Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The "New Sailor's Home"

Harry and Annie Lynch, a Couple of the Portland Waterfront's Obscure (and Comparatively Gentle) Crimps

From the 1882 Portland Directory

 Not everyone in the business of shipping sailors operated in a nefarious manner. When Jim Turk stopped using the name “Sailor’s Home,” H. J. Lynch, the hosteller who operated the old Keystone House on Front Street decided to enter the sailor’s boardinghouse business, changing the name of his establishment to “The New Sailor’s Home.” Harry Lynch was a well-liked, amiable fellow who was one of the fortunate males of the area—he had a woman. A woman didn’t have to be a beauty to be desirable in the far west, when they were greatly outnumbered by men, but judging from the commotion she caused, Annie must have been of somewhat above average looks.

Harry and Annie managed to stay in business for over twenty years without ever bringing the wrath of the law down on them for shanghaiing, or any other illegal activity connected with sailors. They were, however, connected with some disturbing incidents of violence.

Illustration by author, based on an 1889 Sanborn Map

In the summer of 1879 he was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon against a longshoreman named Tom Watts. Since the fellow had been making inappropriate suggestions to Annie, Harry’s action was seen as reasonable, and the charges dropped.  One dark evening six months later Harry was hit from behind with a metal bar, nearly killing him. He had no proof, but most people thought that Tom Watts had attempted to murder Harry. 

The feud between the two men was described as being caused by Watts having “too close an intimacy with Lynch’s wife.” There is no way to determine what these words mean, but it was most likely not adultery, which was then a crime punishable by a $100 fine and possible imprisonment. 

Things took a tragic turn in July, 1880, at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, as Harry Lynch drove his wagon down 5th Street in East Portland, on his way to his ranch in Stevens Addition. As he passed L Street Tom Watts spotted him and came running up alongside the wagon, grabbing hold of the sideboard to climb on. Harry, still weak from the assault months earlier, cried out, 

“If you do not leave me alone, I will blow the top of your head off!” 

To which Watts retorted: 

“Blow away!”

Harry Lynch whipped the horses and set off at a fast pace, turning up L Street and circling back on 4th. All this while Watts, an athletic man in his early thirties, managed to keep pace. Lynch pulled his revolver from his pocket, a five shot English Bulldog with No. 45 shells, holding it in readiness. In an attempt to lose Watts Lynch circled back to 5th Street again, whipping the horses for what they were worth. By this time Watts managed to get his hold on the back of the wagon and was about to pull himself in when Lynch fired the revolver. The ball had merely grazed Watts hand, stunning him for a moment. Then he lurched forward, intent on boarding the wagon. Lynch fired again. The ball ripped through Watts side and he staggered, falling in the dust of the street.

.450 5 shot English Bulldog c. 1870 Wikipedia, This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Lynch drove the wagon forward, pulling up alongside Humbolt Brewery, where he tied his horses, before returning to the scene to await the arrival of the sheriff.

Once more Harry Lynch was exonerated, but trouble came again two weeks later.

At half past nine in the evening Alex Mattieson, an oversized giant of a longshoreman, staggered into the police headquarters and demanded to be allowed to swear out a warrant for the arrest of Annie Lynch, by whom he had recently been stabbed in the gut. Mattieson reeked of alcohol and was in a slurring state of drunkenness. He raised his shirt to display a small wound above his navel that bled slightly. The officers had Mattieson lie down until a physician could be called. On doing so he began to vomit large quantities of blood. When the physician arrived his examination showed that Mattieson had received a deep stab wound to the stomach making it unlikely that he would last through the night.

Officers were dispatched to arrest Annie Lynch, whose story was straightforward. Mattieson was a troublesome tenant in their boardinghouse. It was his habit to become frightfully drunk, which had the effect of rendering him equally frightfully amorous. That evening he had forced his way into Annie’s room on two occasions, each time attempting to fondle her, all the while making suggestions of a sexual nature. The second time Annie had warned him that if he returned she would “cut his guts out.” True to her word, when Mattieson came in a third time Annie took a dagger with a six inch blade and thrust it deep into his abdomen. She claimed it was self defense, though no one else had witnessed the event, and Mattieson was too drunk to recall anything at all.

By some miracle of unmerited favor, Mattieson not only made it through the night, but made a full recovery. The charges were resolved in Mrs. Lynch’s favor, and all would be well for a season.
There was one incident in 1886 where Harry Lynch was charged with stealing two sailor’s trunks of cloths. The “theft” turned out to be sailors trying to skip out on a bill, and Harry keeping the clothes until it was paid.

There was however,  yet another killing at the Harry and Annie’s boardinghouse. An East London thug called “Cockney” George had taken up residence there, to the grief of some of the other guests. “Cockney” George was low, threatening fellow, brimming over with insults when sober, and murderous threats when drunk. One evening he was shot and killed in a row with another guest. The killing lay somewhere between manslaughter and self defense, so when the killer was found guilty by a jury, the judge handed down the minimum sentence of three years.

Derived from the Morning Oregonian, 05-13-1902; Page: 14

The story of Harry and Annie Lynch shows that it was possible to exist in the same business as Jim Turk and later on, the Sullivan “combination” without running into trouble, either with the law, or the crimps. There was, however, a time when Jim Turk was reported to have knocked Harry’s teeth out, but that was over divergent politics, not sailors. The violence that Harry and Annie Lynch experienced over the years is a glimpse into the reality that, in spite of all its quiet, New England pretentions, Portland was still a part of the wild west.

Derived from the Morning Oregonian, 05-13-1902; Page: 14

I have collected a good deal of biographical information on the sailor's boardinghouse "masters," so-called, "shipping masters," "crimps," "land sharks," "runners," etc. It will not all fit into the book I am writing--a biographical history called "The Oregon Shanghaiers: Columbia River Crimps From Portland to Astoria." The book is scheduled to be published by History Press early spring, 2014. A book on this subject could have reached encyclopedic proportions. Fortunately, there is a maximum word limit, which will keep me to the straight and narrow. It is my hope that this book will serve to throw some light on a subject that has been cast in shadows for about a century.

This blog will receive the odd item (such as this article) saved from the winnowed dross blown off of the pages of the aforementioned book.

Barney Blalock November 13, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Claire and Other Beauties

The Claire in 1951, Ben Maxwell Collection, 7990, Salem Public Library

From time to time one hears the indescribably lovely sound of a steam whistle echo from the river to the West Hills. Usually this is a vintage railroad locomotive, or, if it is the month of December, the Columbia River Sternwheeler pulling away from the dock at Caruthers Landing (by OMSI) for a holiday cruise. Of course I am prejudiced, but I think the most beautiful of all the whistles is the one on the steam tug, Portland, the home of the Oregon Maritime Museum—rarely heard, but a real treat.

Now consider this, around the year 1900 there were riverboats arriving from (or embarking to) all points on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers throughout the day and night. At that time Union Station had about 100 trains passing through every day. Portland was alive with the sound of steam whistles, the same way the area around the Brooklyn rail yard is treated to the constant blasts of switch engine horns today. It may have been an irritation to some folks, but the riverboat lovers were given a little thrill with each echoing whistle.

It is obvious to history lovers that some things should have never been changed. In Portland this includes things like: the excellent trolley system (that we are now struggling to rebuild), the area between S.E. Water Avenue and the river (which should never have been made into a freeway—ruining the eastside riverfront), and steamboat travel. Twice I have had the opportunity to travel on the steam tug Portland. It is remarkably quiet, the only sound being a soft “whoosh, whoosh,” like soft breathing, coming from the smoke stack. It is also remarkably smooth—a refined and elegant way to travel. At one time steamboat travel between Portland and other cities along the two rivers was so regular and swift there were people who owned businesses in Astoria and lived in Portland. 

Vacationers would take the steamboats to Astoria or Ilwaco; from there they would take one of the trains running on the narrow gauge lines up and down the coast. Many of the coastal hotels had campgrounds as well. This sounds so inviting I don’t dare dwell on the picture for too long, or I will turn into one of those muttering old geezers who curse every modern aspect of tarnation. 

If you have read my posts called, “How Deep is my River?” you will know that up into the 20th century both rivers had long stretches of sandbars that would become exposed in low water seasons. This made it impossible to reach Portland in the windjammers of the day, so freight was “lightered” to Astoria via steamboats—some of which had only a 2 foot draft. Smaller steamboats could go through the locks at Oregon City and on to the cities on the upper Willamette and Yamhill rivers. 

I once knew an old Episcopal priest whose fondest memories were the days of his youth when he could ride trains all over the Willamette valley. He cursed the freeways, calling them “truck ways,” and cursed the evil, conspiring oil and rubber barons who put the bullet in the head of travel by train and trolley. I don’t want to turn into that man, but I would have liked to add steamboat travel to his rant.

At the risk of stating the obvious, let me say, these steamboats were beauties—even if they were designed with a purely utilitarian purpose in mind. They might not look like much from a distance, but go take a tour of the Portland steam tug, tied up at Waterfront Park, and you will see how utterly charming these beauties were (and are). 

One of the favorite beauties of the steamboatmen was the Claire, operated by Western Transportation Company. The Claire was well-known for her unique three-chime whistle, which she had from a famous old time steamboat, the Hassalo. She was a working boat, built to haul paper products from the mills at Oregon City, and spent the later part of her life as a tug. (May I add, these steam tugs were very useful for their steadiness and strength. The Portland was used as a tug up into the1980s.)

The Claire in 1941, Ben Maxwell Collection, 1515, Salem Public Library
The Claire was one of those cheerful sights that gladdened the hearts of old timers. Seeing her churning up the river, and hearing the cheerful blast of her whistle made people think that the world was still a good place (lark’s on the wing, snail’s on the thorn, God’s in his heaven,[i] sort of thing). 

It was a sad day for riverboat culture on the Willamette when the Claire was put out to pasture. Of course, I don’t remember that day, being at the time a suckling babe; but my overactive imagination feels the pain. Early on a Sunday morning in June, 1951, the Claire pulled away from the docks and headed upstream, stopping midstream by the Steel Bridge while a freight train crossed over. The Claire was headed to Champoeg with a passenger load of 150 steamboatmen and friends heading to the 27th annual Veteran Steamboatmen’s Association reunion. Taking turns at the Claire’s enormous wheel were three longtime steamboat captains, who had for many years lovingly piloted the Clair (and her sisters) on these waters. These captains William A. Reed, Amil F. Cejka, and Fritz Kruze combined service would represent over a century of steamboat work—from their time as deck hands on up to captain.

Captain William A. Reed on the Claire's last journey

(Redrawn from a newspaper photo)

When the Claire moved through the government locks at Oregon City on her return trip it marked the end of steamboating on the upper Willamette. The three remaining working steamboats—the Jean, the Henderson, and the Portland—were too large to fit through the locks. The retirement of the Claire ended a century of steamboating on the upper Willamette, dating back to 1851 and the steamboats, Hoosier and Canemah. The steamboat Henderson was retired in 1957 and I have been unable to discover whether she is still in existence somewhere. In the 1960s the Jean was sent upriver to Lewiston, Idaho for awhile where it was hoped she could find a home as a museum. The money was never forthcoming, and now she sits forlorn on the Columbia River near the Expo Center—empty and without a plan for her future. Fortunately for Portland, the steam tug Portland is in beautiful repair and open for all to enjoy.

The Claire did not end so well. After about a decade serving as a floating shop for Western Transportation, on October 10, 1961 she was towed down to Hayden Island and set afire. Her decks had been soaked with oil from the years as a machine shop, and she was deemed a fire hazard. 

Time and seasons change, and old methods are often resurrected. My grandchildren will see a city that is once more traversed with trolley cars. They may see the freeway along the east bank torn down or buried underground. They may see the return of economical and eco-friendly wind power to the high seas, and they may see powerful steamboats one again plying the waters of these rivers.


[i] Song, a poem by Robert Browning