Monday, October 31, 2022

Historical Tidbits by Fred Darragh

 In 1962 Fred C. Darragh wrote a front page column in the St. Tammany Tribune newspaper that featured an overview of St. Tammany Parish history . Here are a few excerpts from his account.

He started it with supposed comments by Iberville, who "history generally credits" as the first white man to set foot in the area.  

"Guided by Bayou Goula Indians I, with a small party of French Canadians, explored Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain in 1699, camping for some time in the shelter of the stately virgin pines in the vicinity of what you now call Fontainebleau State park. 

"Despite the fact that my brother, Bienville, founded New Orleans in 1718, few settlers took advantage of the beautiful wilderness across the lake, for at the time Spain assumed power in 1779 there were not more than twenty English land grants on its shores. It was not until 1785 that large numbers of pioneers, chiefly from Georgia and the Carolinas, settled in St. Tammany, and it is from these that many present day inhabitants boast their descent."

Darragh's historical account then proceeded through the years expanding upon the key events and outstanding personalities. 


"In 1803, Jacques Drieux, a New Orleans Creole, acquired 1600 acres lying in the fork between the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte rivers on which he planned the town of St. James, a dream which he abandoned in 1813, selling the town -which claimed four inhabitants -- to John Wharton Collins, a young New Orleans merchant who was originally from Philadelphia. 

"Collins changed the name of the town site to Wharton, which became the Parish seat in 1812, changing the name to Covington, in honor of General Leonard A. Covington; a hero of the war of 1812, in 1816.

"The town prospered mainly because, until the advent of the railroads, all cotton, naval stores, and other products from as far North as Hattiesburg, Miss., were brought to Covington by ox team to be shipped by boat to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. 

"Considerable business was also being conducted locally in lumber, pitch, livestock, poultry, lime and bricks -- this last item supplying the greater part of New Orleans' paving and building bricks.

"My original title in Covington," Collins said, "was firmly based on legal grant and legal sale. I am sorry that I can not say the same of many fortunes that have been made through the transfers of parish land titles up to the present day."

"Bernard Marigny, one of the wealthiest men in Louisiana, teamed up with John Davis, famous impresario of the Orleans Theater, to put on one of the biggest, flashiest, land development sales in the history of the parish.


The year was 1834, and Marigny, who owned a sugar plantation covering five miles bordering on Lake Pontchartrain, (and the site of present day Mandeville between Bayou Castaigne and Lewisburg) cut this strip into lots, guaranteeing steam boat service between New Orleans and Milenburg. 

"Davis contracted to build an elegant hotel facing on the lake. Between the 24th and 26th of February, 1834, some 432 lots were sold at auction in New Orleans. 

"The Hotel was opened July 4th, and during the years that followed -- until the Civil War -Mandeville was noted as one of the gayest summer resorts in the South. Marigny, the man who started it all, died a pauper and his plantation is now Fontainbleau State Park.

"Marigny, commenting on the Mandeville and Covington of that period, declared that while his development and the surrounding area was dedicated to the entertainment of thousands who flocked to its regattas and picnic excursions, Covington was more the frontier town with an eye to business, and the entertainment of the rough and ready drovers that brought business to its steamboat landing. 

"There was," he thoughtfully concluded, "more saloons than churches, and in that respect, at least, Covington hasn't changed much with all the passing years."

The War of 1812

While the early days of the War of 1812 affected many citizens around the country, "the entire fracas appeared a matter of no concern to the settlers of Covington and Madisonville," Darragh stated. 

"True enough, business between Covington and New Orleans was booming, and the Federal Government selected Madisonville, which at that time consisted of little more than a dozen mud-walled huts and log cabins, for the repair and construction of small vessels of war for the southern station, thus setting up an industry which has nurtured the town right up to the present day.

"The arrival of a large British fleet bearing hard-bitten veterans of the Peninsular campaigns, commanded by Major General Edward Pakenham and Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, was probably the first intimation that the rape and pillage of war might possibly disrupt the orderly progress of this wilderness paradise.

"As news of the tremendous fleet, that assembled between December 8th and 12th off Chandeleur and Cat Islands, turned from idle gossip and speculation to coldly sobering fact, many young bloods of the area shouldered their muskets, and traveled over the lake to offer their service to Andrew Jackson.

"Aside from this, plus a small influx of refugees from the city, life continued pretty much in the same even tempo.

"Jeanne de Bris was an itinerant peddler who for many years eked out a precarious living from settlers along the old Indian Trail known as the King's Highway connecting the Tombigbee River and Madisonville (which today is part of the fine highway system connecting Madisonville, Ponchatoula and Baton Rouge.)

"This comment of de Bris is well worth noting: "In those days," de Bris declared, "transportation and communications were extremely slow and difficult--so much so that although a treaty of peace was signed between the United States and Britain on Dec. 24, 1814, no word of the event reached the contending forces at New Orleans until after the complete rout of the invaders following the battle of January 8, 1815.

"While this deplorable state of affairs resulted in much needless slaughter and property loss, we who lived in a more leisurely age have noted with growing consternation that each speed-up of transportation and communications has resulted in ever widening world conflagrations.

"In 1814 the King's Highway was to prove an important link between Baton Rouge and Madisonville, which quickly became a port of embarkation for troops, legislators, and couriers intent upon the defense of New Orleans.

Turnpike Road

"Another old road, known today as The Turnpike, ran due North from Madisonville, and was used by the keelboatmen who tramped the long miles back home after disposing of their wares in New Orleans.

"On returning to Tennessee after the victory at New Orleans, Jackson laid out a military road which ran from Madisonville in a straight course across the Mississippi to Muscle Shoals. In order to maintain this road the legislature passed an ordinance in 1822 requiring all able-bodied males living within five miles on either side in St. Tammany Parish to contribute twelve days work per year to its upkeep.

"Roads throughout the parish, however, continued to remain little more than ox trails until the "Model T" of Mr. Ford began to win popular favor.


"Some time between 1913 and 1919 the sportsmen of the area discovered the joys of owning, exhibiting, and racing a variety of automobiles, ranging all the way from the "Tin Lizzies" to "Merry Oldsmobiles." Many of our older citizens will wax a bit nostalgic at the memory of Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings spent waxing and polishing their particular pride and joy for the after church parade, and the races which invariably followed.

"In 1913 the taxpayers voted $180,000 for the first graded roads in the parish. In 1919 they authorized a $750.00 bond issue which, with an additional $250.00 grant from the Federal Government, was used to provide topping for a few of the more heavily traveled routes--a far cry from the present day system of smooth highways that link even the smallest communities of our parish with the most remote sections of the Western Hemisphere.

Parish Boundaries Changed

"It is a little known fact that St. Tammany was originally 1,800 square miles in area, with a population of approximately 4,000, the largest part of which lived in the Northern half. In 1819 this half was preempted in the formation of Washington Parish. 

"In 1869 the western boundary was pushed back from the Tangipahoa to the Tchefuncte to make room for the new parish of Tangipahoa. Following the creation of Washington Parish the parish seat was moved form Enon to Claiborne opposite Covington, on the Bogue Falaya, and eventually to Covington in or about 1838.


"Slidell, originally settled by Creoles from New Orleans, dates its Founders Day back to the spring of 1882, when visited by a large group of officials of the New Orleans Northeastern R. and R., which had just been completed to service the great creosote works and sawmills that were running full blast at that time. 

"The town was named after the famous politician and diplomat of New Orleans, whose daughter had married a Mr. Erlinger, the man who was largely responsible for the progress of the lumber industry in the area. Other names are those of Fritz and Jacob Salmen, who founded the brick industry around which the town grew and prospered.

Abita Springs 

"William Christy, a Kentuckian who came to Louisiana to fight under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, formed a company comprised of New Orleans professional men, St. Tammany Parish landowners and others, in 1855, for the expressed purpose of establishing "All kinds of factories on such lands near Christy Springs, and to construct roads and railroads to Lake Pontchartrain."

"While the Civil War interrupted that scheme, many years later when the construction of the East Louisiana Railroad was made possible by the Poitevant Lumber interests, the Christy Springs proposed development was reawakened.

"It provoked the interest of Joseph Bossier, who had been a heavy shareholder in the original company. His plan for "Bossier City" soon blossomed into a health resort with hotels, boarding houses and cottages catering to an overflow crowd of tourists, vacationers, and health seekers.

"The resulting town was incorporated as Abita Springs in 1905, and continued to thrive until the opening of the Gulf Coast and discontinuance of railroad passenger service.

Yellow Fever

"The entire parish, for that matter, was regarded not only as a health resort and vacationer's paradise, but also the surest refuge against the yellow fever with which New Orleans was regularly plagued.

"So famous was parish immunity to the fever that on May 5th, 1898, Duncan Hood and his friends organized a regiment of 1,000 volunteers from the parish. Calling themselves "Hood's Immunes," they trained near Covington at Camp Caffery, named in honor of Senator Don Caffery, who obtained permission for their organization, and subsequent service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

St. Tammany Magicians

 Stage entertainment over the years has always included magicians, and St. Tammany residents enjoyed seeing a variety of magic acts in tent shows, stage performances, and even in the movie theaters for special events. 

Click on the images to make them larger. 

Local Residents Become Magicians

The lure of the magicians art even captured some local residents who worked to become magicians themselves, and in the 1960's an area magician's society was formed. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Block Party Car Show Oct. 28, 2022

 Tonight was the monthly car show and block party on Columbia Street in Covington. Thousands of people turned out for the event, including hundreds of kids in Halloween costumes who went from car to car to trick or treat for goodies. Here are some pictures.

Click on the images to make them larger. 

There was music, and there was the Artwalk Alley Art Exhibit Vendors

Scary costumes, skeletons, and skulls were everywhere

See also:

Car Show May 28, 2021 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hillcrest Country Club

 In 1962 the newly developed Hillcrest Country Club ran this advertisement in the June 22, 1962, issue of the St. Tammany Tribune. Click here for enlarged version of the full page ad shown below.

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Fishing at the Hillcrest Pond (Photo by Ron Barthet)

Hillcrest gets its name from the fact that it is on the crest of a hill. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Phone Company Building

 In 1962 the Southern Bell Telephone Company built a new two-story brick building on Rutland Street in Covington to house its local operations. The first telephone exchange in Covington was at the corner of Rutland Street and Columbia Street (the "center of town"), the second telephone exchange was on Rutland at New Hampshire, and the third, this one, was still on Rutland, at the corner of Massachusetts St. So the phone company has always been on Rutland, just occasionally moving a block westward over the years. 

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One of the few buildings in Covington that has a basement.

St. Tammany Tribune Nov. 23, 1962

One of the first photographs I took as a news reporter in Covington was on the second floor of this building, where all the long distance operators were stationed in desks around the perimeter of the room, handling calls from throughout the area to points throughout the nation and world. Fleta Glass gave me a tour of the facility, and it was an amazing place at that time.