Abita emerges as picturesque little community
SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2000
From artesian spring waters to motor cars to breweries
By RAY BROUSSARD - Contributing Writer
It was in the mid-1880s that the area known as Abita Springs introduced artesian spring waters and dense pine forests and became known by its other name, "The Ozone Belt."
In quick succession, health spas popped up all over the place, followed by resorts, hotels, boarding houses and restaurants. Quickly, they lured hundreds of guests from New Orleans and surrounding regions.
By the turn of the century, all these humanities—pure spring water, fresh air, scenic beauty and tall pine—attracted the attention of New Orleans families who came for visits in droves. The quality of life induced many from the city across the lake to begin building homes in the area.
The Motor Car Trolley
With the influx of people came a succession of amenities, including a motor car—actually, a street car of the variety still seen in New Orleans—which motored back and forth between Abita Springs and Covington in 1913.
One vintage photograph of the era shows the motor car station with the streetcar being readied for its excursion to Covington. The motorman stands at rigid attention while his passengers hover behind him, angling for a view of the photographer.
A few years later, the Abita Springs Pavilion was re-located from its original spot next to the famous Gazebo, to an area in front of the town park. However, in 1920 when the country was experiencing an economic depression, the Pavilion was demolished and the lumber sold for $600 to defray the cost of maintaining a town marshal, and the street lighting system. These town bills had not been paid for more than a year because of the depression.
Of notable interest at this time was the French Tavern which boasted of having eight bachelor rooms for rent upstairs. The old Lemons Family spring house, located over a water well, was located next door. The well is still there.
Abita, in the early years, was a relatively thriving little town. Several excellent photos show timber being loaded at the depot in 1910 when lumber was a major item for a community like this. Horses were an integral part of the community well into the 1930s.
In most communities like Abita families all owned horses. The town doctor visited his patients seated in a buggy pulled by a sturdy chestnut. Frequently, once his rounds were over, the doctor would turn toward home and doze off, confident that his horse could find the way home.
By 1930 the Model-T had replaced the horse and buggy.
Meanwhile, buildings like the Mutti Hotel, St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church and the New Abita Springs Hotel, continued to mushroom. They were joined by the Old Triangle Cafe, the Lutheran Church, the Abita Springs Depot, Morgan's Court (a vacation resort), the Abita River Brick and Tile Works, the Turpentine Still, the trestle over the river on Ozone Road, and the grand Acadian-style home of John Frederick Bennett, circa 1930.
Abita is one town that has thrived on its way to discovery. The springs of Abita were supposedly discovered by the Choctaw Indians around 1856. Legends claim that this was the fountain of youth that Ponce de Leon sought for in vain.
There were four separate and distinct veins which came to the surface within a space of Seven feet. The spring was tapped by a 2-inch block tin pipe, curving down into the 'basin thereby drawing water three feet from the bottom. This was to prevent any sediment from entering into the pipe.
By the year 1909, the veins were encased in a solid circular cement wall, 12 feet in diameter by 12 feet deep. A Canopy of heavy plated glass was placed over the spring to protect the water from any foreign substances, and allowing for a complete system of ventilation. At that time the water was so clear, a viewer could look down and distinctly see 'the smallest pebble at the bottom.
The entire town was actually built around the springs. The train depot was built just a few yards away. In the early 1900's the Springs were owned by the Abita Springs Water Company, who purchased several hundred acres of adjoining land to began distribution to consumers within a radius of several hundred miles. At that time, the capacity of the springs were conservatively estimated to have of flow of not less than 40,000 gallons per day.
Word spread rapidly and Abita Springs became known as the healthiest place to live in the South. The waters were reported to have healing properties for kidney trouble, liver trouble, dyspepsia, chronic diarrhea, constipation, catarrh, and nervous and general debilities. Poitevent and Favre built a beautiful octagonal two story pavilion over the springs, which was designed by Thomas O. Sully, a native of Covington, and one of the best known architects in New Orleans.
The Abita Water Company had built a system of porcelain pipes leading from the springs straight into a large marble tank located in the bottling house. Huge galvanized iron drums and glass carboys were delivered to jobbers in all parts of the country. Everything was done by machinery, and nothing by hand. Purity was safeguarded at every point, as the water passed only through silver, marble, porcelain, or pure block tin.
At the St. Louis World's Fair, silver medals and awards of merit went to both the plain and carbonated entries by the Abita Spring Water Company. It was of particular note that the water contained exceptional purity and special mineral properties. Hundreds of water samples were tested from around the world and all samples were subjected to severe tests.
Today, the original springs of Abita have been cemented over and sealed. Contamination at this location occurred around the mid twentieth century, and it was ordered closed. The town of Abita is presently operating on three artesian wells that were dug, one of which is near the end of the park where the original springs were located. It is most likely that this well is from the same reservoir as the original springs. Local residents enjoy the healthy water from the town's wells and from their own wells dug on their own property.
The area known as Old Landing was the location of the original port of Covington. This was the official headquarters for all steamer and schooner navigation in the rivers of west St. Tammany and adjacent parishes. With direct access to Lake Pontchartrain by way of the Tchefuncte and Bogue Falaya rivers, Covington quickly became the shopping point for large mercantile concerns, including cotton, lumber, turpentine, rosin, fruit and farm products.
Finally, transportation was taken over by the railroads which in turn brought an economic boom to St. Tammany.
The Bogue Falaya Club
As businesses grew in the early days of Covington, recreation also became the subject of establishment. The schools began to organize baseball and football teams and basketball appeared in 1904: There was some discussion at that time to begin a golf club, but instead it was decided to form a social clubhouse, called The Bogue Falia Club. The old Presbyterian Church was purchased on the corner of New Hampshire and Independence. The church was torn down and a large beautiful building was erected as the formal clubhouse. Included in its membership were the finest residents of the city.
The grand opening was held on March 7, 1903, and the club boasted of the finest bathrooms, pool and billiard tables, and the latest magazines and periodicals. Electric lights were installed as well, and a porter was available for service. The Covington Orchestra entertained at the first reception and dance held at the new building, which was splendidly highlighted by handsome gowns and full dress suits.
Just three years later, however, the building was in receivership, and the building was sold by E.P. Singletary, the Receiver, to the MCB Club, which used the building as its main library