Saturday, March 6, 2021

Camp Salmen History

Fritz Salmen, a Swiss immigrant, with his brothers, Jacob and Albert, founded the Salmen Brick and Lumber Company in Slidell in the late 1880s. 

Fritz Salmen

According to the history archives of the St. Tammany Parish Government, the property on which Camp Salmen Nature Park sits was acquired in 1901 by the Salmen Brick and Lumber Company. Salmen Brick conducted timbering operations for many years on the site until the property was donated to the Boy Scouts of America in 1924, which used the property as a regional camp reservation for the Greater New Orleans area. 

Click on the images to make them larger. 

Early History

The layers of history housed in Camp Salmen Nature Park begin in the late 1700s. The property was originally awarded as land grants by Spanish governor Estevan Miro in 1785 and 1787. It is thought to be the home to one of the oldest trading posts in the Bayou Liberty Region and in Louisiana, built in the early 1800s by Joseph Laurent, a lake trader. 

Alongside the Trading Post (now Salmen Lodge), Camp Salmen offered a major ferry across the bayou which operated from the early 1800s into the early 1900s. 

On March 28, 1901, the Salmen Brick & Lumber Co. bought the Breedlove Tract, which included the old trading post building and 376 acres of property and so ended the building’s nearly century-long use as a trading post.

In 1921 an unknown Boy Scout shared an umbrella with Fritz Salmen of the Salmen Brick and Lumber Company. The scout refused a tip, and this led to Salmen's company donating three years later a 72.5 acre tract of land on Bayou Liberty for use as a scouting camp.

In 1956, Fritz's son Fred donated another 35 acres adjoining Camp Salmen. The later land donation brought the total Salmen bequest to 106 acres. 

The only remaining building in the camp is of historical and architectural significance. It is a French Creole residence and one of only 26 buildings in the parish which date before the Civil War. It was named the Salmen Lodge by the scouts.

The scouts nicknamed the building Salmen Lodge

In 2006, the historical significance of the Salmen Lodge was affirmed when the lodge was added to the National Register of historic places. See more detailed information below. The 200-year-old building is undergoing restoration and when complete will be restored to its original trading post appearance. There is also discussion to add a small museum in the future. 

This remnant of the early history of the Bayou Liberty region will become a center for visitors, including school children, to learn about the unique architecture of the building, its years as a trading post, and the significant role the Bayou Liberty region area played in supplying timber, tar and pitch, bricks, produce, and livestock to the growing city of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain.

Today, Camp Salmen Nature Park in Slidell offers visitors 130-acres of an outdoor observatory rich in natural flora, fauna and birding habitats.

The students from Archbishop Hannan High School recently helped Camp Salmen.
Photo from Camp Salmen Nature Park Facebook Page


The Tammany Trace Recreational Bike Trail was recently extended eastward to connect with Camp Salmen.  
The camp is divided into six different management areas, according to the different landscapes and habitats found within each. There are four trail loops (called Interpretive Journeys) designated on the next map, and each trail loop brings visitors to one or more different landscapes. 

Plants and animals native to these areas can be seen on the trail loops. The Interpretive Journey trail system includes approximately 32,500 linear feet of interpretive trails and boardwalks. Educational signs guide hikers through the management areas and point out environmental and historical points of interest.

Information Source: Information for this blog article was pulled from the Camp Salmen Facebook page as well as the St. Tammany Parish Government Facebook Page. 

 See also:

Where Yat: Camp Salmen Nature Park 

Photo Album

Memories of Camp Salmen

 The Salmen House


By managing the different landscapes and habitats found in Camp Salmen, much of the park will be returned to how it appeared to early European settlers in the 18th century.  The ecological management areas will allow for growth and development of a variety of habitats, including a Long Leaf Pine Savannah. The preservation of the park will create one of the most important educational tools in Southeast Louisiana. 

Camp Salmen House

On March 17, 2006, the Camp Salmen House was nominated for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Here is some of the information that accompanied that application:

The Camp Salmen House is of local architectural significance as a rare and superior surviving example to represent St. Tammany's earliest architectural heritage (French Creole). Indeed, it is one of only 26 buildings in the parish dating from before the Civil War.

Historical Significance

Located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, St Tammany was historically rural, although there were three good-size towns (Covington, Mandeville and Slidell) and several small ones. The earliest settlement was in lower St. Tammany (between today's Interstate 12 and Lake Pontchartrain). For many years the French dominated this area. They arrived in the 1720s and their influence continued well into the nineteenth century. For example, French Creole planter Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville subdivided his north shore plantation in 1835 to create the town of Mandeville.

Photos by Donna Fricker, February of 2006

Given the foregoing settlement patterns, one would expect the parish to contain a fair number of French Creole dwellings and buildings reflecting other pre-Civil War architectural influences. However, St. Tammany experienced rapid and substantial growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to the area's popularity as a health resort and the lumber, brick making and ship building industries.

Thus, the great majority of the parish's historic resources date from this later period. This is amply demonstrated by a comprehensive historic standing structures survey of the parish conducted in the mid-1990s. The survey identified some 2,336 buildings that were then 50 years old or older. Of these, only 26 are thought to be pre-Civil War and only 14 fully represent the French Creole heritage. (Later Greek Revival houses are Creole in form only.)

The Camp Salmen House is among this select number.

Moreover, it is noteworthy among the parish's French Creole dwellings for its substantial size and architectural presence. The typical surviving Creole house is modest, with a width of two rooms and a minimal cabinet-loggia range in the rear.

The Camp Salmen House is fully three rooms wide with large cabinets under a quite capacious Creole roofline. Among St. Tammany's few surviving Creole dwellings, it is of the first rank. The Camp Salmen House also retains a high degree of integrity when compared to most other French Creole houses in the parish.

Additional Information:

The structure is best known locally for its association with the locally prominent Salmen family and later as part of a Boy Scout camp. Salmen Brick and Lumber Co. acquired the property in 1901. The company sold 72.5 acres to the Boy Scouts of America, New Orleans Counsel in 1924. The Boy Scouts retained ownership until 1984. The present owner, St. Tammany Parish, purchased the property in 2001 for projected use as a nature preserve. The parish is committed to preserving the house as well.

The Camp Salmen House is referred to sometimes as the "old trading post." Conveyance records in 1885 and again in 1899 mention the nearby ferry landing (the shape of which still survives) and a store on the property. For the record, the candidate is clearly a residence.

Architectural Notes

The Camp Salmen House (built around 1830) is a medium size French Creole residence of brick and frame construction with transitional Federal/Greek Revival details. It overlooks Bayou Liberty in a rural setting on the former Camp Salmen Boy Scout property on the edge of Slidell. Modifications have been on the whole relatively minor; the house easily retains its French Creole architectural identity.

The front range of rooms, the core of the house, is of common bond brick construction. Behind it is a wood frame cabinet-loggia range. The generous attic and front gallery are also wood frame. This combination of bearing wall brick and wood frame is unusual. Some sources have suggested that the brick core is older than the rest of the structure.

However, the accessible architectural evidence does not support this. The base of the brick core is constructed to provide for the attachment of the floor beams of the rear rooms and the floor beams of the front gallery. Secondly, the decorative detailing and architectural work is consistent throughout. Finally, the three rear doorways of the core are configured in a way that is consistent with the attachment of the cabinet-loggia range.

The middle doorway (which opens to the loggia) has an original set of French doors. The side doorways (which open into the cabinets) are constructed as interior passages. In sum, the overwhelming weight of evidence is that the entire present house was constructed at the same time. The circa 1830 date being used for this nomination is based on the architectural evidence.

The brick core rests on an extremely thick foundation. The foundation consists of four walls laid up in common bond. Originally the core was divided into three roughly square rooms by wood frame partitions. Two of these rooms (the northern most and the middle) were heated by fireplaces served by the house's single interior chimney. A third room to the south was unheated.

In the twentieth century a partition wall was removed, creating a single room 30 feet wide. There is still a rough, unfinished, notched beam in the ceiling showing where the partition was. On the rear range, the cabinets are unusual, being both very large (the larger is 9' by 17') and of unequal size.

The house's capacious gable end roof has a fairly simple rafter and post structure. (An earlier French Creole house would have a much heavier, overbuilt roof structure.) The huge attic was never finished or inhabited.

The Camp Salmen House is well detailed. The ceilings all feature exposed beaded beams and beaded boards inside and out. (The ceilings in the cabinet-loggia range are largely covered at present, but it is clear that the exposed beaded beams and boards survive.)

The mantels in the previously mentioned heated rooms wrap around the chimney in the French manner. Both feature delicate pilasters and molded shelves. The one in the northern room also has a slight cornice marking the top of the chimney flue. The house's single surviving original French door set (in the rear center of the brick core) has ten lights to each door and is attached with ram's horn hinges. The thick board shutters (which also serve as interior doors) have decoratively molded battens. Shutters are attached using shaped strap hinges (affixed with screws).

The front gallery's chamfered posts are pegged into the plate. They are spaced irregularly. Two near the center are paired as if to mark an entrance. Oddly, the narrow opening they create does not line up (exactly) with the central front doorway. Of final note are the tiny vaulted openings that mark the base of the brick core on either side. These were, no doubt, for ventilation.

The house has sustained the following alterations (in addition to those mentioned above). The eight-light French doors in the three front doorways are mid-nineteenth century. They are patched-in and appear to be salvaged from another building.

Of the six front gallery posts, three are original, two are in-kind replacements (one at each edge), and one is a plain unpainted board. (The latter is placed a little to the side of the original slot.) In addition, "ghost marks" indicate that the gallery once had railings. In the twentieth century the cabinets were converted for a kitchen and a large bathroom.

This work involved installing lowered ceilings and recovering the walls. Finally, the loggia has been enclosed with plywood in a jerry-rigged fashion and the brick walls have been plastered on the exterior.

These alterations have not unduly diminished the Camp Salmen House's status as one of the primary surviving French Creole residences of St. Tammany Parish. It easily retains the bulk of its character-defining features and hence has a strong French Creole identity.

The structure was entered into the National Register on April 24, 2006.  

 See also:

 Salmen House Restoration

Lodge Restoration Updates