Monday, September 7, 2020

Paula Johnson

 Paula Ann Patecek Johnson of Abita Springs was well-known in archaeology circles and was named as a "key figure in female Louisiana archaeologists" in a book focusing on women in archaeology. 

 In the 1970's, Paula took courses at UNO and LSU in the field of archaeology, seeking to earn a master's degree in anthropology. Her work in the field continued for years, according to Susan J. Wurtzburg in her book "Women in Archaeology."

"She was a member of the Louisiana Archaeological Society for many years," Ms. Wurtzburg wrote. Paula published two historical articles, one being an oral history interview with Lawrence Flot, and the other on the early history of Abita Springs.

"In addition, she has been involved in a number of historical preservation surveys and efforts, including the placement of the Abita Springs tourist park pavilion on the National Register of Historic Structures in 1975," Ms. Wurtzberg said.

Paula was the daughter of Frank and Irma Blackwell Patecek of Covington and followed in her maternal grandfather's field of interest in archaeology and Native Americans.

He would travel to distant locations to collect artifacts, and these provoked her curiosity enough to convince her to get the proper training and volunteer in the field. Mrs. Johnson was particularly interested in Egyptian archaeology. 

After receiving a B.A. Degree in Education from LSU in 1962, she took courses in anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1963 and gradually developed an interest in the Mayan civilization. She traveled to the Yucatan peninsula that same year to visit some of the archaeological digs there.

After marrying in 1965, she focused her attention on archaeological efforts in the southeast, visiting sites of interest and recording information and making collections of artifacts she discovered in Washington and St. Tammany parishes.

Her work in coordinating the dig at a Native American mound in Covington conducted by the "St. Tammany Parish Archaeology Society" in 1971 helped paved the way for heightened interest in early St. Tammany history. The archaeology society met regularly to discuss their finds and plans, as well as hear speakers of interest. In January of 1971, the group met at the Doby residence in Lewisburg to hear Judge Steve Ellis talk about the recent geological history of the Pontchartrain basin.

Paula Johnson of Abita Springs was recognized for her accomplishments by the St. Tammany Historical Society
at the society's annual banquet held at Tchefuncta Country Club in 1977. Ron Barthet, society president, presents her with a check to help her continue her work in historic preservation and archaeological research.

She ran for mayor of Abita Springs in 1978 and was active in a variety of historical preservation projects throughout the region. She also promoted educational programs for gifted and advanced students in the school system.

In 1975, she took part in an archaeological dig along Bayou Jasmine (or Shell Bank Bayou) in St. John The Baptist Parish near Pass Manchac.

That historic find opened a window into the culture of a prehistoric Native American settlement that existed some 3000 years ago. According to an article written by John Fahey in the Times Picayune (Sept. 1, 1975), the cultural remains were "almost 100 per cent preservation" quality.

Ms. Johnson was on the team of archaeological volunteers who delved into the settlement that was estimated to have started some 1500 years B.C. Other team members included Father Dominic Braud of St. Joseph's Abbey (a pioneer member of the St. Tammany Historical Society).

Fragments of the prehistoric remnants were tossed up along the path of Interstate 55 as crews worked on construction of the interstate through the Manchac lowlands.  The site had been known since 1957, but lack of funding was a problem until the group of volunteer archaeologists came along and made the dig possible.

In 1972 Paula was a sales representative for her fathers real estate agency, Frank J. Patecek Realty. 
Her research expertise came into play in 1982 during efforts to secure a historic district designation for her home town of Abita Springs. She and Joann Hanson did much of the work involved in documenting Abita's contributions to the area's early healthful reputation and progress. 
In 1988, Paula wrote a history of Covington's Cemetery No. 1, to help the chamber of commerce auxiliary's efforts to clean up and restore the neglected final resting place of some of Covington's earliest citizens.   The book was quite an undertaking but it was of extreme historical and genealogical interest.

See also:

Covington's Archaeological Dig

The St. Tammany Historical Society