Tuesday, May 10, 2022

John Leveson, Mayor of Abita Springs for 36 Years

John Leveson moved with his family to Abita Springs in 1919, when he was nine years old.  Nineteen years later, at the age of 28, he was elected to serve as Mayor of Abita Springs, and he continued in that capacity for 36 years. Here are some newspaper articles telling of his accomplishments.

John Leveson, second from left, cutting the ribbon on a new Abita area fire station
Among those on the front row are Jack Lemons, Skinny Bridges, Bill Strain, B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn, Ogise Richardson, Charles Williams and at right Father Francis Sander.

Click on the images to make them larger and more readable. 

Here is the text from the above article:

John Leveson Served As Mayor Of Abita, 36 Years

St. Tammany Farmer February, 1985

By Marcelle Hanemann

ABITA SPRINGS — Even if you know John Leveson was the mayor of Abita Springs for a long, long time, the whole truth is staggering. From 1938 through 1974, or for 36 years, he held the top administrative office in that town.

The population was about 800 when Leveson took office, and he claims he knew just about every person in town on a first name basis. There was no municipal water or sewer system, but all that and more would change as Leveson guided the growth of Abita.

"Under my administration we put in a sewer system," he said. "It was in the 1930's, during the Depression and Roosevelt's time. Up to then the sewage just ran into open ditches. Then, in 1946, we put in the gas and water systems. That took a lot of work, and it was a great, great thing. We had to pass a bond issue to get it."

That Leveson was a popular mayor is borne out by the fact that he was re-elected so many times, even more times than would have been necessary, it was discovered.

"Elections were held every two years," said Leveson. "We found out in about 1950 that the Lawrisson Act said elections were for four years."

The town operated "in the black" the entire time Leveson was in office, and certainly the mayor's salary put hardly a dent in the municipal coffers.

"There was no money in the beginning, I did it for the civic pride," said Leveson. "And then, for insurance purposes, the councilmen were paid one dollar per month, and the mayor was paid a dollar twenty five. At the end, for about a year, I served full time for $360 a month." 

Leveson was not born in Abita Springs. His family moved there, from New Orleans, for the sake of his father's health, in 1919. John was nine years old. His father died four years later of the lung condition that had brought them there.

The family liked Abita Springs, and stayed. And later John met and married Audrey Bennett, a native of the town.

The couple could have no children and really wanted to share their lives and their love with some young ones. And so, when they heard of a Varnado family of three little girls, aged four through ten, who needed parents, the Levesons were very happy to make the children their own.

In the early years, Mrs. Leveson ran the ABC Grocery with her sister. And before the mayor's job was a full time one, Mr. Leveson also did sales, advertising and public relations work for Barney Carey Company in Abita Springs and Covington.

"People used to kid me because I was paid to go around and drink beer," he said.
Leveson worked for Barney Carey for more than 48 years before retiring in 1972. But through it all, from the time Leveson first became a councilman in 1934, to this day, the town has come first.

He is known as a man who has put community before self, and the facts have borne out. the popular notion.

He has devoted himself to the people and the place that is Abita Springs.
In return, the town has chosen to memorialize him. They have given a street his name.

"They renamed Warren Street, Leveson Street about two years ago," said Leveson. "It was while (Eligio "Lee") Vinti was mayor. Vinti called after a council meeting, after they had already decided to do it. It was a total surprise to me. I tried to talk him out of it, but it was too late. I really didn't feel it was the right thing to do, but they insisted. I'm no glory seeker. That's for sure."

But Leveson smiles and laughs while he tells the story of the street and the ceremony to change its name to his. For deep inside he must know, as everyone else does, that he really does deserve it.

Ex-mayor is citizen of the year

By Pat Butters, Times Picayune August 29, 1985

Just because John Leveson is no longer mayor of Abita Springs, it doesn't mean he sits around his ranch house with nothing to do. His cluttered kitchen and dining room tables say the 75-year-old Leveson has not slowed down since his "retirement" 10 years ago.

He is the Abita Springs cemetery custodian, chairman of Fire Protection District No. 8 and the Abita Springs Volunteer Fire Department treasurer.

Now he has another title. The Abita Springs Civic Association will make him the town's first citizen of the year at the Abita Springs Water Festival Saturday. Leveson served as mayor for 36 years. until 1974.

"It's a long time to stay at that," Leveson said. "I guess I've more or less dedicated my life to civic work."

Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and "Gone With the Wind" hadn't been released yet when Leveson took office June 7, 1938. His first accomplishment was to bring a sewerage system to the then town of 335.

"We got it through the Works Project Administration." Leveson said. "It used to run in open ditches. Then, right after the war, we got our gas and water system. All that provided revenue we needed for the town."

A large, bulldog-looking man back then, Leveson started -- the Abita Civic Association, which brought together the Veterans of Foreign Wars. the Ladies Progress Club and the Abita Spring Volunteer Fire Department, to raise money. In fact, he helped pave the way for the fire department to become Fire Protection District No. 8.

Leveson waves to crowd at Abita festival. Photo posted by Gary Achee on Abita Old Photos Facebook page in 2015.

Leveson ran unopposed several times. but finally met defeat in 1974. He said his wife's death the previous year contributed to his lack of interest in campaigning.
"If I'd have done something, I believe I would have won," Leveson said. "They tell me they've been having hell ever since I got out."

While the loss hurt, Leveson said he's relieved too, because being mayor had its share of headaches. But receiving the citizen award makes him feel almost as good as being called "Mr. Abita Springs."

Leveson's award will be presented at noon Saturday, preceded by an 8 a.m. bike race through town and a parade at 11 a.m.

Leveson riding in parade in 1985. Photo posted to Abita Old Photos Facebook page by Gary Achee in 2015.

John Leveson, Former Abita Mayor, Dies

St. Tammany Farmer  - June 1, 1989

ABITA SPRINGS — John Leveson, Mayor of Abita Springs for 36 years, died last week of cancer. He served as mayor from 1938 to 1974 and ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff of St. Tammany Parish in 1963.

Leveson, 79, had diabetes and heart problems for the past four years. He was feeling ill several weeks ago and was taken to Ochsner Foundation Hospital in Jefferson Parish where cancer was diagnosed. He died May 23.

He was born in New Orleans in 1910 and moved to Abita Springs around 1917. While mayor, Leveson supervised construction of that city's water and sewerage system. He also served one term on the Abita Springs Board of Aldermen.

At the time of his death, Mr. Leveson was vice president of Citizens Bank & Trust Co., and served on the board of directors of St. Tammany Homestead.

Mr. Leveson chaired the annual March of Dimes for several years when Polio was a crippling disease. He also helped found St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection District No. 8 ( Abita Volunteer Fire Department ), and served as that organization's treasurer.