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Kitsap man uncovers past of Colby, old logging town

J.B. Hall and Russell Neyman hope to build a proper monument for
J.B. Hall and Russell Neyman hope to build a proper monument for 'The Colby Bell,' now hanging in Neyman’s front yard along Yukon Harbor.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

When Russell Neyman moved into his 100-year-old house overlooking Yukon Harbor last year, the history buff set out to learn all he could about who had lived in the building over the past century.

And now, six months later, Neyman has uncovered a wealth of information, including the fact that a thriving logging town called Colby used to surround the residence.

“The irony is, Russell has learned more than he ever wanted to know about Colby — but he’s learned hardly anything about his house,” said J.B. Hall, who lives down the street from Neyman in another home that was built during Colby’s heyday.

So for now, Neyman has decided to embrace his part in uncovering the history of Colby. And he begins by explaining to anyone who will listen that “No, Colby and South Colby are not the same thing.”

After researching the area with the help of the Kitsap County Historical Society and others, Neyman learned that the town of Colby — which got its name either from a Native-American chief named Colby or from the distortion of Coal Bay — depending on which story you believe — was settled in the early 1880s and became the site of the area’s first post office in 1884.

Served for years by Puget Sound’s Mosquito Fleet, which delivered people and goods to the peninsula’s towns before there were roads and cars, the town thrived as the nearby forests were logged extensively.

In 1885, a man named Joseph Squire Grant Sr. moved to the town by way of Kansas and Olalla, becoming postmaster for a year before opening a general store. First called Grant & Son, the store later became Grant & Sons after Grant fathered two sons and a daughter.

As a way of communicating with the town full of loggers and farmers, Grant hung a 75-pound iron bell on the roof of his store. Before telephones, Neyman said bells — placed on top of stores, churches and schoolhouses — were used to alert the town to simple messages or emergencies as their rings could be heard for miles on land and across the bay.

Neyman said the bell remained on top of the store long after the Mosquito Fleet stopped serving Colby in 1925 and the town began to wither while the nearby communities of South Colby and Harper grew. In 1954, Colby’s post office was closed and finally, in 1967, the building that housed Grant’s store was torn down.

Just before the demolition, however, Neyman said one of Grant’s great-grandsons, Doug Grant, climbed to the top of the building and retrieved the bell, taking it home with him to Kansas.

Then for forty years, the bell sat in the younger Grant’s garage until Neyman began researching the area and launched a website for The Yukon Harbor Historical Society, which has Ball and other neighbors as members.

Soon after creating the website, Neyman was contacted by Jo Ann Grant Lorden, another great-grandchild of Grant Sr., and a cousin of Doug Grant.

Before long, Neyman said, Lorden had not only convinced her cousin to send the group the bell, but worked with him and a third cousin to ship it back to South Kitsap.

Now that it has returned to what is left of Colby, the “Colby Bell” has a place of honor in Neyman’s front yard. But he has even grander plans for the piece of history.

“We would like to create proper a monument for it, with a plaque,” he said, explaining that he envisions the bell hanging at the corner of Cole Loop and Yukon Harbor Drive, where people can easily stop to look at and read about the bell.

In the meantime, the group is planning a large party and fundraiser this Fourth of July along the Yukon Harbor waterfront. Neyman said the party itself will recreate history, as a sandy beach and grassy picnic ground near Colby attracted crowds of picnickers from Seattle each year on the holiday.

To help create a monument or just find out more information, contact Neyman through the society’s Web site: http://yukonharbor.wordpress.com.

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