Infrastructure

Cistern
Cistern. (Courtesy of Janis Blair)

Change! How Things Would Continue to Change!

The transition of public roadbeds from dirt to clam shell to gravel to asphalt or concrete in the first half of the 20th Century facilitated the establishment of new businesses, industries, and residential developments. Major changes occurred in the everyday life of the citizens of St. Charles Parish! Natural gas contracts with private companies and an electricity franchise with Louisiana Power and Light Company were approved by parish officials. In the 1930s natural gas, then electricity, became available to most residents. Wood or coal burning stoves for heating and cooking could then be replaced with natural gas heaters and stoves. Houses would be wired to receive electricity with a meter and a connection to the power company’s main lines running to the edge of residential property lines. Oil and kerosene lamps would be replaced with electric light fixture s and lamps.

Outhouse
Outhouse. (Courtesy of Janis Blair)

Cisterns were used at residences in St. Charles Parish as a rainwater reservoir from earliest colonial times until about the middle of the twentieth century. They were usually made of cypress boards with metal straps; later, some were made of metal. Rainwater used for drinking, cooking, and bathing was channeled by gutters into the cistern. Cistern tops and screens were eventually required for health purposes to eliminate breeding grounds for mosquito larvae and to prevent small animals from entering. Many people also had ground wells, pumping water for animal consumption. The establishment of public waterworks systems in the 1940s usually eliminated the need for cisterns and wells although some continued to be maintained for agricultural purposes.

Outhouses in St. Charles Parish were small stand-alone structures usually built around a “pit” and were used as outdoor toilets or privies at residences from colonial times until about the middle of the twentieth century. The pits were not attached to any sewer system. Outhouses were eventually replaced with indoor plumbing in bathrooms when running water, either piped from wells or received from public water systems, allowed flushing of waste into a yard cesspool. Most outhouses still standing today are President Roosevelt’s WPA structures built in rural areas during the Great Depression. Legend says the crescent cutout in the door was for use by ladies, the star cutout for gentlemen. However, the main purpose of the door cutout was to allow light into the otherwise dark structure. Public sewer systems were constructed in Luling, Norco, and Good Hope in the 1950s and a parish-wide sewer system was completed in the 1980s. Exceptions to these residential situations existed in the industry villages of Mexican Petroleum in Destrehan, Shell in Norco, Cities Service in St. Rose, and General American in Good Hope, where residents living in company houses from 1918 enjoyed heat, electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, and many other amenities courtesy of the company’s systems.

Medical advances in the first decades of the twentieth century would not only improve the longevity statistics of residents in St. Charles but would make life healthier and happier on the German Coast. Improving primitive water and sewer treatment also helped to eliminate illness. Who can forget President Roosevelt’s promotion of the March of Dimes program to stop polio, or how the introduction of sulfa drugs, penicillin, and later other antibiotics, would change lives? Life would become easier on the German Coast, and future generations would never experience the hardships dealt with for over two hundred years from the earliest settlers to the twentieth century. Crevasses, dirt roads, dreaded disease, cisterns, outhouses, and coal burning stoves would all become a thing of the past in a few short decades.

Roadways in St. Charles Parish

River Road
The Great River Road was first a muddy path, then graveled before hard surfacing.
St. Rose Tavern
Built in 1922, the St. Rose Tavern site has been a bar, hotel, restaurant, and barbershop over the years. As a hotel, it was used to house construction workers building the Airline Highway during the 1930s. This picture was taken in 2007.

From its earliest beginning as a muddy path along the Mississippi River, the Great River Road had been a vital transportation link to other parts of the state and the country. On the east bank, in later years, it was the sole overland route between New Orleans and Baton Rouge until the completion of U.S. LA Highway 61—the Airline Highway—in 1935. To travel the eighty miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as the crow flies required a day’s drive along River Road, a 120-mile dirt highway winding along the banks of the Mississippi River. Airline Highway, a straight concrete road linking Baton Rouge and New Orleans, reduced the trip to less than two hours. The highway earned its name from being straight as an airport runway.

U.S./La. Highway No. 61-65 to New Orleans
U.S./La. Highway No. 61-65 to New Orleans. In the background is Moisant International Airport (early view), used by the citizens of St. Charles Parish. (Source: St. Charles Parish Resources and Facilities publication, 1961)

“Who will ever forget the perils and the inconveniences and the nightmarish experiences of that 120–mile drive?”
(The New Louisiana)

Claytonia
Built in 1935, “Claytonia,” the home of Dr. John E. Clayton, was a showplace on Airline Highway in Norco. It was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy in 1965. (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Cambre Alleman)

Airline Highway remained a two-lane road north of the Bonnet Carré Spillway until the mid-1950s. It was not until the Huey P. Long Bridge was completed in 1935 that the west bank of St. Charles Parish became “connected” with New Orleans for both rail and vehicular traffic.

Dr. John Earle Clayton, born in 1892, was involved in medicine and politics most of his life. He retired from politics in 1968 after serving as coroner from 1944. He was known by his peers as the “Dean of St. Charles Politics.” In a 1979 River Parish Focus article, Henry E. Yoes III stated that Dr. Clayton was known for three things: (1) his ability to diagnose illnesses; (2) his political acumen; and (3) Claytonia. He lived his last years in LaPlace.

Dr. & Mrs. Clayton
Dr. & Mrs. Clayton were honored by St. Charles Parish officials in 1969. Dr. Clayton was presented with a plaque proclaiming him ‘Dean of St. Charles Politics.’” Standing left to right were Julius Sellers, Dr. Earl Alleman, State Senator George Oubre, State Representative Ralph Miller, daughter Earline, Clerk of Court Eddie Dufresne, and Sheriff John O. St. Amart. (Source: River Parish Focus, 1979)

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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