Sea Haven, Stony Point & Bay Center: Part 2

Sea Haven, Stony Point & Bay Center: Part 2

In the years approaching the turn of the 20th century, Goose Point remained a favored living and camping place for local Indians.

Long before white settlement, the area had been the site of Chinook homes, encampments, and trade bazaars, something that was still in evidence when James Swan wrote his 1857 book, "The Northwest Coast."

According to Swan, the people depended upon the local area for their livelihood. They fished from canoes that drifted down stream, and during low tides used clubs, large hooks, spears, and even their hands, while wading among the fish crowding the streams.

A combination of the increased Euro-American population, disease, and pressures of acculturation eventually changed the landscape of Goose Point and the Palix River area.

Goose Point Pioneers

Pioneer Joel Brown established a Donation Land Act claim in 1853, which ran from the point to a site later known as "Rhodesia Beach." The visionary Brown built a small cabin on the hill overlooking the Palix, then mapped out a plan to create a town. Widely respected by his neighbors, Brown was, by popular consensus, his neighbors' choice to represent them at the first territorial legislature. Unfortunately, he died on Jan. 4, 1854, before the election could be held.

Dr. James R. Johnson, who had moved to Shoalwater Bay from the Olympia area, was the next settler in the area. Johnson took out his own Donation Land Act claim, built a cabin, and established a small herd of cattle. The doctor also kept a cabin at Bruceport, where he carried on a medical practice.

With a modest increase in the number of settlers, Palux, as the small village was first called and spelled, began to take shape, first along the shoreline, then on the hill above the river.

By 1873, Doctor Johnson's claim was sold, and within two years Asahel Bush arrived from upriver Riverside to plat the town. L. H. Rhoades built the first house on the small hill, which became the village's neighborhood of homes.

In 1863 Rhoades built a small water-powered sawmill on the north fork of the Palix, but ran out of funds before it had cut its first log. E. O. Reed and Daniel Wilson (the same man from the Woodard's Landing area, and the father of George Wilson) took over the operation and got the mill running. Many of Bay Center's oldest homes were built with lumber cut at the Palix mill.

A post office was established in 1875. A contest was held to select a new name for the community, and residents chose Postmistress Mattie Rhoades' suggestion of "Bay Centre." The spelling was later changed. Until its 1876 opening, people had depended on Bruceport mail deliveries. The weekly mailboat from Oysterville had made deliveries at Bruceport, North Cove, Woodard's Landing, and Riverside in 1871. (During 1876, stops were added at Bay Center and South Bend.) At first there were no roads between the communities; transportation was by boat, either by skiff or sloop, or an occasional steamer.

The first school was at the home of L. H. Rhoades, at Sand Point, about a mile and a half south of the present village. During the two winters of 1876 and 1877, a new schoolteacher, Miss Virgil, corresponded to her family in New York: "The town now has fifteen families, a hundred people, and is a flourishing little settlement ... there are no log houses ... the school is quite comfortable."

By 1890, Bay Center had not only established itself as the center of the bay's oyster industry, but boasted of a school, a post office, a new Methodist Episcopal Church, a blacksmith shop, four stores, and two boat shops. A decade later the village had grown from about 180 inhabitants to more than 200. By 1908 a hotel had been added, and even a confectionary store, operated by the town's postmistress. In 1916 it was believed that almost every adult male in Bay Center was involved in the local crab fishery.

Wilsonville

Across the mouth of the Palix was the Wilson family enclave, known as "Wilsonville." George W. Wilson established a Donation Land Act claim in 1853, on the north side of the Palix River channel, and for a brief time his father, Daniel Wilson; two brothers, William and Daniel, Jr.; and two of his sisters joined him to live on the claim. The first Wilson house was built near the shore, but later a larger home was erected on the hill (near the present Highway 101). The old claim no longer is inhabited by the Wilsons - the last family member to live there was Howard Wilson.

Pioneer George Wilson was a contemporary of Joel Brown and Dr. J. R. Johnson, the earliest of the Bay Center pioneers. Unmarried at the time, George did what many other pioneers did in that day - he bought a boat, oyster tongs, and went into the oyster business.

After spending 20 years as a bachelor, in 1873 George married Elizabeth Goodpasture, a widow whom he had known in Ohio. George and Elizabeth had three children to add to her son from a first marriage. As the years went on, several households made up the Wilson enclave: Sons Edwin, Emerson, and Howard Wilson; son-in-law W. R. (Dick) Marion; George Brown; and Eugene Wilson.

Several other families also lived at Wilsonville, including the A. J. Horne family; the George and Margaret Squamaup family; a widowed Indian woman named Yank; and C. Mori, a Japanese-Korean family servant.

Oysters and Salmon

The Bay Center Oyster Company was organized by Asahel Bush, Dick Marion, Fred Craft, Leonard and Lewis Rhoades, George Wilson, Orlando Wilson, and Captain West. The company's first headquarters was at the Reed Boatshop.

Along with the Clarks at Stony Point, Bay Center's early oystermen seldom restricted themselves to one company, and these men were not the exception. The Rhoades brothers also owned the Occidental Oyster Company, Asahel Bush and sons organized the Northern Oyster Company, and the Wilsons and Dick Marion represented Morgan and Company on Shoalwater/Willapa Bay. Marion was married to Mary V. Wilson Marion, making him a son-in-law of George Wilson. When Marion died in 1910, Charley Peterson was hired by Mary to run the oyster company. Eventually, Charley bought the company, which years later was sold to Ted Wilson.

In 1887 B. A. Seaborg built a salmon cannery along the Palix. Many of the cannery employees were Chinese laborers. Part of the crew lived in a bunkhouse located adjacent to the cannery, with an overflow quartered nearby, at Bay Center's old schoolhouse.

The cannery had a brief existence, closing in 1889 and leaving many men out of work. Several of the Chinese workers stayed to work in the oyster industry. These men lived in shacks near the Bay Center waterfront, and for a number of years the "China houses" formed what was considered by some inhabitants as a skid row. The Chinese sold liquor to the Indians - and the results were not always very nice. Celebrations turned into bloody fights, with troubles sometimes threatening bystanders. A justice of the peace was appointed, and a newly built jail was kept busy.

On the evening of Aug. 6, 1901, a murder was committed in Bay Center when a Chinese man, Lum You, killed Oscar Bloom. Questions were raised at the trial about Bloom's threats and the possibility of self-defense, but Lum You was found guilty of murder in the first degree and was ordered to be hanged.

Because a recent law, which directed all executions be done at Walla Walla, had not yet taken effect, Lum You was to meet his fate in the county of his conviction. The event was treated as a spectator sport and 500 invitations were sent out to witness the execution. Encouraged and frightened by others, the frantic man broke out of jail in early January of 1902, but was recaptured, very drunk and scared. Lum You was hanged on Jan. 31, 1902, at the old courthouse in South Bend.

The Boatbuilders: Joseph George, A. A. Compton, and John Fosse

Joseph George was one of the bay's most prolific boatbuilders, and had a well-deserved reputation for the distinctive product that came out of his Bay Center shop. Many of the finest trollers along this part of the Northwest Coast were either built by George or modeled after designs he developed.

Joseph's parents were George and Margaret Squamaup. As a youngster, Joseph's family lived at Wilsonville, and he crossed the river with the Wilson children to attend the Bay Center school. The schoolhouse was a small wood framed building near Olsen's Store and old Bay Center jail. School did not appeal to the boy and he dreamt of being a boat builder. To learn the necessary skills he would hang around anyone working on a boat.

After gas engines began to be used, and following an apprenticeship with his father, Joseph opened his own shop. His first job was a boat for A. J. Horne. Joseph had learned to be thorough: he drew the plans, made the model, and figured the materials down to the last inch of lumber and the exact number of nails and screws.

In 1942, past the age of 70, Joseph moved to the Skokomish reservation near Hood Canal, where he opened another boat shop. He returned to Bay Center in 1945, to construct the Nancy Jean for the Holmes' Brothers Pacific Oyster Company. It was while building the Holmes' oyster dredge that he fell ill. After being taken to the Cushman Hospital in Tacoma, Joseph died on July 22, 1945.

Although Dan Louderback's prolific output of watercraft cannot be matched on Willapa Bay, Joseph George's legacy is that of a Chinook boy who lived at a time of great change. Joseph grew up in two worlds, one the traditional Indian way of life, and the other as a highly skilled builder of gasoline and diesel-powered fish boats, mostly for Caucasian fishermen.

In 1930, George designed a 43-foot troller and then directed the contruction of the boat at the Fosse-Louderback Boat Shop in South Bend. The vessel was 11.25 in the beam, 6.5 feet deep, and powered by a 45-horsepower Atlas Imperial diesel engine. The owner of the new boat, the Juanita, was Ed Armstrong of Tokeland.

Joseph George's life journey had begun by whittling toy canoes and then constructing canoes and early sailboats, and then continued with the building of steam and gasoline powered vessels, and finally ended with the diesel engine era. The talented boatbuilder's work represented a supberb craftsmanship and included the Condor II, and many other vessels, such as the double-ender crabber/salmon trollers of outstanding dimensions. Some of these crafts were still in operation during the last two decades of the 20th century. Dorwin Fosse, retired South Bend boat builder, acknowledged that his father, John Fosse, learned his skills from Joseph George.

A.A. Compton, born the son of English parents, became another of Bay Center's boatbuilders, but little is known about his work. Compton was both a boat engineer (he worked on the steamer Favorite) and an excellent boatbuilder who built many of the bay's pointed-bow oyster batteaux.

Although John Fosse spent more than a quarter of a century at Bay Center, much of his later work was done at South Bend, where he and his family had moved in 1923. John was born Johannes A. Fosse in 1873 near Bergen Norway and emigrated to America, arriving at Willapa Bay around 1895. In his early years at Bay Center, Fosse worked in the oyster business. He purchased the oyster land during the eastern oyster era, but when the industry weakened after 1912, boatbuilding became a full time occupation. .

When Fosse moved to South Bend he established a boat shop at the old South Bend World War I shipyard, located on the former Kleeb Mill property. Following the completion of several boats, built for Amandus Pederson, Hilberg Hansen, Pete Alvnes, Krist Stromsness, and other "Snoose Hill" fishermen, John joined Marion Louder-back and Alma Smith to build a Willapa Bay pilot boat, the Bonne. When the three men joined together, they built a new boat shop along the Willapa River, near the Willapa Harbor Iron Works. After Alma left to pursue the towing business, Marion and John continued to operate their partnership for several years (1926 to 1944).

Loyal Clark was proud of a John Fosse and Marion Louderback-built oyster dredge that he called the Skanoentntl, a Chinook word for wolf. Built in 1931, it was specially designed for its duty, with the pilot house far aft and the forward deck clear for dredging and carrying of the oysters. The Skanoentntl was powered with a 42-horsepower Palmer gas engine.

In 1945 the Skanoentntl was owned by Blackie Reischman of Bay Center, who had changed the name to the Eva R. The boat was brought back into the Fosse-Louderback shop for renovations, including a new bow and an extension of ten feet. The cabin was enlarged and raised, and the entire hull was renovated. Though technically called an oyster dredge, it was designed for the seaworthiness of a motor boat, combined with the wide beam and shallow draft particularly adapted to oystering. The Skanoentntl's old Palmer motor was replaced with a 150-horsepower Cummins diesel. The rebuilt dredge was launched with the help of the entire boat shop crew, including helpers Louie Sandvik and Adrian Ritchie, as well as Dorwin Fosse, who had come home from World War II to take over his late father's position as full partner with Marion Louderback.

The Legacy of Bay Center

One does not have to labor to imagine a working class New England fishing village when entering Bay Center. Truly one of Washington state's hidden treasures, the place remains full of tradition and charm.

The late Helen Davis, one of South Bend's leading promoters, once labeled South Bend as the "World's Oyster Capital." To this writer, South Bend takes a back seat to Bay Center, which could claim the title of "Pacific County Oyster Captial."

From the early days of the native and eastern oyster industry, to the growth of the crab industry and the era of the Japanese Pacific oyster, Bay Center has held a key position in the bay's economy. Today, the Port of Willapa Harbor maintains a public dock that helps support the local Dungeness crab fleet. Several oyster plants operate out of the area: Dave Nisbet's Goose Point Oyster Company, along the Niawiakum River; Bay Center Mariculture, Dick Wilson, manager; Nick Jamber's Ekone Oyster Company; R & B Oyster Company; and other smaller oyster growers.

In 1908 the eastern oyster era remained a successful business. The Wilsons, Dick Marion, the Bush family, Eli Rockey, the Clark brothers, the Rhoades family, and others were the backbone of this earlier oyster industry. The E. C. Chase Company was busy with its fish canning business. Bay Center's long wharf was at the end of the road that also fronted the old Methodist Church and by 1912, the old Bay View Hotel. The bay's wonderful oyster work sloops had begun to be replaced by more gas launches, but the steamers still docked at the end of the wharf.

Next stop: The Nemah.

Writer's Notes

1. There was more than one Reed family living in South Bend or Bay Center. Capt. Reed was not related to E. O. Reed. There was also the Reeves name: Brothers Aaron V. Reeves and Sterling M. Reeves, both marine captains, and both were involved in the towing and marine transportation business. Among the vessels owned and operated by the Reeves brothers were the launch Arthur, steamer Flora Brown, launch Lewis, and power tugs, Union and Transit. The Transit was still being operated in the 1950s by Ed Triplett.

2. Along with Raymond banker H. W. MacPahil, both George Cartier and Ed Gaudette hailed from Ludington, Mich. The Cartier name was well known on the University of Notre Dame campus, where the baseball field was named after the family.

3. The comment about "almost every male worker in Bay Center" being involved in the crab fishery is significant. During the 1870s very few white persons would eat crabmeat. It was considered edible only for animals or Indians. Consequently, crab had no commercial value during the early days of white habitation.

4. Loyal Clark's oyster dredge: The dredge used by Loyal Clark was manufactured in Bridgeport, Conn. and consisted of a heavy iron frame with teeth which dug into the mud under the oysters, with the weight of the dredge making it plow into the oyster bottom, while the oysters are caught in a bag made of heavy chain links.

The dredge chain works over an iron roller on the forward quarter of the boat, passing through a block on an upright post and into the hold to a winch. The winch is below deck to leave all space possible for the oysters topside, and it is controlled from the pilot house.

When operating, the captain runs the boat and the dredge from the pilot house, his helper dumping the oysters from the dredge to the deck where they are raised.

5. Fosse-Louderback Boat Shop: In 1950, when Marion Louderback retired from the business, Dorwin Fosse took over as the sole owner of the South Bend Boat Shop.

The shop remains in the Fosse family to this day, operated by third generation Chris Fosse.

Dorwin remembers his father and Marion Louderback's old shop - with only two power tools, a bandsaw and a one-half inch drill motor. The ways were timbers that went into the water, with a weighted wooden sled that traveled on the timbers.

The capstan, with a wrapped cable wound around it, had a pole that was walked around to pull a boat onto the ways. The weight of the boat would "freeze" the mechanism and it took a little mental agility to solve the problem.

John or Marion would go to the butcher shop and get fat trimmings. The fat would be melted down and the grease would be spread along the ways.

Boats built by John Fosse included the Bonne, used as both a pilot boat and a fishing boat; the Willapoint, an oyster dredge owned by the Willapoint Oyster Company; salmon trollers for various fishermen; and numerous oyster scows and batteaux.

In 1998 a Smithsonian maritime history specialist, Paula Johnson, collected information on the Nora, a fishboat built by Fosse and Marion Louderback in 1929. The Nora was a 34.4 foot double-ended Finn-style salmon troller. The original owner was Anir Kary, of Ilwaco, who commissioned the boat in 1929 for a cost of $1,600. In 1998 the Nora was still an active troller, owned by Troy Roundy of Astoria.

Smithsonian specialist Johnson inspected the Nora while the boat was in drydock at the Ilwaco Boat Yard. Along with a naval architect colleague, Ms. Johnson recorded every detail of the boat.

Ironically, the Nora was destroyed by fire in late 1999.

6. The oyster dredge Eva R., once known as the Skanoentntl, was sold by the R & B Oyster Company to Coast Oyster Company, which still owns it. Years ago Stan Gillies bought a U.S. Navy surplus boat that was modified for use as an oyster dredge. Gillies named it the Skanoentntl, meaning there were two dredges with the same name. The second Skanoentntl is now owned by Nick Jamber of Bay Center.

Sources: James G. Swan's "The Northwest Coast"; The Sou'wester Centennial issue; "The Bay Center Story," by Hope Wilson Clark, The Sou'wester, Autumn, 1970; "More Pioneer Adventures," by Emerson Wilson, The Sou'wester, Winter, 1973; "Palix River, by Lucile McDonald, Seattle Times, April 28, 1957; interviews with Dorwin Fosse and Clyde Olsen; Marion Louderback memoir; Ruth Dixon's column, "Echoes From The Past," Raymond Herald, January 25, 1968; South Bend Journal, July, 1905 and Oct. 18, 1945; and the Pacific Fisherman, November 1931.

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