For almost 85 years Effie Co Jean Simonson was known as Langley’s unofficial ambassador of goodwill. On her 76th birthday June, 1970 the town honored her as its oldest pioneer daughter and her picture and life story were featured in the Whidbey Record.
From the date of her birth, on June 15, 1894 at Browns Point until her death on April 27, 1979 Effie’s life was so filled with drama that it could have come from a Dickens novel. Her father, Oliver Joseph Co Jean, had been a French wine-maker prior to migrating to the United States where he settled in Missouri and worked on the railroad. About five years after his marriage to Ellen Bradshaw he moved his wife and four children to Langley shortly after Jacob Anthes had platted the town in 1890. The family lived at Brown’s Point (now Sandy Point) while Co Jean built a house on property he had leased from Anthes on what is now Sixth Street.
When Effie was three years old her father and Anthes had a business disagreement and CoJean left the island, leaving his wife and children behind. Ellen Co Jean had a rough time trying to support her sizeable family and Effie was taken to live with the Beachum family who were homesteading 160 acres between Langley and Freeland. The June 11, 1970 Whidbey Record picks up Effie’s story.
As a young girl she was counted on to help with the livestock, pack water to the fields, rake hay and tramp it down in the sheds, work in the harvest and prepare the year’s supply of fruits and vegetables, as well as take care of the other children. In 1905, the Beachum’s adopted another child, a boy, later known as “Pappy” Beachum who became the senior pilot for Navy vessels coming into Bremerton.
Effie’s memories of those years are of the winding horse trail through the woods to Langley and of the excitement of a trip to Everett by stern wheeler, and of school, first Mutiny Bay and later at Bayview where 5 students from the first through the eighth grades were housed and handled by a single teacher in the one room schoolhouse.
She moved back to Langley in 1910 but spent a good part of the next three years in the Yakima Valley picking hops or apples and working at a store and ice cream parlor at Soap Lake where she was up at 7 to fill milk bottles and stayed until 10 unless there was a dance next door to clean up after which lengthened the day until one a.m. Effie’s recollections of Langley as she knew it in the early days continue in her interview with the Whidbey Record in 1970.
A livery stable and blacksmith shop were the first buildings to fill the north side of First Street. The stable built in 1906 stands today housing Effie’s dry cleaning establishment. A walk on the beach below reveals that the building is supported by strong wooden pilings. These prevent the old structure from collapsing down the bank. Back in the building’s early days it was set completely on firm ground says Mrs. Simonson. She adds that there was also plenty of room behind the stable for staking out horses.
Rut Filled Street
The main street was extremely narrow and consisted of little more than wagon ruts through the middle of town, Effie says. Travel through town was complicated by a creek that crossed First Street. A small wooden bridge complete with railings along the walks spanned the stream.
Although horses and wagons dominated island life for many years the auto first appeared in Langley about 1910. Ed Howard purchased a vehicle that resembled a motorized livery wagon. Mrs. Simonson tells of Howard having it for hire running passengers and supplies from the town to the country and back.
For a long time the town sported three hotels but each eventually succumbed to the ravages of fire. Today there is none. Effie says that the town has experienced periods of slow advancement and other times when the town “even seemed to slip back a little.’’
To talk to Effie Simonson about the early days is like opening a historical gold mine. She is one of the few people who can relate accurately details and trends of our fascinating early history.
When she was 18 years old Effie married Henry Simonson and for a time it appeared that the tide of her fortunes had turned for the better. Henry was active in Langley civic affairs and he and Effie became the parents of a son, Allen, and a daughter, Hazel. Then misfortune hit again. Henry became a cancer victim and was sent to Medical Lake hospital.
Effie opened a breakfast and coffee shop at the head of the Langley dock in order to support her two children, pay for her husband’s medical expenses and her visits to him in Medical Lake. However, the hazards of having children playing around the deep water and dock where steamers were loading cord wood forced Effie to close out her business. She moved out near Brooks Hill and in the 1920s there was a series of jobs, first at the school then at the Peterson Glendale store and post office, next at a Clinton grocery store and finally back again to the school job. For a time she travelled throughout the western part of the state selling Youth Skin cosmetics but she soon returned to Langley where she worked in a restaurant for a year. Later she operated a market in Anacortes. For a time she worked in a shipyard that was constructing ocean-going tugs. She shucked oysters in sub-freezing weather in Bellingham, then worked for the ships service cafeteria at the Whidbey Naval Air Station.
During all of this she always considered Langley as her home and after four years of wandering she returned and opened a gift shop and a dry cleaning service. For several years she was a popular columnist for the Whidbey Record. At one time she was a plane spotter for Civil Defense and counted more than 2500 hours of duty to earn a citation. The Whidbey Record concludes it’s story of Effie as follows:
It’s a busy life for Effie Simonson. She wouldn’t have it any other way. She will make her rounds Monday and find time somewhere to stop at the Langley Cafe, over at Skipper’s, the Star Store and the Doghouse to gab with friends and keep up with the latest going’s on in town.
There isn’t enough time in the day to do all the things people would like to do, she’s learned. That’s what makes doing right by each other and avoiding unnecessary complications important. Effie Simonson has always given more than she has asked for and it has made her truly “one of a kind.’’
Happy Birthday, Effie.
Effie’s daughter, Hazel Simonson, married Leonard Christoe in 1934. He was the son of Ed and Nettie Christoe who were married in Douglas, Alaska early in 1930. After coming to the Langley area they settled on what is known as the Wernik place on Lone Lake. Besides their son Leonard, the Christoes had two other children, Edward Jr., and Lorna.
Leonard was a meat cutter in Langley for many years. He and Hazel became the parents of Robin, Janet and Tom. After graduating from high school Janet married Dan Shultz and moved to Edmonds where he is with General Telephone. Tom Christoe married Janet Primavera and followed in his father’s footsteps as a meat cutter at the Star Store. In 1980 he moved to Anacortes where he became a minister.
In 1959, Robin Christoe married Marilyn Brown, a granddaughter of the Brown’s of Brown’s Point. Their children, Joel, Bret and Paul moved off the island. After seven years of marriage Robin and Marilyn separated and Robin lived with his grandmother, Effie Simonson in Langley. Since 1960 Robin has worked off and on at Fircrest with the mentally disadvantaged. He also has worked with deaf people in New Hampshire and has done private tutoring for autistic children in Washington, D.C. While in Langley he served as a natural foods cook at the Soup Coup Restaurant for a time. While working at Fircrest Robin met Cynthia Coe. They are now married and living in Des Moines, south of Seattle where they have established two separate “Christoe Homes” for the developmentally disabled.
Edward Christoe Jr., married Dorothy Mortenson, daughter of the owner of the Mortenson Hardware store in Langley. Ed, as he was popularly known, took a leading part in community activities and was South Island county commissioner for several years. He died in 1982. Ed and Dorothy’s children are Terry, who lives in West Seattle and works for Metro; Sue who married Archie McQueen and they live in Freeland; and Sally who lives on Dow Road.
Effie CoJean Simonson, known as Langley’s unofficial ambassador of goodwill, died April 27, 1979 at the age of 85. She is buried in the Langley cemetery as is her father, Oliver CoJean, and her mother Ella.