Stackpole Harbor

Place names provide better context and attachment to where we live.

The news is full of angst and anger about statues and monuments and even about names. Political correctness is dictating that we rethink and reorganize the trappings of our past. Even our national parks are being pressured to obliterate those old, familiar names of heroes and leaders that are now deemed unsuitable. “Times they are a’changin” said Bob Dylan. Indeed, they are.

I have long lamented the substitution of numbers for the quaint old street names that used to populate the Peninsula. Huckleberry Lane and Quail Street seem so much more memorable than whatever numbers they have now. (I can’t remember!) And what about names such as Doc Hill Road or Diaper Alley? They are the street names likely to cause a question or two and perhaps even lead to an answer. A numbered street? Or even a lettered street? Not so much.

When I was a child, the road north from Oysterville was but a rutted wagon track ending at Leadbetter Point, where the bay and ocean meet. Originally called Low Point in 1788 by British explorer Capt. John Meares, the name was changed in 1852 to honor Lt. Danville Leadbetter of the U.S. Coast Survey.

The name stuck

Gradually the road has been surfaced, first with crushed oyster shell, then with gravel, and most recently with asphalt. With each new surfacing, the road was lengthened a bit to keep pace with the ever-growing sands of the Peninsula. About one mile from the point is a small, protected cove, where Isaac Clark, a timid sailor, often waited out a squall in his little sailboat, Dr. Stackpole. To tease Clark, local oystermen called the spot Stackpole Harbor, and the name not only stuck but became the name of the road, as well.

I’ve always thought that this story about Mr. Clark and the oystermen of the 19th century made them all more “real.” Clark is remembered as co-founder with R.H. Espy of Oysterville and, also, as the man who platted Ocean Park. I wouldn’t have thought he was “timid” about anything. Nor would I have thought that the oystermen of those boomtown days would be up for teasing one of the leading citizens of the area. That he was and they did, gives me a look at history that goes well beyond the dry dates-and-facts that most of us grew up with.

A week or so ago, there was a string of Joe Johns Road questions on Facebook, mostly of the “How did it get its name” variety. I had asked that very question of my friend Adelle Beechey a number of years ago. Adelle had lived in Ocean Park since the late 1930s and she knew Joe John. “He was an Indian man and he was the only person who lived on that road that crossed the Peninsula from bay to ocean. So, of course, the road was known as Joe John’s Road,” she told me.

Bits of information

Adelle couldn’t remember much else about Joe John. Just that he was old. Even so, just that bit of information gives another dimension to our area and raises still more questions. Like, where were Joe John’s family? How did he happen to have a whole road to himself? And how does Mr. John fit into the history of the Peninsula? Maybe someday I’ll learn the answers — answers to questions that would never have occurred to me if Joe Johns had been changed to a numbered road.

In “Naming Matters,” an article by Nicolas Brulliard in the Summer 2019 issue of National Parks magazine, he quotes a geography professor at Syracuse University: “A name on the map is not history. It’s a name on the map,” said the prof. A catchy, simplistic statement that misses the point entirely, as I see it.

If we erase all the names like Skating Lake Road from our maps and our signs, who will there be in a generation or two to ask if there really was a skating lake? No, the names aren’t history. But what they stand for is the basis for our history. It’s not always a pretty story but if we don’t document and re-tell it, how will it be remembered? How will we avoid repeating our mistakes? Should we really keep changing those names or even obliterating them completely? I think not.

Turn left at the red barn

And yet… when I was a kid, I’m not sure my grandparents had an “address.” I can’t remember that there was a street name then and, most certainly, there was no number on the house. Everyone knew it was “the white house across from the church.” When I asked a friend who had grown up in Ocean Park what her address had been, she just looked at me with a blank stare.

“We lived around the corner from the Kings,” she said. “I don’t think our street had a name. And we, for sure, didn’t have a number. Why would we need one? We got our mail at the post office like everybody else.”

If people had their druthers, what they would name the street where they live? Many would probably name it after themselves or after a family member and that’s as it should be! I advocate names — any names — rather than numbers. And, of course, we need to pass on the stories that those names evoke! It’s a fine way to remember our history!

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