Meet a Family: Charles and Zoe Chaenn

by Richard Edwards

Charles Chaenn was born in France in January 1839 to John Chaenn and Madelina Juliet. According to local oral tradition, he served in the French military before entering the United States. He was married on 15 March 1876 to Mari Zoe (maiden name unknown, born in France about 1849) in Texas.

Charles and Zoe (as she is usually referred to) were in Thurston County by early 1879 where he is listed as a Farmer in the territorial census. In 1884 they purchased 80 acres of Section 7, Township 16 North, Range 1 West from Avery Gilmore for $600.

This area just north of Tenino would become known as Chaenn Hill, though spelled many ways over the decades including Chain, Chaen and Chane. In 1885 they purchased lots in Olympia now located on the corner of Capitol Way and 18th Ave SE. In 1887 Charles is listed in the city directory as running a saloon on Main (Capitol Way) near the city limits.

In 1888 a well publicized legal battle between Zoe and her husband ended up in Territorial District Court where amid criminal charges involving Adultery and Selling Liquor without a License (against Zoe though she was not found guilty) they were granted a divorce in 1889. By 1890 Zoe was running a saloon on Main (Capitol Way) between 16th and 17th according to the city directory but nothing after that is known of her.

Charles Chaenn appears to have retired to his farm at Chaenn Hill, though he also spent a brief time around 1900 serving as a gardener for Edward Wittler in Seattle where he also married a second time (to Lisette Schmidt) though it appears they soon divorced as well. By 1903 Charles was living back on his farm in Thurston County. His health declining, in 1909 he sold his land for $1 to Wilbur F Blue in return for being cared for by Wilbur’s wife, Margaret.Charles died on 4 March 1910 from “general breakdown and old age.” He was buried at county expense in Forest Cemetery, Tenino.

This newsletter series will help you become acquainted with some of the families whose names you see in our local history, neighborhoods, and street signs. Their intentional brevity will hopefully pique your curiosity and consequent research. We welcome contributions from our members and friends.

Richard Edwards is a retired librarian with the Washington State Library. He is a member of the Southwest Thurston County Historical Society

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