Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Merrimeade Farm

In the 1980's the construction of a four-lane highway from Bogalusa to Interstate 12 was being promoted by State Senator B.B."Sixty" Rayburn, and the effort resulted in the four lane highway that was built between Bogalusa and Bush. 

Officials continued to push for the building of the remaining Bush to Lacombe section, but they never quite got off the drawing board. (The Talisheek swamp was one of the obstacles encountered.)

A family who owned a home and acreage on the Talisheek Road just east of the old Money Hill subdivision entrance was worried that the new highway would go right through the middle of their property. 

Since it was an old family homestead dear to her heart, Tedi Meade Hodges Cahill decided to write a lengthy account of the family homeplace, which was called Merrimeade Farm. Her booklet was called, "Merrimeade Farm, As I Remember It... Then and Now."

    She brought me a copy of the booklet in 1995 when I was editor of the St. Tammany Farmer. We wrote up a newspaper article about her effort to capture and preserve the history of her family's home. The following text condenses that narrative, with some excerpts. 

In 1942, her dad Harold E. Meade purchased 2,000 acres of land from the Great Southern Lumber Co.  Since it was cutover pine forest, "there was nothing but stumps for miles," she wrote.

Other property owners in the area included A. B. Paterson, Solom B. Turman, E.V. Richards and, of course, the Goodyear family which built the Money Hill campgrounds and subdivision, which was originally a tung orchard.

Her father was vice president of N.O.P.S.I. (New Orleans Public Service) and Merrimeade Farm became his passion.  The house they built started with one long room which served as the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  "There was no electricity or gas," she recalled. "We had kerosene lamps at first and a wood stove in the living room and another wood stove in the kitchen."

They would bathe in a galvanized tub in front of the wood stove, with the water being heated on top of the stove. She remembers listening to Frank Sinatra on the hit parade radio show, with "all the girls swooning and screaming."

A year or two later they put in gas lighting, an oak dining table and two bedrooms. They were still using an outhouse for a bathroom. Little by little, the house grew as  a breezeway, two more bedrooms, and one big bathroom were added. The house was now shaped like a "T."

Work crews dynamited the whole two thousand acres of stumps, and it "really became a pretty place, but not overnight," she recalled. "A lot of hard work, long hours, and money went into Merrimeade."

An agreement between her father and Henry Hodges allowed Hodges to pasture his cattle on Merrimeade's acreage, and the two split the profits on the sale of the cattle after they were fattened up and sold. Her father eventually bought his own cattle and soon had a Black Angus herd. Ms. Cahill loved rounding the curve heading towards Talisheek and seeing the Black Angus standing on the hill green pastures.

They planted oaks and magnolia trees, tung oil trees, and azalea bushes, many of them lining the driveway leading to the house.

A swimming pool was added to the landscape with cold artesian well water pouring into it. It took three days to fill, one day to clean and bleach it. "This was before the days of chlorine and Ph balance," she said. As she and her sisters grew up, the pool became a central gathering spot for picnics, parties, and family holidays.

"There were many firsts at Merrimeade-7-H Ranch," she wote.  For instance, her father and "Red" Talley of Talley's Feed Store in Covington became pioneers in spreading liquid fertilizer over the whole place.

Friends and relatives were frequent visitors, raising chickens and rabbits. Her father had to build a dipping vat for the cattle to keep the flies and mosquitoes down, and it was "an amazing thing" to watch the cattle come out of the dipping vat and not having to swish their tails around.

There was a bull corral and a champion sow named "Susie Q". They also had a number of other  pigs with significant pedigrees. The animals required the building of three barns and a smoke house. Her mother had a greenhouse, too.

A pond was dug at the back of the property, and a garage was converted into a guest house for the many frequent out-of-town visitors.

"I can't really remember when we got electricity and real plumbing," Ms. Cahill wrote, "I do know for certain that there was no phone at our house when I was in college. When they did need to get a message, Uncle Arthur (her father's brother) and Aunt Lucille would bring them messages, received over their black rotary dial phone (with its five-party line.)

The Telephone Party Line 
The telephone party line was a system that at times was somewhat challenging.  She recalled Aunt Lucille's story about giving someone a recipe on the phone and suddenly someone else interrupted and said that's not the way she did it. She used three eggs instead of two. "Even though your neighbors were miles apart," she wrote, "everybody knew everyone else's businesses... not really being nosey just neighborly."

When she was a senior in high school, she took a trip to Dallas, TX, to attend the livestock show there. She had never seen anything like it. The Pure Bred Angus were so fat they could hardly stand, and they had "permanent waves."

In November of 1953, her father Harold Meade moved over to the farm (he had just retired) to begin making additions to the house there, and his wife stayed in New Orleans to sell the house on State street. That house sold a month later right before Christmas.

Meade added a fireplace to the living room and made two bathrooms out of the existing bathroom.

When his wife moved to the farm, she began adding her own touches, making it look like an "English cottage." Harold sold his beef herd and brought in some Holstein, Guernsey and Jersey Milk cows. A first of its kind Pyrez Pipeline machine milking dairy was built, and milking the cows became a twice daily event.

Other daily chores included riding the fences to check for breaks. Fishing at the pond was also a frequent activity. Among the events recalled by Mrs. Cahill were the installation of the diving board at the swimming pool, the teaching of the kids to drive on the farm, and the family trips to the Talisheek grocery.

A number of pear trees enabled them to put up pear preserves, make pear butter and Pearl mincemeat.

Eventually Meade sold all the dairy cows and all the farm equipment except for a couple of tractors. As he was 71 years old at the time, he was beginning to reduce the maintenance work load. In fact, he sold 1500 of the 2000 acres.

In 1976, Harold Meade and his wife moved back to New Orleans, getting an apartment, so it was left to family trips to Merrimeade in the summer going back "to the farm."  Eventually, her parents became ill and efforts were made to divide the property at the farm among the children.

A Parental Observation

Harold Meade told her, "You know, kid, Life has gotten too damned complicated. You reach my age - you've worked hard all your life to attain what you have, and you can't drive yourself any more. And you're a victim of a society grown cold and indifferent to the eldery."

They put the farm up for sale, and loaded a truck up with the last few pieces of furniture. On the way out, there was an accident with the truck and Harold Meade and his wife were both severley injured. Harold died as a result of his injuries, and nine minutes later his wife died. 

The tragedy convinced the children to take the farm off the market, and efforts were made for Mrs. Cahill and her family to move to the property.

In 1981, Mrs. Cahill bought out the other children's interests and moved  her family into the house.  They started refurnishing the main house, added heating and air, painted it, and freshened it up as much as they could.

She ends her account of the history of Merrimeade Farm by noting that the state appraisers are in the area now readying for the rights-of-way acquisition for the new highway.

The Highway Never Came
It was a highway that never came. Even though the acreage has been divided up now and sold to other families, the spirit of Merrimeade Farm is still there. 

This story of a New Orleans family buying land, building a camp, and then through  the years renovating it over and over again to become a generational homesite is really not that unique. Throughout the 20th century, dozens, maybe even hundreds of families secured for themselves a special place in the country, one that served themselves and their offspring for years. 

Any history of St. Tammany parish has to acknowledge their foresight, their hard work and determination to build and provide a home for their expanding families. It is the people of St. Tammany that make it what it is today, and the story of Merrimeade Farm helps show how, over the years, that was accomplished.

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