OYSTERVILLE - Oysterville residents take pride in the fact that theirs is the oldest post office operating continuously and under the same name in Washington. The key words are "continuously and under the same name." The sign above its entrance says "Oysterville Post Office Established 1858," but several other settlements had post offices before that date. Either they are no longer in operation or the name of the community has changed over the years.
During the first four years of its existence, there was no post office in Oysterville nor was there any formal means of sending and receiving mail. Yet letters did come and go, carried by travelers who happened to be heading in the right direction. Schooner captains, too, were unofficial mailmen who often carried business letters between oyster company officials in Shoalwater Bay and their colleagues in San Francisco or, perhaps for friends, they transported letters of a more personal nature - all for a price, of course.
Addressing mail was a fairly casual affair in those early days. Several letters made their way to my great-grandfather addressed simply "R. H. Espy, Washington Territory," testimony, no doubt, to the sparse population. During the next several generations letters sent to the addressee, Oysterville, Washington, were sure of delivery but, as extra insurance, letter writers often inserted the words "Pacific County" above the state name.
Like most early settlements on the Northwest Coast, Oysterville's first mail route was primarily by water. Letters came to Astoria by ship down river from Portland or up the coast from California, and then across to Chinookville or Pacific City and later to Ilwaco. At that point however, the water journey was disrupted. For more than 30 years, mail continued north by horse or stage up the "weatherbeach" - the long smooth stretch of sand on the ocean side of the Peninsula. At first, the overland parts of the journey - from Ilwaco to the beach and then from the beach to Oysterville - were made by a man on horseback riding along the Indian trails. By the time stagecoaches came into use along the route, trails had been widened to accommodate wagon traffic and mail was carried on a more-or-less regular schedule at least once a week. The passenger/mail stages left Ilwaco at whatever hour the tide was low enough to permit completion of the trip, so no regular schedule could be maintained. If the beach could not be used, as when heavy seas were running, the two-or four-horse stage would take to the fields, opening and closing several gates along the way.
John Morehead drove the stage from 1882 to 1885 at which time he entered the store business in Oysterville and became the town's seventh postmaster. His account of transporting the mail during his stage driving days was first printed in the North Beach Tribune in August, 1927:
"Page after page has been written about the exploits and adventures of the old stage drivers of the mountains and plains, but one of those spectacular drivers would have had an experience that he never dreamed of had he found himself on the weather beach with a heavy load of passengers, two or three hours before daylight in the morning, with an eighty-mile gale blowing the cutting sand into his face with a ten-foot tide shooting the drift logs past his horses and swells that only could be kept out of the stage by careful and watchful driving..."
Even so, by the 1880s mail and passengers were being taken over the route from Astoria to Olympia three times a week. The first leg of the journey was on the steamer General Canby which ran between Astoria and Ilwaco by way of Fort Stevens and Fort Canby. Leg two was by the Loomis Stage Line running right along the ocean beach from Ilwaco to Oysterville. Part three of the journey was by the little steamer Garfield which crossed Shoalwater Bay from Oysterville to Bay Center, South Bend, Riverside, Woodard's Landing (now Willapa) and North Cove. At North Cove passengers and mail were transferred to a stagecoach for the run to Peterson's Point, now known as Westport. The fifth leg of the journey from Peterson's Point to Montesano was again by water on the little stern-wheeler Montesano. The sixth and final leg of the trip was by stage from Montesano to Olympia. Total time for this incredible mail run was 60 hours!
Until there was an official post office in Oysterville, mail delivery was a bit haphazard - perhaps left at a central location such as a store or saloon, the recipient getting word of its arrival by "oyster telegraph," local equivalent for word-of-mouth. When Isaac Alonzo Clark became the town's first postmaster on April 29, 1858, mail was probably left at his home. A few years later he built one of the first general merchandise establishments in Oysterville, "Sperry Store" on the southwest corner of First and Pacific streets. An area toward the back of the building was designated for use as post office. Thus, Clark began a tradition which lasts to this day - always the post office has resided in another workplace; never has an Oysterville post office had a building unto itself.
Most often the post office has been a part of a store building, usually with a separate entrance. John Crellin, Jr., John Briscoe and his son Burr were the next three postmasters and all were in the general merchandise trade with storefronts in downtown Oysterville. However, the tradition took a bit of a twist in 1879 when saloon keeper Dan Rodway of the "Temperance Billiard Hall" became postmaster. To get the mail it was necessary to enter Rodway's saloon, a requirement that the good women of the village found highly objectionable. To placate them, Rodway put a letter slot and a buzzer on the back door for their use. Nonetheless, the ladies persisted in their objections and in 1883 succeeded in having one of their own, Mrs. Anna M. Brown appointed postmistress. Mrs. Brown operated the post office from her home, considered by the distaff members of Oysterville to be an infinitely more respectable environment than its former beery location.
Perhaps the reason that the postmasters were most often associated with other business enterprises is related to the pay scale. In March 1888, for instance, John Morehead received only $25.12 for his first quarter's income. During the last quarter of that year business was so slow that only one 10-cent special delivery stamp was sold. Even by the standards of the day, Mr. Morehead was not getting rich from his postal duties.
In several instances the postmaster's job was passed from one family member to another. When John Morehead took over in 1885, he was following in the footsteps of his mother-in-law Anna Brown. In the case of the Briscoes, the job had gone from father John to son Burr in 1877 and then, two postmasters later, to mother Julia Briscoe in 1889. But it is the Andrews family who prevailed in terms of years served.
Sam Andrews was postmaster from July 23, 1895 until his brother Tom replaced him on May 4, 1901. In 1913, Sam took over again and then in July 1918 their niece-in-law, Minnie Andrews, became postmistress. According to Charlotte Jacobs, an Andrews descendent, the issue was probably not one of nepotism but more a question of who could be talked into taking on the job. A case in point is when Tom Andrews was eager to move away from the Peninsula. Taking his postal responsibilities seriously, he felt he could not leave Oysterville before finding a replacement postmaster and talked brother Sam into serving a second time. It apparently took Sam another five years to talk Minnie into taking her turn. By the time Minnie retired on July 1, 1945, the Andrews family had collected and distributed mail for the residents of Oysterville for fifty years less twenty-one days. An admirable record!
PACIFIC CITY - The earliest post office in Pacific County was established in Holman's Hotel on December 26, 1850 in Pacific City, which was located on the east side of Cape Disappointment. Its first mail had been brought to Astoria by steamer from San Francisco and then across the Columbia by canoe. By 1854 one of the listed mail routes in Washington Territory was "from Astoria to Chenook, Edmonton, Tarlitt, Oyster Beach, Brigham City and the direct route to intersect the route from Olympia to Grays Harbor, 120 miles and back once a week." When post offices were opened at Bruceport, Oysterville, and Fort Willapa in 1858 they were connected by a route from Astoria through Pacific City. In 1852 the U.S. government purchased the acreage at Cape Disappointment for a military reservation, Pacific City's occupants were ordered to vacate the area and the post office was closed. Four years later a post office was re-established several miles away under the name Unity (later Ilwaco).
CHENOOK (CHINOOKVILLE) - On October 19, 1852, a post office was established about four miles southwest of the present town of Chinook at a townsite platted by Washington Hall who also became its first postmaster. The Chenook post office was served by boats from Astoria once a week when the weather and condition of the river was most favorable. For a variety of reasons the Chenook post office was discontinued and re-established several times over the years, finally closing for good on December 18, 1874. In 1873 during its final year, the first rural route in Pacific County was established. The 12-mile route from Chenook to Knappton was covered once a week.
BRIGHAM CITY - Another early post office in the area now encompassing Pacific County was Brigham City, established in 1853 at Hawk's Point not far from Bruceport. At that time it was part of Thurston County, Oregon Territory. Captain David K. Weldon and his wife from San Francisco had settled there in 1852. Weldon built a house and store, laid out a townsite in the area, and went into partnership with two other men in a sawmill venture. Disagreements among the business partners, a fever epidemic, and a freshet which carried away the mill spelled disaster for the entire Brigham City enterprise. By 1858 only one family remained near the abandoned settlement and the post office was no more.
TARLITT - In 1854 a post office was established at Thomas Martin's home at the location now known as Tarlitt Slough. Until the Territorial mail route from Astoria to Tarlitt by way of Chenook was in operation, Martin probably made the trip to Pacific City to get the mail for distribution at his little post office. The Tarlitt Post Office was discontinued in 1855.
BRUCEPORT and FORT WILLAPA - Post offices were established at both of these locations on April 29, 1858, the same day that the Oysterville Post Office was begun. Fort Willapa's post office lasted only until 1870. Bruceport's was discontinued for a second and final time on July 31, 1895.