Settlers arrived in the Naselle River Valley as early as 1852, but a permanent settlement was not established until the 1870s. Naselle's earliest Euro-American pioneer, Harry K. Stevens, attempted to name the river the Kennebec, after the river in his native state of Maine, but that was quickly dropped. From Naselle's beginning, until 1920, the name of the river and community was spelled "Nasel," after the name of the local Chinook band.
The homesteaders of the 1870s included the O'Connors, Whealdons, Romermans, and the Miller brothers. Many of the subsequent arrivals were of Finnish or Swedish Finn heritage.
From the 1870s to the early 1900s, hardworking Finnish immigrants packed supplies in from the Columbia River to supply their new farms. Today, many of the valley's inhabitants are descendants of those homesteaders.
The first school was begun in 1880, later to be replaced by one closer to the Naselle Landing. Others schools included a small one at Smith Island, near Johnson's Landing; the Whealdon School, where Salmon Creek joins the river; and one near the Bighill farm, in the upper Naselle Valley.
Throughout the valley, children rowed boats and walked muddy paths through forest, wetlands, and pastures to get to their schoolhouses. Swing bridges, a combination of small logs, planks, wire cables and ropes, aided children and adults in crossing creeks and rivers. The bridges had a rope and/or wood railing to guard against a person falling into the water (especially important during wet and windy weather). At the time the school district consolidated in 1906, some children were transported to school in horse-drawn carriages. Of the many bridges once used, only one was still in use in 1982, and that one, on the upper Naselle, was built by Carl Bergquist in 1930. A farmer and logger, Bergquist built the bridge to allow his children to reach the school bus, as well as get household goods and supplies to the family home. Although a county road later connected the home to the road, the old bridge was still in use in the 1980s.
Many of the Naselle Landing buildings were erected during the 1890s boom days of McIntyre's logging camp. In 1914 several of the buildings were purchased by W. W. Moffitt, who then tore down the ones in the worst condition. A few structures were saved, modernized, and used for many more years. Electrical power was late coming to the Naselle area, however, during World War I the O'Connor family home, one of Naselle's largest and finest, was equipped with electric lights. In some areas of the Naselle and Grays River valleys electricity was not available until after World War II.
Although transportation and communication continued to be a challenge, some of the village's infrastructure began to take shape. The North Shore Telephone Company opened an office, along a new sidewalk, which ran between the hotel operated by Maurice Fildberg and the Moffitt home. Otto Zimmerman opened a store, the first in Naselle. The Finnish Lutheran Church, built in 1908, was the first in Naselle. A key transportation route was added when the graded road was built to connect Naselle and Knappton.
Ralph Antilla, a longtime Raymond businessman, now deceased, once told a story to illustrate the changes that have taken place in Pacific County and the Naselle Valley. Without improved highways and the Astoria bridge, Naselle and Deep River were once dependent upon the Raymond-South Bend area as a commercial center. Antilla recalled an early job, circa 1940.
"Another fellow and I worked for Baker Furniture of Raymond. We had this flatbed truck and would load up new refrigerators and electric stoves and head for Naselle and Deep River, where we would sell them house to house - no calls or appointments - just farmhouse to farmhouse. We sold them, too."
Logging in the Naselle River Valley
The area's first logging operations began in 1870, at Deep River and Salmon Creek. As with all early logging "shows" on Shoalwater/Willapa Bay, the trees near the rivers and creeks were the first to be logged. Next, skidroads and tramways were constructed, as the loggers pushed farther into the hills.
Railroad logging in the Naselle Valley started before World War I. The big railroad logging operations were run by the Deep River Logging Company and the Brix Brothers. Following the railroad logging came the early trucks, first used during World War I. By the 1920s, trucks had become the common log carriers. The first trucks ran on hard rubber tires, on timbered roads that kept the vehicles from being mired in mud.
From Armstrong and Leonard, in 1908, to the Smith Creek Logging Company of the 1930s and 1940s, and Johnson Brothers in the 1950s and 1960s, the old style logging slowly gave way to more modern methods. Crosscut saws were replaced by chainsaws. Steam donkeys were replaced by tractors and newer equipment. As one oldtimer once mused, "In the old days loggers wore tin pants and cloth hats. Nowadays they wear hard hats and cloth pants."
At the Naselle Landing, a dock was built on the north shore of the river to serve passengers, freight, and mail, while on the south shore another dock and depot were constructed for animal feed and produce. Wagon trails were the next best mode of transportation. One important trail connected Naselle with Knappton and the Columbia River.
A bridge across the South Fork was completed in 1898, and a new Naselle River bridge, near the hotel, was built in 1908. At first, steamers on a high tide could not continue to the hotel and South Fork landings, but when a curved span replaced the old one, the clearance allowed boats to pass under the bridge on an incoming tide.
After the bridge improvements, boats and scows offloaded animal feed, lumber, and other freight at the Russian, Cemetery, and Hunter farm landings. When gas launches began to tow freight-carrying scows upriver in the 1890s, landings could easily be made on the flood tides.
Riverfront homes faced the water, with walkways to a dock. Rowboats were a common possession of most families, essential for everyday use and emergencies. It was common to row to a neighbor's house. Up and down the river, residents would holler greetings to passersby.
A trip to South Bend took planning and time. Before automobile roads were built it took three days to make the round trip from Naselle to South Bend. A person could leave the Naselle Landing early in the morning on the Nahcotta mailboat, and after reaching Nahcotta, they would take a steamer to South Bend, arriving in the late evening. After taking care of business and shopping the following day, the traveler would take the Nahcotta bound steamer the third day. Upon reaching Nahcotta a connection was made with the outgoing mailboat, which arrived at the Naselle landing around 6 p.m.
Various steamers and launches worked the river, making stops at the Naselle Landing. Among these vessels were the Hattie, built at Astoria in 1887; the Mountain Buck, launched at Naselle in 1888; the mailboat Arthur, operated by Capt. Thomas Bell on the run between Naselle and Nahcotta; and the Robley D., built in 1911 at South Bend. Others included the Restless; the Favorite, which operated out of Bay Center; the steamer Edgar, and the J. M. Arthur-owned launch Cyclone, used during the summer months to bring his Long Beach guests to Naselle and Long Island for hunting, fishing, and sightseeing. The General Custer, built in Astoria also worked the Naselle River, but by 1908 the Custer was done, lying in the mud at the mouth of the creek below the Joe Whealdon farm. By 1900 the bigger steamers, the Shamrock and Reliable, were bringing goods and passengers to the Landing. These vessels are just a few of the many to ply the waters of the Naselle.
During the log boom days, the nine and a half miles of navigable river, full of snags and pilings, had to be cleared when log towing became a viable business. Long after the coming of the automobile and highway, fishing and log towing continued to be the main activity on the Naselle River. For years Stanley Nielsen and the Tripletts towed logs out of the river to Raymond.
In 1924, the Ocean Beach highway, linking South Bend and Raymond with Bear River and the Peninsula, was completed, including the bridge across Johnson's Slough. For a few years a ferry had operated on the Naselle River, but a toll bridge was erected when the old Riverdale bridge at Raymond was towed down the bay and put into place on the Naselle.
The Stanley and Napoleon "townsites"
In 1890, landowner Charles Holm signed a contract to trade his land for a share of the Stanley Land and Development Company, led by speculative investors J. B. Gentry and T. D. Yerrington. Yerrington was a prominent Nevada railroad man, and one of the prime movers in the speculative Stanley scheme. Three senators, including Nevada's U. S. Sen. Stewart were involved in the deal, but all stayed in the background.
Holm had previously cleared and improved a sizeable parcel of land at Stanley Point, where he had erected a home and barn. C. D. Knapp, a representative of Yerrington and his partners, enthusiastically claimed that the Stanley channel would "astonish the world." Holm's barn was to be utilized as a temporary hotel, and his meadow transformed into a train depot and switching yard.
Holm deeded a majority of his homestead property as a trade-off for the intended development of the land. In return, Knapp and Yerrington agreed to pay off Holm's mortgage, owed to John Riddell, but this never happened. Holm's payment from the men was nearly 7,000 worthless shares of stock.
The plan advertised that Stanley would be the terminus for a rail line that would run up the Cowlitz River Valley to the Cowlitz River headwaters, where anthracite coal beds were known to exist. Lots were sold for as much as $500 and at the peak of the land values it was speculated that the townsite may have been worth more than half a million dollars. More than $7,000 was taken in from the sales of lots under contract, but when the final payments were made the Land Company was unable to give clear title to the lots because papers were never legally filed.
The repercussions were drastic for the local property owners who had invested in the Stanley Land Company. A neighboring rancher, J. J. Caffee, who had invested heavily and lost everything, fell physically and mentally ill, and then died. Charles Holm, who had remained on the land he insisted was still his was labeled a trespasser by local law enforcers.
Following the failure of the land scheme, Capt. Riddell foreclosed on the mortgage and Holm was ordered to pay rent or leave the property. In June 1897, Riddell sold the former townsite to C. C. Rosenberg for a grand total of $2,250, to be used as a cattle and chicken ranch. Meanwhile, Holm continued to insist he and his family had been robbed and cheated out of their land.
In 1910, almost two decades after the Stanley fiasco, promoter F. A. Lucas of Portland organized the Willapa Trust Company to establish a new townsite called Napoleon. In speaking of his plans for the old Stanley site, Lucas said that his company bordered on waterfront facing the Chetlo Harbor straits of the Naselle River. With Spokane backing, Lucas grandiosely planned to construct a paper mill, two sawmills, a box factory, and furniture factories to provide employment and attract a population of upwards to 100,000.
In conjunction with the dreams was the plan for a shipping canal that would connect Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and the Columbia River. The planned city of Napoleon was to become a port city to rival all others in the Pacific Northwest, but the scheme failed and hopes quickly faded.
Although the name "Napoleon" was attached to financial ruin, the location and its few businesses did not immediately fade away. In 1911, the Chetlo Harbor salmon cannery was established on the site, within shouting distance across the channel from the old Barnes Cannery and Sunshine Mill. During this period of activity, Chetlo Harbor also had a post office, while children were sent across the channel to the Sunshine school. The post office, which had opened in 1911, was closed in 1918.
Living History: The Herrold Family at Cougar Bend
Tucked into a cove now called Cougar Bend, the Herrold family home, boathouse, and docks are located near what had once been the site of the Stanley, Napoleon, and Chetlo Harbor settlements. The family buildings can be seen by travelers driving south on US 101. Two of the vessels moored there are the historic tug Fearless and the 100-year-old oyster dredge Tokeland, both built by Dan Louderback in the early 20th century.
Harlan Herrold was the son of Roy Herrold, a pioneer oysterman who arrived on Shoalwater Bay from Kansas in 1889. Roy, who worked in the native and eastern oyster industry, had been a principal owner of the Ilwaco Oyster Company, an eastern oyster operation located in Nahcotta. Harlan married Elfrida Colbert of Ilwaco.
Roy and Elfrida's six children were Bernard, Betsy, twins Charlotte and Catherine, Harlan, and David. Two survive - Charlotte and David. Charlotte, now 92, currently lives in Ilwaco at the old Herrold home. Charlotte has written stories about the family, including the delightful summer experiences at the Ilwaco Station House. David, who is in poor health, resides in an Astoria nursing home. Bernard was a wonderful carver of boats.
Born in 1908, Harlan spent part of his youth working for his father and the Ilwaco Oyster Co. Around 1927, Harlan helped send out the last commercial shipments of eastern oysters from the bay. In 1976 the veteran oysterman was interviewed for a Washington State Bicentennial program. Harlan recalled his years in the oyster business.
"I've seen the business down three times. First, when the native oysters failed. Then, in the 1920s, when the eastern business went down and all this land was sold for taxes. Dad lost all his oyster land (except for one small area near Long Island). What I have bought is just small potatoes...During the Depression (the 1930s) there was nothing doing in the whole county and some promoters came in here and bought up chunks of the oyster ground which was then subdivided in little pieces...
...The first Japanese seed that came here cost around four dollars a case, guaranteed at around 2800 oysters a case...And the way that stuff grew you could swear everything lived....Those oysters sold, too, at around five cents apiece. The oystermen had more money in nothing flat...As the Japanese oyster business got started a lot of land that had been owned by school teachers and doctors was let go, sold to the new oystermen...Most of it cost about a dollar and half an acre...That's how most of the new oyster growers got their land. Lots of people just bought it for the taxes."
Harlan, who passed away in 1985, remained active in the oyster business for most of his life. After working for a short time in the northern California shipyards during the Second World War. Harlan returned to Willapa Bay where he lived in a float house near Luther Johnson's store. Harlan bought the current Herrold property in 1946, on land that had formerly been school trust property. Before the family home was completed in 1955, pilings were driven to support the dock and boathouses.
As the hardcrusted oyster grower spoke to his interviewer in 1975, he looked out over Chetlo Harbor and reflected on the Japanese (Pacific) oyster business, from 1930 to the 1970s.
"Some of this ground I haven't had very long. These new fellows (1960s and 1970s), they get big and they fall flat on their faces. That's been the history of everyone that's got big in the oyster business - they've fallen...The eastern business used to be bigger than this Japanese oyster business. It really went to town for awhile. These two boats (the Tokeland and the Daring) were both built in the eastern oyster era...That Tokeland out in front here was the type they used. There was some a little larger, but not much. It's a round bottom, about 53 feet long. There was everything in the eastern and native days, all types of boats. But this Japanese oyster business, I don't know.
"Vern Hayes came in here from Tillamook, and he was one of the biggest promoters that's ever been on the bay, he was really an operator...he could get money and throw it away and they bought out a lot of these little companies, that's what became with a lot of 'em. They were really going to raise hell with things, and then they went flat on their face. Always was going to put someone out of business, undercut somebody. That's always been the attitude. There's been lots of times when they couldn't anywhere near supply the market, but they were still going to put someone out of business...Nobody got anything out of it...All those little companies are gone, that's all. Buildings rotted down, they're all gone...Fred Wiegardt coined this thing that I thought was pretty good. He said the oyster business is a good business, it's the people in it, what's wrong with it...It's always been a cut throat deal, I don't know..."
Several of the old Herrold-owned boats went back to the turn of the 20th century. There were the little pointed-bow bateaux, which almost no one possessed by the 1970s. Harlan motioned out toward the water and pointed to the boats.
"Nobody has anymore of these - they can't afford to build 'em. Cost too much money. They want 8,000 dollars apiece for the damned little scows. The kids here, the Kemmer boys, are the only two on the bay that have any. The Wiegardts have a couple of old 'submarines,' but they're clear out of equipment and they don't have anything anymore. The submarines are old sinkers, they're sunk half the time. Bendiksen used to have a couple of them, but I think that's all there is. That's all gone. Everybody had a bunch of them a short time ago. They could buy new ones, they'd build 'em, but nobody can afford them right now."
On oyster work
When asked how many workers he had ever hired for his oyster business, Harlan said around 29, with all paid a union scale wage.
"We always paid union scale, the union went in around 1932, but I've never seen a time when you could find many to work for the scale....All the big outfits (Bendiksen and Coast) negotiate the wages...they go all out, paying one or two grades above scale, to get fellows to work. They're always pulling that.
"Nowadays I have my boys, I don't hire anybody anymore. Christ all mighty, I'm tired of being a tax collector, that's all you are if you hire anybody. When you hire a man you have to hire a bookkeeper to go with him...I wouldn't think of hiring anybody anymore....My kids got oysters coming out their ears. What's the use? If we did make any money the government would take it away from us. Who wants to make a lot of money? We do okay, in the springtime it's a good job. I'm all through myself, but we're doing okay now, we don't hurt ourselves anymore...People here continually want to get opened stock, but we don't open..."
Harlan and wife Sylvia Leikas Herrold had three boys, Ray, Harlan, and John. Sylvia passed away in 1958 when the children were very young. The three boys inherited the family business after the retirement and death of their father in 1985.
The younger Harlan passed away in 1999, leaving brothers Roy and John in control of the partnership. Today, the family play an important role in the business. John and wife Melissa have three teenaged daughters - Annie, Katherine, and Sylvia. Roy and wife Shirley have two daughters, Amber and Dee, both of whom are past 20 years of age and live on their own. Roy and John have expanded their property ownership as well as their oyster ground. Now with about 800 acres of oyster land, the brothers sell to Bay City, Ore., and also to Nick Jamber of Bay Center.
With the larger operation, Roy and John now hire high school students to pick oysters or do whatever is needed in the operation. The numbers of workers fluctuate between 3 and 9 , all from Naselle High School. John said, "We've probably put some kids through college. We've been pretty lucky getting good workers out of these kids. Sometimes we're not sure we have enough room for 'em. We pay them what their worth. One went all the way through four years of college working for us. We gillnetted, too. I started when I was 12. We still have our licenses but now we're too busy with the oysters. Right now it just doesn't figure to gill net."
1. The Chinook HS basketball team story originated in the Chinook Observer, Jan. 25, 1921. "Fast paced" is a relative term, considering the style of basketball played in the 1920s. A center jump was required following each basket. As far as travel injuries were considered, a person might easily realize that a book could be written on the evolution of liability claims and insurance, and the whole concept of a way of life, of risk and responsibility.
2. The name of the Napoleon townsite came from one of two possible sources: From the Napoleon Mine on Kettle River in northeast Washington state; or from the name of Napoleon de Grace Dion, the architect who had platted the downtown district of Raymond. After the failure of the land scheme, the site became known as Chetlo Harbor.
3. Although much of the catch was done by fish traps and set nets at this time, the presence of fish canneries on Willapa Bay in the years 1890s to 1914 coincided with the appearance of gillnetters and the development of the early trollers. Fish boats delivered their catches to Sunshine, Chetlo Harbor, and Long Island, ca. 1888-1914.
4. The old Louderback-built dredge Tokeland was sold by Harlan's father in the 1920s. The vessel was taken to the Columbia where it was renamed Service by its new oil distributorship owners. Harlan purchased the boat in 1955 and after renaming it the Tokeland, brought it back to its former home. A picture of the vessel still hangs at Carmichael Oil in Astoria.
1. Much of the Naselle information I learned about came from Elenora Hillis' writings and telephone conversation. I owe Elenora a debt of gratitude.
2. An interview with John Herrold. I owe another debt of gratitude for the time taken by John and Melissa to help me with information about the Herrold family history and photographs.
3. Part of the Swing bridge information from "Swinging Bridges and Country Schools," Peggy Mathews Busse, The Sou'wester, Vol 17, No. 2, Summer, 1982.
4. Coast Country, by Lucile McDonald. Sunshine, Long Island, Naselle River, and Nahcotta.
5. Nasel: The Centennial Book, 1878-1978,.
6. Recollections of Deep River, by Mildred Evans McLean, Portland: Guthrie Printing, 1979.
7. Glimpses of the Past: Oral Histories from Naselle, by Ruth Busse Allingham.
8. Naselle: A Finnish-American Village, Pacific County, Washington, ed. by Elenora Hillis, Finnish-American Historical Society of the West, Portland, Oregon, Vol. 26, No. 1, September, 2000.
9. "Big Plans for Stanley...," by Edith Olson, Chinook Observer, March 17, 1992.
10. "Story of the Naselle River," by Lucile McDonald, Raymond Herald, 1955.
11. "Congregational Church Dedication," South Bend Journal, November 30, 1928.
12. "Logging in Naselle Valley in Early 1900s," by Albert Wirkkala.
13. Taped archival interviews of Harlan Herrold, 1976. Washington State Oral/Aural History Program.
14. Past conversations with Lee Wiegardt reflect much of what Harlan Herrold talked about in his 1975 interviews. Lee was very hospitable and helpful when I needed information.
15. And finally, thanks to Carlton Appelo, who took the time to give me some direction.