Frenchie’s Bait & Tackle sinks into Murderkill River

Frenchie’s Bait & Tackle, a landmark in Bowers Beach, slid into the Murderkill River Monday evening after pilings under it gave way. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

BOWERS BEACH — The weathered red building angled downward into the Murderkill River, the dock was a shambles.

Landmark Frenchie’s Bait & Tackle collapsed into the water Monday evening, with slowly eroding wooden pilings the culprits.

Less than 18 hours later on Tuesday, owner William “Frenchie” Poulin had obtained a demolition permit and was shooting to begin the removal process quickly.

“This won’t take long. It will be cleaned up in two to three weeks,” he said, seemingly taking the setback in stride.

Mr. Poulin, 70, plans to rebuild, he said, though at a smaller scale from a longtime daily gathering spot for fishermen, their gear and tales. A replacement dock was erected in 1990 after a fire, and he said another rebuild would follow.

“It hasn’t been that bad and it’s kind of like handling it hour by hour and getting things done,” said Mr. Poulin, who had already been to Dover and back by about 10:30 a.m. to handle details with the county.

The fishing industry’s peak years have passed, and a smaller scale replacement is the only feasible response. Mr. Poulin wants to continue fishing but acknowledges that the water isn’t teeming with life as it once was.

“There’s no fish, I hate to say it but there’s hardly in the Delaware Bay anymore,” said Mr. Poulin, who arrived in Bowers in 1976 and was town mayor for 12 years.

A visitor looks at the sinking Frenchie’s Bait and Tackle Shop in Bowers Beach Tuesday morning. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

A five-gallon oil can spill was contained with a DNREC-applied absorbent boom with none ever entering the water. DNREC, and a host of fire companies, police and utilities companies arrived Monday evening to assess the damage, which was first detected around 5:30.

“Someone called me about it and I said ‘You’re kidding,’ “ he said.

A DNREC Marine Police vessel moored nearby and a DNREC boat lift next to it were not damaged from the building’s collapse, spokesman Michael Globetti said.

The dock had not been used regularly as a shop in about 10 years, Mr. Poulin said.

The breakdown had been years in the making due to erosion, observers agreed. Ida Puzzo has lived just a few yards from the dock for 12 years and was sad to see her back door view in a wreck.

“It’s sad that it’s going to be gone now,” she said.

“All the local guys would sit around the wood stove. They’d work on whatever of (the dock) had fallen off and I didn’t mind at all seeing (the repairs).”

‘Lot of friends’

On Tuesday morning a steady stream of curious onlookers and well-wishers arrived in the large parking lot next to the dock and United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Building.

“It makes you feel good to have a lot of friends,” said Mr. Poulin, noting that most folks know him only by “Frenchie” and not his real name.

After years of buying fish at the store, Rainey Jenkins was compelled to drive from Dover to do a safety check.

“I wanted to come here to make sure he’s OK because he’s good people,” Ms. Jenkins said.

William “Frenchie” Poulin said Tuesday that he’s been grateful for the support from the community. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Lifelong town resident Doris Morris described the loss as “Devastating. It’s a landmark for Bowers, a pillar of the community.

“He’d do anything for anyone and it’s sad to lose it. It’s just devastating.”

Unfortunately, though, the collapse symbolizes what’s become of her hometown.

”This was a wonderful fish house and it’s so sad to see it gone now,” Ms. Morris said. “The town has been dying down. Summer was our booming time and now there’s less and less people coming to visit here.”

Magnolia’s Brian Howard, a regular at Bowers for more than four decades, received the news through a call from his brother.

“None of us are really surprised because the pilings have been eroding for years,” Mr. Howard said. “These places need maintenance and the rising water has always been a problem.

“I’ve been coming here since 1976 when this area used to thrive. There were wall-to-wall party boats and the dock was right in the middle of it all.

“That’s been gone for years.”

‘Original in Bowers’

Said Ms. Morris, “Frenchie’s was a gathering place for a lot of folks. When you were bored and wanted someone to talk to you’d come to Frenchie’s.”

Visiting from Pennsylvania while on vacation, Taylor Krebs, 14, and two siblings played with cats that roamed around the premises.

“It’s been here as long as my grandparents can remember. It’s been here since I’ve been coming,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of an original in Bowers.”

Emergency personnel attend to Frenchie’s Bait & Tackle in the Murderkill River Monday evening. (South Bowers Beach Volunteer Fire Company/Amanda Hudson Ziegler)

Taylor’s mother Christine spent many days at the dock while growing up.

“It’s just a big part of part of Bowers,” she said. “When you go fishing you pass it twice — going out and coming in. It’s sad.

“You feel you should say a few prayers or something. I don’t know what the plans are but I want to see it come back.”

Joseph Stio has owned an apartment building across the street for 30 years, and described the dock as a “selling point” when securing renters.

“He’s a good man,” he said of Mr. Poulin. “The dock is going to be missed.”

“I hope one way or another it comes back to life. It was a great place for the elder fishermen to go and swap stories about how long this one or that one was.”

Staff writer Ian Gronau contributed to this story.

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