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SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 2011

Remembering historic Edgard store E.J. Caire store near ferry landing recently celebrated 150 years BY DAVID VITRANO L’OBSERVATEUR

EDGARD – Very few reminders of Edgard’s heyday as the center of commerce in St. John the Baptist Parish remain, but among those that do is the E.J. Caire Store, which turned 150 last year. Although the store exists in name only these days, its prominent position on a particularly history-laden stretch of River Road that also contains the courthouse and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church ensures its legacy will live on. “This whole little section right here has a lot of history,” said the store’s current owner, Warren Caire, who noted that many of the houses in that same stretch are 100 years old. The business was founded in 1860 when traveling salesman Jean Batiste Caire bought the brick structure that still makes up part of the store complex today. That structure was built in 1850. “It’s been a part of the community over there since it opened,” said Vincent Caire, nephew of Warren. Vincent’s father, E.J. Caire II is the surviving family member who worked in the store. Jean Batiste’s son, Etienne Joseph Caire, changed the name of the store from Caire’s Landing to the E.J. Caire Store and set the

Warren Caire stands on the porch of the century-and-a-half-old E.J. Caire store in Edgard. Below, a marker commemorates when the building was moved to make way for a wider levee. (Staff photos by David Vitrano)

store on its way to becoming the largest store of its kind in the area. Under his stewardship, the store’s offerings were expanded to include a pharmacy, clothing, hardware,

dry goods and groceries. “It expanded from a dry goods store into a hardware store and became virtually the first model for a department store,” said Vin-

Warren Caire looks at a wall in his home covered with phots of his ancestors.

cent. Because of its location at the ferry landing, the store enjoyed years of prominence. It even served as the payroll center for a number of the area’s sugarcane farmers. In 1881, the original brick structure had to be moved to its present location to make way for an enlarged federal levee. A few years later, in 1898, a wooden structure was built next to

the original brick one. Subsequently, the newer building became the main store and the brick building was used as a warehouse. Throughout the decades, the store enjoyed much prosperity and growth. “When I was small, I remember people would buy furniture. It was quite a busy enterprise,” said Warren. Vincent added, “When I was a kid, I

used to get my school uniforms there.” After U.S. Highway 61 and Interstate 10 were built, however, the center of commerce shifted to the East Bank. Then, the proliferation of large grocery stores and, finally, all-inclusive stores such as WalMart left many smaller ventures shuttered for good. In the mid-70s, the E.J. Caire Store ceased operation. Since then, the building has served as a library, a senior citizens’ center, a law office and a dry cleaners, to name a few. The Caire family hopes to eventually turn the structures into a museum of sorts documenting the history of commerce along that stretch of the Mississippi River. “There’s a lot of artifacts and things we’ve kept,” said Warren. Although the process has been somewhat slow going and parish involvement has not yet reached the level the Caires had hoped for, the first step was taken when the buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. The Caires hope the promised return of the Reserve-Edgard ferry will renew some interest in this ever-evolving piece of local history.

The old building is in remarkable condition considering its age.


SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 2011

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LaPlace dealership marks one decade in business BY ROBIN SHANNON L’OBSERVATEUR

LAPLACE – After nearly 10 years of ownership, not much has changed at Riverland Chrysler other than perhaps the size of the operation, said owner Brian Larche Sr. “I bought the store in December 2000 and started with 10 employees, and today I have about 40 total,” Larche said. “The success of a business is a tribute to who you surround yourself with, and I think we have done our best to bring in good customer service people from the dealers to the parts department, to the finance people and everyone in between.”

Larche said he has a 37-year history of working in the automobile business that dates back to 1973 when he was fresh out of school. He said the opportunity to purchase the Chrysler dealership on Belle Terre Boulevard in LaPlace was one he could not pass up. “I’ve worked in nearly every area of car dealership, but I always wanted a store I could call my own,” Larche said. “The dealership had only been open about seven months when I came in so I had the opportunity to build it up from there.” After nine full years at the Chrysler dealership, Larche further expanded in 2009 and purchased the neigh-

boring Ford dealership. “I think the most rewarding part of the whole thing is the relationships we have forged in the last 10 years,” Larche said. “There are customers that have bought 10 vehicles from me in the last 10 years. When you have repeat business like that, where customers send their friends neighbors and children to you, it makes you feel good.” After 10 years in LaPlace and 37 years over all, he has no interest in slowing down. “I can’t see myself sitting back and watching the business go on without me,” Larche said. “I can see myself in my 80s making deals and selling cars.”

Riverland Chrysler car dealership, located on Belle Terre Boulevard in LaPlace, is celebrating 10 years in 2011. (Staff photo by Robin Shannon)

LaPlace down through the years

At left, horse-drawn carriages get ready to transport ice throughout the community. Above, the facade of the Alexander building is still standing on West Fifth Street. Below, Elvina Plantation was moved from LaPlace to St. James Parish a couple of years ago to make way for Emily C. Watkins Elementary School.

Cliff’s Bar was a popular Main Street hangout.


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SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 2011

St. James Parish down through the years

Above, the Smith family of Gramercy poses for a portrait. Top right, a sawmill used to operate in Lutcher. Bottom right, Vacherie was once the bustling center of commerce in St. James Parish, but a number of businesses including the bar pictured here have been lost to the years.

St. Charles Parish down through the years Hahnville, as the St. Charles Parish seat of government, saw many hangings, such as the one pictured at left, in years long gone. Below, the Sarpy House gave the community its name.

Above, the old Mamzelle General Store used to operate out of Destrehan. Below, the Shell schoolhouse used to educate the children of Norco while many of their parents spent their days working at the refinery.


SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 2011

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St. John the Baptist Parish down through the years Reserve

This old store in Reserve was mentioned in the Reserve150 documentary, which was produced last year.

Edgard

The grounds surrounding St. Peter Church bustle with activity.

Frenier and Manchac

At right, The second St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was destroteyed by fire in 1918. Below, life in Edgard has long centered around family and the community.

Above, Frenier was once a center for recreation and industry before it was virtually wiped off the map during the Hurricane of 1915. At left, the bridge collapse near Manchac brought out a crowd of spectators.


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SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 2011

80th birthday celebration keeps rolling at St. Peter St. Peter School in Reserve is currently celebrating their 80th year in operation. In honor of this milestone, one former student remembers what life was like at the school decades ago.

Memories of St. Peter I feel very fortunate to have been taught by Dominican nuns in first through seventh grade at St. Peter’s School in Reserve. T h e Sisters w e r e such an important part HYMEL of our early religious training back in 1941 through 1947. Religion and prayers were a big part of our school day. We started each morning with assembly and prayers, and after lunch we would recite the rosary in the classroom. Then we’d begin our afternoon studies. Before leaving school at the end of each day, we again said a short prayer. School mass was on Friday mornings, and on the first Friday of the month, girls were required to wear white skirts and beanies, instead of our regular blue skirts. God forbid if you forgot to wear them. Every Monday the teacher would ask if anyone had missed Sunday mass — and your excuse had better be a good one. Naturally, Monsignor Jean Eyraud was always involved in the school. He would regularly visit all the class-

The old St. Peter Church was decimated by Hurricane Betsy.

The rebuilt St. Peter Church remains one of the pillars of the Reserve community. (Staff photo by Robin Shannon)

rooms. Monsignor made a point of handing out each child’s report card. He would congratulate you if you did well and encourage those who needed to improve. Whenever there was a play or other event, it didn’t start until Monsignor was seated front and center. He dearly loved his school and the children. In the early grades at St. Peter’s there were two principals no one can ever forget. Sister Mary Francisca walked around with a ruler in her hand and had no qualms in applying it to the knuckles of any child who misbehaved. The other principal, also quite strict, was Sister Mary Patrick. Our seventh-grade teacher was Sister Mary Evangelist. Despite having 47 students in this class, Sister always had the upper hand, even with boisterous boys who tried

with place for six chil- lowed their advice, and base of faith, values dren. I can’t remember I must say it really and self-discipline that exactly how that privi- helps in many situa- we were blessed to lege came about, but I tions. receive in our early enjoyed having lunch Many of my friends years at St. Peter’s there, and it was always from St. Peter’s are still School. a challenge to make dear friends today. Our your way through the bond is the common – Melba Duhe Hymel maze of damp laundry. Baseball was our favorite playground sport back then. Every chance we’d get we’d run out to the baseball field. Not being very athletic, I went just to have fun with other kids. Sometimes there were mishaps, like when my friend, Carolyn, got hit by a ball right on her nose! Ouch! These were happy, formative days under the inspiration of the Birthday cake and dancing have both been part of Dominican nuns. Up- this year’s celebrations. (Staff photos by David permost in my memory Vitrano) is what they taught us whenever we had a problem or were upset about something. Their admonition, “Offer it up” (for the poor souls in Purgatory.) Over the years I have often fol-

to be disruptive. She taught us Latin so we could respond to the priest at Mass and sing traditional hymns for special church events. Sister Mary Adelaide is especially memorable. She had a hard time dealing with hot weather. Sister always confiscated the white blotters included in Coca-Cola packages distributed to each child at the start of the school year. She used the blotters in the front of her warm, confining headpiece to absorb perspiration from her forehead. I must confess, the school cafeteria was not my favorite place to eat. If you didn’t like the food, too bad, you were not allowed to throw it away; so I would often bring my own lunch. Sometimes students were allowed to eat lunch in the Convent, not with the sisters, but in the laundry room. There was a small table


Down Through the Years 2011