Friday, June 10, 2016

Sandbags Couldn't Save E.H. Roberts' House


This iconic photo is attributed to Ben Maxwell at the Salem Library. 
Their date of 1947 cannot be correct. The copy in Ed Culp's 
album in Lorraine  Eckhardt's collection gives the date as 1938, 
would have been before it was moved back. 
When Tom Olsen of  Anchor Pictures shared his video on the history of the Port of Garibaldi last year, he told me of a video on Bayocean he'd produced twenty years ago. He recently found it, digitized it (the original was shot on Hi-8) and uploaded it to Vimeo for all to view. What a treasure. It tells the story of one of the houses that were lost to the sea, using an interview with Nancy Lee Goldberg and photos provided by Betty Lou Roberts. Tom had not been told who owned the house, or the women's relationship; but I had to know. 

Betty's last name was the key clue. I had previously identified E.H. Roberts as the owner of the house shown on the right, by way of captions on photos of the same house in an Oregonian story February 19, 1939 and a 1940 Army Corps of Engineers report. Ancestry.com records show Betty having been the daughter of Evan Harry and Sylvana Huddleston Roberts, anhd that she died in 2002. Nancy was her cousin, daughter of Winbert Huddleston, Sylvana's brother. Nancy refers to "Harry" in the video, and the woman she describes gathering items while the house hangs precariously on the edge must have been Sylvana. Pat Patterson told me he helped the Robertsons remove items from the house before it fell. Unfortunately, Nancy died May 10, 2016 - before I could interview her. 

Tillamook County deed records show E.H. Roberts bought the house in 1919, from the estate of W.J. Clemens, a Portland insurance man. He had bought the house 1912 from the Potters. They owned most of the surrounding lots at this early stage. This was in Block 39, just north of Jackson Gap in Block 38. 

"Westview" (as the Roberts called their summer home) was moved back from the edge in 1940, after storms first breached Bayocean; but the sand kept giving way, and by early 1945 the house was again in danger. Near the end of February that year, the Roberts finally gave up and sold it for salvage to the Strube and Barry familiesIt was so large that each family planned to build a house for themselves from the materials salvaged (with eleven rooms it must have rivaled the three Poulsen houses). After just a couple weeks of deconstruction - on March 13 - the house crashed into the sea. Beachcombers got what they could before continuing storms washed the rest away. (Oregonian 3.19; Tillamook Headlight Herald 3.15 and 3.22). 

E.H. Roberts was the President of the Roberts Brothers department store, located at SW Morrison and 3rd in Portland. His father Thomas had founded it fifty years earlier, and his sons Richard and William (Betty's brothers) carried on the family tradition. (Oregonian 10.18.1952). In Tom's video, Nancy identifies the boy in the photo to the left as Dick. He's lifting driftwood up from the beach below, for use as firewood, using a winch they rigged up for that purpose. 

Nancy makes an interesting point: that summers at Bayocean were wonderful for kids but hard on their mothers. These women left behind all the conveniences, social life, and cultural activities of city life, for the relative isolation of a spit that could only be reached by boat for three months each year. Their husbands could bring a few thing with them when they took the train to visit on long weekends, but mostly they were stuck with whatever provisions the Mitchells offered in their little store. They must have been dedicated mothers!

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