The entire town of Oysterville is on the National Historic Register. Oysterville, named after the rich oyster beds of adjacent Willapa Bay, is picturesque and very different from the bustling beach towns of the Long Beach Peninsula. Take a walking tour, attend summer vespers in the little church, or relax with a view of Willapa Bay. The maintenance of the little town is a labor of love by the locals. You, too, will fall in love with Oysterville when you visit.
The Chinook people gathered oysters in Willapa Bay way before the Europeans came. Oysterville was first settled in 1841 by John Douglas who married a local Chinook woman. The town of Oysterville was formally established and named in 1854 by J.A. Clark. It was the Chinook people who introduced these founders to oysters.
Oyster gathering and farming helped the town grow and the inhabitants to establish a strong economy. Early in the history of Oysterville, the town was named as the county seat.
As with larger towns, having transportation like a railroad is crucial for business. For over 40 years, from1888 to 1930, a little narrow-gauge railroad ran along the Long Beach Peninsula. Dubbed the Clamshell Railway, it provided the primary transportation link from Ilwaco. The schedule was governed by the tides, not by clocks on this narrow peninsula. The Clamshell Railroad provided a reliable route to outside markets for oysters, lumber, and cranberries. It was also a passenger railway.
However, the small, but crucial, Clamshell Railroad never reached Oysterville and ended just south, in Nahcotta. When the oyster supply began to wane the town declined. Legend has it that in 1893 raiders stole the county seat in the middle of the night and established it in South Bend, WA.
Oysterville Lives On
Some of the descendants of Oysterville settlers still live there. The original one-room schoolhouse and church are still in use for community events.
Pick up a walking tour map or just wander the short streets on your own. Many of the paths will be crunchy beneath your feet. They are covered with bits of oyster shell (no gravel needed!) The buildings and homes are marked with the names of their original owners and dates when they lived there. You’ll enjoy the gardens and picket fences with climbing roses in summer. It’s easy to picture the lifestyle of the original residents as you walk.
You can attend a summer Vespers service at the church or even get married in this quaint wooden church. The Oysterville Church, constructed in 1892, was a gift to the community from one of the founders, R.H. Espy. You can pick up a Walking Tour map there and leave a few coins in the donation box to help with maintenance.
The Vespers season runs from Father's Day through Labor Day. Services are on Sundays at 3 p.m. at the church. There are music and Oysterville tales to enjoy.
Oysterville Post Office
You can still buy stamps and mail a letter at the Oysterville Post Office. The post office is the oldest continuously operated post office under the same name in the state of Washington. Originally the post office operated out of private homes, reportedly even from the back of a saloon, but most often in a general store. The current location is at the Oysterville Store. It’s another fun place to visit. Buy your souvenir t-shirt or prints by local artists there.
Willapa Bay Oysters
You can still see oyster farming when you visit Oysterville. Drive down by the bay to the Oysterville Sea Farms buildings. Oysterville Sea Farms was established to preserve the last oyster cannery left in Oysterville. The money from their Willabay product line generates revenue for the restoration and preservation of the building.
The day I visited, I perused their shop full of locally sourced products… cranberries, wine, sauces, and, of course, oysters and clams.
Oysters are hand-harvested daily. I was invited, along with my dog, to enjoy their deck overlooking the bay. It was a beautiful restful place to spend time, think about the original inhabitants of Oysterville, and choose a foodie gift or two to take home.
More About Oysterville
Author/historian Sydney Stevens is one of those residents whose family has been continuously present in Oysterville since its founding in 1854. Her books offer readers a unique view of the little town. One of the most popular is Oysterville: Images of America, available on Amazon in paperback or via Kindle.
When You Go to Oysterville
There are several beautiful inns where you can stay in the northern part of the Long Beach Peninsula. I did stay at the Shelburne Hotel and you can read that review on Wander. But, most people enjoy visiting Oysterville as a day trip from Long Beach and Ilwaco to the south. It’s a beautiful half-hour drive through the countryside on the peninsula. Oysterville is a must-see when enjoying Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula.
The Long Beach Peninsula is in Southwest Washington an easily driveable distance from the Portland and Seattle areas. You can access the peninsula from historic Astoria, Oregon via the Astoria-Megler bridge crossing the Columbia River. It’s a 20-minute drive from there. The Long Beach Peninsula website for visitors has great ideas on places to stay and things to do on the peninsula. For more area attractions and destinations see Wander articles on the Pacific Northwest. I also have written about more things to see and do while visiting the Long Beach Peninsula.