First, I’ll warn you that what I’m about to share could result in an addiction.
I regularly fall down a rabbit hole with two Facebook groups. One is the Bayou History Center Inc., which shares photos and stories from south Louisiana, including Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes. The other is a preservation group dedicated to the ghost town of Rodney, Miss.
I can explain my fascination with the Bayou History Center’s content since I was born in Thibodaux. I have no ties to Rodney other than a slight obsession with the place. Rodney almost became the capitol of Mississippi. It lost by a few votes. It also used to have newspapers, an opera house, stores and a thriving population. It’s even said that Zachary Taylor was paying social calls in Rodney when he found out he had been elected president of the United States. After the river shifted course, Rodney dwindled away. All that’s left today are a few churches, a heck of an old country store (no longer open), abandoned homes and deer camps. You should visit if you get a chance though! We visited for my birthday a few years ago.
Both sites can suck me in for hours. What can I say? I love old photos. Rodney’s site is searchable. Bayou History Center’s site isn’t. Hint. Hint.
The great thing about these sites is people will dig up old photos that you didn’t even know existed and post them. They’ll post stories about photos that are shared. It’s oral history without the audio.
I’m sharing some photos (hope the sites don’t mind) and links to the groups. But I warned you! They’re addictive.
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.
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?
My cousin and I were reminiscing about Gibson the other day. She grew up there, across the street from our grandmother. I spent a lot of time there as well. In our childhood, Gibson had a country store, a post office, a church, a library and lots of little old ladies who sat on their front porches and spoke Cajun French. Everything was within walking distance. We dearly miss the Gibson of our childhood.
So I perked up when I saw a history of Gibson in my grandmother’s newspaper trove.
TIGERVILLE: Gibson was known as Tigerville (bobcats in the woods) until the Civil War when it was renamed Gibson for U.S. Sen. Randal L. Gibson.
MOUNDS: I had no idea that there are Indian mounds in Gibson. Apparently a bomb shelter was built in one of them during the Cuban Scare (whatever that was). Two are located on the south side of State Highway 20.
CIVIL WAR: Federal troops camped where the school is now. Dog tags later were found on the site. The soldiers used the Methodist Church as a hospital. At the time, the church was only a few years old.
Gilmore Franklin Connely came to Louisiana from Indiana on a surveying trip. He settled in Terrebonne Parish between 1835 and 1840, served in the Legislature and signed the Articles of Succession. That signature caused him to fall out with his parents back home in Indiana.
Connely built Mulberry Farm, which no longer stands. My dad grew up in Mulberry neighborhood, which is where the farm once was.
He married Lucy Leffingwell Kelley. They had four children:
Arthur also led an interesting life. Young Arthur ran the blockade in 1863 to join the Confederate Army in north Louisiana. His Indiana cousins aided his efforts. He survived the war and became a sheriff.
Arthur married Clara Himel. They had 11 children:
It was Arthur who sold the family farm. Apparently he wanted to live closer to town. He died in 1915.
Source: “The Houma Daily Courier and Terrebonne Press,” Oct. 8, 1972