PDN Article by Karen Alls

New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2005


The Old Coyle School Bell was given voice again on New Year’s Eve, brought back to life by a tug on the rope by Kaylen Neziri, at the celebration of the return of the bell to Coyle. Kaylen is the daughter of Karleen Fisk Neziri, the daughter of Lynette Morgan Fisk, who is the daughter of Lee and Mildred Morgan, the bell’s donors.

Far off the beaten track and at the end of nowhere, there are few remaining relics of Coyle’s past. Previous efforts by residents to locate items to display in the Toandos Community Center, which opened in 1992, were unsuccessful. So, when Neil Morgan contacted Coyle with his father Lee’s intentions to return the bell, those who knew about it were delighted… and challenged.

At the celebration of the Coyle School Bell’s welcome home, Lee talked about how Coyle’s schoolhouse (originally located at what is now the corner of Hazel Pt. Road and Coyle Road) was already shut down by 1947, and how his wife Mildred drove the school bus, transporting the few children of the Toandos Peninsula to school in Quilcene, just like now. Lee himself maintained the old Coyle Road, spreading gravel to fill (only) the ruts periodically, back when an average of only 8 round-trips per day were driven between Coyle and Dabob.

The mail was originally delivered by boat, and then by truck three times a week from the old Dabob Post Office, so when the post office opened in part of the old schoolhouse, that convenience was appreciated. In fact, Coyle was named in honor of a postmaster who served in the old schoolhouse Post Office, though only for six months before he mysteriously disappeared.

The schoolhouse was open for special occasions like Christmas parties, and was also the local polling-place for voters. The “Bergerson Sisters” Joan and Myra (Tornensis) remembered that church services were held at the school for a time. However, by 1962 the schoolhouse was in disrepair.

Lee and Neil’s last memory of the schoolhouse being occupied was in a snowstorm, when skin-divers visiting from Oregon, a professor and students, took refuge from the cold, setting up tents in the old school, asking the next morning for directions to the water.

In the 1950s, Lee made arrangements to buy the school bell from the Quilcene School District. He negotiated a selling price of $1.00…yes, one dollar. John Bergerson bought the schoolhouse for its lumber to re-cycle, and skidded the “school marm’s” cottage, originally occupied by Mrs. Eaton, the first teacher, to his property on the other side of Fisherman’s Harbor.

About the same time, local phone service was established with old crank phones, which rang in different ways to alert the various households that the call was for them…or not. The population of Coyle continued to dwindle.

By 1969 the two Morgan boys, Neil and Ken, were the only students south of Dabob Road. This fact underscores the change in population of Coyle over the past 40 years. Almost nobody is left in the region that was an adult in Coyle in the ’40s. The oldest memories that are left are mostly those of people who were still in school in the ’60s. They don’t remember the larger fishing and logging community of the ’20s and ’30s, when there was even a store in Coyle, and there were schools in Coyle and Thorndyke.

But on New Year’s Eve 2005, at the Toandos Community Center, pictures of the past lined the walls of the Center, while others were placed on the tables to be examined and discussed. Small coloring books of images of the bell were set at the tables with crayons to create memories in the minds of Coyle’s children, young and old.

The evening’s program included pictures of the bell and questions about its, and Coyle’s history, as a factual presentation had too many blanks to prepare in advance of the ceremony. While the Morgan’s and others answered many questions, many questions remain. Some answers may be forthcoming from the Quilcene School District archives, while others may remain unresolved.

A Certificate of Appreciation was awarded to Lee Morgan and his family, by the grateful community, whose members also signed a certificate of commitment to practice good stewardship over the bell, keeping it carefully available as a touchstone to the past and a beacon to the future.

It was encouraging to see 2005 end with the community center full of people who began the ceremony by pledging allegiance to our flag. After the presentation it was a joy to see about 50 adults reminiscing and what seemed like dozens of children playing, making new memories.

Outside the bonfire blazed, warming those gathered around it, and the heavy rains abated, waiting until 1am to become a deluge once again. Music cheered those around the fire, some strumming guitars. Inside, candles flickered with tamer flames, and conversations filled the air. Kids learned how to play spoons and “kitchen band” instruments, though today’s kids marched to the beat of their own drums, preferring other less archaic activities. Small children read and colored, blew bubbles and watched all the hustle and bustle, fascinated with all the late night activities, so unusual to young residents of Coyle.

The raffle was better than ever, with dozens of donated gifts to delight the winners, who were having so much fun that other contests were forgotten! The food was abundant and festive. Cameras recorded snapshots of happy revelers, those now resident and visitors alike, who traveled away from the rest of the world to unite in celebration in Coyle. One couple, who just moved to the Toandos Peninsula two weeks ago, were delighted to anticipate future gatherings with their new community, while others who’ve been in Coyle for decades look forward to more opportunities to celebrate again.

This small and remote community is grateful for the publicity that local newspapers have devoted to our home. We hope that those who know about our past will contact us and share what they remember, because as long-time resident Janet Rogers noted, “The more we know, the more help we will have in maintaining our identity.”

The Morgan family seemed well satisfied with the new housing of the bell, and the community spirit to sustain it. Donations for the artisan were generous for such a small community just after the holidays and anticipating the winter heating and tax season.

The Toandos Community Center is vital to the Toandos Peninsula, as it is the only meeting place available to residents without traveling to Quilcene, which is 22 miles distant from Coyle, and is designated as the peninsula’s emergency and disaster response facility. In order to meet these obligations, more funding is being sought to sustain the Center, which is presently struggling to stretch the budget far enough to keep the Center’s phone connected.

The P&R Commission’s secretary and the Center’s manager have volunteered their services for the year, as the budget constraints mean that the Center can no longer compensate them even in the small way as before. Janitorial and landscaping services can no longer be funded, so work parties will need to be organized. Volunteers are encouraged to contact the Center for information about when to join in these efforts.

Toandos Community Center will continue to have events through the year to benefit the Center’s maintenance and improvement expenses, and we anticipate even more fun in the future, as the Center becomes even more pertinent to Toandos Peninsula residents, and better meets their expressed needs and interests. Everybody is encouraged to contact the Center with ideas for classes and interest groups, who are welcome to use the Center to meet for productive activities.

As much as was learned by those who attended the Bell ceremony, it became very apparent that the history of the original community has vanished as mysteriously as Mr. Coyle, the former postmaster. Recording recent history is a start, and a means of encouraging others to re-establish contacts, when possible, with those few who still retain memories of our more distant past.

History came full circle when Lee’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered with the bell, and started another era of history for the bell and Coyle, as Kaylen tugged the rope and the community rejoiced new beginnings, together.