History Column: Deborah Kelly and E.H. Nash’s Valentine Wedding

Posted February 3, 2021 at 5:30 am by

Contributed Photo/San Juan Historical Society and Museum Seated: Elijah and Deborah Nash. Standing: Florence Labar and Bert Coffin

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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Categories: History


  1. Thank you for shar­ing this won­der­ful sto­ry! We are blessed to this day to have the ances­tors of this love­ly cou­ple still on the island!

    Comment by Darcie Nielsen on February 3, 2021 at 11:32 am
  2. On behalf of the His­tor­i­cal Muse­um, I’m glad you enjoyed read­ing this mon­th’s his­to­ry col­umn, Dar­cie. We are grate­ful for the San Juan Update, which shares a new sto­ry each month.

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on February 3, 2021 at 6:50 pm
  3. Enjoyed the arti­cle Robin and fun to think of the Spring Street School bustling with chil­dren then, as it is today. Hap­py Valentine’s!

    Comment by Robin Donnelly on February 4, 2021 at 7:45 am
  4. Thank you, Robin D. If only that house could talk!

    Comment by Robin Jacobson on February 4, 2021 at 6:55 pm

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