Monday, May 27, 2019

The Early History of Lewisburg

The area known as Lewisburg first began drawing the attention of newly-arrived settlers as they explored the area on the North Shore between Bayou Castine and the Tchefuncte River in the 1770's. 

Many early visitors had sailed  by the area in Lake Pontchartrain on their way to Bayou Manchac, Lake Maurepas, and the new communities of French Settlement and Bayou Vincent. 

Historian Donald J. Sharp has researched numerous documents about early land grants in the area, and one of those records show a Lt. John Jones receiving a land grant on the Tchefuncte River in 1767. Early land grants given in the area of Lewisburg went to Amos Richardson and Zacharia Faircloth, among others.  

Donald Sharp has done extensive research combining genealogy records with historical accounts of who did what where and who owned what when in the northlake area. More detailed information on the early land grants in the area of Lewisburg can be found on his history blog  which can be located AT THIS LINK.

Painting of Lewisburg lakefront, 1899
The Bayou Chinchuba property was eventually owned by Jonathan Ferris. It was then acquired by William Weeks, and after changing hands a few more times, it wound up owned by James Amour and Christian A. Dorbett, who sold it to Hugh Gordon on February 20, 1827. At that time the 980 acre tract was known as "Paradise," according to documents found by Don Sharp. 

Click on the images to make them larger. 

It was sold in 1829 by Hugh Gordon to Judge Joshua Lewis, after whom the area would later be named. Gordon was a notary in New Orleans and may have been a clerk in the Superior Court system who may have known Judge Lewis through that connection.

Judge Lewis Came From Kentucky

Judge Joshua Lewis (1772 - 1833) was a descendant of John Lewis who came from Ireland to America in 1720. Judge Lewis was the nephew of Meriwether Lewis, the famous American explorer who led the Lewis and Clark expedition across the continent between 1804 and 1805. 

Judge Joshua Lewis

Judge Lewis served under Andrew Jackson in the War 1812, as did several others in the area.

Judge Lewis married America Lawson, who was the daughter of General Robert and Sarah Merriwether Lewis.  They first settled with their children near Lexington, KY, in 1798.

Joshua Lewis was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1799, 1803, and 1804.  A year later, in 1805, Lewis was sent to New Orleans by President Thomas Jefferson to help clear land title issues following the Louisiana purchase, according to Wikipedia.

He and his family traveled from Kentucky to New Orleans via a keelboat on the Mississippi River.

After his first year in New Orleans, in 1806,  he was appointed a judge of the Superior Court of the Territory of Orleans and, following Louisiana's becoming a state in 1812, he served with the 1st Judicial District Court. 

In 1815 he ran for Governor, but lost the election to Jacques Villere.

What first attracted Judge Joshua Lewis to buy land on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain for his retirement home in 1829? Sharp feels the main reason was to get away from the pestilence and disease of New Orleans. When he retired around 1829, he sought out the healthier conditions on the north shore for he and his wife.

He had first made his home in New Orleans in 1806, but over the years other acquaintances of his from Kentucky also came to the Crescent City for opportunities for financial gain. Among them were Haden Edwards who came in 1815 and who was the first to make the move to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in 1818.

Among the ways in which Judge Joshua Lewis may have gained knowledge of the desireability of living on the north shore was the fact that he had tried several cases in his court that involved land on the north shore.

 "Also, there were several lawyers who either lived there or who had connections to the Tchefuncte River or Bayou Castine," said Donald Sharp.

One of those lawyers, a gentleman who had also come from Kentucky, was Joseph H. Hawkins. A resident of Madisonville, Hawkins would enter into a business partnership in 1821 with Stephen F. Austin, who would later become known as "the father of Texas."

Hawkins and Austin worked together to drum up interest, and actually make arrangements for the first colony of American settlers to set up homes in Texas. Hawkins died in 1823 from contracting yellow fever.

Judge Joshua Lewis' wife, America Lewis, died on October 1, 1830, and is probably buried in the Madisonville cemetery, Don Sharp believes. 

Lewisburg Named

 Three years later, Judge Joshua Lewis died on June 20, 1833. Following his death, the tract that he owned was named "Lewisburg" by his heirs in his honor. They then had the land surveyed, divided into lots, and sold. (See map.) 

The sons of Judge Lewis also invested in St. Tammany real estate. Dr. John Hampden Lewis and his brother John Lawson Lewis purchased 350 acres making up a two part rice plantation in St. Tammany Parish in 1841. Hampden had completed medical school in France in 1839.

The Civil War and Lewisburg

During the Civil War few persons resided in the Mandeville area, and the area was heavily plundered by marauders as a result of the war . The city was occupied by Union troops commanded by Major F. H. Peck, who were pursuing Confederate soldiers in the coast areas. It was during this period that the docks and shore landings at Lewisburg were burned.

At the height of the Civil War, a Union vessel, the Grey Cloud, visited Mandeville, Madisonville, Lewisburg and Covington, running into some resistance from Confederate troops, even to the point of exchanging gunfire and, at one point, shooting a cannon ball into a home in Madisonville. 

According to historian Steve Ellis in his book "St. Tammany: L'autre Cote du Lac," it was on August 1 , 1862, that the Grey Cloud visited Mandeville and Lewisburg, only to find that the Confederates had burned all the docks and landings a couple of weeks before in order to hinder the approach of the Union ship and its soldiers. 

"A company of troops was landed in small boats, and marched back into the woods, looking for a Confederate camp," Judge Ellis writes. "According to Major Peck, they found it deserted, as about this region too there was nothing left to plunder."

  On May 3, 1864, Lewisburg was involved in another Civil War incident, this one reported in a letter by a Lt. Thomas Edwards of the Union. He said that the boat the was on, the Stockdale, was being targeted for capture by the Confederate troops. Several of his men were fired upon, some killed and several injured, upon arriving at the northshore, and according to the Confederate plans, they were to try to capture the Stockdale if it entered the Tchefuncte River towards Madisonville.

Six boats were lying in wait at Lewisburg to attempt the capture of the vessel. Edwards was able to thwart the capture of the Stockdale, but from captured prisoners he learned that there were three companies of Confederate calvary located in Lewisburg, three miles away.  

After the war ended, the 1870 census showed that Lewisburg at that time had 110 inhabitants. 

 The Sawmill

And then came the timber and lumber industry, one of the first sawmills being located in Lewisburg. 

"With the great virgin pine forest virtually untouched, it is not surprising that the lumber companies began to move into St. Tammany Parish," Judge Ellis wrote in his history account. "Poitevent & Farve Lumber Company of Pearlington, Miss., acquired thousands of acres of untouched pine and cypress lands in the east-central part of the parish in the 1880's."

The Poitevent & Favre sawmill in Lewisburg, located just off the north toll booth plaza of today's Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. 

The old office building of the Poitevent-Favre Lumber Company, is now a residence.  It is believed to have been built in 1880 and originally had a wooden boardwalk along the street. It is constructed of heart pine throughout, with a horizontal interior board walls, a vertical board and batten exterior and a tin roof. The original house had five rooms in a row with 12 foot ceilings, opening to an open back porch and to each other. The center portion of the porch was closed in around 1930. The patio and pond in back was constructed about 1950. The large live oak tree on Copal (seen above) is registered with the Louisiana Live Oak Society as "Bel Oak."
A timeline of owners of the building shown above, 326 Copal St., were the Poitevent-Farve Lumber Co. from 1880 to 1915; unknown owner from 1915-1944; Weiss family from 1944-1969; Epperson family from 1969 to 1982; Doyle from 1982 to 1983, and Kimura family beginning in 1983. 

With the lumber company came the railroad, and Lewisburg had a depot nearby serving the Mandeville and Sulphur Springs Railroad. That rail line's name was changed in 1870 to the New Orleans and Northwestern Railroad. It was aiming to become the main line of transportation of goods between New Orleans and the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain and points beyond.  

A 1935 topo map showing the remnants of the sawmill pond and the railroad line that went to Lewisburg. The pond was used to soak timber to get it to the right moisture point for sawing into timber. It is still visible to the right as cars drive off the causeway heading north. 

"A pier was built out into the lake at Lewisburg," Judge Ellis relates, "and a right-of-way was cleared from Lewisburg to several miles past Sulphur Springs, just outside of Covington. Unfortunately, Mr. Ingram's (the owner) untimely death brought the operation to an end."

A few years later, however, saw an effort to revive the project. A railroad bridge across Lake Pontchartrain was proposed, running from New Orleans to Lewisburg, with the track continuing past Covington, through Bogue Chitto, and all the way to Meridian, Miss. 

The project was put on hold again, when a railroad line out of New Orleans crossed the Rigolets in east St. Tammany first, giving the Crescent City access to points north by passing through Slidell and Pearl River. "The first train ever" to use that New Orleans and Northwestern rail line passed through Pearl River (then known as Halloo) on October 15, 1883. 

Mulberry Trees in Lewisburg

The silk industry took a firm foothold in St. Tammany in the early 1880's. Silk worms preferred mulberry trees in which to grow, so several mulberry tree farms were created, including Mulberry Grove northeast of Covington. 

In addition to those various silk production companies in other parts of the parish, in 1883, "Jules Herbelin was growing mulberry trees in Lewisburg and had constructed a silk factory, which was surrounded by 7,000 young mulberry trees. In 1884, he announced plans to plant 25,000 more." 

Silk Spinning As An Occupation

In a November, 1885, issue of the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper, Steve Ellis quotes an article that announces that the United States Silk Filature and Lewisburg Colony, lately known in New Orleans under the named of the New Orleans Experimental Filature, has just been transferred to Lewisburg, Parish of St. Tammany." Herbelin was named as the manager. He was also a commercial agent of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

It was an article full of promise and hope as the silk making industry offered income and prosperity for the owners and its employees.

"The transfer (of the company to the northshore) took place because Lewisburg offers more facilities with regard to the purity of the air and the properties of the water," according to Ellis' book. 

The newspaper article announcing the company's relocation went on to say: "The families who work at the Filature (at the silk factory in Lewisburg) should preferably have daughters and women of all ages. They will find there lodging and fuel, several arpents of land, and the necessary seeds, all furnished gratuitiously. They will have the privilege of raising, for their own account, poultry and cattle.

"The wages of the female spinners vary from forty to seventy-five cents per day, payable monthly. Several families are already at work.

"Lewisburg, which is situated on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, is in communication by steamer and telephone with New Orleans. A post office will soon be established there; also a school and a grocery store, which will sell goods to the employees of the Filature at city prices."

The Lewisburg School

The 1885 Farmer article continues by saying:  "Lewisburg is two miles from Mandeville,  (a community) which possesses a College, churches, a doctor, drug store, several groceries, hotels, and all necessary comforts."

The silk produced in Lewisburg was featured in several exhibits from St. Tammany Parish on display at the World Industrial Exposition held in New Orleans in 1885. Those items included a "white pierced cocoons, and eggs made in Lewisberg, as well as samples of raw silk, from cocoons raised at Mr. Chas. Thiery's Mulberry Grove and Lewisburg.

As hopeful as the company's promises sounded, the silk industry didn't show true success anywhere in the parish, however, and by the following year, it was over.

In the early 1900's, there was  Lewisburg Landing at Dr. Lewis' Plantation. Boats from New Orleans would first dock at Camellia Landing, then to St. Tammany Pier (off the Mandeville lakefront) and then to Lewis Landing. The boat then might continue to Madisonville and then up to Covington up the river . 

A poem about Lewisburg written in 1919

St. Tammany Farmer, January 1, 1921



Two young ladies enjoy the Lewisburg beach around 1950






The Seven Sisters Oak

According to the website, "In the quiet historic community of Lewisburg, La.... lives the Seven Sisters Oak. This massive tree is the current president of the Live Oak Society and the National Champion Live Oak in American Forests’ National Register of Champion Trees. It measures approximately 57 feet high, with a limb spread of more than 153 feet. Its age has been estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1,000 years old.

Photo credit:

"For years, the eligibility of the Seven Sisters Oak as a Live Oak Society member was disputed because it was believed to be several separate trees growing together. In 1976, after inspection by federal foresters, the tree was said to have a single root system and was inducted into the Live Oak Society, and it became president due to its extraordinary size and age."

Scenes from Lewisburg today

Lewisburg is located just west of the north toll plaza of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.