Remembering the Sappho Cafe and Grandma Smitty

  • Thu Mar 22nd, 2018 8:47pm
  • Life
The Sappho Cafe that once stood at the junction of U.S. Highway 101 and the Clallam Bay turn off. Today self-serve gas pumps occupy the location. Forks Forum Archives

The Sappho Cafe that once stood at the junction of U.S. Highway 101 and the Clallam Bay turn off. Today self-serve gas pumps occupy the location. Forks Forum Archives

By Christi Baron

Forks Forum Editor

March is Women’s History Month. The National Women’s History Project’s theme for 2018 is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”

The West End has had its share of strong women, surviving and making a living in a place that many early settlers may have thought was the end of the earth. Learning about women’s tenacity, courage, and creativity throughout time can unite families and communities, and possibly provide role models for all those who follow.

Elizabeth Stevens Conkey McStotts Schmidt was born in Michigan in 1891. At the age of 16, she married John O. Conkey and three children were born from their marriage. In 1910 the Conkey family was living in a lumber Camp in Chehalis. Mr. Conkey, a former soldier in the Philippines, was an engineer, and Elizabeth “Lizzie” was at home with the children.

In 1916 the Conkey’s divorced, Mr. Conkey also passed away that year and Lizzie married Henry McStotts a man a bit older than her. In 1920, the McStotts family was residing in McCleary, Wa. with George, Clive and Nedra Conkey and two-year-old David McStotts. At some point, the union of this marriage also ended and in 1930 Lizzie and 12-year-old David were living on Simpson Avenue in Hoquiam paying $18 a month at a boarding house and Lizzie was working at a veneer plant.

But Lizzie Mcstotts had not given up on marriage and soon she married Charles William Schmidt who at the time was working in a door factory.

It was not too long after that the family moved to Lake Ozette and Sue McStotts Corliss, Lizzie’s granddaughter, said, “The story was they mined for gold there. She earned enough to buy the gas station and garage at Sappho in 1932. She was quite the character.”

It was then that Lizzie Schmidt became known as Smitty, or Grandma Smitty to all who frequented her Sappho gas station.

Another granddaughter, Marybelle Conkey Calhoun, remembers Grandma Smitty as “one tough cookie,” she recalls her living right at the station and running it all by herself in the 1930s. She also remembers Smitty liking to have a good time, playing cards, fishing and bear hunting. She also remembers her friendship with another west end pioneer Mary Clark.

In addition to her tough side, Calhoun also remembers her kindness. Like the time she bought “Pa Goody,” who had the tavern across the street, a piano, and the way she instilled in her grandchildren to pay their respects on Memorial Day to those family members and others who had passed on.

Anna Mae Moore Riggins remembers her first job at age 11 was working for Smitty. She said, “I pumped gas, checked oil, sold candy, pop, shrimp you name it … she had it.” She also recalled, “I remember my time well spent with Elizabeth Schmidt. She offered me so much in my young life, not a huge salary, but a huge life experience. She was my mentor, my employer, and my friend. Smitty, I still miss her today.”

After Smitty’s death in 1953 her son David “Bud” McStotts continued to operate the Sappho gas station adding a restaurant. McStotts ran the restaurant until 1985. McStotts Corliss ran it for three more years, then leased it out and finally sold it in 1992 to Jim and Betty Conkey Smith, who turned it into a store.

The late Sam Gaydeski operated it until it was destroyed by fire in October 2004.

Descendants still reside on property Smitty purchased off the Mary Clark Road.

For Elizabeth Stevens Conkey Mc-Stotts Schmidt, the West End was not the end of the earth, but the beginning.