Tokeland: Historic northern tip of Willapa Bay entrance

Tokeland School

Tokeland, or Toke Point, was a name taken from Chief Toke, a man held in great esteem among the local Native American people. Toke, and his wife Suis, had become friends with many settlers, including James G. Swan (who lived on Shoalwater Bay from 1852 to 1855). The earliest settler at Toke Point was J. F. Barrows, already gone from the area by the time George Brown arrived in 1858. After Brown built a cabin he sent for his family, his wife Charlotte and son Albert, who arrived from Oysterville by boat. With water transportation a way of life on the bay, Charlotte later would paddle a dugout canoe across the bay to Bruceport for help from a midwife when she was ready to deliver her baby daughter, Lizzie. For many years the Brown children's playmates were the sons and daughters of the Native Americans who lived at Toke Point. The bay supported life, but could also take it away, and tragically, Albert was drowned before his 10th birthday. Lizzie survived and excelled, and when she was ready to attend school, her parents sent her across the bay to a school in the Bay Center area. The Browns prospered, adding property, and eventually owning more than a section of a land, including Toke Point. The Kindreds In 1878 construction began on the new North Cove Lifesaving Station. One of the carpenters on the job was a young man from Portland named William Kindred. A romance was begun, and in November 1880 Lizzie and William were married. When Lizzie's parents died (George in 1883 and Charlotte in 1891), she and William, with daughters Maude and Bess, succeeded as proprietors of all the family property. Toke Point's mild climate and fine beachfront had gained a popularity with visitors, and the Kindreds began to sell parcels of land to people who then built summer homes and resorts. By the early 1900s Tokeland continue to gain a popular following, with visitors coming from near and far. The Kindreds added to their farmhouse and a popular inn was established. Later accommodations included the Hotel Rustic and Venice Inn. Before the construction of the rail line between Chehalis and South Bend, Puget Sound travelers would arrive in Montesano (from Olympia) by stage, and then board a steamer to Westport (aka Point Chehalis or Westhaven). From Westport the coach route used the ocean beach. This was, for a time, an integral part of the U.S. mail and passenger route between Portland and Seattle. Once travelers arrived in Tokeland they could find accommodations at Kindred's hotel and the next day board a steamer for the trip to Nahcotta or South Bend. After 1889, Portland-bound travelers could board the Peninsula's narrow gauge railroad at Nahcotta, bound for the Columbia River. From there it was again a steamer ride to either Astoria or Portland. A post office was established in 1894. Once the 1893 rail line connected Chehalis and South Bend visitors could reach Tokeland by taking a train from either Seattle or Portland, first to Chehalis and then to South Bend. From South Bend passengers boarded a steamer to cross the bay. After the turn of the 20th century, the main boats used on these routes were the sister vessels, the Reliable or Shamrock. Wallace Stuart In 1872, the Morgan Oyster Company experimented with the transplantation in Shoalwater Bay of eastern oysters brought to the West Coast by railroad from East Coast oyster grounds. Prior to 1893, the oyster shipments first had to be sent by rail to San Francisco and then brought up the coast by ship. The survival rate was always a problem, and the shipments were almost always too small (a few barrels) to insure success. It was not until the rail line between Chehalis and South Bend was completed that direct rail shipments were made to the newly named Willapa Bay (changed from Shoalwater Bay in the early 1890s). Excluding the two San Francisco oyster companies (Morgan and Moraghan), the first local company to receive eastern oysters to the bay was the Willapa Harbor Oyster Company. In 1899 the Tokeland Oyster Company was organized. The owners included Astorians Harry Hamblett, Peter Grant, and W. E. Tallant, and a Tokeland man, Wallace Stuart, the son of Shoalwater Bay pioneer Charles Stuart. (Stuart Slough, located between Bruceport and South Bend, is named for the elder Stuart.) The principal office for the company was in Astoria. Two carloads of eastern oysters (a total of 320 barrels) arrived in April, and Captain A. W. Reeves, with his launch Lewis, towed them down the bay for the transplanting. In less than five years local companies would order dozens of railroad carloads of seed oysters each year. (Note: The success or demise of the eastern oyster era was always tied to one important factor: Eastern oysters did not produce a commercial spawn outside of their home environment. Consequently, the annual importation of seed or yearling oysters was vital to the West Coast eastern oyster industry.) In 1901, Wallace Stuart organized a new company called Toke Point Oyster Company. Although the new business was identifiable with Tokeland, the company's opening house was located at South Bend. In 1905, Stuart returned to the Tokeland Oyster Company to take a more active role, with a reorganization taking place in 1906. With Stuart as the controlling stockholder, other Tokeland residents holding shares of stock included Lizzie and William Kindred. Local growers, and West Coast oyster connoisseurs, began to claim that the Pacific Northwest product of the transplanted eastern oysters was driving the imported eastern and California products out of the market. Higher class restaurants in Seattle and Portland began to order "Nahcottas" and "Toke Points" as well as the choice "Blue Points" from the East Coast. By the end of 1905, Willapa Bay oysters were carried in markets and restaurants throughout the Pacific Northwest. Among Stuart's leadership qualities were his ability to attract investments and create new markets, and he conducted several successful trips to Connecticut and New York to purchase oyster seed. As the years passed, local oystermen maintained a steady hold on the business, often with the presence of Stuart. Associated with the success of the eastern oyster era was the need for more boats, scows, bateaux, and dredges. Dan Louderback, the prolific Willapa boat builder, was an important contributor to the local economy. The remarkable leadership of Wallace Stuart was brought to an abrupt end in November, 1911, when on the evening before his departure from South Bend on an East Cost business trip, he mysteriously disappeared. Several days passed before the body was discovered in the Willapa River, alongside the South Bend city wharf. It was surmised that Stuart's death was caused by a fall from the dock, his head hitting a part of the steamer Reliable, and then slipping into the water below. Although an official investigation was never held, some people questioned the suspicious nature of the death. In less than three years the eastern oyster industry suffered fatal blows, beginning with a reduction of East Coast seed shipments. The last decent harvest of easterns on the bay was in 1918, and the following year the remaining stock was nearly wiped out by a virulent red tide. It seemed, with the harvest of the surviving stock, that the eastern oyster business was nearly done. Near the end the local growers blamed the state for selling mature oysters from the state reserves, the logging industry for causing an increased "siltation" of the bay, and the East Coast suppliers for not sending the seedling oysters needed to re-stock the local beds. These problems severely damaged the industry, but greed and lack of far sightedness of several oystermen in emptying the state reserves was a crowning blow. (Easterns did not completely disappear, but their commercial importance had come to an end.) There is no doubt that the loss of Wallace Stuart and his leadership played a key role in the demise of the eastern oyster era.The Nelson Family Herbert Nelson (son of Charles Nelson, a county pioneer who first came to Oysterville and Shoalwater Bay in the 1860s) lived in South Bend with wife Ina (maiden name Bourke) and their seven children during the 1920s. Prior to living at South Bend, the Nelson family had lived on Long Island for several years while Herbert operated a gravel business. The gravel business gave way to logging, and after operating a small logging company with a partner, an economic downturn in the lumber industry drove him out of that business. Chris Nelson, the current owner of the Nelson Crab Cannery of Tokeland, and now 89 years of age, remembers the hard times: "Times were tough in South Bend. There were days where our bill of fare was hotcakes. And with those hotcakes, our mother had some 'picalilly' sauce, made out of cucumbers and mustard and what not, and that's what we put on those hotcakes. We had this oval table, and us kids were all around that table, my mother standing there by this woodstove, and my father sitting there with these big tears in his eyes. You wouldn't expect kids today to understand how tough those times were. There was a fish and game warden who said to my dad, 'Herb, there's a few deer running around here and I'll just look the other way.'" In the fall of 1929 the Nelson family moved to Tokeland, where a crab operator named Oriesto Gianfrancisco (known by everyone as Mr. Gigi) advanced Herb the money to buy a fish boat. Nelson went to Astoria and bought the Betty, a "beamy," 34 foot boat in which he put a 10 horse Union gas engine, which cost $275. (Chris Nelson remembers that he bought the engine with money saved working at the Hammermill Paper Company in Hoquiam.) With Herb and Ina in Tokeland were four of their six children: daughters Katherine and Gloria, and sons Ernest (Doc) and Ray, who was still in school. Sons Melvin and Chris joined the family in Tokeland by 1934. (Their oldest sister Sylvia lived in Hoquiam.) Besides catching and selling live crab, the Nelsons also entered the oyster business, beginning with 50 acres (initially owned by Arthur) at Stackpole Harbor, at the tip of Long Beach. During the summer of 1934, a situation occurred that became the catalyst for the cannery business. A sudden surge of crab in early July, which had coincided with a Columbia River freshet, filled the family's crab pots, from Willapa Bay to Destruction Island. After a sale of live crab to a small business in Seattle, the Nelsons were unhappily informed that the shipment had spoiled. Within days, Herb came up with an idea: build his own plant and market his and his family's own crab and oysters. Tommy Nelson, Herb's brother, who operated a small smoking and canning business at Oysterville, had perfected a way to can Dungeness crab meat with the use of citric acid, which kept the meat from turning dark. Son Chris, who had been chosen by Herb to run the new canning business, soon had the company running at full speed. By 1938 the cannery building was enlarged and when electricity came to Toke Point during World War II, the company and village had definitely entered the modern age. Even telephones began to appear in all the homes and businesses. Back in 1934 there was only one telephone in all of Tokeland - at McNeil's Store. The store was also where people went to pick up mail and send a telegram. Until the 1960s, the mail and deliveries were picked up and sent out via the mail boat to South Bend.Tokeland at the end of the 20th century Erosion has taken Tokeland's beautiful beaches of 75 years ago. Today a giant rock "riprap" is all visitors see along the west shoreline. An effort was made to bring the old Tokeland Golf Links back to life, but the course has once again been closed. Because of the erosion of Cape Shoalwater and North Cove during the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. Coast Guard relocated to Tokeland. Around 1940 the some of the station's buildings (house and offices) were still maintained at North Cove, while the boats were moored at Tokeland. Later, apartments were built for elnlisted housing at Tokeland. During the 25 years (approximate) that the Coast Guard was located in Tokeland it maintained boats at the Port of Willapa Harbor mooring basin. In 1978 the Coast Guard moved its Tokeland operation to Westport. Regardless of the threats of mother nature and other hardships, Tokeland is doing fine. Year-round and vacation homes thrive, the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe maintains a tribal office and casino., the Port of Willapa Harbor maintains a dock and moorage basin, the old Tokeland Hotel is open, and the Nelson Crab Cannery is in full operation. As of Halloween, 2002, the hotel is marketing itself as a "haunted hotel," as seen on Seattle's channel 5 TV station. And as always, Tokeland remains one of the most relaxed and attractive little beach villages on the entire Pacific Coast. Tokeland to Riverside From North Cove the Minerva and Pet were guided in a southeasterly direction to Tokeland. To the passengers it had become apparent that Shoalwater was an appropriate name for the bay. Except for the deeper channels, nearly 47,000 acres of tide flats are uncovered at low tide, with the remainder less than six feet below water at low tide. In the sub-tidal areas there is an abundance of mussels, clams, oysters, and Dungeness crabs. In the eelgrass beds, herring and flatfish lay their eggs. Capain Whitcomb and son George sailed the Minerva and Pet into the Tokeland moorage, dropped anchors and went ashore to greet Charlotte Brown and William Kindred. The Millers and Pete the Drummer, talking the whole time, clamored ashore with their two leaders. Mail was exchanged and a young couple, Joseph and Anna Schmidt, waited to be taken aboard the Pet. Anna Schmidt and Susan Miller, who knew each other through a common friend, struck up a lively discussion about their travels. Tom Miller was delighted to play with the Kindred's dog. The Schmidt's destination was also Woodard's Landing. The trip to Woodard's Landing would take the party past the mouths of the Cedar and North rivers, both on the northern shore of the bay, and through Mailboat Pass and up the Willapa River to the small settlement of Riverside, where a post office had been established in just a few years before, in 1871. Writer's Note: Information for the Tokeland story was taken from various sources, including interviews with Chris Nelson, Herb Newton, Ruth McCausland, and Larry Allen. Old newspaper accounts were also used, which are best accessed at the State Library in Olympia, as well as letters from the Kincaid papers, Allen Library, University of Washington. Ruth McCausland gave permission to use information from a story she wrote for The Sou'wester, Summer, 1987. Photographs were provided by Chris Nelson and Cliff Gillies.

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