He asked Tracy Griggs Farr to do everything in her power to have the unnamed creek that flows through his family’s former property near the Thurston-Mason County line formally recognized as Griggs Creek in honor of his long-deceased parents, George and Edna Griggs, and other family members.
“If anybody can do it, you can,” he told her.
Farr took on her uncle’s request with a spirited, can-do attitude born out of her love of family history. She is closing in on an official state designation of this small stream that flows under U.S. Highway 101 into Schneiders Creek, just before that creek enters Oyster Bay and Totten Inlet.
When the state Committee on Geographic Names meets Oct. 19 in Olympia, the Griggs Creek proposal will be on the agenda. If the seven-member committee approves the naming of the creek, the proposal will advance to the state Board of Natural Resources, acting as the state Board on Geographic Names, for a final decision.
State Department of Natural Resources employee Caleb Maki, who serves as the executive secretary of the geographic names committee, is hesitant to prejudge the committee’s ruling. But he has high praise for Farr’s effort, which included a narrative of the family’s connection to the creek compiled from interviews with family members, copies of 60-year-old state permits that allowed the family to withdraw water from the creek for irrigation purposes, and reprints of family photos showing life on the modest, one-acre farm.
“Tracy has done an excellent job; she has really done her homework,” Maki said. “I don’t see any red flags in the application.”
To get this far with the project, Farr had to submit the application to the committee for review at its May meeting. That gave her three months to pull together all the family history and support documents to make the case for Griggs Creek.
“My first reaction when my uncle asked me to do this was, Where do I start?”’ she recalled.
She turned to the state Department of Natural Resources website to learn more about the process for naming unnamed natural features such as streams, mountain peaks, lakes and bays. Then she called Maki, who sent her a detailed application package.
Here’s some of the family history Farr learned while doing the research:
The Griggs family settled in the Kamilche Valley in Mason County more than 100 years ago, but her grandparents lost the family farm in the Great Depression. They moved across the county line into Thurston County in the late 1920s, taking up residence in a house that once served as a stage coach stop along old Highway 9.
Her grandparents raised five children in the home. The creek flowed right past the house and was used by the Griggs family for drinking water, water for livestock, bathing, irrigation of the garden and food storage.
“I remember catching minnows and crawdads in the creek,” Farr’s dad, Bernard Griggs, 80, said the other day. “The creek was our playground.”
At the headwaters of the spring-fed creek about a mile from the home stood a mill where railroad timbers were produced for some of the logging railroads that ran like veins through the forests of Mason, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.
“All of the family members and neighbors in the area at the time referred to the creek as Griggs Creek,” Farr said in her application. “Most used it as a form of direction. For example, from Schneiders Prairie, go to Griggs Creek, then on to Kennedy Creek, then up Hurley-Waldrip Road.”
Life at the old stage coach stop next to the creek came to an abrupt halt in the late 1950s when the state used its power of eminent domain to purchase the place, which also included a second home occupied by Glen Griggs, to make room for construction of the new stretch of U.S. Highway 101.
“Doing this research opened up a whole chapter of my family history,” said Farr, a South Bay resident with a penchant for wood carving and horseback riding. “For one thing, I learned how hard everybody struggled during the Depression.”
Ironically, Farr has never had a chance to visit the property or walk along the year-round creek.
“I’ve wanted to stop and look at it, but I never have,” she said. “I want to walk it this winter when the leaves are off the trees.”
The state Committee on Geographic Names should make that walk an even more pleasurable one by voicing its support for the naming of Griggs Creek.