Oysterville's 150th: A Claim to Fame

<I>Lithograph from "History of Washington, Volume II," Julian Hawthorn, editor, 1893</I><BR>Isaac Alonzo Clark (1828-1906) platted the townsites for both Oysterville and Ocean Park.

By the sixth year of its existence, according to the 1860 census, Oysterville had 127 permanent residents. They made their way here from far-flung regions - Sweden, England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and 18 of the 33 established U. S. States.

In addition to oystermen, they listed their occupations as farmers, boatmen, teamsters, physicians, schoolteachers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and a variety of other trades. They ranged in age from one month to 59 years; children aged 12 and under numbered 31. The population was diverse, united by a desire to establish a new life for themselves, and was probably representative of most pioneer settlements.

Not named as part of that earliest Pacific County census was John Douglas, the first permanent American settler on Shoalwater Bay. He and his family lived a mile or so south of "downtown" Oysterville, perhaps too far distant to be included in the count. Or, possibly, the family was out of the area when the tally was taken.

Douglas was born in Maine about 1811 and first arrived at Fort George (now Astoria) in 1840. He was a cooper aboard a whaling vessel that had docked to unload blubber for rendering into lamp fuel. On its next voyage to the Columbia in 1841, the ship wintered in Astoria and Douglas took advantage of the time to have a look around. He liked what he saw and decided to come back some day and "drop anchor" permanently in the Shoalwater area.

For the next few years Douglas sailed the South Pacific. He was off Hawaii in 1846 when a barrel rolled against him, breaking one of his legs. The resulting lameness put an end to his seafaring career.

He returned to Shoalwater Bay and laid out a donation land claim of 320 acres along its western shore, somewhat south of the location that would later become Oysterville. There he built a "studdin'" house of upright posts, with a cedar shake roof and an attic with a gable-end door and an outside stairway. And, there, John Douglas settled with his Chinook wife, Jalak.

Douglas is buried in the Oysterville Cemetery and two tales are told regarding his death. One says simply that he died of pneumonia at the age of 59, though his grave marker puts him at 67. The other story says that in the 1870s, while serving as a U.S. marshal, Douglas had the misfortune to severely injure his foot. He died from gangrene because he stubbornly refused to allow a new boot (hard to come by in those days) to be cut from his swollen, infected foot.

The only other Oysterville resident to take advantage of the government's offer of free public land was Isaac A. Clark who, along with R.H. Espy, was co-founder of Oysterville in 1854. In addition to his oyster interests, Clark had land-based concerns, as well. He became the proprietor of a general store where, it is said, potential oystermen gathered to draw claims to oyster "whacks" (approximately five acres of tideland) from his hat. Soon Clark staked out a donation land claim of 161 acres, with a frontage of three-fourths of a mile on the bay, and laid out and platted the town of Oysterville.

Both Douglas and Clark registered their claims at Vancouver, Washington Territory on December 22, 1865, and their deeds were eventually issued at the "City of Washington" by President of the United States, Andrew Johnson.

It should be noted that Clark later bought acreage four miles south of Oysterville along the "Weather Beach" and donated a portion to the Methodist Camp Meeting Association of Portland, Oregon. The group bought adjacent property and hired Clark to plat a park-like summer resort area that would eventually become the town we know as Ocean Park.

Editor's Note: Sydney Stevens is the great-granddaughter of Oysterville co-founder R.H. Espy.

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