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Roy Vataja

Nothing New — Tribal trials and tribulations

Long before the white man arrived on the shores of what is now Grays Harbor, it was home to the native peoples, which the newcomers had long termed “Indians.” They had lived here since time immemorial, living in cedar longhouses and subsisting on salmon, deer, bear and razor clams. In 1800, the Harbor tribes numbered an estimated 1,000 members before a series of epidemics decimated the population and by the 1870s only about 130 remained. Since then the numbers have rebounded and today the Quinault Nation is stronger than ever. Here are a number of stories from the past reflecting the trials and tribulations of the local native population.

Nothing New — Explosions: A deadly menace

Back at the turn of the last century, as quaint and idyllic as it may seem today, daily life was fraught with dangers that have since become rather rare. One of those is the threat of an explosion snuffing out a life. Certainly men were killed in the woods as they blew up stumps and the TNT detonated prematurely, but the fear of explosion was equally shared by those who lived and worked in the city. Whether it was an oil lamp or a peanut roaster, injury and death by explosion were very real threats in the early days of Grays Harbor. Here are a number of stories that reflect that peril from the pages of the Aberdeen Herald.

Nothing New — Street troubles in sawdust Aberdeen

Throughout its history, Aberdeen has dealt with issues regarding the streets. The first permanent roads were filled with sawdust and laid over with planking. In 1909 the sawdust was dug out and hauled off, and river dredgings were used to fill in the central downtown area. More recently, the Aberdeen City Council passed a much-debated plan to reduce Wishkah Street from three to two lanes, and a major paving job is underway on Market Street. Here are some of the other street issues that the citizens of Aberdeen had to deal with once upon a time.

Nothing New — Death among the demimonde

Back in the early 1900s, when the mills were running three shifts and ships arrived daily from exotic, foreign ports, the “Gentlemen’s Resorts” of Grays Harbor were very popular and somewhat necessary destinations. The “inmates” of those establishments would entertain the men, but at great personal cost. Here are the stories of three of the women who could no longer take the grinding life of the Harbor prostitute and turned to a final, tragic solution. Rest in Peace, Dear Ladies.

Nothing New — Tales of the demimonde

Though illegal (wink, wink), houses of prostitution operated in Aberdeen until the late-1950s and Aberdeen was off-limits to military personnel into the 1980s. When it comes to the World’s Oldest Profession, the Harbor has been a hot-bed since the 1880s. Early on, the large population of young single men toiling in the woods, mills and docks created a steady market for the Fallen Angels. They even made the news on occasion.

Nothing New — “Boosterisms” to support local business

For the last thirty years, Grays Harbor has been in what is called an “economic slump.” Normally these things tend to last only a few years, but on the Harbor it sat down, put its feet up and never left. Logging and mill closures led to store closures, a declining population and a generally down-trodden outlook. The worst part is that we have been down so long that it has become accepted as the norm. Recently though, Aberdeen has seen an upturn as a number of civic-minded individuals and new businesses have sparked a revitalization that has the potential to make downtown vibrant again.

Nothing New — Be careful with that loaded weapon: Grim hunting tales

The Grays Harbor country has long been an area rich in wild game. Their pelts have clothed and their meat has nourished innumerable generations for thousands of years. When the European white man arrived in the area around 1850, his trusty rifle got a lot of use bringing down animals clad in fur or feathers. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned and these news reports are grim reminders that hunting accidents happen - and to beseech the reader to be careful when carting loaded firearms around in the woods.

Nothing New — A hot time in the old town tonight

‘Fire!” The shout throws fear into the heart of the stoutest man, even more so when the call goes up in a town made entirely of wood. The role fire has played in Harbor history is great: Aberdeen had its baptism by fire in 1903, Cosmopolis had hers in 1929, and Moclips was leveled several times over the years. Those were the “Great” fires that left everlasting changes. Of course, there were other fires that could have lead to great tragedy if not for the fast actions of the local fire boys. Here are some tales of fire when Aberdeen was still 95 percent wood.

Nothing New — Vagrants and the “tie-pass”

Back in the waning years of the 19th century when Aberdeen was growing into more than a muddy clearing and the timber trade was taking hold, it became a target for the lazy and indolent. At that time there were plenty of jobs available and little excuse to be unemployed which led in 1897 to the city fathers passing Ordinance 140 concerning vagrants and providing the punishment thereof.

Nothing New — Going to the dogs

For no particular reason, it seems to be a good time to finally let this column go to the dogs with a series of random stories about man’s best friend. 1906 seems to have been an especially rough year on the Harbor for dogs and people (and trains and streetcars) to mix.

Nothing New — A madcap cavalcade of crime

From the rampant ickyness at the Thunderbird Motel to that runaway female prisoner, Aberdeen’s seedy underbelly has supplied some interesting news these last few weeks. These brought to mind other tales from the Harbor’s past that reflect the criminal element and their inability to follow the rules.

Nothing New — Opium-eaters: Narcotic tales of woe

Drug addiction on the Harbor is a major problem, but the abuse of narcotics is nothing new for our area. In the late 1890s, opium was a common ingredient in patent medicines, and the use of laudanum and morphine was widespread among all classes of society. Opium and cocaine was more or less available over the counter until the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 regulating the procurement and pharmacological distribution of medicinal narcotics. Grays Harbor was also one of the many ports along the Pacific Coast that struggled with rampant smuggling of Chinese opium. Today, narcotics are still an issue on the Harbor, the only difference being that “tweakers” have supplanted the “opium-eaters” of old. Here are some tales of woe that came with the arrival of Chinese opium to the streets of the Harbor.

Nothing New — High tide

This photo, taken between 1910 and 1912, was shot looking north on H Street from Heron Street. The only visible structure still in existence is the one on the left, at the southwest corner of Wishkah and H Streets, which most will remember as the long-time home of Reiner’s Sporting Goods. Adjoining it is S.K. Bowes & Co., a pioneer real estate and insurance firm. Across H Street was Mark Payette’s Music House, where you could also purchase art supplies and sewing machines. Today it is the location of Rite Aid. In the distance looms the spire of the Congregational Church which stood on the southwest corner of First and H streets. Visible to the right, is the Crescent Hotel, located in the Ninemire & Morgan building on the southeast corner of Market and H streets. That structure was demolished last year and is now a rubble-strewn vacant lot.

Nothing New — Those flaky, feisty Finns of Aberdeen

Historically, one of largest immigrant populations in Aberdeen were those who came from Finland. Until 1917, Finland was a part of Czarist Russia. In the early 1900s, to avoid conscription into the Czar’s army, thousands of young Finns fled to the United States and hundreds of them came to Grays Harbor. The Finns, a clannish people, created two distinct “Finntowns”: One in South Aberdeen west of Boone Street; and the second that ran on each side of the Wishkah River from roughly the Wishkah River Bridge to the North Aberdeen Bridge. While most Finns were industrious, providing much-needed labor and economic benefits to their new hometown, there were those who spent a large amount of their time in the local saloons, creating headaches for the Aberdeen police department. Here are a number of stories published by the Aberdeen Herald covering the antics of dissolute Finns.

Nothing New — Rolling the bones: Gambling in Aberdeen

At the turn of the last century, Aberdeen was considered “wide open” to gambling and, day or night, one could always find a card game or roulette wheel to risk their money on. In 1902, the City Fathers called for a crackdown on gambling in Aberdeen and one of the first to be charged was Ed Dolan (later the “D” in the D &R Theater) of the Grand Saloon on the southeast corner of Heron and F Streets. The Aberdeen Bulletin reported the story on April 1, 1902: THE BREACH BETWEEN THE CITY COUNCIL AND THE GAMBLERS GROWS WIDER EVERYDAY — Yesterday Ed Dolan, proprietor of the Grand saloon, was arraigned before Justice Pearson, on a complaint sworn out by Marshal Graham, charging him with conducting a game of chance, on last Saturday night.

Nothing New — The end of Prohibition on Grays Harbor

From 1916 to 1933, prohibition was the law of the land in Washington State. From fine Canadian whiskey to bathtub gin of questionable origins, bootleggers and rum runners managed to supply tipplers with liquid refreshments. The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought an end to the “Great Experiment” and on Grays Harbor during the first weeks of wetness, the great demand was limited by a lack of supply. Here are some stories on the issue as reported by the Aberdeen Daily World in April, 1933.

Nothing New — A heap of Halloween mischief: The day after

The day after Halloween is a time for the kiddies to assess their loot in a sugar-induced frenzy while their parents take inventory of the damage that may have been caused by the little witches and goblins the evening before. In the early years the majority of silliness involved knocking over wood piles, removing gates, and soaping windows.

Nothing New — Death on the rails: Logging train fatalities

When the first men came to this corner of the country and began toppling the big timber, they started by tackling the trees nearest the rivers and transported them to the mills using the infinite strength of the rivers. As the forests receded, loggers resorted first to oxen and skid roads, and then to railroads, with tracks extending miles into the back country. All phases of the timber industry carry a certain amount of risk, and logging trains were no exception. What follows are a number of gruesome and truly horrible fatal accidents that took the lives of men who had no idea that they were facing their last day on earth. These stories are not for the fainthearted.

Nothing New — The most important building in Aberdeen

There is a misguided movement afoot to remove the squat, shoebox-shaped wooden structure at the west end of the Wishkah River Bridge known as the Pourhouse building. The plans call for it to be replaced by a soulless glass-and-metal terrarium for use as a “visitor center”, which, in this age of smart phones, has itself become an antiquated, quaint concept. To raze this nearly 120-year-old building would be no less than a crime against the history of this city, the people who built it, and the generations of past and future residents who would call Aberdeen home.

Nothing New — A short history of cycling on the Harbor

When the first bicycles appeared on the streets of Aberdeen about 1890, the only place they could be ridden was the planked city center. A plank road (present day Pacific Avenue) was soon constructed connecting Aberdeen to Hoquiam and providing a passable route for cyclists. Whether for transportation or diversion, bicycling has been popular in Grays Harbor for well over a century, and the issues they dealt with then are still with us, as seen in stories from local papers a long time ago.