On the Peninsula, there’s history and then there’s deep history. My family’s history with the Peninsula goes back to the middle of the last century. I’ve witnessed the changing ecology of the dunes; the disappearance of enormous piles of driftwood on the beach, perfect for beach shack construction; and the silencing of Charles Mulvey’s Pepto-Bismol pink gallery/studio. We were tourists, albeit frequent ones, who loved the Peninsula. But after our long summer sojourns, we went back to the Yakima Valley to live our lives.
On the other hand, families like Sydney Stevens’ — and so many others — remember the high jacking of the county records to South Bend as near-term events. These long-time pioneer kinfolks weren’t just observers of Peninsula life, they also changed its trajectory — they made history.
So it is with sisters Kirsten Gleb and Lesa Kromm, members of the King/Williams family who are returning to the Peninsula. They have deep family roots here. In fact that comment about “roots” is literally true. Here’s the story.
The Camp Meeting Tree
“Grandma and grandpa King, Marcel and her husband A.Douglas, were long-time supporters of the Timberland Library project in Ocean Park,” said granddaughter Lesa in a phone call a couple weeks ago. A plaque prominently displayed in our Ocean Park Library states, “Marcel helped shape the new Timberland Regional Library District from its inception, serving as a charter member of the TRL board of trustees from 1968 to 1972. She faithfully attended meetings regardless of the distance from home; and during her lifetime she contributed substantial funds. Her son Douglas King, continuing the family’s legacy to libraries, gifted a generous portion of land in 2000 for expanding the Ocean Park Timberland Library.”
As Lesa says, “The family had owned that land for a long time. We have a picture somewhere maybe from the late 1800s of tents with this tree in the background, the ‘Camp Meeting Tree.’” The story goes that this was where the Methodists camped when they were first talking about founding the community of Ocean Park. The tree, on a piece of land called the ‘auditorium tract’ that ended up in the King family, is ground zero for Ocean Park.
Whether history tells the truth on this point or not, according to the records, Ocean Park was meant to provide a religious and serene antidote to that “wild boom town” to the north, AKA Oysterville! Founders of Ocean Park wanted it to be a place “where freedom and tranquility” could be found (http://opwa.com/Ocean-Park). “In 1883 Clark proposed to a group of Methodist leaders that they merge the concepts of Christian revival camp meetings, campgrounds and summer resorts in a huge center west of Nahcotta. The Rev. William R. Osborn, founder of a Christian camp near Ocean Grove, N.J., jumped at the chance and bought 140 acres for the purpose. Clark, who previously had purchased an adjacent 400 acres, donated 20 to the movement and the 160 acres was platted for the Ocean Park community. Osborn and ten laymen formed the Methodist Camp Meeting Association.” These initial discussions reputedly took place under that tree.
Lesa and Kirsten’s relatives were part of the developing Ocean Park and Peninsula communities. Great grandparents A.E King and Annie (Warren) King were early entrepreneurs; they owned property all over the Peninsula, and passed on their business acumen to their son (Lesa and Kirsten’s granddad) A. Douglas who married Marcel. Douglas had a charter fishing boat berthed in Ilwaco; he was a handy man who built houses and fixed things. Grandma Marcel was the Ocean Park post mistress for awhile (they owned what is now the Eagle’s, but at one time was the OP post office). They farmed oyster beds and had a little oyster company. Marcel volunteered in the elementary school and was a passionate proponent of literacy; hence her abiding interest in providing a library for our budding rural town.
As Kirsten says, “Both grandma and grandpa had college degrees, but they just wanted to be in the community. It’s one of things I love so much about Ocean Park — it’s a working class town — it’s not a tourist destination.”
Kirsten and Lesa spent summers with their grandparents and, eventually, though Uncle Douglas (A. Douglas’s son) sold the family home at 1307 258th, Kirsten was able to buy it back. “It’s called King’s Haven,” she said. “You know as you get older, you move around a lot. The one constant in my life has been this place. If I were to wake up from a coma, I would recognize everything here because everything is the same — the same dinning room table, the same coffee cups — I’ve been walking around this house for 54 years!”
Ironic turn of affairs
A new chapter is beginning. When Lesa started visiting Kirsten and staying from time to time back in the family home, she decided she too wanted a place for herself in the family’s old neighborhood. But it’s not so easy to find property in this area — the blocks adjacent to Bay Avenue and Park — because houses and property here tend to stay in the family. Nonetheless, Lesa started looking for a place to put down roots, just at the time when the Ocean Park Timberland Library decided it needed to sell a piece of the parcel that Grandma King gave them for the library so many years ago.
“I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign on a Sunday and put in an offer the very next day,” said Lesa. Her property includes the Camp Meeting Tree. And here is the sad twist about this reunion of family and land. That old Sitka spruce — 86 feet tall, 64 inches around, with a 63 foot spread — has been tilting and leaning for some time. Lesa decided as part of buying the property that she needed to get a complete evaluation of the tree from Arbor Care Tree Specialists in Astoria. The report came through at the end of October, “Immediate action needed.”
Unfortunately the tree is “over-mature/senescent” and rotted with spruce aphid disease. The old tree must come down.
Lesa was heart-broken about the news but also practical, “I checked on some US Forest Service information and found that Sitka Spruce trees are known for the exact same things causing the Camp Meeting Tree to be dangerous: the tops break off; decay starts at the top; various organisms and bugs cause detrimental impact to the tree; and root rot is common.” And, unlike the King family, these trees have shallow roots.
“I’m working with the arborists who will be taking the tree down, probably this week,” Lesa continues. “We’re going to leave a tall portion of its trunk for wildlife habitat. I also discovered that for every tree taken down, you need to plant two native species. I’ll be doing that soon.”
So what will replace this bit of Ocean Park history? A retelling of the story with this new chapter — that the King family has regained some of its property; and that sisters Lesa and Kirsten will once again be active in our community. The Camp Meeting Tree served its purpose as the founding spot for Ocean Park. Many historic homes and places in downtown Ocean Park remain. (Here is a walking tour map of the neighborhood http://opwa.com/resources/Documents/2017-OceanParkAreaWalkingTour.pdf)
Perhaps most important is that we keep Marcel King’s legacy and the Ocean Park Timberland Library, with our much needed support, alive and well to serve the next century’s generations returning to or newly discover our magnificent Peninsula.