Before leaving the lower section of the city and while its songs and stories still linger in the mind the tourist will do well to visit the old French Parish of St. Bernard, with which the "Vieux Carre," in its families and histories is inseparably counected, as also to cross over the river to Algiers, where Bienville located the "Plantations of the King."
St. Bernard's Parish extends southeast of New Orleans, from the Barracks to the English Turn, for a distance of twelve miles along the left bank of the Mississippi River, and thence obliquely to the south, following Bayou Terreaux-Boeufs and Lake Lery till it touches the sea.
It was way back in 1778 that a colony was founded in this section by Governor Bernardo Galvez. He called the spot New Galvez but the colony insisted that the entire parish be called St. Bernard, after its founder's patron saint. Afterward, the Creoles nick-named it "Terre-aux Boeufs," or "Oxen Land," because the colonists used oxen in working the soil. Even to this day the village next to St. Bernard, as also the Bayou that skirts it, carry the name of Terre-aux-Boeufs.
Properly speaking, St. Bernard cannot be classed among the rural parishes of Louisiana; by its contiguity to New Orleans, many hold it as a sort of prolongation or suburb of the great metropolis, and even before the advent of electricity one could mount a horse or take a carriage, or even the bobtail car, and before breakfast have a pleasant stroll under the oaks of St. Bernard, where many of the wealthy residents of the city had their country homes. Driving through the parish, along the river bank, one sees on all sides magnificent sites for parks and homes, and fine old colonial houses nestling among the trees.
"Saxenholm," is the ancient home of Colonel B. S. Story, who married Miss Jennie Washington, great-great-grand-daughter of Colonel Lawrence Washington, the older half-brother of the illustrious "Father of the Country." No home in the entire South is more interesting than this old mansion, which is a type of Louisiana's earliest colonial homes. The house is upward of one hundred and twenty-five years old, and is one of the most magnificently furnished in the South; grand old pieces of black carved oak, rarely seen in these days; ancient tapestries and paintings; and, above all, relics innumerable of our own Washington, Martha Washington and Nellie Custis, make it a place of historic interest. Many of the most valuable souvenirs and relics at Mount Vernon have been furnished by Mrs. Story.
A mile northwest of Saxenholm is an old ruined brick pile, around which clings the wildest and most romantic story in Louisiana. It was the home of no less a person than Alexandra Petrovitz, the morganatic wife of the Csarowits, Alexis Petrowitz, who married her without the consent of his royal father in 1722. The stern, uncompromising Russia of that day banished her from its borders, and forced her to take passage on a German emigrant vessel, bound for John Law's concession in the Arkansas District. The fact that the distinguished and unfortunate lady was really on this vessel is vouched for by Voltaire in his "History of the French Revolution." The vessel, tossed by winds and storms, finally made its way to Louisiana and the emigrants landed in St. Charles Parish just above New Orleans, on a strip of land that is called "The German Coast." Torn to the heart by the brutal treatment that she had received, the Russian Princess sought a home far from the settlement at New Orleans, and had this old brick pile erected in the fastnesses of primitive St. Bernard's Parish. It Was here that the Chevalier d'Aubant, who had never forgotten the beautiful Princess who had won his heart at the royal festivities in St. Petersburg years before, found her at last. He had sailed the world over trying to locate her, after hearing of the brutal treatment that she had received from the monarch whom she loved. Determined to be near her, to watch over and protect her, if he could not marry her, the Chevalier d'Aubant took up his residence in the New Orleans colony, and it was here that many years after the death of Alexis Petrowitz, he at length persuaded her to forget the past and marry him. She returned with him to Paris, and afterward accompanied him to the Ile de Bourbon, when he was sent into banishment. After his death she returned to this old spot, where she died in great poverty and misery. She was buried near the ruins.
It is the pride and glory of the ancient Parish of St. Bernard that it was the
Cradle of the Sugar Industry.
It was on the old plantation home of Don Antonio Mendes, now known as the Réaud Place, that the historic word "Ça Granule" (it granulates) were heard for the first time as in 1791 a small group of planters interested in Don Antonio's experiments gathered around an old wooden mill, while Morin, a sugar-maker from Cuba, whose services Mendes had secured, sought to teach them the fabrication of sugar from the cane. This was the first sugar ever made in Louisiana. Mendes also succeeded in refining sugar; at a dinner given to the Spanish authorities he presented them with several loafs of the sugar he had refined. At dessert Don Rendon, the Spanish Intendant, toasted the sugar and held it up to the assembled guests as a "Louisiana Product." Mendes continued the culture of cane, but on a very small scale. In 1704 he sold his plant to another planter named Etienne de Boré, who succeeded in producing a crop that was the death blow to the ancient indigo industry of Louisiana, and placed sugar forever at tho head of its great staples. But the Mendes family clung to the fact that Don Antonio had produced the first sugar, and it is pathetically told how on her dying bed his daughter repeated again and again till her breath failed, "Dire que c'est mon père qui a fâit le premier sucre dans la Louisiane." (Say that it was my father who made the first sugar in Louisiana.) Near by this historic site is the ancient estate of Mr. Joseph Coiron, now known as the Millaudon and Lesseps Plantations. In 1818 Mr. Coiron put up on this site the first steam engine ever used to grind sugar cane. Two years later he introduced the first red ribbon cane from Georgiga and used it instead of the tender Creole variety. These improvements operated most advantageously to the success of the industry and Coiron's name lives in the history of sugar in this section. The fine plantations of Marcel Ducros, Story, Claverie and Reggio follow. It was on the Reggio place that a Spaniard named Solis, who then owned all this tract, essayed in 1785 to manufacture sugar from the cane and. continued his operations until 1790, using a little wooden mill that he had brought from Cuba. He succeeded only in making syrup and an indifferent quality of rum called "tafia."
Large tracts of land along this route are owned now by an English syndicate, which has erected an immense, plant on the "Kenilworth" estate.
The New Orleans Railway Company has also bought up extensive tracts, comprising ten or twelve of the old historic plantations, running from Port Chalmette to the verge almost of the St. Bernard and Orleans Parish lines, for the purpose of establishing terminal accomodations for other roads.
The most romantic memories of St. Bernard are connected with stories of
Lafitte and His Barataria Pirates.
The word "Barataria" is an adaptation of a curious old Creole word, "Barateur," or "Barato," signifying "cheap," for the smuggled goods, rare and beautiful that were sold by the pirates were "very cheap." It has already been told how Lafitte had his famous smithy in Bourbon and St. Philip Street. But he had his trysting place on the Island of Grande Terre, in Barataria Bay. His smugglers were composed of desperate men of all nations, contrabands, pirates and what not. They were the "wild men of the Spanish Main," and it was said that they carried the black flag and attacked vessels of all nations and did not hestitate to make their prisoners "walk the plank," that terror of old pirate stories of the deep. "Nez Coupé," so called because his nose was cut off, and who lived at Grande Terre many years after the pirates ceased their depredations, used to declare that the beautiful daughter of Aaron Burr, who was supposed to have been lost at sea, was made "to walk the plank" by command of Lafitte. Lafitte used to deny that he was a pirate and dignified his calling by the name of "privateer."
Whenever he was apprehended he said that he and his men were cruising with the permission of France. He carried the flag of the Republic of Carthagena, a province of New Grenada, that had rebelled against Spain, and said that he attacked only the vessels of Spain, which was then at war with Carthagea and France. "Nez Coupé" used to tell how one of the boldest of Lafitte's men. laughed in the face of his commander one day at the mere idea of being a "privateer," and said that he was "a pirate and was proud of it." Lafitte drew his pistol and shot him through the heart in the presence of his companions. A tradition of the parish is that when Claiborne, the first American Governor, indicted the Baratarians and arrested the two brothers, Jean and Pierre Lafitte, at their smithy and lodged them in the "calaboose," without the privilege of bail, the brothers engaged at a fee of twenty thousand dollars each the services of the celebrated lawyers, Edward R. Livingston and John R. Grymes, the most distinguished members of the bar of Louisiana. Of course, with such advocates, the Lafittes were acquitted; the fee was instantly paid, and John Lafitte, after giving warning to his men, invited Messrs. Livingston and Grymes to spend a week with him at Barataria and see for themselves if the verdict were not just. Mr. Livingston politely declined, but Mr. Grymes accepted; It was impossible to discover a trace of smuggled goods or illicit trade. Lafitte entertained him royally, but it is also told that before Mr. Grymes had finished accepting his hospitality or that of Lafitte's "planter friends" along the coast, that he lost every "picayune" of his immense fee playing cards.
A pleasant day may be spent by taking the
Shell Beach Railroad,
at the head of Elysian Fields Street, and enjoying the run of an hour and a half down to the Gulf. The trip takes the tourist through beautiful plantations, a touch of southern jungle, and finally brings one out on the shelving, shelly beach, with the gray waters of the Gulf of Mexico lashing and lapping at one's feet.
At the terminus of the Shell Beach Road is the old town of Proctorville, which was destroyed by a storm in 1860. It was then the terminus of the ancient Mexican Gulf Road, which has been replaced by the Shell Beach.
The little village of Ste. Croix, situated on both sides of Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs, is very picturesque. The village is still the property of Mme. La Comtesse de Livaudais du Sivan de la Croix, who belongs to one of the most distinguished families of France and who now resides in Paris.
The village came down to her as an inheritance from her ancestors, who came as exiles to Louisiana, and her interest in the simple "fisher folk" who inhabit it, and whom she calls "her children," is very pretty. She also owns a large plantation extending miles along the bayou, and has lately given, at a central point on her plantation, a beautiful site for the erection of a church, and school, on the exact spot where died, in 1814, M. le Compte de Livaudais de la Croix.
The little village of Ste. Croix, The quaint old church on Lake Lery, which runs through the settlement, is also worth a visit. This church was erected in 1778 by Galvez. It contains in its ancient register the baptismal certificates of General P. G. T. Beauregard, and his father and mother; of Mendes, Coiron, Livaudais and other founders of St. Bernard's Parish.
Is located on the right banks of the river and is best seen by taking the ferry at the foot of Canal Street or Esplanade Avenue. Algiers has a population of about 13,000. The principal points along the river front are the' dry docks, of which there are three. There are several coal yards along the river, at one of which is a modern iron and steel coal elevator, with a bucket capable of lifting over a ton of coal at a time. In the lower part of the town is located the great plant of the Southern Pacific Railroad and Steamship Company. Its extensive system of wharves, over 2,500 feet long, all covered with substantial roof, furnish a landing for the Company's fleet of magnificent steamers running to New York and Havana. Just back of these is a series of buildings — workshops, foundries, storehouses, etc. The machinery plant is so complete that a perfect locomotive can be turned out. The Company builds freight cars here, and makes all necessary repairs to passenger and freight cars. When all departments are at work it is estimated that as many as 1,500 men are employed there at one time.
Algiers has its own ice and electric plant.
Just below the Southern Pacific landing is situated the New Naval Station, with its immense floating dry dock, which is among the largest of its kind in the world.
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