Early maps capture a moment in time. It’s amazing how quickly things disappear. Not one of my mother’s childhood homes still exists. One of my own childhood homes was reduced to rubble not long ago. Outdated maps will show that they once existed.
Maps can tell you a lot of things. Historical, rural maps sometimes denoted landowners.
The maps below are of Fort Balize/Balise, an old Spanish fort that once existed at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. I like the color of the first map and the detail of the second map. You get a sense of just how exposed to the elements this fort was – and why it’s no longer in existence.
Did you know that a French fort used to sit at the mouth of the Mississippi River? That’s not terribly surprising given the French and Spanish history of Louisiana. It’s also not terribly surprising that you won’t find a trace of it today given Louisiana’s ever shifting and disappearing coast.
La Balize disappeared for the first time around 1740 but resurfaced more than once. Hurricanes kept knocking it down, and it kept being rebuilt. It was important to control the mouth of the river — and to guide ships.
A few years ago, we went on a cruise that took us from New Orleans to Mexico (and back). We set off from New Orleans, and everyone got out their phones to pull up Google Maps and track the progress past Plaquemines Parish and into the Gulf. We hadn’t gotten too far when a small boat pulled up alongside the giant cruise ship. A man jumped from the boat through an open door in the side of the cruise ship. He was a river pilot, arriving to guide us out the mouth of the river just as his predecessors did hundreds of years ago.
But back to La Balize … today, it’s completely gone. Pilottown is several miles from the original site of La Balize.
La Balize was substantial enough that the Catholic Church established a parish there in 1722. That got me wondering about what the church records could tell me about the little settlement.
I learned a few things. First, there was never a church at La Balize. The priest must have just visited from time to time. Also, the parish only lasted 30 years before those pesky hurricanes prompted the Catholic Church to scrap it.
Wikipedia (I know – not the most reputable of sources) gives a good timeline for the fort’s history:
1740 – La Balize was destroyed in a hurricane. A new island arose which was called San Carlos. The village was built again on San Carlos.
October 7-10, 1778 – La Balize was destroyed, but was rebuilt at this location.
July 25-28, 1819 – Ships anchored near La Balize suffered through a 24-hour gale, but only three were grounded.
1831 – La Balize suffered major damage.
April 3-4, 1846 – This was the most damaging storm since that of 1831. It was a hurricane-like storm but likely not of tropical origins, given the time of year. It cut a new channel between Cat Island and its lighthouse.
By 1853 La Balize had been relocated to the Southwest Pass, where it was built on the western bank about five miles (8 km) northwest of its first location.
September 15-16, 1855 – At Cat Island the lighthouse keeper’s house was destroyed and the lighthouse imperiled. Almost everything else was swept away in the storm surge.
August 11, 1860 – In the first hurricane of the season, trees were uprooted and up to 10 feet (3.0 m) of water flooded the region of La Balize.
September 14-15, 1860 – The second hurricane struck at the mouth of the Mississippi and destroyed La Balize. Tides were six feet above the high-water mark. The village was abandoned and rebuilt upriver at what became Pilottown.
October 2-3, 1860 – In the third hurricane of the season, there was widespread damage as far inland as Baton Rouge.
September 13, 1865 – Although La Balize had been abandoned since 1860, this hurricane destroyed the last traces of the village.
In 1819 architect Benjamin LaTrobe visited Balize and was less than impressed.
He wrote: “The building gives its name to one of the most wretched villages in the country … The regular population consists of 90 men and 11 women. The tavern, which is the principal building and a few other houses are built on the United States land … There is nowhere a more convenient spot from which smuggling may be carried on and connived at.”
In 1858, a steamboat left New Orleans every Tuesday and Friday for Balize.
I turned to census records for a more thorough telling of La Balize’s story.
In 1727, La Balize was home to:
Father Gaspard, commander at Balize Capuchin.
St. Michel, a storekeeper.
Baldie, a surgeon.
Francois Friou, chief pilot with a wife and two children.
Pierre Triet, second pilot with a wife.
Pinault, second pilot.
Mathurn Lebas, a carpenter.
Resin Delauriers, a knacker.
Francois Ligny, a knacker.
Vincent Baugremont, a knacker.
Next, I turned to the records of the New Orleans Diocese for hints about the people who once lived at La Balize. Here’s what I found:
Marie Chaterine De Monlion, daughter of Henry and Marie Elizabeth De Gauvery De Monlion, was a native of La Balize. She married Charles August De Lachaise on Feb. 4, 1765, at St. Louis Cathedral.
Baltazard Ricard de la Chevalleray, son of Sieur De Villier and Marie Jouarist, was the commandant of the Fort of La Balize. He married Francoise Voisin on Aug. 12, 1760 at St. Louis Cathedral.
Heleine Charlotte Voisin, daughter of Jacque and Francoise Bonaventure, was born at La Balize on Dec. 18, 1757. Ten months later, she was christened at St. Louis Cathedral.
From death and mayhem, I thought I’d visit some of Shreveport’s lovely old homes. Most of them are gone now, but I enjoy looking at pictures of the grand old ladies that once were found in and near downtown. The landscape changes so quickly.
Houses burn down. They’re torn down. They simply disappear until ghosts get lost trying to revisit home.
On a bluff overlooking the Red River, the S. J. Zeigler house once stood. How beautiful is it? I can imagine standing on the widow’s walk and taking in the river views.
The Zeiglers apparently bought the house in 1881 from W. P. Ford. Ford had purchased the property from the Leonards. It seems likely that the Leonards built the house.
In 1901, Louie Ogden and her cousin Helen Kendall were driving in a trap with a couple of gentleman when the rear seat collapsed just outside the Zeigler home. Poor Helen was knocked unconscious. Fortunately, she recovered. She and Louie were guests of Mrs. W. C. Vance on Fannin street.
Interestingly, the 1900 census lists the Zeiglers as boarders. They also liked going by initials. They’re listed as S.J. and H.M. with sons Sam and Howell and someone named Vinnie.
In reality, S.J. was Samuel Jacob. He and his wife, Sarah, had five children. Only two lived to maturity.
Their daughter Sadie died age 9 at the Zeigler house in 1891. Another daughter, Susie, died aged two years, one month and 23 days in 1917. The family later made its way back to South Carolina.
If you visit the house site today, you’ll find the Chateau Hotel.
If you go to 1608 Fairfield Ave. today, you’ll find a rundown office building. A century ago, you would have found this fabulous mansion. I would have wanted a room in the tower.
John and Toinette Scott lived here. John was listed as a planter in the 1917 Shreveport telephone directory. Census records show them living in that giant house without any live-in servants or children. John’s sister married into the Youree family and lived nearby so they wouldn’t have been too lonely.
The home was demolished in 1947 after becoming a funeral home. An advertisement was placed in the newspaper for anyone interested in beautiful woodwork, mantels, bevel plate, glass doors, stained glass windows, oak, wainscoating or inlaid flooring.
One of the saddest houses to stand in Shreveport was a shell of a building that was never completed. Walter Page started to build an enormous house on Jefferson-Paige Road. He stopped work on it when his son John died. A storm hit the property in 1917 and the shell later was razed.
The house was known as Page’s Castle. The Shreveport Journal described it as “two stories with a four story octagonal rotunda, surmounted by a dome and observation deck. From the hilltop house spread a sweeping lawn with thousands of rose bushes.”
Page came from a wealthy family that moved from Tennessee to Louisiana and bought tremendous acreage for cotton. Supposedly, in an attempt to lure his son from the drinking and fast cars of Nashville, Page began work on Page’s Castle. He envisioned a resort similar to Delmonico’s with ducks, roses, a fish pond and race horses. A storm heavily damaged the dream project in 1917. Then news of John Page’s death quickly followed, and the dream died entirely.
More likely, the storm created problems with the construction, and the rest of the story is just romantic nonsense. It appears that John Page died long before construction on Page’s Castle even began.
The Howell house stood at 819 Spring St. It was built by John Howell and evolved from mansion to apartment building before a fire destroyed it in the 1930s.
My personal obsession is the Hicks home that stood at 416 Travis St. This antebellum mansion endured for years as modern structures rose around it.
It was built at the conclusion of the Civil War with logs shipped from St. Louis. The original owner was Daniel Smith, but the deed soon passed to Col. F. M. Hicks. Hicks lived there until moving to Texas for his health. His son Samuel B. Hicks then moved into the home with his bride Mamie.
The home came down in the 1950s to pave the way for a skyscraper.
One of my ancestor’s homes now sits not far from where I live in Baton Rouge. It is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Acadian homes in Louisiana.
Jean Charles Germain Bergeron and his wife, Marie Madeleine Doiron, had 11 children. Their son, Jean Baptiste, is my direct ancestor. This house has a large front room and two small rooms at the back. The ladder leads to a loft.
The home is at the LSU Rural Life Museum – which is a really cool place to visit if you have a free morning or afternoon. Lots of old houses set up to resemble a little town.
A plaque explains the Bergeron house’s history. The house used to sit on the banks of Bayou Lafourche near Labadieville in Assumption Parish.
My g-g-grandfather, Joseph Augustin Giroir, and my g-g-grandmother, Elizabeth Montet, were distantly related, which meant they had to seek the Catholic Church’s permission to marry. There were varying degrees of dispensations. In their case, Elizabeth’s grandmother and Augustin’s grandfather were brother and sister.
Apparently dispensations were very common among the first several generations of Cajuns.