History Column: Deborah Kelly and E.H. Nash’s Valentine Wedding
Posted February 3, 2021 at 5:30 am by Hayley Day
From the San Juan Historical Society and Museum
In the month she turned 19, Deborah Julia Kelly and her sweetheart Elijah Hamlin Nash traveled by steamship from San Juan Island to Seattle and took out a marriage license on Valentine’s Day 1896.
They were married the following Sunday on Feb. 16 at Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle.
A week later, they returned home to Friday Harbor on the steamer Lydia Thompson, known for its “elegant passenger accommodations.” The newlyweds settled in at their first home on Spring Street and E.H. went back to work as the 26-year-old San Juan County Clerk.
Their wedding portrait above, as also seen in the “Images of America: San Juan Island” book by Mike and Julia Vouri and the San Juan Historical Society, invites many stories. This month’s history column will touch upon a few of them.
As described in the book, E.H. “Ham” Nash and Bert Coffin, friends from Maine, arrived on San Juan Island in 1893 and found their place in the business community by operating the Nash & Coffin store at Argyle. Just a few years later, one would be a groom and the other his best man.
The ladies came from established island families. The bride, Deborah Kelly, was born on the island in 1877 to Mary Ellen Hankinson and John Kelly, a former American Camp soldier. Deborah’s maternal grandfather, John Hankinson, had also been stationed at American Camp.
The matron of honor, pictured standing next to Bert Coffin, was Florence Hankinson Labar, Deborah’s aunt. Florence was married to Nelson Labar (often recorded as LaBar) at the time. In this photograph, Florence is expecting twins, to be born in July. In the time-proven island tradition of “Never burn a bridge,” after Florence and Nelson Labar’s marriage ended 15 or so years later, she married Bert Coffin.
In reading a photograph, it’s interesting to note styles of furniture and clothing. This particular photograph features elegance in every way. From the men’s suits to the ladies’ frilly dresses, we see classic Victorian style. The matron of honor’s gown appears to be almost identical to the bride’s ensemble. Was it also white in color? A popular color for bridal attendants in the 1890s was pastel yellow and it’s a lovely thought for what could have been. Soon simpler styles became popular after the turn of the century, but in 1896 these romantic, fluffy sleeves in the Juliet style were sought after by brides. The ornately decorative style of the settee on the fur rug completes a scene of elegance.
There is so much that could be said about how the future unfolded for this Valentine couple, but to mention just a few…
E.H. went on to become an early mayor of Friday Harbor, served three terms in the Washington state legislature, and was general manager of the Island Packing Company when it reorganized as a joint-stock company in 1905. In his later years, he was the Friday Harbor Postmaster. He and Deborah raised a large, community-minded family in the spacious home they built at the corner of Caines and Spring Streets. (We know it today as the main house of Spring Street International School.) You can see daughter Martha Nash Gubelman’s portrait at the San Juan Community Theatre, revered for her role in the development of community performing arts. Her brother, Al Nash, Sr., owned Friday Harbor Drug, a company that then stayed in the family for about 75 years when ownership passed to his son, Al Nash, Jr., also a pharmacist. Al Jr.’s brother Charlie was equally well known as a Port Commissioner and Friday Harbor Postmaster. Even more can be said about these children and grandchildren of E.H. and Deborah Nash, as well as for their many siblings.
It was a pretty easy choice to feature this particular wedding photo for the month of February.
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