Oysterville's 150th Birthday: The promise of a train

<I>MATT WINTERS COLLECTION</I><BR>One thing the Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Co. always had in abundance was personality, as evidenced by this early 20th century photo of the crew posing at the Nahcotta terminus with the Christmas train and its canine mascot. Nahcotta remained the turn-around station for the train up until the end in 1930, but according to an 1891 survey there once were plans to extend the railroad up to the Peninsula's north end, where a dock at Stackpole Harbor would have linked IR&N to ocean-going ships. Nothing ever came of the scheme, but the survey survives - its title is shown below.

When the first train from Ilwaco arrived in Sealand (later called Nahcotta) on May 29, 1889, my great uncle Will and his good friend Charlie Nelson were among the cheering throng. They were both six years old. Charlie was with his family, but Will was there against the express orders of his father, R. H. Espy. The determined little boy had "appropriated" one of the family's horses to get there, and he maintained ever afterwards that seeing the train pull in was well worth the punishment later meted out by his mother - spending the next two days in bed.

Whether or not R. H., himself, was on hand to greet the train is a matter of speculation. He and the other leading citizens of Oysterville were not the least bit pleased that the track-laying had stopped four miles south of their town. Sealand/NahcottaWell into the 20th century, the old-timers in Oysterville referred to Nahcotta as "Sealand" and I grew up thinking that the names were interchangeable or that Nahcotta had once been called Sealand. Not quite so.

Both names go back to the beginning of Loomis' railroad plans. When it was decided that the line would end four miles south of Oysterville, two men founded towns in the vicinity of the proposed terminus. John Paul owned property to the south of the tracks which came from Ocean Park in an easterly direction along what is now 270th Street. He founded the town of Nahcotta. About the same time, B.A. Seaborg, an I.R.&N. stockholder, founded Sealand on the north side of the tracks.

It was generally thought that Seaborg would turn his town site over to the railroad, but if that was his intention, he waited too long. Mr. Paul beat him to the punch, giving three blocks of his newly platted town to the I.R.&N. Nahcotta was "in" and Sealand gradually sank into obscurity. In 1894, the U.S. Post Office dealt the final blow, officially changed the designated mailing address from Sealand to Nahcotta.They had invested heavily in the little narrow gauge railroad on the promise that it would come all the way to Oysterville. To their way of thinking, Lewis Alfred Loomis and his Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company had let them down.

Preparation for the railroad had been thorough. Indeed, several years before construction began, the right-of-way had been determined and two surveys had been completed. Both showed the line proceeding north along the west side of the Peninsula, cutting across to the east side from Ocean Park, and proceeding north to its terminus in Oysterville.

Based on that plan, Espy invested $10,000 in the railway, becoming one of its major stockholders. And, though the Crellin brothers, John and Tom, had moved to San Francisco, they felt their business interests in Oysterville would benefit considerably by the railroad. They offered support by loaning money enough to Loomis so that he could keep a controlling interest in his new venture.

The Oysterville investors had faith in their friend Loomis. After all, he had lived in Oysterville for a short time with his brother, Edwin. He and Espy had served on the Oysterville School Board together. He had served two terms as county commissioner and was a familiar figure in and around the courthouse in Oysterville.

Furthermore, two of Loomis' early corporations were headquartered in Oysterville. And, the terminus for his stage line was in Oysterville, as was the dock where his steamers pulled in to pick up mail and passengers for points all over Shoalwater Bay. The community felt that the enterprising transportation magnate was one of their own. They had confidence in Loomis and his railroad plan.

Unfortunately for Oysterville, those early surveys were based on an estimated construction cost of $5,000 per mile of track, including equipment. By the time the line reached Nahcotta, the costs had mounted to more than twice the original estimate and it was decided to end the line there. Besides, the channel swung close to shore in Nahcotta. There, only a 1,700-foot wharf would be needed so that the train could meet oyster boats and steamers from South Bend. By contrast, the Oysterville dock, built in 1881, took a full mile to reach the channel and already needed substantial repair.

By 1888, the Pacific Journal was urging its Oysterville readers to raise the necessary capital to get the train north, but the encouragement fell on deaf ears. As Isaac Whealdon said later of the Crellins, "They seemed to have perfect faith in L.A. Loomis and his ability to accomplish what he set out to do."

It wasn't until the little train had been making the Ilwaco-to-Nahcotta run for almost a year that Oysterville rallied and raised $40,000 for construction of an extension. Backers were sure that the line to Oysterville would be up and running by July 1890, but it was a case of "too little, too late" and, presumably, that was the end of that.

Recently, though, I ran across an interesting document. Rolled up tightly and tucked in the corner of an old chest in one of our upstairs bedrooms was yet another plan for the railroad's extension. When laid out flat, it proved to be an 18-inch-wide, seven-and-a-half-foot-long blueprint by Cuthbertson & Harry Engineers, etc. of Astoria, Ore. Titled "Alignment of Rail-Road from Sealand to Stackpole Harbor," it is dated March 31, 1891.

Since this "discovery," other copies of the proposed Stackpole Harbor extension have surfaced. The many articles and books about the Peninsula's narrow gauge railroad are silent on this last proposal for the northward extension of the line. Why? And why, at that late date was such an effort being made? Was it one last, desperate effort on the part of Oysterville's citizenry to "get on board"? Did they think the presence of the train could stave off the growing pressures to move the county seat? And, why the extension clear to Stackpole Harbor? Was it closer to deep water than Oysterville?

As usual, each new discovery leads to more questions than answers.

Editor's Note: Sydney Stevens is the great-granddaughter of R.H. Espy who, with his partner I.A. Clark, founded Oysterville in 1854. Members of the Espy family have lived continuously in Oysterville since that time and, through the years have amassed an interesting collection of anecdotes and memories. We offer them here as a salute to Oysterville's sesquicentennial year.

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