A New Age for the People of West Baton Rouge
The first official organized public education system in West Baton Rouge Parish started in 1884, although H. M. Favrot had been commissioned by the Governor as the School Director for the Parish in 1877. Most of the first public school buildings were on private land and were often maintained by the property owners because the local school board lacked the funds to buy or rent property.
Small private schools continued to be as abundant as they were in the earlier decades of the 19th century. The Sisters of St. Joseph established a large Catholic academy at Brusly Landing in 1891. By its second year in operation, all Catholic children of St. John the Baptist Church Parish in Brusly were educated at St. Joseph’s Academy. In 1910, the parish voted for the first time on a school tax. This allowed for the improvement of existing schools and the construction of a new school building in Brusly that became the high school in 1911. Public school competition led Brusly’s Catholic school to close in the same year.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were eleven white public schools and eight public schools for African Americans in the parish. A 1915 inspection of schools revealed that those for African American children only had four-month sessions as opposed to the nine-month sessions for white children. The parish stated that the difference in session length was due to poor attendance by black children during harvesting months, as many of them had to help their families in the fields; insufficient funding for these schools was also an underlying issue. Lukeville, the largest school for black children, used public funds to be open for four months, but private funds provided extra money for two more months of schooling for white children.
Eureka Central was a school for upper grades on what is now East Main in Brusly. It opened in 1898 with the help of the Brusly community to finance and build the school. This image is from a postcard dated 1907. Following the construction of Brusly High School in 1911, Eureka closed. The building was moved by the black community of Brusly to the Lukeville school campus.
The first Port Allen High School opened in 1920, nearly ten years after Brusly High School opened.
The first public parish library opened on July 11, 1933, with the help of Ethel Claiborne Dameron and other members of the West Baton Rouge Garden and Civic Club. The library operated in a small room on the second floor of the 3rd Parish Courthouse. Members of the Garden Club canvassed the parish for book donations with which to build the library. Mrs. Estelle Favrot served as the original librarian, first on a volunteer basis then salaried. Around 1936, the library was moved to the new Community Center in Port Allen where a room had been constructed specially for the library.
The introduction of the assembly line in the early 1900s stream-lined the production of consumer goods and made items such as automobiles easier for people to acquire. Local lore suggests that the first automobile to come to West Baton Rouge was owned by either Dr. Mark Levert or Sheriff Octave Levert of Brusly and was purchased before 1910. Signs were posted in Brusly in 1910, setting the speed limit to 12 miles per hour.
Until the first Mississippi River bridge was completed in 1940, ferry boats were the only means of transportation east for the people of West Baton Rouge Parish. In order to travel west, north, and south, the Texas-Pacific Railroad, which came to the parish in 1882, aided residents of West Baton Rouge. Railroad use declined once LA Highway 1 was completed in 1950, which ran through the parish and linked with east-west U.S. Highway 190.
Residents and businesses of West Baton Rouge began receiving electricity in the 1920s. In 1925, Port Allen passed an ordinance to have the Baton Rouge Electric Co. supply the town with electricity. In Brusly, an electric light franchise was established in 1928. In Addis, the railroad structures may have received electricity first in the 1920s, but most townspeople remember receiving electricity in their homes in the early 1930s. In 1941, through the Pointe Coupee Electric Company, Pointe Coupee Parish began serving rural West Baton Rouge Parish, namely Erwinville in the northwest portion of the parish. With the spread of electricity throughout the parish, electric refrigerators became more widespread, replacing the ice boxes that were stocked with huge blocks of ice delivered to homes. Refrigerators were mass produced in the U.S. after WWII, forcing ice houses, like the Bird family’s ice house in Addis, to shut down.
Cisterns were used throughout the parish in conjunction with water wells in the early twentieth century. The town of Port Allen established its first water and sewer system in the 1920s. After several years of negotiation, the town of Brusly helped fund the installation of a water system to bring clean water into houses in 1957. In Erwinville, the first large artesian well that supplied a number of families was completed in 1945. This and other similar wells throughout the Erwinville area were in service until the parish installed meters and furnished water to the town in 1982.
Due to the industrial revolution of the 19th century, oil as a source of energy became one of the most valuable commodities on the market. Oil was first discovered in Louisiana in 1901, near Jennings in southwest Louisiana. In 1909, an oil refinery (now the Exxon Refinery) was built in Baton Rouge. In 1920, Standard Oil laid an interstate oil pipeline that extended from Oklahoma to the Baton Rouge refinery. This pipeline ran through West Baton Rouge.
By the end of the 1920s, radio had become one of the most popular forms of entertainment. In West Baton Rouge, residents picked up New Orleans broadcasts until WJBO started broadcasting out of Baton Rouge in 1934. Local movie theaters and dance halls were other popular forms of entertainment throughout West Baton Rouge Parish. There were several theaters that served the parish; these included the Magic Theater and Edith Theater in Port Allen, both of which delighted customers with state-of-the art cooling systems - a welcome break for those that did not yet have air conditioning in their homes!
Nationally, the spread of the telephone was slowest in the Deep South. Some phone lines were installed throughout the parish beginning in the early 1900s. Select businesses, like the Allendale Plantation Store, may have had a telephone as early as 1907, and local doctors like Dr. Paul B. Landry had a home phone in the early 1920s, but phones were not commonplace in West Baton Rouge until the 1950s.