Sunday, February 24, 2019

The History of Folsom

Twelve miles north of Covington is the Village of Folsom, surrounded by thoroughbred horse farms and plant nurseries, a crossroads of commerce, and home to two spirited schools.

Though a relatively new St. Tammany town, its history is unique. It began as an end-of-the-line railroad town, where timber and lumber were the chief resource and product. As it grew, bricks and tung oil were added to its exports.

Aerial Photo of Folsom - 1975, by Ron Barthet
Click on images to make them larger.

I visited the town library branch earlier this week, and they were very gracious in sharing their scrapbooks full of information about the community, the issue files of its two newspapers, the numerous clippings from Covington newspapers over the years, and most of all, its comprehensive body of documents gathered during the village's Centennial Celebration 15 years ago in 2004.

The library offered so much information, in fact, that I would suggest that anyone interested in the history of Folsom should just clear their schedule for a few hours and go there to peruse the scrapbooks, picture albums, and history reports. 

They have a copy of the special section put out by the St. Tammany Farmer back in 2004 to help mark the 100 years anniversary of the town, as well as collections of the ongoing weekly columns by local writers chronicling the hopes and dreams, trials and tribulations, and family connections of prominent citizens from all walks of life.

Folsom has had its share of famous folks and local politicians, artists, librarians, and others. There was even a book written about the town to commemorate the Centennial, and a pictorial map of the village that I drew up to suggest what the town looked like 100 years before. 

The hard cover history book written by Davice Bice (2004). The Village of Folsom, Louisiana: A Centennial Celebration.Heritage Publishing Consultants, Inc, Clanton, AL

The pictorial map of Folsom as it was in 1903

An extensive history of the Village of Folsom was compiled for the community's "Comprehensive Master Plan: Vision 2030" published in 2010 by Villavaso & Associates, LLC

Here is the text of that document's history section:

Incorporation of Folsom

By 1880, the area that is now the Village of Folsom was occupied by several  families.    As  recorded  in the 1880  United  State  Census, adults  in  Folsom were  listed  either  as  farmers  or  a  housewives.  At the time St. Tammany continued to be mostly virgin forestland and land used for cultivating crops.  The parish was traversed by trading routes, including Holmesville Road, which were dirt roads that were maintained by the  St. Tammany Police  Jury. 

Police  Juries  were  the form  of  local  government at  the  time  and  semi-annual  meetings were  held  in  January  and  July.    Often,  the  Jury would wait  3-4 days before  a  quorum  was  present  to  begin  the  meetings,  and  meetings would last up to six days. 

Land in the area   was   available   for   homesteading under the Recovery and  Reclaims  Acts  of  1855 and  1857,  averaging  about $1.25  per  acre.  Between  1868  and  1886,  over  3,200  new  acres  of land  were  homesteaded,  in  1887  another  2,500  acres  of  land,  and between 1888 and 1897, another 4,000 acres of  land   was homesteaded  in the  Folsom  area.   

Amidst  this  growth  in  new landowners, Native American tribes still lived and traded.  It  was  in  1904,  when  George  M.  Fendlason  and  his  brother  Hines Norman  filed for  a  plat  of  survey,  that  Folsom  became  a  village, which became known for  its  towering pines  and  its  rolling  hills.    Folsom  earned  its  name  from  President Grover Cleveland’s wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland, an icon for working  women  at  the  time.    

One  of  the  first  lots  was  sold  in Folsom in November 1904.  In 1881, work began on the Northshore’s railroad.  Completed in 1887, this  railroad  connected  New  Orleans  to  St. Tammany Parish, including Slidell, Lacombe, Mandeville, and Abita Springs.  By 1888, Covington was connected and by 1905, the East Louisiana Railroad had laid  tracks  down  and  built  a  depot  on  what  is  now  Railroad Avenue in Folsom. 

During  this  time,  the  principle  crops of  the area were  cane, cotton, rice, and  corn,  but  through  the  railroad and  with  the  abundance  of local  pine,  Folsom  was  also  known  as  a  logging  community. 

 In 1885,  eggs  cost  20  cents  a  dozen,  coffee  20  cents  a  pound,  cheese 10 cents a pound, and haircuts 20 cents.

By 1908, as reported by the St.  Tammany  Farmer,  the  Village  had  grown  to  include  several prosperous merchants, including a general merchandise store, drug store,   a  barbershop,   a   meat   market,   a   brick   company,   a   gin company,  and  what  was  said  to  be  one  of  the  best  hotels  in the area.

 In  1915,  the  Village  of  Folsom  was  incorporated,  however  Folsom did  not  have  enough  revenue  to operate  as  an incorporated  village between 1928 and 1947. 

Folsom was re-incorporated in 1947, and it was then that Folsom’s municipal government was established with William P. Dyess becoming the first mayor and Hayden Lavinghouse the first policeman. 

The Louisiana State Tobacco Tax of 1947 provided the much needed tax revenue for the Village. 

By  1938,  the  New  Orleans  Great  Northern  Railroad,  successor  to the   East   Louisiana   Railroad,   had   ceased  operating   the   railway through  Folsom.    Although the  right  of  way had  been dedicated  to public use in 1904, the rail company sold its land in the right of way.  

 Between  1938  and  1967,  Railroad  Avenue  was  occupied  by  various single-family homes.  It was not until 1964, when the Village filed a lawsuit  to determine  rightful  ownership  of  this  right  of  way  that Railroad  Avenue  returned  to  the  Village.    It  is  now  home  to  the police station and library.  In  1950,  St.  Tammany  Parish  had  a  total  population  of  26,988.  

Click here for Folsom Aerial View - 1954

Regional Growth and Folsom, 1950s –2000

It was in the 1960's that St. Tammany Parish began to see moderate growth  from  NewOrleans  residents  moving  to  the Northshore.  Until  that time,  the  parish  had  been  largely  sheltered  from  rapid growth, allowing its municipalities the ability to maintain their ways of  life  and  regional  cultures  well  into  the  20th century.    Growth  in the western and northern areas of the parish in the 1960s, including in Folsom, was less dominated by commuters from the Southshore. 

In  the  1970s,  growth  on  the  Northshore  really  took  hold.    Despite this growth in the southern and eastern areas, Folsom has remained a quaint and small town.  Folsom  established  its  first  Zoning  Commission  in  the  mid-1970s.  The  commission,  whose  purpose  it  was  to  protect  property values, created  a  300-foot  commercial  zone  along  both  sides  of  Highways 25 and 40.

History of the Local Economy

Climate  and  soil  have  always  been  the  backbone  of  Folsom’s economy  and  it  is  from  these  local  virtues  that   the people  of Folsom  have  found  established  their  high  quality  of  life  and  small town  atmosphere.    The  land  in  Folsom  was  first  farmed. 

With  the arrival  of  railroad,  lumber,  tar,  and  turpentine  became  the  locally exported products.  This was then replaced by tung nut farming and finally,   the   growth   of   the   local   plant   nurseries.  Horse   farms compliment   the   nursery   economy   in   Folsom   and   these two industries are what Folsom is known for today.

The virgin forests surrounding Folsom originally initiated interest in the timber industry in the early 20th century.  In 1902, the Greenlaw Lumber Company, Ltd. was established in Covington and operated as  a  mill,  manufacturer,  and  distributer  of  lumber,  with  business connections   to   operating   mercantile   and   shipping   businesses.  Other  local  lumber  mills,  turpentine,  and  tar  companies  included Jones  and  Picket,  Ltd.  (est.  1903),  Frederick  and  Joseph  Salmen’s lumber   company,   Holliday   and   Ray,   Covington   Naval   Stores Company,   the   Frederick   and   Singletary   Company,   and   Great Southern Lumber.  

Koepp Lumber Mill

In  the  early  1900s,  many  of  the  local  residents were  subsistence farmers, growing what they needed to clothe and feed themselves, including  crops  such  as  cotton,  corn,  cane,  strawberries,  grapes, and  tomatoes. Local  families  helped  each  other  in  their  fields picking cotton and strawberries and cane was processed into syrup.  

Turpentine,  made  from  the  sap  of  the  pine  trees  that  were  so abundant  in  the  area,  also  created  the  need  for  local  turpentine mills  to  be  developed,  with  this  industry  dying  down  in  the  1930s.

 In  the  1940s,  the  pine  tree  limbs  left  by  lumber  companies  were gathered and used to make tar in the local tar kilns.  Some  sought  work  in  other  nearby  towns  and  in  the  City  of  New Orleans.    Domestic  work  and  sewing  jobs  were   often  held  by women to supplement the family income.  Land cleared for lumber around Folsom provided grazing land for cattle and sheep.

A  short,  but  important  industry  in  the  history  of  Folsom  was  the tung oil industry, a key ingredient in lacquer, paints, and varnishes.  This industry  came to Folsom via  the US government in anticipation of WWII, because the oil was used in the paints used on naval  ships.    In  the  local  climate,  the  nuts  thrived  and  tung  oil became  a  short, but  major business between  1945 and  1965.   Tung farms  in  Folsom  spurred  the  development  of  processing  plants  in nearby   towns,   including   Bogalusa   and   Franklinton.     

Although relatively   short   lived,   this   industry   was   important   enough   for Folsom’s economy that it inspired a Tung Oil Festival and Beatrice “Sally” Core was the first Tung Oil Queen.  Winter freezes from 1955   to   1959,   lower   cost   imports   from   Argentina,   and   the development   of   acrylics   delivered   a   blow   to   this   economy   in Folsom.  One  of  the  largest  tung  oil  land  holders,  Louis  Chenel  of Normandy  Farms, converted his  1,000   acres   to  housing development, foreshadowing the influx of retirees to the area. 

Landscape Nurseries

Throughout  this  varied  economic  history  tied  to  the  land,  there have always been nursery businesses in Folsom.  Magee’s Folsom Nursery,  Evergreen  Nursery,  Midway  Nursery,  Mizell  Nursery,  and Holly Point  Nursery,  all  owned  by brothers  Dallas  and  Price  Magee and  various  family  members,  were  the  first  nurseries  in  Folsom. 

The  heritage  of nurseries has been passed down since.  Jim’s Nursery,  Hillside  Nursery,  Yates  Nursery,  Brumfield  Nursery,  Burris Nursery, McKee’s Nursery, and Green Thumb Nursery are just some of  the  nurseries  that  have  contributed  to  the  heritage.

Folsom Area Nurseries in 1975
(Photo by Ron Barthet)
“The industry had two major advantages in the Folsom area" according to Clarence  Mizell.  "Soil  and  faithful  workers  made  the  business successful.”

Local   resident   and   owner   of   Savannah Spring Nursery in the 1980s, Robert “Buddy” Lee developed the “Encore Azalea” which is sold worldwide.   Folsom’s nurseries have had an impact nationwide.  Floyd Magee, the  son  of  Dallas  Magee,  first  sold  nursery  products  by  mail  order and provided Montgomery Ward with all of its catalogue sales.  The “Weeping Yupon” tree was also developed in Folsom. 

Local nursery owners Jack and Doris Yates Magee sold plants to Sears for resale and to Phillips Petroleum for landscaping around gas stations.   Folsom   continues   to   be   the   center   of the   nursery businesses in Louisiana.  In October 2003, Folsom hosted the South East Louisiana Nursery Association meetings for the second time. 

Young Thoroughbreds

In addition, thoroughbred  racehorses  and  equestrian  activities play  another critical role  in Folsom’s economy.  According to local resident Jimmy  Erwin,  good  local  drainage,  north  of  Bennett  Bridge  Road, provides solid footing for training horses.  

It was Jimmy Erwin’s father Andrew “Red” Erwin, the first president of the  Louisiana Thoroughbred  Association,  who  was  instrumental  in  bringing  the horse business to Folsom by developing the first horse farm on land defunct  from  the  tung  oil  industry. 

The Broken R Ranch
(Photo by Ron Barthet)

In  1958,  he  opened  Broken  R Ranch. Erwin,  with  State  Senator  B.B.  “Sixty”  Rayburn  was influential  in  getting  the  Louisiana  Legislature  to  create  incentives through  the Louisiana agricultural  program  for  breeding thoroughbreds in Louisiana.  Races at the New Orleans Fairgrounds and  at  Louisiana  Downs  in  Lafayette  have  supplemental  purses for Louisiana   bred   horses   and   each   racetrack   must   have   three Louisiana bred horse races each day.

Local horse farms have contributed greatly to Folsom’s economy, employing   local   residents   and   becoming   known   for   their   fine training.    A  stable  fire  in  1966 caused  the  Broken  R.  Ranch  to rebuild  and  upgrade  their  stables  to  ones  with  open  sides  to  allow breezes  in  to  lessen  the  summer  heat.    

Other  ideas  brought to Folsom  and  cultivated  as  part  of  the  local  horse  culture  included rehabilitation  pools  and  horse  training  centers  where  horses  could be housed over longer periods of time and thus be able to get used to  other  horses  and  the  track  on  which  they  trained.    

Each  owner who bought shares in the training center was allowed to build their own  twenty-stall  barn  and  local  trainers  and  jockeys  are  readily available.  The  largest  horse  training  facility  in  Folsom  and  the  largest  full service  thoroughbred farm in  Louisiana  is  the  300-acre  Clear  Creek Stud  Farm.  Owner  of  the  farm  Val  Murrell’s  granddaughter expressed that life on the farm was “like a picture postcard and I’m in it.”

Clear Creek also serves as a rehabilitation center for injured thoroughbreds, with numerous full and part time employees taking care of injured horses.   As  with  the  nurseries  influence  and  exportation  across  the  United States, Folsom’s horse industry play an important role nationwide in  thoroughbred  culture.   

In  addition  to  the  thoroughbred  culture, Folsom  is  known  for  its  equestrian  industry,  with  show  horses  and jumpers raised locally.  

The New Orleans Polo Club is active in the area. Click here for a link to its website. 

Folsom Today

Folsom  today  is  dotted  with  small  businesses  along  Hwy  25.  J.C. Pittman’s  store  and  gas  station  is  no  longer  there,  but  Gus’ Restaurant  and  a  New  Orleans  style  bakery  have  become  local staples. 

Most  residents in  Folsom  have  long  family  roots  here.    Today, continuing in its tradition of valuing open space and a connection to the   land,  Folsom  is   known  for  its   thriving   plant  nurseries   and beautiful  horse  farms.   

The  countryside  outside  of  Folsom  is  home to  exotic animal  farms,  including  emu  and  ostrich,  and  reserves, including  the  Global  Wildlife  Center  in  Tangipahoa  Parish,  which sits on  land once  used  by the  lumber  industry. The  Global  Wildlife Center is a major educational facility and critical in the preservation of various species.  

 This was the end of the Comprehensive Plan: Vision 2030 history narrative.

In an April, 1986,  history class report entitled "The Founding Fathers of Folsom," Pat Carr wrote that while the Folsom area is "not very densely populated,  but is presently showing a great increase." She attributed that growth in population to an increase of influence by New Orleans landowners. At that time, the village had a new "supermarket" and even a few subdivisions.

"Hopefully, this will not destroy the friendly country atmosphere that Folsom has always had," she said.

Here is an excerpt from her account:

Norman Feldlason was one of the homesteaders of the area around Folsom.   His family was one of many that came to the Florida Parishes in the 19th century from the Carolinas and Georgia. His parents, John Fendlason and Katie McLain, were married in South Carolina in 1830. Five years later, in 1835, they moved west with their children, Daniel,  Margaret and John Jr.,  and with Katie expecting her fourth child, Flora.

On October 15th, 1841, she bore twins, Elizabeth and Norman. In the winter of 1845-46 the Fendlasons moved to Taylor Creek, a tributary of the Tchefuncte River and in present day Tangipahoa Parish above Louisiana Highway 16. The family farmed here that year and in 1847 John got a job working at Harper's Saw Mill. 

In 1881 Faye Carr, Norman's great granddaughter,  found the old Fendlason cemetery where John and Katie are buried. Located deep in the woods along Taylor Creek, it is small and has only a couple of graves.

Norman married Mary Core on November 15,  1860.   She was from the Covington area, and they built a house in Alma a few miles west of what is today Folsom.   He was very active in the community.   He served in the War of the Confederacy, was a member of the Police Jury, as well as a member of the Parish School Board. From 1894 to 1898 he was Superintendent of Education for St. Tammany Parish.

Norman and Mary had four children. The last two were Hines Norman, born November 12, 1872, and George Martin, born September 1,  1875.    George married Nettie Rogers on January 17,  1895, and Hines married Neva Rogers,  Nettie's sister,  on March 6, 1898.

These two brothers were very influencial in the area. George and Hines did a lot of buying and selling of land and timber rights.    They were also involved in many other business ventures, including being partners in a turpentine business in the late 1800's. The Naval stores industry was an important part of the economy of St. Tammany Parish as far back as the 1730's. The abundance of pine trees provided sap needed to make tar, pitch and resin.    These products were used on the hulls of wooden ships to keep them from leaking.

End Of The Line Right-of-Way

In 1901 the Fendlason brothers sold all of their interests in their turpentine business to a larger company, Holiday and Ray. The Fendlasons had realized that the Greenlaw Lumber Company was planning a railroad and had bought land where the tracks would terminate. They sold a right-of-way for the railroad to Greenlaw in 1902.

Norman Fendlason in 1902 built a heart of pine home near this right-of-way. It still stands today and is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Wilde, who planned to completely restore the home.

Seeing that the railroad could unify the community, the Fendlason brothers had an area surveyed for streets and lots and on June 8, 1904, they dedicated the new town of Folsom at the Covington courthouse.   Grover Cleveland was President of the Untied States at that time, and George Fendlason admired him greatly.   Cleveland had married Francis Folsom, at 21 the youngest first lady in the White House.    George is said to have named the town after her.

George sold lots in the town and the population grew very rapidly. Paul Verger had established a Post Office in 1892 at the 11 mile house. When the railroad came through it was combined with the Alma Post Office.   Mr. Verger went in a partnership with the Fendlason brothers.    George ran the general store and Paul ran the Post Office out of the same building.   

Fendlason and Verger became the largest mercantile business in Folsom, selling dry goods, groceries, hardware, all kinds of furniture, saddlery, farming and hunting supplies and many other necessities. There were several other businesses including a drug store,  a barber shop and other retail stores.  George built a hotel and livery stable and was mayor of the town for a long time.

With access to the railroad the new lumber companies opened up.    Folsom Export Lumber Company,  Inc. specialized in exporting high quality lumber to the German and British markets overseas. Other new industries were the brick and cotton market of New Orleans.   The Fendlason and Son Brick Company and the Folsom Gin Company were shipping out bricks and cotton to New Orleans in 1908.

This was a form of reciprocal trade comparable to other big cities and rural areas.    St. Tammany supplied food and raw materials, and New Orleans industries built furniture and fashioned clothing, some of which was shipped back to the north shore.

The deep pine forests were finally cleared to a point where the lumber companies began to fail, and the spur to Folsom was eventually abandoned and the tracks taken up.   Tung nut trees we grown on the cleared areas for the oil but did not last after the petroleum industry got going. Today Folsom is the center of a growing plant nursery industry.

The Fendlason family believed in hard work and totally abstaining from all intoxicants.   There are no Fendlasons left in Folsom but old folks in the town still remember them.    Norman Fendlason died October 8, 1937, at the age of 95 years, outliving his wife and all of his children.    George had gone to work for the state Highway Commission in Amite and died September 27, 1934.    Hines died January 19, 1930.    They are buried in the Fendlason Cemetery at Alma,  a few miles west of Folsom.

All of the other descendants no matter where they are, hold a special place in their heart for Folsom. I know because I am one of them. Hines Norman Fendlason was my mother's grandfather.

And thus ended Pat Carr's 1986 history report on the Founding Fathers of Folsom. 

Folsom's Original Library Building

A Plaque Honoring the Founder of the Folsom Branch Library
Ella Odetha Pittman
"Aunt Decie" 

The library branch today

See also:

Parish Library's History of Folsom

A map of Folsom in the 1920's

Village of Folsom Master Plan, 2010

Village of Folsom Website, About Us  

Folsom Oath of Office

 Folsom School Photos

 Folsom Village Officials Group Portraits

Other Folsom Pictorial Maps

Folsom in 1987

Folsom in 1995

Folsom Map in 2022

See also:

The History of St. John The Baptist Catholic Church