Friday, July 19, 2013
Cousin's lumber camp is largely forgotten, except by those handful of people who once lived there, and perhaps those now middle-aged men who got lessons in hunting from Jim Rodney. Few living in Willowdale or Lakewood West subdivisions in lulling are even aware that once a booming lumber camp was less than a half-mile behind them in the present-day marshes. Charles Weimer is one person, who clearly remembers, with his collection of historical photographs and documents related to the camps George Cousin built.
Cousin's Camp was one of six he established in the early years of the 20th Century, the others being Yankee and Chactas (1899-1903) in Lafourche Parish, Becnel's and Johnson in St. John Parish, Aimsvillle (1918-1921) near present-day Marrero in Jefferson Parish, Bayou Chevrieul (1921-1923) in St. James Parish.
George Cousin was born in Alsace-Lorraine on April 23, 1861. Soon after his birth, his parents died and he came to New Orleans to grow up with relatives. As a young man, cousin worked on the river and was soon drawn into the cypress logging industry, which spawned River Parishes towns such as Lutcher and Garyville, he married Cecile Guedry Cousin.
On June 13, 1911, he signed an agreement with Louisiana cypress Lumber Company Ltd. To organize the camp in what was known as the Waggaman and Ellington Swamps, including 22 sections of virgin cypress timber.
Decades before environmental impact studies and wetlands permits were even dreamt of. Cousin earned $4.75 per 1,000 feet of board lumber brought out, so he brought out a lot of lumber. The camp included a narrow-gauge railway from the camp area along a ridge to Lake Cataouatche, where they could be transported to market. A sizeable workforce on site was necessary, so Cousin built a town.
This town included a general store, rooming houses, salon, machine shop, scores of single-family houses and a multi-purpose building, which was a schoolhouse during the week, a venue of entertainment at night and a church on Sunday. Roman Catholic services were conducted by the pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Hahnville.
Day to day life for the families , many of whose descendants still live in St. Charles Parish, was somewhat restricted. "It was sunup to sundown work," Weimer related. There was nothing for women to do except visit with each other. Children played in the swamps, playing hide-and-seek and fishing.
There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, gaslights and wooden sidewalks. Mail was delivered t each home by a mule-drawn wagon. Shotgun houses were leased for $5 per month for a large one and $3 for a small one. More that 25 were built for white employees and several dozen more for black employees.
Families at the camp included those of George and Leontine Guedry, Wendeline and Celeste Lagarde Weimer, Clarence and Alice Beard, Leon and Mary Weimer Chaisson, Fredrick and Evelia Lagarde, Leon and Margie Guedry, John and Necic LeBlanc, and other names including John Ingrall Oran Uzee, Felix Delatte, Arthur Chaisson, Walter Bergeron and Joseph Weimer. The on-site camp manager (and unofficial mayor) was Frank Weimer, Charles's father, and a nephew of George Cousin. Dr. E.J. Plauche received 20 cents a month to provide medical services and also received $15 for every child he delivered, a total of 12 infants, assisted by a midwife Mr. Henry Tabor. Miss Rose Mire Saadi, Mrs. Sellers and Miss Earhart, hired by the School Board for this purpose, conducted school.
Dances for adults were held at the same building. Other forms of entertainment also prevailed, including shooting contests and drinking at the saloon.
Once a group of men were target practicing at a coin placed on a distant tree, but no one was having any luck. As the story is told, Cousin happened along and asked for a turn. On his first shot, the coin was struck. Handing the rifle back, Cousin commented dryly, 'now, that's how it's done,' and strolled away.
Charles Weimer was born at Cousin's Camp on July 13, 1917. Not long afterward, his father was struck by the flu epidemic and died in New Orleans. Frank Weimer (1885-1918) died as camp activities began to wind down and his brother Clement (1888-1965), the unofficial social director, took over. Clement's wife, Maggie, died at the camp as well and before long, Clement married Lucy, who eventually became one of the first four-year graduates of Southwest Louisiana University, now called University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The family lived for a time in New Orleans, then to Arabi and later back to Lafourche Parish. Charles attended high school in Thibodaux and earned three college degrees at LSU, including his PhD in secondary education.
He taught briefly in Golden Meadows after earning his bachelor's degree and was later drafted. Because of his education background, he was soon an instructor, turning out '90-day wonders' at Fort Banning, Georgia. He also rose in the ranks and achieved the rank of major.
From 1947 to 1963, his educational career took him from 16 years at St. James High School, to his years at Nicholls State University (1963-1985), where he was director of student teaching for 20 years.
He married Mary Louise Claudet of Lockport, herself a graduate of Dominican College, and the couple raised four children. They also have five grandchildren and live in Thibodaux. Meanwhile, Cousin's Camp was largely removed in 1918, leaving behind only a few shacks. One of these was the dwelling place of Jim Rodney, a camp employee who lived in the last house until his own death on June 28, 1983. With him went one of the few living memories of cousin's Camp.
The Red Diamond Welding Supply building on Paul Maillard Road in Luling was originally the machine shop at Cousin's Camp, and the former movie theater on Paul Maillard Road was built from Cousin's Camp lumber.
'Hard work always pans out to be good,' Weimer observed, as he looked back on all that was wrought from cousin's Camp.
For more, see: The Lumber Trade Journal, Volume 72