The French-speaking families carried on their cultural traditions, but also became integrated into the town
By Bridget Bacon, Louisville Historical Museum
Imagine a small Western town with a neighborhood in which nearly every house was owned by natives of France, with French often being spoken in the homes and between neighbors over back fences. In fact, that neighborhood was called Frenchtown and it was located right in the town of Louisville, Colo., in the vicinity of Rex and Parkview streets.
Many of Frenchtown’s neighbors were actually related to one another because people lived near their parents, aunts, uncles and siblings. From this modest settlement of wood frame houses, men followed the nearby railroad tracks or walked on dusty roads to reach the coal mines where they worked. Unfortunately, this neighborhood was partially and inconveniently separated from the town’s main business section by a large mine dump that blocked the main street leading to the rest of the town. But perhaps the residents enjoyed some aspects of their isolation. Eventually, that mine closed and the mine dump came down, opening access.
These French-speaking families carried on their cultural traditions, but also became integrated into the town. One young man from this neighborhood, a miner, was killed during strike violence, and his funeral was attended by 1,500 people. Another was killed in World War II and is still mourned today by people who remember him. Many members of the French families married others of French descent, but some intermarried with members of other immigrant families, such as those from Italy, England, Bulgaria and Slovenia. Some of the women of French heritage from this neighborhood prepared and served food in the Italian-American restaurants for which the town became famous.
Louisville’s Italian population and heritage obviously left their marks on the town, but very few of the stories about the French-speaking residents in the Louisville area have been documented. It’s worth noting that besides people from France, Louisville also drew French-speaking families from Belgium, and some French-speaking people lived on farms and in parts of Louisville other than Frenchtown.
We know that most of Louisville’s French families came from communities in coal-mining areas in Nord-Pas-de-Calais in northern France, such as Vieux-Condé and Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise. Some worked in coal mines in Illinois or Kansas before coming farther west to Colorado.
But there is much we don’t know. For example, what foods did Louisville’s French families prepare? What holiday traditions did Louisville’s French families follow? Did the families make wine, as many residents of Italian heritage did? And what do the descendants of these families want those of us who live in Louisville now to know and remember about the French?
Here are three short biographies of people who lived in Louisville’s Frenchtown neighborhood.
Stephanie “Fannie” Warembourg was a Frenchwoman with an interesting personal history. She was born in northern France in 1875 and came through Ellis Island with her mother and siblings in 1906. She was already a married woman with the last name of Demouliez, and what happened to her first husband is a mystery. In 1907, she married Oscar Briche, a Frenchman, and they lived at 1000 Parkview in Frenchtown. After Oscar died in 1924, Fannie married outside the French community by tying the knot with Nick Todoroff, a coal miner who had been born in Bulgaria in 1884. They lived together in her house at 1000 Parkview until her death in 1958.
Rene Jacques lived at 829 Rex St. in Frenchtown. He was born in France in 1901 and came to the U.S. as a young child with his parents, Frank and Anna, and brother, Peter. His brother, a miner, died in 1919 after he was kicked by one of the mules used in the coal mines. In 1927, authorities killed Rene and five other miners at the Columbine Mine when hundreds of striking miners assembled at the mine in solidarity. The event is referred to as the Columbine Mine Massacre. According to a newspaper account, 1,500 people attended his funeral in an outpouring of grief and anger. He was buried in the Louisville Cemetery. His father died two years later. His mother, Anna Jacques, continued to live by herself at 829 Rex for many more years.
Alfred Dhieux grew up at 1000 Rex St. in Frenchtown. His parents, Henri Dhieux and Julia Gosselin Dhieux, came from France in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Alfred’s was not Louisville’s very first World War II death, but his death seemed to bring the reality of the global war to the small town of Louisville. Alfred had been a member of the Louisville High School class of 1943 and left school early to join the Marines. Alfred was wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart. After returning to combat, he was killed in the Battle of Peleliu in 1944. He is buried in the Louisville Cemetery.