Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brief History of Abita Springs

       On July 13, 1975, an article appeared in the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper detailing the history of Abita Springs. Paula Johnson, a resident of Abita Springs, compiled a brief history of that town, drawing her material from back files of the St. Tammany Farmer. Her historical sketch is printed below.

Abita, the name recalls the vanished Indians who once lived within the present town limits of Abita Springs.

In 1830, Etienne LeFleud (Flot) and his family settled on the side of the Abita Creek from the Choctaw village of approximately 25 families. LeFleud was from Dancing Rabbit Creek, Miss., which was an important Choctaw village. For many years, the Indian women who lived in Pearl River would stop overnight at the Flot homestead on their way to New Orleans to sell their wares of baskets and herbs. From here, they would continue their walk to Mandeville where they would catch the boat to cross the Lake. The last of these Indians passed through Abita Springs between 1900 and 1910, at which time they were removed by the U. S. Government to reservations in Oklahoma. 

The word Abita is considered by all authorities to be Indian, but the meaning is disputed.

According to the Legend of Abita, verse by Rehnle, which was printed in an 1881 edition of the St. Tammany Farmer, an Indian princess named Abita fell in love and married Henriquez, a Spaniard of noble birth from New Orleans. She went with him to New Orleans and learned civilized ways very quickly. But as time went on she became more and more listless. Physicians were no help. Finally the Medicine Man of the Choctaws was called in, and he told Abita's husband that if he would follow his instruction, he could promise her recovery. 

      Henriquez was to bring her by litter to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain where his bark would be waiting and take her "where bubbles up the fountain, the spring the Indians love. There the Great Spirit watcheth and smileth from above. Leave there your bride, Henriquez, trust me and say good-bye. Till one short moon has passed away, then to Abita hie."

In 1853, Joseph St. Auge Bossiere (Bossier) purchased from the United States Government "all said described lands adjoining and situated in Abita Creek, in the Parish of St. Tammany, and being the same on which the Abita Springs are situated. "

A Mr. Christy in the same year advanced money to Mr. Francis Anne Bossier, wife of Joseph, "with a distinct understanding that the said amount was to be laid out in the location lands in her name, in the neighborhood of the Spring, aforesaid with the view to add value to the Spring." It was then called Christy Abeta Springs.
Probably between 1876-1890, the Long Branch Hotel was built and is still standing today. Much of the land around the Long Branch had originally been owned by the Davis family. In May of 1880 under New Advertisement, there appeared in the St. Tammany Farmer the following notice:  "THE FAMOUS ABITA SPRINGS, Mrs. F. A. BOSSIER, has opened her house at the famed Abita Springs, three miles from Covington, for the reception of boarders. The table will be supplied with the best the market offers. Parties wishing to bring horses and buggies will find stabling room.

Stages will convey guests from the boat at Old Landing near Covington to the Springs. Board per day $1.50, per month $30. For further particulars, apply to J. S. Bossier, Covington, LA."

Abita was trying to grow but it was not until the first train of the East Louisiana Railroad, built by Poitevent and Favre, arrived on June 26, 1887, that the "Curative properties of the waters of the Abita Springs became better known and the general healthfulness of the locality attracted considerable attention." The train was extended to Covington the following year. Overnight excursions from Covington to Abita became popular with the extension of the railroad to Covington.

On December 20, 1887, the post office was established and Mr. Thomas McAvoy was appointed postmaster. 
Pavilion Built

The following is from an 1888 edition of the Farmer newspaper: "Messrs. Poitevent and Favre have just built a commodious pavilion over the Springs, so constructed as to be beyond the reach of high water. Mr. Thos. McAvoy has put up within a short time a handsome Queen Anne Cottage and Mr. Simons has completed two very neat houses, one a dwelling and the other a restaurant. A new store has also gone up, and a blacksmith shop has been added to the enterprise of the village. Repairs to the Catholic Church of which Father Aveilha is the presiding priest, have been completed. The hotel accommodations of Abita are sufficient for the entertainment of some 500 guests..."

"Abita promises, in the early future, to become one of the most prominent summer and winter resorts in the South. The health-giving qualities of the springs are well known, and the absence of yellow fever or other epidemic diseases makes Abita especially attractive to away from town people."

Then, an ad in the Farmer of 1888 advertised "Simons Hotel and Restaurant - French kitchen, Parisian Style, Abita Springs, LA, a square meal, 50 cents, with wine, 75 cents, nearest to the Springs and Depot."

In 1888, the first artesian wells were drilled and were found to have "almost the identical properties" as the Abita Springs. In the same year, there were four hotels in Abita. 

To find out what life was like in Abita Springs in 1888, the short story "A Visitor" tells the story. This is from the October 20, 1888, edition of the St. Tammany Farmer and was reprinted from a New Orleans newspaper. "Breakfast at 9... then a ramble to the springs through the pinewoods... or if one was so inclined a quiet moment in the pavilion... at 3 Dinner, then rest and leisure or perhaps a game of croquet or music in the parlor...

Night brings the western bound train with the mail and fresh arrivals. "After supper, we have a regular "pitch in" for a jolly good time with music and entertainments. The whole concludes with a merry country dance... the popular game of "feather" was played where all assemble in a circle of chairs, stretching a sheet in the circle, and placing a feather on the sheet. Each one then blowing the feather away from himself and to his neighbor's side, and he who catches the drop of the feather give a forfeit to be cancelled by the performance of some frivolous act; generally making the actor the subject for fun for the balance of the party.       

       "I have seen dignified gentry hopping on all fours like a frog, for the amusement of laughing spectators...

"Sometimes the horses are hitched up to the backs, and little wagons used in the country, for a jostle over the rough roads and over the country to the villages and other neighboring watering places, for there are not less than half a dozen in three miles of this place. The trip is made at a rattling stride, and back again for breakfast at 9 a.m. Such is life at Abita Springs."

It wasn't until March 4, 1903, that the first ordinance for the Village of Abita Springs was adopted. And not until 1912 that Abita Springs was chartered as a town.

Most of the information for this article came from the St. Tammany Farmer, Mrs. Amos Neff of the St. Tammany Parish Clerk of Court's Office, and from Lawrence Flot, Sr. of Abita Springs.

For a video interview with Bryan Gowland, CLICK HERE.

See also: