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Life along the River Road was Unique...

The River. Of course was the Mississippi River, the Fathers of Waters, and the River Road, for many years was the only road in the area. It bordered the levee, which protected the lush lands that had been deposited by the River over a long stretch of time before th levees were built.

The settlement in which I was raised was called St. Gabriel an reportedly founded by Bienville concurrently with establishing New Orleans. The Isle of Orleans, as it became known, encompassed the land from the delta of the Mississippi to Bayou Manchac on the north, an ancient arm of the Mississippi. St. Gabriel was the first settlement below the Bayou. In other words, it was the northern outpost of the Isle of Orleans.

This probably originated with establishment of one of the first churches in Louisiana, St. Gabriel Catholic Church built in 1774. The Queen of Spain sent a fine bell which resonated from the church steeple. Then, after the coming of Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, the train station was set up at St. Gabriel.

When I was growing up there I lived on St. Gabriel Lane, next door to the only Doctor in the community who was a cousin. On the corner, fronting the levee was St. Gabriel store owned by the family. St. Gabriel store belonged to the Monticello Plantation. After the high water, in 1932, the levee was set back a considerable distance and homes and buildings probably numbering the thousands were rolled back. The old store was moved twice because of high water. St. Gabriel Store was moved last to St. Gabriel Lane (Hwy. 74) and River Road (Hwy. 75). Where it still stands today. The women in the kitchens kept their fires burning even as the mules pulled the houses resting on wooden rollers. My father formed a contracting company, of which it was said, "They moved more houses than anybody in history".

Joseph LeBlanc obtained a Spanish land grant in 1750 confirming his ownership of a plantation there, fronting on the Mississippi River, where the Houmas Indians had formerly lived. The people in the area always lived near the River, if possible. When families divided properties, the remaining groups always retained frontage on the River. The result was that the populace was strung along the River Road for miles.

Joseph Michael LeBlanc cleared the cypress trees and developed his land into a thriving river plantation which was named Marguerite Plantation. Under the stewartship of Joseph's eldest son, Simon, he acquired other river plantations too, including the Monticello Plantation. They became successful sugar cane planters. Simon Leblanc and his wife, Laura Emily had five sons and one daugther. Simon J. Hall, Jules Burton, Jesse, Ernest, William Hardee, and Emily.

Simon sold the land, plantation and store to J. Burton LeBlanc Sr. in 1918 and he named the store J. Burton LeBlanc & Bros. Merchantile.

Where I lived was the focus of the area, since it contained the historic church (St. Gabriel Catholic Church), the shool house (Old St. Gabriel School), the sole Doctor's office including his own pharmacy, the railroad station and post office, which was located in the store. St. Gabriel has the distinction of being the oldest post office in the parish, having been established on December 1, 1813 with David O. Hatch as first Postmaster; however the post office was called Iberville and remained under that name until May 16, 1857 when Henry S. Browne, the Postmaster had the named changed to St. Gabriel, on May 6, 1872, the name was again changed to Sanford, but on May 29, or several weeks later, the name of St. Gabriel was restored.

There was still a "quarters" on the plantation. The "quarters" were about eight cabins set aside, where the "colored folks", as they were called, lived. They were reasonable accomodations providing shelter and some comfort to the inhabitants. They always had a fireplace, providing the necessary warmth in the winter.

The most enticing thing about the plantation was the Sugar House. This was a large brick structure alongside the railroad, which was still used to grind sugar cane grown by others who had continued to cultivate it. I remember, as a young boy, wandering through it at night, in the fall. It operated around the clock. The smell of molasses, the sound of the steam engines and the bustle of employees, brought extreme pleasure.

Plantation life usually consisted of very good relations between the white owners and the colored folks. They were as an extended part of the family, and if they had a dire need they would not hesitate to communicate it to owners, who would usually respond with the necessary assistance. The Plantation had it's own money, which was used to pay their workers. This Money could only be used in the LeBlanc Bros store. The colored folks could not come in the front doors of the store, only the back door and could only do business through a small window.

The old Store still has the original front doors and the old fashion Coke-Cola box inside. Back in the days the store had everything you could ever need, groceries, livestock feed, Doctors office, post office, hardware, department store, some even say a bordello. The old store was a place where friends met, gossip was told, business was done and children grow-up with lots of happy childhood memories, and still do.

~J. Burton LeBlanc~

3495 Highway 75, St. Gabriel, LA. 70776
Phone (225) 642-5545