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The city spreads along the south shore of the cove. Once called the Port of Sea Captains for the number of retired mariners who settled here, the town was officially named for the first of them, Captain Thomas Coupe, who took a donation claim here in 1852. Along the water front a small business section, composed mainly of independent, one-story, frame structures, parallels the tidal shore. A scattering of houses follows the rising terrain up a moderate slope from the shore to the level prairie back of the town.

Captain Coupe was born in New Brunswick in 1818 and went to sea as a twelve year old. In the early 1850s he came to the west coast and served for some time as sailing master of the Jefferson Davis, the first revenue cutter on Puget Sound. He built, owned and operated a number of small schooners and retired to his farm where he died in December of 1875. The Native American name was P’t-sa-tl-y, meaning snake basket.


Ca. 1910 view of Coupeville and surrounding area, looking west.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1973 view of the Coupeville waterfront and Harbor Store.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Town Park

Town Park on the edge of town in a setting of tall firs, overlooks Penn Cove. A large section of a Douglas fir stands beside the entrance, with a plaque giving its age as 660 years.

Captain Thomas Coupe House

The Captain Thomas Coupe House, on Ninth St. between Gould and Otis Sts., and its large walnut tree planted by the Captain’s wife, date from 1853. The well-preserved two-story house of California redwood, painted green, shows Dutch Colonial as well as New England farmhouse influence. The front is faced with siding, the ends with perpendicular boards and battens; above the small porch a flat-roofed dermer runs back to the roof peak, and rearward the mossy roof sweeps to a break and extends over the lean-to. The 1941 occupant was Edward Bruce, a grandson of John Gould, who came here in 1849.

First Methodist Church

The First Methodist Church, erected in 1894, displays a bronze plaque on a foundation stone from the original church built in 1860. The congregation was organized in 1853.

Penn Cove Water Festival

Annual International Water Festival held (now called Penn Cove Water Festival) each May. Hundreds of visitors come to the festival to see the bronzed crews stroke their narrow boats along the course. In these races Washington tribes, including Lummi, Queets, Suquamish, Puyallup, and even Yakamas from east of the mountains, compete with the Haidas, their ancient enemies from British Columbia. It is said that, when the races were initiated, the Native Americans had to be taught by tribal craftsmen how to fashion the slim Chinook canoe, which old-time sailors declare to be the best native seagoing craft in the world. The method of manufacture was the same from southeastern Alaska to the Columbia River. Expert canoe makers chose a cedar tree as nearly flawless as possible, felled it with obsidian axes called pe-yah-cuds, and dragged it to a convenient place. The head canoe maker or tyee, scored the bark; his helpers trimmed the branches and peeled the trunks. Slowly, carefully, the hull was shaped; red-hot rocks were employed to burn out the interior. The hull roughly formed, the tyee went over it inch by inch, chipping and smoothing until the finished craft would trim properly in the water. Many hulls were preserved against warping and checking by charring every surface, but the favored practice was to apply several coats of dogfish-liver oil, hand-rubbing the surface after each application until a glossy polish was secured. However malodorous, the process insured long preservation, for canoes more than 100 years old are still staunch and seaworthy. Extreme nicety was needed in placing the thwarts, or seats: these were inserted before the hull had become thoroughly seasoned, producing a slight flare along the rail. Too little spread reduced seaworthiness, but too much might split the wood. Both canoes and paddles were ornamented with various pigments. Iron stain was brown or yellow, copper stain was green, pounded ragweed pods yielded a bright red; soot mixed in oil gave black, and talc from lime-rock deposits made an acceptable white. Even the 50- to 60-foot war canoe was carved from a single cedar. The earliest canoes were not shapely, but after acquaintance with Bedford whalers, the canoe makers quickly imitated the pudgy prows of the Gloucester vessels. Practically all canoes built within the last 75 years show the influence of the clipper with its curving bow and low bowsprit. Racing canoes, built for a steersman and 10 paddlers, were of narrower beam than war canoes and of somewhat lower freeboard.