteenth century.) They were among Dan’s friends and fellow members of the California Poets Society.

But this envelope is the first physical evidence that I’ve seen indicating that those letters really exist. Not that I ever doubted the stories. I just thought that Willard had appropriated those bits and pieces when he was researching his Oysterville book and they never got back into the files. Maybe they’ll yet show up…

The Consummate Storyteller

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
Willard Espy, 1989 Video

Willard Espy, 1989 Video

Yesterday afternoon I spent the better part of an hour with my Uncle Willard. He was telling stories about Oysterville – familiar stories that I had heard him tell many times previously. On this occasion, though, he was ‘in person’ but not ‘live.’ He was speaking through the magic of a digitized tape-recorded talk he gave at the Ocean Park Timberland Library on July 29, 1989. Oyster documentarian Keith Cox had sent it to me on a DVD in a digitized version.

It was a pretty poor quality recording all the way around – lousy camera angle, horrible background of empty bookshelves, a very difficult-to-understand audio. But it was Willard in all his storytelling glory and I watched it eagerly, thinking all the while that he was just the age I am now when the original tape was made.

DVD Case

DVD Case

He told about Espy and Clark’s arrival in Oysterville and when he messed up some of the facts I found myself calling out to him: “No, it wasn’t Nahcati; it was Old Klickeas who told Espy where the oysters were.” and “No, not April 3rd; it was April 12th that they arrived.” But I soon got caught up in the magical world of his stories and I didn’t listen for facts anymore.

Willard never did claim to be a historian, just a storyteller. When his works were published, though, he was as meticulous as he could be about the facts. But somehow, it wasn’t those details that mattered a twit back on that Saturday afternoon twenty-five years ago. The audience, heard but not seen, loved every bit of it.

I found myself trying to analyze what made Willard the consummate storyteller. Was it his slow, deliberate, thoughtful delivery? Was it his obvious delight in pointing out the foibles of the people he talked about? Was it the confidence with which he spoke? Was it some unknown undefinable quality of charisma?

Whatever the combination, I wish I could replicate it next Spring when I teach “Putting the Story Back in History” at Grays Harbor College. Maybe if I watch the DVD again. And again…

The Last Outhouse in Oysterville

Monday, January 20th, 2014
R.H. Espy Outhouse

R.H. Espy ‘Outhouse’ 2014

As far as I know, the little two-room shed just north of the Red House is the last outhouse in Oysterville.  It seems fitting, somehow, that it is a double-occupancy affair and that it is at the erstwhile home of one of the town’s founders, R. H. Espy.  It is a cut above the run-of-the-mill outhouse – certainly better than the one I remember here at my grandfather’s place back in the thirties.

It isn’t a two-holer in the usual sense of that expression.  There were actually two compartments separated by a wall, each little room with its own entrance door.  Now days there is a full floor – no hole going down, down, ‘down into elimination’ as one time resident Edith Olson so famously wrote of her outhouse at the Bardheim Dairy property.  Nor is there a typical bench style seat upon which the user could sit and read the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

Long ago the outhouse was converted from its original use to a shed for storing garden tools or firewood or who-knows-what.  I suspect that my great uncle Cecil (the youngest R.H. Espy son) did the conversion when he moved into the house after his retirement in the 1960s.  He had been a banker in Portland and was known for his thrifty ways and for his careful stewardship of the old house and grounds.

I also think that the outhouse was the only ‘facility’ available at the R.H. House until well into the Forties.  My uncle Willard and his (then) wife Hilda bought the house in 1946. Although they lived in upstate New York, it was their plan to spend summers with their children here in Oysterville – or at least Hilda would, and Willard would join them during his vacation weeks from Readers’ Digest where he was the Circulation and Public Relations Manager.

On March 31, 1946 Willard wrote a list of their plans for updating the 1871 structure.  Item #1 was: The bathroom… will be in the little service room off the kitchen.  That bathroom is still there.  It should be noted that it was not until FDR’s rural electrification program got to Oysterville in 1938 that homeowners finally had the luxury of electric pumps and could have running water and, luxury of luxuries, inside toilets.

H.A. Espy House and Outhouse c. 1940

H.A. Espy House and Outhouse c. 1940

I suspect that most full-time residents who could afford to do so installed inside plumbing almost immediately.  But, electricity was unreliable at best in those days, and homeowners kept the “privy out back” for a good many years against the days and weeks of winter power outages.  Since no one was residing in the R.H. Espy House full-time, there seemed no urgency in updating.  Not until Hilda faced living there with four little girls who were separated in age by less than three years!

I doubt that the outhouse is the original, by any means.  I don’t know when it was built or, perhaps re-built the last time.  I suspect it was there in the1960s when Uncle Cecil returned to his boyhood home and I imagine he fixed it up for use as a shed.  Or… maybe the conversion was done by his children or grandchildren or even more recently by his now-grown great-grandchildren,  I’ll have to ask my Red House Cousins…

Before the Red Cottage was red…

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Red Cottage 1973

Red Cottage 1973

During the Christmas holidays of 1956, my son Charlie, his father and I stayed in the Red Cottage.  At that time, it was owned by my grandfather who, at age 80 was “in his dotage” as the family said, and was being cared for by my aunt Mona in the white house across from the church where he had lived since 1902.  Charlie was seven months old and had come to Oysterville to pay his respects to his great-grandfather.  I have a picture him being tenderly held in Papa’s arms.

I think it was felt that it would be less confusing for Papa if we stayed in the cottage across the way.  It was not yet red and, as I remember, we just called it “the old courthouse” for it had served that purpose back in the 1860s before the two-story courthouse was built in 1875.  I do have a photo of the cottage as it looked when we stayed there – the outside, of course.  We didn’t often think to take pictures of interiors in those days.

What I do remember of the inside is that it had a chemical toilet in the hallway outside the bedroom and a pitcher pump affixed to the kitchen sink.  The house was not plumbed.  I don’t remember if it had electricity, but I doubt it.  I imagine we more-or-less camped there and spent most of the daytime hours visiting neighbors and showing off our new baby.  I do remember that we ate at Papa’s every night – lots of pot roast.  Mona was big on pot roast.

Red Cottage with Roses

Red Cottage 2006

Twenty years later, Willard and Louise Espy bought the cottage and painted it red.  They spent some weeks during the summer of 1976 ‘making improvements.’  Here is what he wrote to his friend Dr. Dorothy Page:

            22 July, 1976

Dear Doctor Dorothy,

            …We had a marvelous time at Oysterville.  The family owns a tiny cottage, built in 1860 – the oldest house in Oysterville, and certainly one of the oldest in that part of the state; it served for a time as county courthouse – and we are remodeling it – though that is perhaps too big-sounding a word – to make an occasional retreat.  It had a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and two tiny bedrooms.  A year ago we knocked out the partition between the living room and one of the bedrooms, creating an L-shaped study-living room.  We installed a sizable fireplace in the south wall, and  put up bookshelves – too many, I’m afraid; there is space for more than 1,000 books, and so far we have found only about 100 that we felt like sparing from the New York apartment.  We also exchanged the single window before my desk for a double one, tempting me irresistibly to look out across the fields and bay when I should be writing.

            This year we spent virtually our whole stay at Oysterville painting spackling, puttying, laying carpets, and the like.  All that remains to be done in terms of basic changes is to double another window (over the eating area), knock a French door into the west wall of the living room, and add a deck out back so that we can enjoy the afternoon sun in privacy.  The furniture is only left-overs now, but we’ll change that gradually, as we can afford to.  We’ve already picked up a rather nice sideboard, 1890 Vintage, in Seattle…

I haven’t been inside the Red Cottage for many years and I imagine it is quite different now.  As they say, “Change happens…”

“The Espy Lineage Is Secure!”

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

img267My Uncle Willard Espy, son of Harry and grandson of Robert Hamilton was the genealogist of our branch of the family.  He spent more than sixty-five of his eighty-nine years tracing lineages and writing up his ‘discoveries’ for the edification of Espy family members, their spouses, and progeny.  It was his fondest wish that the Espy name be perpetuated through the R.H. line and he was hopeful for many years that he would be instrumental in that endeavor.

Willard’s first child, Ian,  was a boy, seemingly an assurance that in our line the Espy name would continue for at least another generation.  The child’s legal last name, however, became Anderson shortly after his  birth and he was estranged from Willard and the rest of the family from an early age.  Most of us have never even met him.  In one of those double whammies that fate often delivers, Willard was blessed with a second son (his sixth child) but, sadly, Jefferson died early and without issue.

In 1989, now a full generation ago, Willard wrote:

            Seventy of Robert’s and Julia’s 91 descendants are living; 21 are dead.  The latter group includes the couple’s eight children, 11 of their 18 grandchildren, and two of their 22 great-grandchildren.  There have been no deaths among the 33 great-great-grandchildren or the nine great-great-great-grandchildren.
            There is a shortage of male Espys to carry on the name.  Of the seven extant, three – R.H. Edwin(II.8); Willard Richardson (III.9), and John Carroll (III.17) – are in their 70s or 80s and cannot be relied on to sire additional progeny.  In the fourth generation, Ian at 54, and John Steven at 50, are still potential progenitors, but at this point I wouldn’t give odds. John Steven says he has already paid his dues, having had one son.  As for Ian, he was reared under his stepfather’s name, Anderson.  It is unclear whether his child, Andrew will eventually be known as Espy or Anderson, or even Reed, which is the name of his mother.
            So, of all Robert Hamilton’s 70 living descendants, only John Steven’s son Christopher seems a better than even bet to extend the Espy name into future generations.  I wish him a long and fruitful marriage and an abundance of male children.Benjamin Alexander Espy

The statistics have changed a great deal in the last twenty-four years.  Most interestingly, as it has turned out, Willard’s son Ian has taken the Espy name.  Willard’s grandson Andrew uses the Espy name, as well, as do Andrew’s three daughters.   

And, in this morning’s email I received the very welcome news that there is another cause for rejoicing among the R. H. Espy descendants.  My second cousin John writes: “The Espy lineage is secure.  Benjamin Alexander Espy was born May 16, 2013 to Christopher Espy and Monika Espy.”

 I can hear Willard clapping and cheering from on high!