Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wollochet Bay Oyster Company

Did you know that in 1935 a portion of the head of Wollochet Bay on Wollochet Drive and East Bay and Artondale Drives was the site of Wollochet Bay Oyster Company?

Paul Svinth and Billy Maloney standing next to the Sleepy Hollow sign.  
Frank Maloney and Dave Svinth were the founders and partners of the company and they planted tidelands which previously belonged to his wife’s stepfather, William McLaughlin, with oyster beds from 1935 until after WWII started.  The oysters were fattened by two fresh water creeks, on the west by a salmon-filled creek flowing from Maloney Creek in Rosedale and the second creek from the area known as Green Land.  The beds covered a broad area from the tide mudflats that stretched across the buttonhook curve that forms the bay’s northwest border, known as “Indian Point”.  They extended to the east where the second creek entered the bay behind the flat spongy land known as “Green Land”.

Frank and Dave used Japanese oyster seed as well as partially grown oysters from Shelton and over time, five tons of the tiny oysters from state land near Hood Canal.  The Japanese strain soon disappeared when no longer cultivated.

Dave Svinth had been a student at Pacific Lutheran College in 1934 but it was the midst of the Depression and jobs were hard to come by. 

They kept the planted oysters separated for optimum, single growth.  Frank’s wife, Helen, who kept their books, recalled in 1985 for Gladys Para that she remembered her husband walking out from their house with a lantern during the night-time low tides moving the mollusks apart so that they didn’t attach to each other.  Bathed and nourished by the creek's outflow, the oysters improved and developed into top quality and trade escalated.

The oysters were enjoyed by everyone.  The partners built a shucking house on the water’s edge just in front of where Dave erected a cabin on land leased from Frank.  There they sold freshly-opened oysters for 20 cents a pint to anyone who stopped by.  They also had a wholesale business with the recently opened Gig Harbor Safeway and a foot-route to homes in the North End of Tacoma. 

Dave Svinth,  in front of the cabin used for selling oysters.
 It was built of materials from the old Artondale School. 
Wollochet Bay Oyster Company was far enough from Minterbrook Oyster Company so rivalry didn’t exist between the two firms.  Frank and Dave learned from Minterbrook Oyster and adopted some of their practices.  One idea was the method for sterilizing with steam.  There were two springs close to the cement-floored shucking house and both springs tested pure water.  Both men had health permits; the shucking house had a steam sterilizer for their metal strainers and knives. 

Oysters were gathered at low tide onto floats which were then pulled in by rowboat and tied to a stake to await opening.  They used milk bottles at first for containers and soon replaced them with wide mouth Mason jars which they purchased wholesale from Safeway for 3 cents each.  Finally waxed paper cartons bearing their own label, Wollochet Bay Oysters, were used.  Safeway only marked up the oysters a nickel per pint and iced its orders immediately after arrival at the store.

Maloney continued the business for a while after Svinth left oystering and his cabin in 1941.   

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