Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series by local historian Sydney Stevens which examines the many connections among Pacific County residents — connections with one another and with the past — connections that bind us in special and unexpected ways.
By Sydney Stevens
For the Observer
Isabelle le Corguillé grew up, as many little girls do, hearing stories about her grandparents when they were young — especially about her Pépère whose name was Jean-Marie Dauve. He was a sailor and, when he was a young man, just 19 years old, he had been shipwrecked off a far-away coast in the northwest corner of les États Unis.
The ship, the graceful French bark Alice, blew onto the beach just north of Ocean Park early in the morning on Jan. 15, 1909. Her cargo of 2,200 tons of cement was immediately catalyzed into hard packets by the salt water. Plans for her salvage were not even considered.
No sooner had the ship hit the beach than the alarm was raised by the howling of a dog belonging to Willie Taylor of Ocean Park. Ironically, the dog, itself, had been a shipwreck victim two years earlier when the Solano, a four-masted schooner ran aground four miles to the north.
The dog’s master quickly spread the word and the North Beach Life Saving Crew hitched the horses, placed the surfboat on the beach cart, and took off for the scene of the wreck. Reaching the ship was difficult; soft sand and adverse weather made the horses balky. Fortunately, all hands reached shore safely using their own lifeboat but it was four days before the ship could be boarded.
Story with a Twist
Or so the story has come down through the generations here on the Peninsula. It’s not quite the story that Isabelle and her family have heard over the years. “We were told that he swam to shore and was rescued by a woman riding a horse. He stayed with that family of loggers for two years. The young woman was in love with him and wanted to marry him.”
Apparently, he didn’t feel quite the same way and left for Portland — “We don’t know when. But we know he left on a ship that took him back to France. Many years later, he met and married my Grandmother and they had two children. One is my mother who is now 82. Pépère was from Nantes, France and that is where I was born and grew up.”
Isabelle came to the Peninsula last week with her American friend, Jane Chantal Sullivan. They were on a quest for information. They happened to stay at Heidi’s Inn in Ilwaco and “the owner, Bruce, was most helpful,” they said. “Forgive us, we didn’t get many last names. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity and help.”
People eager to help
During their stay here, they visited the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum where “the whole staff came out to talk to us!” Jane said. “Everywhere we went, people were so nice and eager to help Isabelle. Many times, she was overcome with emotion. And, all along the way, she kept in touch with her mother (Jean-Marie Dauve’s daughter) back in Nantes.”
“Maman is thrilled,” Isabelle said. “I am hoping that I can bring her and my sister here in the winter to see the museum’s shipwreck exhibit. They said it will be up from November through March. We will definitely stay in touch with them.”
The women took full advantage of their time here. “We visited Ole Bob’s, the Loose Caboose, the art supply store, and Catherine’s bookstore. We went to the ‘free museum’ bookshop and to Capt. Bob’s,” Jane said. “While Isabelle was mailing postcards of the shipwreck home to her mother in Nantes the clerk directed us to the Chinook Observer across the street. They gave us more names and places to pursue,” Jane said.
We talked with people on the beach and at the Senior Center in Ocean Park. A woman there said she remembered swimming around the wreck of the Alice when she was a girl and someone else said they used to fish from what remained of the ship’s deck in the 1930s. And, of course, we visited Adelaide’s which is in the old Taylor Hotel,” Isabelle said.
Which is Pépère?
There, they saw pictures of the Alice crew, taken in front of the hotel a few days after they had wrecked. Isabelle is not sure which of the young men might be her grandfather. She is taking a copy back to Nantes to show her mother with the hope that she will recognize her father as a young man.
“Colleen, the owner at Adelaide’s, suggested we visit a very old house on Z Street where a woman named Paula lived for 40 years before building a new place across the street from it.” Jane continued. “She directed us there because she said the house had furniture from the Alice in it. Paula couldn’t have been nicer! She invited us in and even gave Isabelle a cozy jacket because she was shivering!”
“I have been coming to Washington for many years,” Isabelle said. “I teach English in Nantes and Jane teaches French in Auburn. We met each other because Nantes and Seattle are sister cities and we have been bringing our students back and forth for a long time. But this is the first time I have been to the Peninsula looking for more information about my grandfather.
Our search was successful beyond my wildest dreams thanks to the wonderful people on the Peninsula. Quelle joie! I was utterly delighted with people’s eagerness to help us. Their leads sent us all over the Peninsula for two full days! I was absolutely overwhelmed to be visiting some of the places where my Pépère had been shipwrecked over 100 years ago!”