Sixty-nine years ago, the guests of Dinkler Hotels were in for a treat when the company's magazine spotlighted St. Tammany and each and every community therein. It was in the August, 1951, edition of Inn Dixie magazine, Catherine B. Dillon published the extensive overview of St. Tammany Parish history, industry and mystery.
Here is the text from that article.
Tchefuncte Trails: In the Parish of Saint Tammany, Louisiana
By Catherine B. Dillon (Inn Dixie Magazine, August 1951)
WITHIN easy riding from New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other Mid-South cities is St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, one of the least exploited spots in the country.
Occupying a beautiful woodland stretch across from New Orleans, along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, this parish (county, elsewhere), famous as the "Ozone Belt," has an equable climate, offers ideal recreational features, abounds in wild life and natural beauty, and is chock-full of interest for lovers of history, folklore and ethnological research. As one of the "Florida Parishes" of Louisiana, St. Tammany has enjoyed a colorful, pine-scented existence under a series of names and emblems.
Though unidentified, this area appears on a map based on De Soto's expedition, but the first white man known to have been in the Lake Pontchartrain country was Marcos de Mena, a Spanish Dominican Brother, the lone survivor of a flotilla, wrecked in 1553, off the Gulf Coast between Mobile and the Mississippi River.
Naked, wounded and starving, Brother Marcos passed this way on foot en route to Tampico, Mexico. His experience is an early American miracle. Thus, in spirit, if not in fact, the Spanish flag came first to St. Tammany's forests.
The early French explorers found the Acolapissa Indians living on Bayou Castine (flea bayou) on the north shore of Okwata (wide water) in 1699. These natives were of the same linguistic group as the Choctaw. The Acolapissa—"those who listen or look for people"—moved to the east bank of the Mississippi River, and by 1705 another Choctaw group had taken up residence on the lakeshore.
The Choctaw Indians called this section Bouk ouka, meaning bayou residents or those who live near small rivers, but when the flag of France came to flutter on the breeze, the settlement was called Chifoncte, from Tchefuncte (chinquapin), the Choctaw name for a large river emptying into Okwata, which became Lake Pontchartrain in honor of a French official.
Ethnologists claim that the Choctaw Indians took their name from Chacta, an early leader, who brought his people east in search of a land near the rising sun. The Indians themselves believe they emerged from a great hole and claim a mound in Mississippi, near the head waters of the Pearl River, is Nanih Waiya where they were created. From the place of origin the tribe spread out into Louisiana, settling three lakeshore hamlets and a few small encampments.
Generally peaceful, the Choctaw loved to roam their forests untroubled by warfare. They were friendly towards the white man. Clans were identified by totem symbols from which their names were derived. Unlike their palefaced brothers, Choctaw men actually ran after their girls to catch them.
When a brave sought the hand of a maid, the latter started running and the man followed. Sometimes the whole family joined the chase. Children belonged to the wife and the husband to his wife's family, but all movable property was the man's.
Divorce was by mutual consent. Women were powers behind the scene. Any chief they backed was elected. Homes were made of saplings thatched with palmetto fronds with openings for smoke from indoor fires. These Indians had a special method of tanning and made very good dyes, but their chief interest was farming.
They cultivated popcorn, corn, beans, squash, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds and honoshe (rice) to enhance their food supply from the streams and forests. Wild nuts, fruits and edible roots were theirs for the finding. Fish and game abundant.
A Choctaw menu usually consisted of thick soup made from pounded nuts,
rice, corn, beans, potatoes, venison, fish or game, dried wild fruits and ahe, cakes made from smilax lauriflora roots fried in bear's grease.
From the wild persimmons they made a beer-like beverage. Meat was smoked in winter for summer use; fish and shrimp were dried. Herbs were used medicinally. They had special uses for katlaha (magnolia) and a healing salve was made from nita pisa (bear see), the yucca or Spanish dagger, 'sometimes called "desert candles."
The year was measured by the frost and divided into two seasons, each with two parts. Months were reckoned by the moon—July was "fire moon," December, "cold moon."
The Choctaw believed in Aba (the God above) and Nana Polo (the devil) . To be feared also was Nalusa Falaya, a long black being akin to the werewolf or Loup Garou, and Shilup, the ghost, who walked in the paths of humans.
In certain streams, lived the Okwa Naholo, trout-colored, white water people, who lured unwary persons to their realm. Witches never used herbs or charms. A witch could remove his "innards" and fly light to cast spells. He merely pointed a finger at his victim and let a "little spirit" touch the object of the spell. After performing this duty, the witch put the "little spirit" in charge and flew home.
Both men and women wore long hair and painted their faces. Bright colors, beads and metal ornaments were popular. Although feathers of certain birds had special meanings, feathers were ot held in esteem by the Choctaw.
They had sports such as a racket game and ball. Lake' lomi, similar to the shell game, and tanje boska, played like checkers with black and white corn grains, were popular. Gatherings and dances were held at night from seven until dawn. There were many dances, but the green corn was the most common and the last dance was always the snake dance.
For musical instruments they had theba (the drum) made of skin stretched over a hollow tree section, knobbed drum sticks, rattles and a cane flute. The Choctaw tribe ranked high in music and poetry among other Indians, many of whom adopted their songs and dances. Few of these first people of St. Tammany Parish are left in Louisiana but their influence is found at every turn of a bayou that bears a Choctaw name.
In 1763, France ceded to Great Britain, the land east of the Mississippi River, except the Isle of Orleans. The rest of the Louisiana Territory was transferred to Spain. For sixteen years, the British ruled Chifoncte.
Then the Spanish governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Galvez, serving the American Cause in 1779, captured the English Territory east of the Mississippi. He divided "West Florida," as he called it, into four districts. Chifoncte was named St. Ferdinand. West Florida attracted settlers from the American States. Soon the flag of Spain was flying over a population that was anything but Spanish.
France, England and Spain made land grants to white settlers on the Pontchartrain lakeshore, but the American colonial influence was stronger than any other. In 1810, hardy Americans, who claimed descent from alligators, threw their weight in a revolt against the weak Spanish officials and set up a short-lived Republic of West Florida with a lone star emblem.
William C. C. Claiborne, governor of the now American Territory of Louisiana, sent in troops under Colonel Leonard Covington and Lieutenant-Colonel Zebulon Pike to take West Florida for Uncle Sam. In out‑lining the subdivisions of the annexed republic, Claiborne stated:
"... and all that tract of country east of the Pontchitoola, including the settlements of Chiffonta, Bogcheto and Pearl Rivers, shall form the Fourth Parish, to be called St. Tammany."
Why Claiborne named the parish after the patron of New York's Tammany Society is a matter for historians to fight over, but, he may have been inspired by a lakeshore Choctaw story. St. Tammany or Tamanend (the affable), chief of the Lenni-Lenape tribe of the Delaware River valley, was claimed to have visited the Choctaw Indians on Lake Pontchartrain.
The son of Tamanend, who accompanied his father, displayed sympathy for some prisoners whom the Choctaw Indians ill-treated. For this, the Delaware prince was killed. His head was hung from a tree branch near a small river. As the head swung back and forth, the wind swished through the hair making a musical sound.
From this incident, the Indians called the stream Pashitalowa (now spelled Pontchata-lawa) , which Abbe Rouquette, Choctaw language authority, translated as "singing hair river." No matter why the name, Chifoncte became officially St. Tammany Parish and Old Glory flew over its pine tops.
Today, the parish still has a population of under 30,000 permanent residents, but the number of families who occupy summer or part-time country homes in the lake section boost the population during vacation seasons.
Occupying a part of the Pleistocene strata, St. Tammany consists physically of alluvium, loess (limestone silt) and loam (earth and mold). A layer of marine deposits form the Pontchartrain Clay that is used for pottery, brick and other clay products of the parish. This layer regulates the moisture and influences the pine growth along the lake-shore.
Pines and other trees of St. Tammany are most impressive, but the parish is not only a land of many trees, but also of many waters—lakes, swamps, rivers and bayous. Bayou from the Choctaw bayuk (little river) belongs to this part of Louisiana particularly, and here the bayous, deep brown mirrors reflecting lovely scenes, are more beautiful than any famed in story and all have their place in folklore and history.
Though more or less isolated in early times, St. Tammany was popular as the health-giving Ozone Belt. Lake Pontchartrain, separating New Orleans and St. Tammany by less than twenty-five miles, was an important link in travel from the east to the Port in the Crescent.
Before a ferry was inaugurated, sloops carried passengers between shores. Later steam packets operated on the lake and picked up travelers transported to Milneburg from New Orleans by "Smoky Mary" via the Pontchartrain Railroad—one of the two oldest railways in the country.
By 1932, free bridges, fine highways and the automobile put "Smoky Mary" and the lake steamboats out of business. A proposed causeway over Lake Pontchartrain is expected to decrease travel time for those who must get across the water quickly, even if it means ruining a great work of God to accomplish this feat.
Travel in St. Tammany today is a far cry from that of colonial days when planters used the bayous for highways and those who took to the dirt roads "rode the tides." This custom, as described by Harry Culbertson, late sage of St. Tammany, was a system of sharing and saving the horse.
Two men with one horse made trips in this manner. At a fixed time, one man started walking. Several minutes later, his companion set forth on the horse. Eventually the rider overtook the hiker but kept on until a designated tree was reached. Here the horseman dismounted, fed and tied the horse and continued on foot.
Resting the Horse
When the first man reached the tree, he mounted and rode off to pass his friend and tie the horse to another tree. This process of changing from walking to riding gave each man and the horse sufficient rest to make the trip with ease. "Riding the tides" was popular among the early settlers in this section.
Not only modes of travel have changed in St. Tammany with time, but land values have soared. In 1907 good land sold for from $1.50 to $25.00 per acre. Today, the same tracts bring fabulous prices.
One of the most fertile parts of America, St. Tammany excels in year-round crops and seasonal farm products. Peaches, pears, plums, grapes, pomegranates, apples, loquats, Japonica persimmons, oranges, kumquarts and other citrus fruits, pecans, peanuts, watercress, sugarcane, cotton, and strawberries, as well as truck vegetables, are cultivated for local and outside market consumption.
Tobacco has been grown successfully. Bay leaf, scuppernongs, crabapples, blackberries and black cherries, from which cherry bounce is made, are provided by nature without cultivation. From small hand operated farms along the lakeshore, large shipments of strawberries are sent to nearby Hammond, the strawberry capital, where refrigeration cars wait to carry them to America's tables. Strawberry patches require excellent soil and St. Tammany has the right earth for this regal berry.
Nurseries of azaleas, camellias, roses and other shrubs thrive throughout the parish, and, in the woods and along the streams, beautiful wild flowers are found —wild azalea, vervain, pitcher plant, jimson weed, holly, yaupon, marsh mallow (wild hibiscus), irises, hyacinths, creamy magnolias and yonkapins (water lilies) .
Poultry, hogs, cattle and sheep are raised for home and market.
Dairy products provide necessities for many families, while amidst a seemingly never ending supply of pine, oak, gum, tupelo, cypress and hickory, the lumber industry is carried on. Turpentine and other pine by-products are manufactured and also clay products. Ship-building is engaged in, and tung tree culture and tung oil production are important parish pursuits.
The first village in St. Tammany, directly across the Maestri (Lake Pontchartrain) Bridge from New Orleans, is Northshore, a camping, fishing and hunting settlement.
To the east is Pearl River, an early Acolapissa town, originally called Hatcha (a corruption of Talcatcha meaning river of stones). Here, near the mouth of the Pearl River, the Indians found pebbles resembling pearls. The stones were worthless, but the name stuck to the stream and the nearby settlement. The site of the Indian village of the Inhulata ogla (prairie people), one of the three main Choctaw hamlets of the area, is merely .a landing now, but a mound provides geology students with relics.
In 1790, the first white settler in East Pearl River, a man name Sharplin, sold his grant to an Irishman named Porter for "a mair, a bridle and eighteen pieces of silver." Porter fought at the Battle of New Orleans. The property remained in his family until it was sold recently to John Lewis who conducts the Free Information Service for tourists for the Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry on Highway 90.
Patrick Crawford, who came from Charleston, South Carolina, in 1824, was the first white settler of West Pearl River. Patrick's grandson, George Fuller, was the first mayor of Pearl River. The Pearl River presented a lively scene in steamboat days which ended in 1905; today, army engineers are constructing locks in this river to facilitate the water transportation of building materials to New Orleans.
A roadside state park near the Pearl offers rest and recreation to travelers. An annual camellia show attracts attention as well as the beautiful gardens such as Melrose, owned by David Fisher, and other private estates. The music of a drowned Indian orchestra comes from the depths of the Pearl. Science calls it spawning gaspergou. Even the Indians who used to squat by the river at train time have disappeared, but Pearl River is full of the lore of the past.
Between the East and West Pearl rivers, is Honey Island, the one-time hideout of notorious characters, and the habitat of the wild turkey and deer. In colonial times, a colorful land pirate, Kirk McCullough, alias Pierre Rameau, who also posed as "Captain Loring" in New Orleans society, held forth here. As leader of the Chats Huants, Pierre Rameau operated from this base between 1800 and 1815.
As Captain Loring, he died fighting on the British side at the Battle of New Orleans. Seventy years later, Captain Bunch sought the seclusion of the Honey Island swamp. Bunch, who served in the Confederate Army, was a town drunkard, teacher, county clerk in Texas, gambler, gun expert and train robber.
In New Orleans, posing as a sheriff and arms authority from Texas, Bunch spent much time in gunshops. In 1888, he held up a train at Pearl River. Four years later, Captain Bunch was cornered and killed at Franklinton in the adjoining parish.
St. Tammany's manufacturing center is Slidell, settled after the War Between the States and named for the Confederate Minister to France and England, John Slidell.
Camp Salmen for Boy Scouts is located here. Northeast of the town, on Bayou Paquet (pa-kay), is Baldwin Lodge, the home of Robert Bruce Baldwin, an English country house, built on the site of the old Blanc plantation.
The bricks in many old New Orleans houses were made by the Blanc slaves. Indian relics have been found on the ground, and, at low tide in the bayou, the skeleton of a Union barge, used in the Federal occupation of the plantation, may be seen. Moving placidly through a prairie marshland where duck hunting is good.
Bayou Paquet presents a picture of sky-tinted peace in contrast with the air of quiet mystery that pervades the tree and vine-shaded streams that flow through the pines and cypresses.
Near the confluence of Bayous Bonfouca and Liberty is the old French settlement of Bonfouca (gallicized Boukfouka), once the hub of French culture on the lakeshore. Here, Creole planters operated large tracts cultivated by slaves brought in by Captain Nicholas Vivien, an 18th century French slave trader.
Descendants of many early settlers still occupy ancestral homes. Typical of the lucrative days is the old Terence Cousin house, now owned by Temple Hargrove, Texas, oil magnate, who calls it Tranquility. Nearby is Camellia Lane Farm owned by Paul Auguste Menard, whose horses, including "Captain Irish," are exhibited at shows throughout the country. In a simple cottage on Bayou Liberty, the'real father of the now legendary Marilyn Miller resided at the time of his daughter's death.
Homes face the bayou and residents still pay calls in boats or wave greetings in passing. Near the boat landing at 8 Acres, the country retreat of a New Orleans executive, is a magnificent oak that might easily have been a sacred tree of the Indians.
On U.S. 190, is the old town of Lacombe, named for the first French settler on the lakeshore, who lived here with one slave in 1725. The last important remnant of the Choctaw tribe was found here in 1909 by David Bushnell. The bayou and village were called Butchu wa (squeezing) but the group was known as Kasha pa ogla (half or divided people).
Here the Indians pursued sports such as archery, racket ball and blow gun shooting. Night dances were staged by bonfires and pine flares were carried in ceremonial processions. The tick and duck, man, drunken man, come and go, and snake dances were usually performed and songs of victory were sung.
The Indians here had their own version of creation—the story of Tashka and Walo, little brothers who followed the sun. A mound near Lacombe has thrown light on these Indians and their customs, but only traces of Choctaw survive in natives of mixed blood. Herbs, baskets and other Choctaw items are sold at a souvenir store on the highway.
The cemeteries at Lacombe are all along the bayou. In one there is a monument to Chahta-Ima (like a Choctaw), the poet-priest of the piney woods, Abbe Rouquette, who devoted his life to missionary work among the Indians.
Lacombe is one of the sections of Louisiana where candles are burned on graves on All Saints' Night (November 1st). This custom goes back to the time when priests were few and families tried to keep their faith before their children by the pious observance of feast days. Many, after a hard day in the fields, had to prepare their family graves for All Souls' Day by candlelight.
As the devout move about decorating the resting places of their beloved dead, eerie shadows fall upon the gravestones and the candle flames give the impression of a forest fire. Residents of nearby towns drive to Lacombe to see these lighted cemeteries. The shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, where annually pilgrimages are sponsored by the Missionary Rose Petals of St. Theresa Society, also draws motorcades across Lake Pontchartrain.
The State-owned Huey P. Long Game and Fish Hatchery at Lacombe is one of the best in Louisiana, but the pride of Lacombe is Bayou Gardens, a paradise of beauty, on the site of the Indian village. Here, native blooms vie with rare importations including the jacaronda, and the massed for color azaleas, camellias and sasanquas paint the spring landscape in glorious hues.
If you like executives, warriors or sweet things, you will find them at Bayou Gardens, where Governor Warren, General Patton and Admiral Nimitz grow amidst Angels' and Virgins' Blushes along Bayou Lacombe. Of special interest is the old barn converted into an Indian museum.
Fontainebleau State Park
Between Bayou Castine and Cane Bayou (called Chela'ha, noisy, by the Choctaw from the rustling cat-tails on its banks) is Fontainebleau State Park, the former plantation of Bernard de Marigny, a 19th century glamour boy. Fontainebleau was purchased for the state in the 1930's by young Governor Richard W. Leche along with an additional tract upon which a modern mental hospital is being erected.
Recognized as one of the nation's most perfect recreation grounds, as designed and developed by William W. Wells, architect of all of Louisiana's state parks, Fontainebleau's 2500 acre tract is worth many times the purchase price of the original 6000 acres.
Bernard de Marigny acquired Fontainebleau on June 25, 1829 from the heirs of Antonio Bonnabel. Bonnabel had a fleet of trading vessels plying between New Orleans and the West Indies at the same time the ships of Audubon and Lacroix traded between the West Indies and New Orleans.
On the land when De Marigny bought it were cabins, a workshop and a main house. Here, with the aid of a staff of unusually named slaves, Bernard de Marigny entertained lavishly. The historic Fontainebleau bell, in to which the colorful Bernard threw 1000 silver dollars to enhance its tone, reposes in the Cabildo at New Orleans—it should be in the park.
Gay times were had at Fontainebleau plantation for a select few; today, the park is available to the average citizen.
Mandeville, guarded along its serene beachfront by moss-draped and wisteria-twined oaks, was founded by the De Marigny family. Facing the lake still is the Louis Coquillon house where Bernard held forth on Sundays while he sold off lots in the 1830's. Now disguised as Bechac's Restaurant is the 18th century home of Bernard's father, Pierre Philippe Mandeville de Marigny.
The Duc d'Orleans (later Louis Philippe of France) and his brothers stopped at Mandeville en route to New Orleans. The well from which the princes drank became known as La Fontaine du Retour. Mandeville has many fine homes of part-time residents and is a favorite with those who like to drive across the lake for dinner. It is also famous as a place where Louis Philippe slept!
John James Audubon
Mandeville has also been distinguished by being claimed to be the birthplace of John James Audubon. No one has ever offered conclusive proof of his birth elsewhere. In prefaces to his works, the great naturalist refers to the United States as his native land, and he stated that he was born in Louisiana before his father joined the forces fighting under Washington in the American Revolution.
In the early 1840's, when Audubon, though in his sixties, had a mind as clear as a young man's, a leading New York writer interviewed him. A decade later, in 1853, this interview was published in Homes of American Authors, by Putnam. We learn from this article that Audubon was born in Louisiana "the same year the Declaration of Independence was made (1776)..."
To retrace the route of the Duc d'Orleans, known as the Chemin du Roi, Monroe street in Mandeville is followed to its end at an intersecting road. Right is Lovers' Lane leading to Chinchuba (alligator), and left is a graceful bend that takes one to Lewisburg or on to Madisonville.
Just around this curve, about thirty feet off the road on the Hansborough property, surrounded by a black fence, is the tree-shaded grave of Sarah Sale, an Indian maiden, who married Rev. Linus Parker, a Protestant missionary. Sarah was 24 when she died in 1855.
Owners of this property must agree that this grave will not be disturbed. Directly across the road is the site of the Chinchuba Indian camp. From this rural highway, a lovely rustic road, guarded by a giant oak, leads to Lewisburg, a once fashionable summer colony, founded by John Hampton Lewis, a contemporary of De Marigny.
Chinchuba, the village of the Shachi homy ogla (red crawfish people), reputed to have crawled on all fours before the Choctaw adopted them after having smoked them out of their holes and taught them to act like human beings, is the site of an institution for deafmutes which was destroyed by fire.
The Indians of this settlement used to move to the present location of New Orleans to hunt. They also had a camp on Bayou St. John when the French settled New Orleans. At Chinchuba, Abbe Adrian Rouquette conducted an Indian mission under a great oak near which he erected a log chapel known as Kildare (Gaelic, church of the oak).
Over State Highway 90 (old 465), Madisonville is reached. A link between New Orleans and the east, in 1817, this town on the Tchefuncte River was a port of embarkation for travelers and was destined to be a great center for trade with the West Indies.
People from other parts came by horse to Wharton (Covington) and made the trip from there to Madisonville by horse or boat to board sloops at the mouth of the Tchefuncte to cross the lake to New Orleans.
In his diary, William Richardson mentions a fine dinner of peas, "the first of the season" eaten at Madisonville on April 11, 1815. Madisonville was a fashionable lake resort and the steamboat increased interest in the town to such an extent that the citizens in 1850 were planning a railroad to Jackson, Mississippi.
Shipbuilding during World War I increased the population, and unfinished hulls lying in the river after the Armistice were used for homes by native families. Many old homes with colorful histories stand in the town and nearby are some beautiful country estates. Kiskatom (hickory tree), operated as a herb farm by Mrs. Caroline Weiss, lecturer on plant subjects, and Beaux Chenes (beautiful oaks) owned by the Penick family of New Orleans, are on Louisiana 90, but have entrances on an old side road.
Outside the town, on Louisiana 122, is Bayou Cottage built in 1807 under the Spanish regime by Count de Baheam and recently restored by Captain Neville Levy, USN, as a construction company guest house. Known as the old road to Covington, Highway 122 is old-fashioned and beautiful at all seasons, but in the fall, with both sides splashed with color like an artist's palette, it is easy to believe the "Old Master Painter" passed this way!
A lighthouse at Madisonville serves boats on Lake Pontchartrain.
Back on Highway 190, beyond Chinchuba, is Ozone Park, a former peanut plantation which was subdivided about 1912. The Pontchatalawa (singing hair) River flows through here on its way to join the Tchefuncte. Now called Glen Gordon, after the ancestral Scottish home of the late George Gordon McHardy, a one-time owner, the old plantation house stands facing the highway.
The rear gates of large estates, a few homes and a fresh growth of pines are all that meet the eye, but if one is awake in Ozone Park at the right wee hour, the thrill of hearing an Indian love call will be experienced. St. Tammany's son? Perhaps, but there must be many phantom Indian lovers around here. The land company's lawyer built his home on a Choctaw burial ground.
The Virgin Mary Appears
One of the most unbelievable events took place at Ozone Park in the summer of 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I. In the evening between 8:30 and 9 p.m., a New Orleans family of six, occupying a bungalow for the summer, witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary on their front porch. Swathed in a white mantle, the Blessed Mother stood near a column for several minutes.
Those who witnessed this holy visitation, after removing any object that might by any chance cause a life-size image through some trick of light, accepted the apparition as though it were an every day occurrence in their lives. No report was made to Church authorities and no publicity was given to this miraculous incident, but it did happen in Ozone Park!
Paved highways and country roads lead into the old town of Abita Springs. Linguists differ regarding the meaning of Abita. Some claim it comes from ibetap (fountain or head of stream), but the Choctaw Indians told David Bushnell it was not of their language. It was the name of an old man of another tribe who settled by the spring.
From this Bushnell concluded that "the man who took up his abode by the spring may have been a Creek." An early Picayune Guide Book gives "startled fawn" as the meaning. The love story of a Choctaw maiden and a Spanish officer inspired "The Princess Abita Waltz" by Sidney Ragan, a former resident musician.
At the turn of the century, Abita Springs was popular with families who "went away for the summer." Going "around the belt," listening to the music box (the juke's grandfather) in the post office, visiting "the wishing well" or "arsenic spring," where lovers carved telltale hearts on the rafters, loafing under the "Big Tree," dancing to the music of Martin's Band, playing cards with friends, were the average pleasures of the elite.
Lesser folk did their laundry by the river bank or swam in the creek (girls in one part, boys in another), and children buried near-ripe plums in the clean sawdust in Monpat's stable to ripen deliciously or be stolen!
Old-time customs are no longer followed in Abita today. It is an up to the minute town. A State Park now occupies twelve acres surrounding the Abita Spring about which the Abita River winds and twists its way through the community.
Based probably on the presence of quicksand, it is in this stream that the Choctaw claimed the Okwa Naholo dwell and drag mortals into their watery hide-out. Once a human being gets into their clutches, he is permitted to rise only once in awhile to sing. If returned to land, he will die like a fish. So when the Abita River sings it is the voice of a privileged victim of the Okwa Naholo, up for a bit of air.
Much of the charm of Abita Springs has made way for easier living, yet, one cannot help feeling sorry for today's children who know not the taste of fresh, brick-oven-baked, country French bread and will never sniff its delicious odor as did the youths of yesterday who passed the old Abita bakery!
The Military Road, laid out to facilitate General Jackson's trek to New Orleans in 1814, leads to Claiborne, where the first St. Tammany Parish courthouse was built on the Bogue Falaya (long river), a crazy stream that goes on a wild rampage in fall and spring.
Near Claiborne is Three Rivers, where at the confluence of the Abita, Bogue Falaya and Little Tchefuncte, which form the Tchefuncte River, is the Jahncke property, Waldheim Gardens. Adjoining Waldheim on the Bogue Falaya, stands the Villa de la Vergne, the century and a quarter old home of Mrs. Henry Landry de Freneuse, a feature of the New Orleans Spring Fiesta's St. Tammany tour.
Across the Bogue Falaya bridge is Covington, parish seat and "tung oil capital" of Louisiana. As Wharton, this town was a stopover place for horse and stage travel in colonial times. The name was changed in 1816. Legend says because the dedication whiskey came from Covington, Kentucky, but actually it was named after Colonel Covington who took over the district for Uncle Sam.
Steamboats increased travel to Covington and both freight and passenger boats docked at Old Landing on the Tchefuncte. One steamer, the Camellia, had a colorful existence. Beginning life as the Zepplys in 1847, it was converted into a dispatch boat by General "Spoons" Butler during the federal occupation in the 1860's.
Later, as the Camellia, it plied Lake Pontchartrain as a pleasure and passenger boat, and rounded out its career as a summer hoarding boat in the Tchefuncte where it sank in the early 1920's.
A prosperous little town with an atmosphere of gentility and dignity that appeals to the stranger, Covington has retained its popularity from earliest times. The quiet charm that pervades the town makes it a mecca for those who seek restful retirement.
Fine recreational facilities are provided at the Bogue Falaya Wayside Park and nearby Sulphur Springs. Covington has thriving enterprises, beautiful homes, churches and schools. Among the latter are St. Paul's College for boys and St. Scholastica's Academy for girls.
On the campus at St. Scholastica's is an ancient oak claimed to have been the mid-16th century trysting place of Tulupa, an Indian maid, whose lover brought to this spot, not only the fish required for their marriage pledge, but also a small wooden cross fashioned by Brother Marcos de Mena from whom the young brave had learned of the "Great Father."
Beyond Covington, on La. 34, (now Hwy. 25) is the ghost lumber town of Ramsey. Two miles from here, across the Bogue Falaya, at St. Benedict, St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary are conducted by the Benedictine Monks.
With its beautiful landscaping, abbey church, mediaeval library and refectory murals by Dom Gregory De Wit, St. Joseph's offers much to interest visitors. Here young men study for the Catholic priesthood and missionaries are sent out among the natives of St. Tammany and the neighboring parishes.
Sometimes, open air services are held for Negroes, regardless of creed, and as the priest's words reach responding minds, the woods resound with exclamations of "Yeah, Lawd!" and "Preach it!"
The clay at Red Bluff makes excellent pottery and there are beautiful private gardens and a golf course in this vicinity. At nearby Folsom, named in honor of a Choctaw Indian minister, is Bagatelle, a fine country home built around the first farm house in this area. This is the tung-growing country.
Tung Oil Trees
A deciduous shrub that flaunts its blossoms in March, the tung tree was brought from China in the 1920's. The name is Chinese for heart and comes from the deep red center in the creamy pink cuplike flower that resembles Japanese porcelain. Blossoms appear before the big round leaves sprout, but linger along with the foliage.
The tung tree bears at four years. The fruit contains poison kernels which must fall to the ground and go through additional drying before they are crushed. Soil conditions in St. Tammany, the nearby parishes and across the Pearl River in Mississippi are ideal for tung culture.
Considerable experimentation is being made to step up tung oil production and its commercial uses are constantly increasing. Orchards are not only profitable but lend beauty to the terrain during blossom time. St. Tammany has 30,000 acres planted in tung trees.
Throughout the parish are numerous small settlements connected with sheep raising, sawmills and turpentine stills. At the latter, visitors dip flowers, pine cones and other items into the molten rosin which gives a glassy finish and makes attractive souvenirs.
Near the upper boundary of the parish is the Bogue chitto (big river) noted for its rippling song like the laughter of a gay young girl. From the Bogue Chitto bank, an Indian maid, who eloped with a married man, was chased and slain by her outraged father in the land of the Tangipahoa (corn gathers), now a neighboring parish. On the edge of a stream, the girl's locks were severed, giving the river its name, Pontchatoula (fallen hair).
Oil has been found in Lake Pontchartrain, so, perhaps, one day progress may yet undo the great work of Nature amidst the tall pines of the Ozone Belt, but until that happens, wholesome and unexploited, St. Tammany Parish, land of many races, many flags, winding bayous, singing rivers, and inviting Tchefuncte trails, will remain a delightful haven of rest and beauty, where colorful song birds of every hue vie for glory with the brilliance of the Louisiana sunset that Lafcadio Hearn said "flames like the interior of a chalice"!
The above article was copyrighted in 1951 and is reprinted above for educational purposes.
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Here are several scanned images from that magazine.
About the author: Catherine Bernadette Dillon was born Dec. 28, 1894 in New Orleans. She was a writer in the New Orleans area and active in various writing clubs. She also wrote articles for the Louisiana Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression Era.
The Louisiana Conservationist Magazine published several of her articles, and she also wrote down a family story in the early 1930s about her mother (Elizabeth Haggerty Dillion) while she was growing up as a girl in New Orleans before and after the US Civil War.
In 1940, she wrote the History of "Le Moniteur de la Louisiane" newspaper in New Orleans. She died in 1954 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.