LAPLACE TOWN HISTORY
The argument will doubtless continue as long as the town exists. LaPlace was named for Basile Laplace Sr. (note the lower case P). In the 1970's the parish government officially adopted the LaPlace spelling, and division about that decision still continues.
German born colonists from Karistein across the river first settled the LaPlace area, and the new community was still considered part of Karistein. Woodland Plantation, at the present area of West Fifth and Main streets, was established in 1793 by Manuel Andry, commandant of the German Coast. It was the cradle of the 1811 slave revolution which terrorized East Bank plantations from St. John parish to New Orleans, during which Andry was wounded and his son, Thomasin, was killed. Years later it became the property of A. Lasseigne and the Ory brothers, and when highway construction began, The Ory-Hammond highway linked the old plantation to Hammond along what is now U.S. Highway 51 and Interstate 55.
After a period of prosperity and decline, the plantation was finally subdivided into 100-acre tracts in 1923, which marked the beginning of residential growth of the village of Laplace.
All which remains of the old plantation are the plantation store, now the United Steelworkers of America union hall, and the boarded up store manager's residence next door.
Pharmacist Basile Laplace Sr. first came to the region from France, by way of New Orleans (where he operated a successful drug company, marketing Laplace's Indian Turnip Syrup), and quickly bought up the Thibaud, Picou and Perilloux plantations, combining them into Laplace Plantation in 1879. The house was situated at the present site of Twin Oaks Nursing Home on West Fifth Street. That facility took its name from the two remaining Laplace Plantation oak trees on the site.
Laplace never lived in the parish, preferring to stay in New Orleans on top of his pharmaceutical concerns. He died at the age of 54 in 1884.
Laplace granted a railroad right of way in 1883 through his property to the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Railroad. The railroad depot remains moved several blocks away from its original site. After Laplace Sr. died, Laplace Jr. pushed to establish a local post office, first named Eugenia, on September 26, 1887, after the senior Laplace's wife, Eugenie Saurage Laplace, Laplace Jr., became postmaster in 1891. The post office was renamed Laplace on October 12, 1892.
During his public career, Laplace Jr. served as a justice of the peace, president of the school board, and vice president of the Pontchartrain Levee Board. He was elected state senator in 1896.
In 1898, he bought the old Ormond Plantation in Destrehan from James McCutcheon,. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Laplace Jr., though maintaining his wife and three children at the Laplace Plantation, stayed frequently with Lydia Troxler, whose father and siblings lived on the Ormond property.
On the night of October 10, 1899, he was called out of Ormond by a group of 35 masked men. The following morning, searchers found him along the roadside in front of the house, lying face down in a ditch, dead from a single Winchester shot to the Abdomen. No one was ever charged in the murder. The Laplace Plantation House burned to the ground in 1917, and the controversy later ensued about whether to perpetuate the memory of a so-called "adulterer" by naming the town after him, even though the town was arguably named for his father instead.
A one room school house dating back more than 120 years still stands on West Fifth Street and in 1908, the John L. Ory School , a two story frame structure, was built with two classrooms on the lower floor and a large auditorium on the second floor. Two classrooms were added in 1920. The present building was built in 1928.
In 1905, at the age of 18, Armand Montz began growing vegetables in the backyard of his father's home. In 1914, Montz built his ice manufacturing plant off the present West Fifth Street, which did much to spur Laplace's development. Excess electrical power produced began , in 1922, providing electricity from St. Rose to Garyville, and also a waterworks. Six years later, Louisiana Power and Light bought out Montz's power plant, and in 1972, the waterworks closed as the parish began using the Ruddock wells for its water supply. The old icehouse itself burned in the mid 1990's.
Arnold Joseph Labat recently recalled his childhood in Laplace. Born in 1930, he moved to the town in 1937, the same year the Bell Telephone Company building was built at the corner of Airline and Main. Labat recalled most residents had narrow, deep tracts of land, used for chickens and vegetables gardens. In addition, most residents cast out catfish lines into the river and placed shrimp boxes to snare river shrimp. Prices in the Depression era, though low by modern standards, showed that even a penny went a long way. "Mother would send me to the store to get two cents of rice and three cents of beans," Labat recalled, "when those prices bought a pound each. Six veal chops could be bought for 25 cents."
Wages were comparable. Field hands working 12-hour day's six days a week could earn $3.50 for the week. And while African-American women were often hired by white house holds to cook, clean and iron(press clothes) for 50 cents a week, they could make 50 cents a day during cane harvesting season. However, anyone who wanted to work and was able to work found work to do and be paid for it. " Nobody suffered from not having enough to eat," Labat recalled.
Entertainment was also plentiful in those days for young and old alike. There were the movie theaters, like Maurin's Theater on Main Street, which completed heavily with Gibson's Theater near the present Cliffs's Bar. Children's matinees featured gimmicks such as pie eating contests and adults filled the theaters for the cash raffles, which may have prizes up to $25. Yet, even in Labat's childhood years," a woman could cause a scene by being seen smoking a cigar or cigarette. It was scandalous!" He said.
Airline Highway, which was two lanes from the Bonnet Carre Spillway north to Baton Rouge in the 1930's to the mid 1950's, had the strip of restaurants including Roussel's, Airline Motors, Kramers's and Terry's, the latter of which burned in 1942.
Industries and subdivisions began to transform the face of Laplace in the 1950's, first as Winn-Dixie opened at Riverlands Shopping Center in 1957, DuPont began construction in 1962, and Riverland Heights, then called Godchaux Community, like wise began residential construction.
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church was built on land donated in 1924 by Woodland Planting. The church added its parochial school in 1961 and Laplace Elementary and Milesville Elementry were built in 1968. More subdivisions continued to mushroom in the area and spawned such additions as St Charles Catholic High School in 1977, Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in 1979, and River Parishes Medical Center in June 1982.
In 1977, a drive began to consider incorporating LaPlace as a City. Instead, the home rule charter was developed for St. John the Baptist Parish. After the election of November 1983, the first parish president, Arnold Labat , took office. On December 6, 1983, Laplace was ravaged by a tornado, which scoured through four subdivisions and injured 25 people.
In the mid 1990's, the settlement of the national savings and loan collapse freed hundreds of acres north of Airline Highway. Since then, LaPlace has witnessed another boom in residential and commercial construction undreamed of by residents of 50 or more years ago.
"Life has changed quite a bit," Labat concluded, and added, "I think it's better today."