I love old photos. They’re such a wonderful glimpse into the past.
The other day, I happily spent some time browsing through the Library of Congress’ photos of Terrebonne Parish in 1940. Granted, few of the photos contain identifications so you don’t know who’s photographed. But they’re still wonderful images.
There’s something even more interesting about these photos. They showcase the federal government’s attempt to prop up a collapsing sharecropping system in Terrebonne Parish by turning plantation land into tenant farms.
Here’s the complete set of photos: https://www.loc.gov/item/2017804593/
I noticed something as I read the captions. The photos contain one key identification. They’re identified as being taken in or near the Terrebonne Project.
I had no idea what that was so I did a little digging. It turns out that the Terrebonne Project was actually Terrebonne Farms, a settlement that grew out of the New Deal. I’ve driven through Terrebonne Farms my whole life without knowing what it was.
In the 1930s, the federal government established an experimental farm in Terrebonne Parish. The government bought four sugarcane plantations – Julia, Waubun, St. George and Isle of Cuba – with the idea of creating small farms that would used by practical farmers. Whatever a practical farmer is.
Really, the small farms were a new spin on sharecropping and a solution to failing plantations. Farmers worked big chunks of land cooperatively while also tending to individual farms. Each family received six acres: two acres for a frame house and four acres for the individual farm. By 1940, the farms totaled 40 families.
The federal government really set you up with a pretty house and a nice little bit of farmland.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Blanchard later told a researcher that they had a baby in a blanket and $8 when they joined Terrebonne Farms. Mrs. Beady Roddy recalls her amazement at living in a brand new house. The wives were given cooking lessons.
I don’t believe the families actually owned the individual farms during the experiment. At least not at first. It seems that the government held onto ownership. So it was 40 acres and a mule without a deed.
World War II seems to have brought an end to the experiment.
Here’s a really great account of what happened to the farms: http://dawesland.blogspot.com/. It sounds like families were allowed to purchase them after World War II when the federal government got out of the tenant farming business.
If you’ve driven on Main Project Road on the outskirts of Thibodaux, then you’ve driven through this piece of history. Project is a leftover term from the Terrebonne Project or Terrebonne Farms. How about that?