Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Alexius Family Comes To Covington

 The story of how the Alexius family came to Covington and the homestead they created and lived in for years was told in a lengthy newspaper article written by Polly Morris in the St. Tammany News Banner back in the 1970's. 

The article focuses in on the old Alexius home, and how, after hosting many years of the Alexius family living there, it was purchased in 1962 by Tulane University for its Delta Primate Center which was built nearby. Here's the text of the article, accompanied by photos supplied by Lee Alexius several years ago.

The House With The Broken Heart

BY POLLY MORRIS

A shabby old house at the modern Delta Primate Center has tried to hide Itself under a shroud of tangled vines, but two gable windows insist on staring own at the world below. It is as if the old Alexius home was torn with indecision.

Perhaps part of it realizes that it is out-of-place and out-of-date in the busy scientific surroundings, and wants to give in to the dank decay that will slowly claim its rugged old frame. But another part of it strives to escape the smothering growth, desperately wanting to live... to once again feel the fall of footsteps... hear the merry laughter of children.. and to be appreciated, and even loved, as it was long ago.

 It is no wonder that the Alexius home feels left out and lonely. It once saw a heap of living, and its past history dates back to before the Civil War. Many of the pages of its interesting life have been lost, and one can only imagine what would have been written on them. Records in the Covington Courthouse give only brief legal descriptions, leaving much to the imagination; but somehow the story of the Alexius house is more poignant because of the omissions.

RECORDS SHOW that there was Military Bounty Land in this area, which was given to men who had served their country well, providing they improved their property. Some of this land was acquired by one Samuel P. Russ in several different transactions. For sample, on April 18, 1853, a sum of $269.80 was received from him, and at different times he purchased land from the U.S. Government.

There is nothing in the early transactions that denoted any improvements to the property, but Russ must have been busy indeed during the next 6 or more years. In 1859 Russ sold the property to his daughter, Louise, in a deal that deserves mention. Russ and his "wife of lawful age", Mistress Mary Loctre, partly sold and partly gave the property to their daughter in a contract that was separate from the marriage contract between Louise and a Captain John W. Hoffman who had married in 1850.

The total price was $3000 with $1000 in ready money and the balance in donation. At that time extensive improvements had been made, including a brick dwelling house, out-buildings, and other houses, one of which was an overseer's house. . . later to he known as he Alexius house.

THE NEXT RECORDS concerning the property show that Louise Russ Hoffman had died and S. P. Russ was administrator. He asked for an inventory of the estate. In 1869 the place sold at public auction. The next owner was Gibb Parker, a colored man who was here during reconstruction. He bought it at the succession sale, and the years between are a blank. He held the property for 17 years, and It became known the Gibb Parker Brickyard. There is nothing to tell of his success or failure, which would be an exciting story in Itself, but the property he had acquired from Louise Hoffman, deceased, was again put on the block. There was a foreclosure add the property was sold for State and Parish taxes.

A James Demourelle, Esquire, of New Orleans, acquired the land In September, 1886, and at that time there were dwelling houses, outbuildings, brick sheds, a brick machine, sugar mills, a blacksmith shop, etc. 




Also of interest was the inventory of "moveables". These were described as "Four mules, two cows, wheelbarrows, 3 spades, 3 plows, and one Iron tooth harrow."

DEMOURELLE OBVIOUSLY bought the Gigg Parker Brickyard purely on speculation, for less than a year later, on August 16, 1887, he sold it to another New Orleanian, Guido Centlo Alexius. This gentleman was most enthusiastic over his purchase.

He and his family came over only on weekends for a while, but before long they could not resist the beauty of St. Tammany Parish, and moved here as permanent residents, with some descendants still living here today.

If the past pages of history were either blurred or missing, those after 1887, more than made up for the discrepancies. Olive Wadsworth of New Orleans was able to fill in many forgotten details of the Alexius family life, for she is the granddaughter of Guido Centio Alexius and his wife, nee Caroline Oertling of New Orleans. 



As a child she was very familiar with the old Alexius house when it was at its very best, and she had fond remembrances of the old home place and those who lived in it.
 

Fortunately she also had some excellent photographs of the family and the house and the area that was the very hub of "Alexiusville", prosperous suburb of Covington.


AN OLD FAMILY photograph shows a fine-looking man with a generous mustache and a very intelligent face. He and his bright-eyed Caroline are surrounded by seven children who must have made the old overseer's house rock with merriment. One can picture the five boys storming boisterously through the house like boys will. And their two sisters and mothers chiding them for their noise.

At this time the house had seven rooms on the main floor and behind it was a separate building which had the kitchen, the dining room and a feed or storeroom. Upstairs in the main house was an attic whose two windows rose from a slanting roof. These windows overlooked an interesting scene. In front of the house was an ancient oak and beyond it was an artificial fish pond, 150 x 300 feet, stocked with carp.



A photo of the original Alexius homestead

Beside the pond was a summer house where young and old folk alike danced, and many a young couple strolled along a little levee to a small island in the pond, their privacy interrupted only by the splash of a bullfrog leaping from one of the lily-pads that dotted the little lakelet. What a romantic setting that must have been, with the music, the shadows playing on the water, and a big moon rising above the fragrant pines, scattering its silver on the water.

THE MANY VISITORS who came to the Alexius home must have been charmed by the surroundings, even before they alighted from their carriages. They came in by a lane with gateposts that are still standing today- posts made of unique rounded bricks topped by a big concrete ball.



On either side of the lane were yellow, red, and orange canna lilies that made a flaming trail of color along the way. In the fields, on each side of the drive, were acres of vertiver and pecan trees. Beyond these were farmland, and the small homes named after the people who lived in them .. . Aunt Mattie's... Mary Jones... Moses's house, and the little place known as Adeline and Buck's.

Visitors would hitch their horses to the giant oak and be welcomed by the entire family, They would sit on the cool front porch sipping drinks while In the distance, workers would pass the bricks from one to the other, then place them on a rolling carrier that conveyed them to the kiln.

Once in a while a bell would ring, and some member of the family would go out to the little store to the right of the oak. This little building was called "The Shop" and the customers, usually workers In the brickyard or fields, would buy butter from tubs, bulk lard, chunks of salt meat, and crackers    from barrels. Gingersnaps were usually given as lagniappe, especially If the customer was a child.




The Alexiusville company commissary

ONE OF THE things that Olive Wadsworth recalls with nostalgia is the old plantation bell which once stood by the side of the house to call out worktime, lunchtime and quitting time. "When the sun was starting to set," said Olive Wadsworth, "the cattle would come out of the woods to spend the night In the open place in front of the house. You could hear the tinkle of the cowbells, the lowing of the cattle, and the crickets chirping."

Schooners came across the lake and up the rivers as far as Madisonville or Old Landing. Transportation was mainly by water, until the railroads came, and people had to go to Helenburg to catch the train. Life moved at a leisurely pace, but Guido Centlo Alexius, despite his great love for the peace and tranquility of St. Tammany, was an extra-energetic man.

 His enthusiasm bubbled over, and much like Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville, he wished to share his wealth with others.

ALEXIUS DECIDED THAT there should be a place called Alexiusville, a suburb of Covington and a refuge from dust, cinders and smoke of the city. He divided some of his property into lots and squares and put it on the market. In fact, Alexiusville could well have been a city within Itself, for clustered around the Alexius home were all sorts of buildings besides the shop and the brickyard.

There was a stable for eight animals, a brick carriage house, a large corn house, a large hay barn, a blacksmith shop and a sugar mill. There was also an engineers house, a machinery building,  a complete steam canning outfit with 80 feet of galvanized shed, a house for farm hands, and road machinery. The pride of G. C. Alexius was a natural magnesia spring which he said was "as good as the Abita Springs water."



Alexiusville was magnificently described in a booklet written by the owner of this paradise. He said it was on a ridge 45 to 55 feet higher than New Orleans, and the prettiest, largest, coolest, and healthiest spot of St. Tammany Parish. In the heart of the OZONE BELT of longleaf pines, 'The air is full of ozone and vigor," he wrote.

"It sends the blood tingling through your veins. It makes you glad to be alive. He claimed there were more old people to the population than elsewhere, and that newcomers almost invariably gained vigor. "See census report," he added. Then he said a radical change like this will add ten years to the average life.

He told of the fast travel from New Orleans to Alexiusville. . . sixty miles in one hour and fifty minutes with train service offering special accommodations. Conductors down to porters showed exceptional cheerfulness. especially to ladies and children.

AlexiusvIlle was laid out in 208 squares, each 240 feet square. Streets were 40 feet wide and lots were 80 x 120 feet. Prices of the squares were from $80 to $125. Terms were generous. Half cash and balance on time. When paid in full, titles were given free of charge "by paying all cash 3 percent off."

The old house must have had great dreams of glory at one time. It would have been the very hub of activity. Never did it dream that it would be eventually used as a storage place for odds and ends of the Delta Primate Center. If the old house only knew the concern it has caused, it might be consoled somewhat.

THE ALEXIUS HOME first captured the attention of Dorothy Kehoe, then of public relations at the Center. Somehow the lonely old home cried out to her each time she passed. Surely this wonderful, old fashioned home deserved attention, and she began to talk of it to fellow workers.

Restoration of the old home was not received with much enthusiasm... at first. But now scientists and workers alike pause as they pass by the house that huddles under a suffocating tangle of vines. Some of it is made of cypress, the wood eternal. Some of it is put together with wooden pegs.

Surely, they ponder, it is worth some effort, but they have neither the time or money.

So the old house dreams of better days when It heard the sound of laughter and the ringing of an old plantation bell. To borrow from Joyce Kilmer, it could easily be the house with nobody in it . . the house that put wooden arms around a man and wife. . . that held up stumbling baby feet. This house, too, is a house with a broken heart... a sturdy cypress heart that is well worth mending... or even moving... if only someone could see that, under layers of leaves, its old heart is still beating. .  and waiting.




Surely someone would treasure it... as a home , . as a museum ... or as a club house. But until someone does, it will only be a house with a broken heart.


And that brings us to the end of Polly Morris News-Banner article about the old Alexius homestead.


A 1930's picture of the Alexius Brothers: from left, Carl, Alfred, Horace, Centio and John Alexius.

See also:

Alexius Brothers Hardware

Alexiusville Subdivision Plat

 

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Polly Morris joined the writing team at the Mandeville Banner in February of 1974.