Sunday, June 25, 2017

Writing St. Tammany Parish History - C.H. Nichols

Thirty-two years ago, on April 2, 1985, History Professor C. Howard Nichols gave a talk to an "in-service" media library class held at Madisonville Elementary School. He told how he got started in writing St. Tammany Parish history, as well as recounting earlier attempts at recording historical events in proper order. 

Dr. Nichols with his latest book "Stories of a River Town"

Dr. Nichols noted that the writing of history, in the early years, was done primarily by people writing family histories or the histories of the community churches. 

"My first acquaintance with St. Tammany's history came from various references in the Federal Writers' Project," he said. "The Louisiana State Guide."

When his family purchased an abandoned farm near Lacombe in 1944, he met some of the Indians of the vicinity and gained an appreciation of the area's historical figures, namely Chahta Ima, Father Adrien Rouquette. 

"Some years later, when my father had acquired an old store on Columbia St. in Covington, I met Adrian D. Schwartz," Nichols explained. "Mr. Schwartz shuffled down the street from his quarters above the Von Schneidau Clothing Store in the Patecek Building on the corner of Columbia and Boston Streets."

He lived and maintained a law office above the store, always tending a few flower boxes as well as keeping a "feline menagerie" on the flat roof above the Norman Haik store, Nichols recalled. 

Nichols Speaking To Historical Society

"I finally entered into that special province of Mr. Schwartz when, as a graduate student in history at LSU, I met him on the street and expressed an interest in his history of St. Tammany Parish," Nichols said. For years people had commonly reported that Adrian Schwartz was writing a history of St. Tammany. 

"I don't know why he agreed to show it to me; maybe he was flattered by a young man's interest in his work. In any case, he pointed to a large cardboard box filled with the typed manuscript pages," he said. "In between the typed pages were sandwiched deeds, legal briefs, tax receipts, and all of the other documentation of his history."

Even though Schwartz was cautious about the young Nichols, he opened the manuscript and read aloud sections of his account. 

"I remember being impressed with the manuscript and its documentation, and I confided in my attorney friend Garic Barranger that if Mr. Schwartz died while I was away at school, someone should be sure and salvage the manuscript," he recalled.

C. Howard Nichols speaking to "Our Heritage Celebration" gathering

Two short versions of the Schwartz manuscript reached print, the first being in a publication titled "St. Tammany Parish Resources and Facilities published in cooperation with the state of Louisiana in 1953, and the second ten years later, when the Covington City Council published Sesquicentennial in St. Tammany. That publication was subtitled "The Early Years of Covington, Madisonville, Mandeville and Abita Springs, Louisiana."

The following text is the total of Dr. Nichols' 1985 speech:

Writing St. Tammany History By C. Howard Nichols
April 2, 1985

The writing of St. Tammany Parish history is primarily a function of the last fifty years. Prior to that time the parish was both rural and poor. People writing the history of this region wrote about their families or their churches. Occasionally, a local paper would print a Civil War reminiscence, but the central endeavors of making a living, raising a family, and working out one's personal salvation through a rural Baptist Church or with the assistance of the designated saints of the Roman Catholic Church filled the lives of most St. Tammany residents.

Historian C. Howard Nichols in 2018

My first acquaintanceship with St. Tammany's history came from various references in the Federal Writers' Project, Louisiana State Guide. When we purchased an abandoned farm near the village of Lacombe in 1944, I encountered some of the Indians of that vicinity and that led me to an appreciation of Chata Ima, Father Adrien Rouquette, who was the subject of Dagmar Renshaw LeBreton's biography under that title.

Adrian Schwartz

Some years later when my father had acquired an old store on Columbia Street in Covington, I first met Adrian D. Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz, as I always called him, shuffled down the street from his quarters above the Von Schneidau Clothing Store in the Patecek Building on the corner of Columbia and Boston Streets.

Mr. Schwartz made an almost daily pilgrimage down Columbia Street and always returned with a brown paper bag under his arm. During the years of my youth he lived and maintained a law office above the store. He tended handsome blooms in flower boxes and maintained a feline menagerie on the flat roof above the Norman Haik Store.

I finally entered into that special province of Mr. Schwartz when, as a graduate student in history at LSU, I met him on the street and expressed an interest in his history of St. Tammany Parish. For years people commonly reported that Adrian Schwartz was writing a history of St. Tammany. I don't know why he agreed to show it to me; maybe, he was flattered by a young man's interest. 

In any case he pointed to a large cardboard box filled the typed manuscript pages. In between the typed pages were sandwiched deeds, legal briefs, tax receipts, and all of the other documentation of his history. Cautious about this young stranger, he cut into the manuscript and read me sections of his account. Interspersed with the reading came questions about histroy and demands that I recite Shakespeare and other classical writers.    Many of his commands, I fear, went unanswered.

I remember being impressed with the manuscript and its documentation, and I confided in my attorney friend Garic Barranger that if Mr. Schwartz died while I was away at school., someone should be sure and salvage the manuscript. Two short versions of the Schwartz manuscript reached print. The first appeared in a publication titled St. Tammany Parish Resources and Facilities Published in Cooperation With State of Louisiana Department of Public Works Planning Division in 1953. 

Ten years later The Covington City Council published Sesquicentennial In St. Tammany subtitled The Early Years of Covington, Madisonville, Mandeville, & Abita Springs, Louisiana by Adrian D. Schwartz. I am grateful that he managed to see some of his life-long project appear in print. When Mr. Schwartz died, my friend and Adrian's, Nikki Barranger, looked for the cardboard box with the manuscript and documentation. He never could locate it. Subsequently, heirs offered a manuscript to the St. Tammany Historical Society but it was not the manuscript I had seen. We may never learn what happened to that version and its accompanying documents.

The St. Tammany Historical Society Printings

Early in the life of the St. Tammany Historical Society, it inaugurated a publication program. That first volume of the St. Tammany Historical Society Gazette threatened the very existence of the organization as the printing bill far exceeded our prospective revenues. 

" We had an over-zealous editor and a hungry, but careless, printer. It proved to be a dangerous combination. Judge Steve Ellis and others agreed to seek to rescue the fledgling organization by seeking business sponsors etc. When the exorbitant printing bill had been repaid, more modest goals were set for subsequent publications. Several annual issues appeared which contained a variety of materials relating to parish history. 

I edited the third volume (issued in 1978) and was particularly proud of two articles which I solicited. The widow of the late Governor Richard W. Leche wrote a beautiful essay titled "Our Years in St. Tammany" and Mary Frances Morgan offered an account of her father-in-law, the late Lewis Morgan. Subsequent issues included the fine history of Madisonville by Ethel Haas Boagni, a pictorial history of St. Tammany, and most recently, the very lovely Home Cooking: Recipes, Homes and Legends of St. Tammany Parish, La.

In 1978 the Poole Lumber Company reprinted "Along the Line of the New Orleans Great Northern R.R. in Louisiana" originally issued by the Southern Manufacturer, 541 Camp Street, New Orleans, La. The photographs, sketches, and advertisements tell us much about St. Tammany life in the past.

At the request of Miss Jane Dutsch of Madisonville I prepared a brief history of the parish for an address to the retired teachers of St. Tammany delivered a number of years ago at Holy Redeemer College at Lacombe. At the time, I planned to pursue the project,-but then I learned that Judge Frederick S. Ellis had undertaken the writing of the parish history. I put mine aside and instead wrote Tanqipahoa Crossings: Excursions into Tangipahoa History which appeared in 1979. In the meantime I occasionally talked with Steve Ellis about his book and eagerly awaited its publication.

Steve Ellis

Steve Ellis came to Covington as an associate in the legal office of Dalton Barranger on New Hampshire Street. He and his wife Betty rented the old Overseer's House on the grounds of the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse at Claiborne Hill owned and occupied by Robert and Katherine Lobdell. Betty and Steve were newlyweds and two sons and a long life of accomplishment intervened between those early days and Betty's death from cancer. St. Tammany L 'Autre Cote Du Lac appeared in 1981 and is dedicated to the late Betty Dahlberg Ellis.

Covington novelist ,Walker Percy, in his forward to the volume commented ..."such a talent for dissent, whether from a stalwart frontier spirit or plane unregenerate human cussedness, is remarkable. . . . Indeed St. Tammany Parish turns out to be a microcosm of the encounter of two cultures, the collision of the Creoles from the South with WASP invaders from the North—with mostly happy and interesting results."

Ellis's St. Tammany tells the story of the east and north shores of Lake Pontchartrain from pre-Columbian times to the eve of the Twentieth Century and sometimes beyond. Steve, on more than one occasion, has indicated that he terminated his account at the turn of the century for it was then that he began to encounter people that he knew. 

The Pelican Publishing Company evidently originally planned to print the work without notes. That decision changed and the resulting notes are frustrating and confusing, but diligence will lead one to the sources. Published under the auspices of the St. Tammany Parish Bicentennial Commission, Ellis's St. Tammany eschews the twentieth century. It appears to me that the best part is the last and 2U(that) Ellis has not explored.

Hence my own present project to develop a history of Twentieth Century St. Tammany.

Reflecting both my interests in the Depression, Huey Long, and Richard Leche, I have begun my research in the period 1929-1939. College professors and fathers of small children find that there are many who seek part of their time and attention and consequently, my St. Tammany project is the something extra I always want to get to but seldom manage. I a good deal of the St. Tammany Farmer, I have explored the archival resources of LSU in Baton Rouge including the extensive papers of the late Richard W. Leche, and I have begun a program of interviewing St.Tammany folk.

As a practicing historian I am particularly interested in change and the major changes of St. Tammany history have come in the Twentieth Century. The Indians left, roads began to replace trains and boats as basic transportation. Schools became commonplace and free. The Causeway linked the northshore with the Crescent City just as the twin bridges of the Interstate join Slidell with New Orleans. A program of public assistance commonly referred to as "The Welfare" came to the parish. Political figures established major estates which contributed to the creation of the "Gold Coast" along the Tchefuncte River.

World Wars and police actions affected the parish. The massive timber cover lumbermen cut at the beginning of the century is today removed by developers of shopping malls and residential communities. Life in America and St.Tammany desegregated. As thousands of New Orleanians fled to the northshore upper-middle-class life styles and Republican politics have permeated much of St. Tammany. In short there has been, is, and will continue to be massive change in St. Tammany parish. My intention is to document this change in a social history of one of America's loveliest regions.

Just to sample the kind of thing I am working on, let me offer you the following:

Throughout the history of the parish the magnificent trees and the sparkling waters of springs, creeks, and rivers have attracted residents and visitors to the pine-scented air of the Ozone Belt. First boats on the water and then wagons on the dirt roads brought people to St. Tammany. It was just about fifty years ago that paved roads became an important reality in St. Tammany. The editor of the St. Tammany Farmer in an editorial titled "Horses, Mules and Cows" (June 7, 1930) lamented the passing of the horse. Later that summer

The Farmer announced a gas-electric train on the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad which would consist of "motor, baggage, express car, day coaches, and an observation car.    ... When the gas-electric train shall have been put into regular service we will have a one-hour forty minute schedule from Covington to Canal Street, and with the low fares there should be a material increase in passenger traffic to all points of the shore line.   

There will not be the disagreeable dust to contend with as is encountered on the buses, and there will be no smoke or fumes from a cumbersome engine...    the coaches will be equipped with comfortable chairs, the windows screened and the vestibules closed.    There will be lavatories, toilets, etc., of modern construction.    The observation car will be a palace, and no doubt will be an attraction for commuters where the usual game of bridge or draw can be indulged in with utmost comfort, and those desiring to read or write will have every convenience at hand.    For ease and comfort of riding there will be hardly anything that can surpass it.    The coaches will be on roller bearings and will operate as smoothly as an automobile on a tile floor."

No doubt the improved transportation brought new citizens to St. Tammany but local attitudes probably reflected those of a much earlier time. The New Orleans Republican of Sunday, May 3, 1874 carried a piece advertising the desirability of St. Tammany for potential agricultural operations but it closed cautioning ..."There is no demand here for lawyers, doctors, music masters, dentists, carpenters, painters, office seekers or politicians."

The advent of the automobile changed life in St. Tammany. By the end of the twenties car accidents were keeping doctors and wreckers busy. The October 26, 1929 issue of the Farmer reported ... a Ford roadster, driven by a young man, ran into a herd of cattle on the Hammond highway just west of Covington and when the car was finally stopped one 110 0 pound steer was astride the radiator and another tucked snugly away on the running board (if such a thing can be imagined). Both animals were killed and the car almost wrecked."

These newfangled machines produced no end of damage and consternation. F. J. Heintz suffered injuries while cranking his car. The popular "Bud" Heintz did not notice that the car was in gear when he began cranking the engine. "The car started and knocked him down, hit a lawn mower and knocked it through the rear wall of the garage and generally playing havoc in the garage while "Bud" was lying on the floor."

The roads of the parish in the twenties were dirt and gravel. In the spring of 1929 motorists of the parish enjoyed a new service when the State Highway Commission drove a heavy truck carrying a magnet over all state and federal roads in the parish to pick up mails, tacks, etc. When the truck completed the Abita to Covington road it had picked up over one hundred pounds of nails, wire, tacks, bolts, nuts, and hundreds of other metal articles. Over a ton of metal objects were picked up between Covington and Slidell! They had a heavy litter problem!

Paved streets and highways marked progress. Covington began a city paving program in the late twenties, but the improvements generated new problems. The Covington City Council found it necessary to pass an anti-skating ordinance as the old time fad of roller skating returned as the town's 'streets'were paved and with many children dashing back and forth on paved streets motorists were hard put to avoid tragic accidents.

The civic/improvements in Covington caused the local editor to boast on January 26, 1929: If you folks out of Covington happen to meet a Covingtonian and his chest is all stuck out .  .   . it is just because he is proud of the citified air his town has taken on.    You see it is like this: Lately our town has put down a large area of fine paved streets, a white way brilliantly illuminates the principal thoroughfares, and Thursday the new traffic signals were turned on, and if all that together don't make we Covington folks feel like big-town people—well what will?"

This is a sample of the kind of thing that I am working on now as a part of a history of St. Tammany Parish in the Twentieth Century."

And that was the end of Dr. Nichols talk in 1985.

C. Howard Nichols, left, talking to Mr. and Mrs. Louis Wagner

In 1984 he wrote the history of Hammond, and that research was published in a hard cover book called "Citizen Square: Recollections of Historic Hammond." 

A pictorial map that I drew of the buildings in downtown Hammond was printed on the inside end covers of that book. 

I first met Dr. Nichols in 1971, when he was associated with the 13 Club at Southeastern Louisiana University, of which I was a member. In this picture of the group, he is on the back row, fourth from left, and I am on the back row, sixth from left. 

Dr. Nichols recently spoke to a gathering of the St. Tammany Library Foundation about St. Tammany Parish History. To read more about that, CLICK HERE.

Last year he spoke to a Covington conference of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation. For more information about that meeting, CLICK HERE.

He also found some information on how much it cost to start a small farm in St. Tammany Parish in 1874. CLICK HERE to read about that discovery.

To listen to an audio file of Dr. Nichols telling about St. Tammany Parish history, CLICK HERE.