The History of Erath, Louisiana

Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.  ~Henry Ford~

Through a century of life, the town of Erath (Louisiana) has emerged from a tiny village into the small modern town that now stands. Located in Vermilion Parish, this area is one of the youngest communities in the parish. The Village of Erath flourished with the implementation of the railroad brought forth by the Southern Railroad Company in the 1890′s. When the town celebrated its Centennial in 1999, over 2,100 citizens were living in the area. The community is located near the eastern edge of Vermilion Parish. Lying in the heart of Cajun Country, this small community proudly claims its Cajun heritage and roots. During each decade, many factors have played a unique part in the history of this town. Two of which involve the perseverance of the Erath’s founding fathers and the installation of the railroad. At the core of the community of course, lie the people and the “Cajun” culture that helped in the formation of its face and personality.

From the beginning, the early settlers of Vermilion Parish learned that overcoming obstacles would be difficult. As a survival strategy, they learned to focus on their goals, not the obstacles. Today as citizens of a modern world, education is a readily available tool. But when settlers inhabited this land in the nineteenth century, technology wasn’t a part of their world. Without formal education, these men and women learned the land through trial and error. The challenge of building a community without prior knowledge of this land was one that was difficult, but one worth the effort.

When the initiation of the Vermilion Parish area began in the 1800′s, the importance of a water reserve near each village was essential for survival. Settling on prairie land was not considered a sound idea, so settlers migrated to the coastal regions first. Henry, Abbeville and Delcambre were all settled before Erath. Only a few found the courage to settle the prairie land which ran for miles. As pioneers, they recognized that there was an uncertainty that surrounded prairie land. That coupled with unpredictable weather, could cause problems for the inhabitants of the new found land. As pioneers, the settlers literally learned every aspect of the new land, as well as how to deal with tragedies that could jeopardize their journey.

It is believed by many that the business of a leader is to turn obstacles into stepping stones, weaknesses into strengths and disasters into triumphs. The early settlers in the Erath area were true leaders in every aspect of the word. The men, who saw promise in this community despite the controversial prairie land issues, were true leaders. With a vision, some believed through the installation of the railroad in this area, it could flourish. So during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Southern Railroad Company with the assistance of August Erath, brought the newly formed Iberia-Abbeville Railroad through this prairie and a village emerged.

The 1848 Surveyors map shows no land owner of the area, which is now known as Erath. The area was part of the Attakapas Country originally governed by St. Martinville. Many of the first settlers were descendants of the original Acadians who were exiled. The Acadians, along with Spanish, German, Irish and English settlers settled this area. They assimilated their languages and customs.

Before the Civil War, the large land owners In the Erath vicinity were the Primeaux’s. The earliest land owner was Sevenne Primeaux, who purchased land in 1858. He was married to Melanie (Melasie) Vincent In 1848. After her death, Primeaux remarried her sister Celise in 1862. He fathered several children including Severin, Felecien and Marie ZuIma. Sevenne Primeaux, a farmer, owned large parcels of land and his wives Melanie and Celise Vincent, had inherited land in their own rights. Their father, Joseph Vincent, was a prominent landowner. Owning over six hundred acres, much of the Section 35 township was owned by the Primeaux’s. Other land owners began purchasing land. By 1873, Sevenne and Melanie’s son, Felecien Primeaux owned land. St. Denis Delcambre owned land by 1876 and Patrick O’Toole in 1877. Another man by the name of Bouligny also owned land by 1878.

Patrick O’ Toole played a vital role in the establishment of Erath as a village. O’ Toole, came to America in 1848 due to the Irish famine. A starving waif on the streets of New Orleans was brought to this area by Sevenne Primeaux and was raised as a French Acadian. O’Toole was married and had eight children, four boys and four girls. Later he purchased land of his own and built his home here. Although not well educated, “Pag” (nickname of O”Toole) had a good business sense.

Another instrumental figure in the town’s history is August Erath, a Swiss German born on March 18. 1843. He came to New Orleans in 1860 and was a bookkeeper in the breweries in New Orleans unti11876. He married Catherine Becht in 1874 and had three daughters. They moved to New Iberia and he erected a brewery there. Erath, a prominent civic leader in New Iberia was educated and ambitious. Later, Erath built a seltzer water factory in New Iberia and an ice plant in Abbeville. In 1884, he started a hardware business and purchased land located in this area. Although August Erath never lived in Erath, he was close to railroad officials, which brought forth a great business venture for him.

The daughter of Sevenne and Celise Primeaux, Marie Zulma, born on November 20, 1872, would play a key role in the history of Erath. Married to Ernest Gary on December 9, 1889, the couple sold twenty acres of their land to August Erath. On November 15, 1892, she and her husband signed legal documents to sell the land that now surrounds the railroad tracks. The couple collected three hundred and forty dollars for the purchase. The deeds were dated November 17, 1892, in the court house.

August Erath, an astute businessman, also purchased land from Patrick 0′ Toole. August Erath purchased nine acres of land from O’Toole on November 15, 1892 for one hundred thirty eight dollars. In the early 1890′s, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company started a railroad from New Iberia to Abbeville. The project didn’t end until 1893. At this time people did own land in this area, but the community remained nameless. During this era, the communities of Bayou Tigre and Prairie Gregg showed more promise with a store, school, blacksmith, a doctor and drugstore. So the institution of the railroad through this prairie area was a brave undertaking, but one that fared well. Once the railroad entered the picture this new community showed promise and grew.

After the land was purchased, a railroad depot was erected. The branch line was completed in 1893. The station named Erath, had canopy benches to lounge on, a telegraph, waiting room and the trains with roaring locomotives. The train came from New Iberia each morning and returned in the afternoons with the passengers. The sign on the depot building read “ERATH” Elevation 16 feet. 150 miles to New Orleans – 2000 to San Francisco. The railroad began running in January 1893. Once the plans for the railroad were in motion, August Erath had a plat drawn up and sold lots in the new area.

Dr. Joseph Kibbe, a native from Abbeville settled here with his practice around 1893. An 1887 Graduate from Tulane University, Dr. Kibbe was instrumental in the establishment of the Village of Erath. Through the assistance of August Erath and others, Dr. Kibbe was successful in securing a Post Office in 1893. Dr. Joe Kibbe established the first medical practice and drug store in the area, as well as a lumber yard. Kibbe was a true leader in the community and was dubbed, “The Father of Erath”.

Albert Mestayer, a native of New Iberia, became the first Station Master. With the original post office set up in the Train Station, he also served as the first postmaster. The first post office was very small. Mail at the Erath post office was brought to town by Southern Pacific Railroad.

Joseph Bussy a Belgium native was associated with the construction of the railroad was appointed as Section Foreman. He and his family lived in the Section House near the depot. He had ten children, with his wife Christina Keiffer. The railroad station became a meeting place for the area residents. Everyone came to see the trains come and go, with passengers and mail.

When Mr. Mestayer moved to New Iberia, J. Hazard Broussard became the second postmaster in 1897. Two brothers in business, Hazard and Lodias Broussard, operated a business in the center of the community. The Post Office was then moved to this store.

By 1899, Erath was a thriving community with four hundred citizens, it was incorporated as a village. A mayor and council plan of government was set up. The first Mayor was Frank Williams. Frank Williams, the brother of Vermilion Parish Superintendent J. H. Williams, was a pharmacist, who worked with Dr. Kibbe. On May 13, 1899, Frank Williams became the first mayor for the Village of Erath. The first aldermen were Dr. Joseph Kibbe, Arthur L. Derouen and Lodias Broussard. Later, Erath’s first Marshall, Henry Boudreaux was named. In 1904, Miss Josephine Bussy, became the first female postmaster. The daughter of Joseph and Christina Bussy, she married Clement Bourgeois, a young man new to this territory. She died giving birth to twins and in 1907, Clement Bourgeois became the postmaster. He later married Marie Antoinette Rodi, a young lady from New Orleans. She also became a post master in 1914. Until their later retirements in 1952, the two alternated as postmaster and clerk. Together they had two sons, Clement Bourgeois Jr. and Robert.

In 1910, the Bank of Erath was built by Vernon Caldwell, a native New Iberian, who moved to Abbeville as a child. Caldwell was the Bank President. Around the same time, in partnership with Demas and Emile Moresi, he built and established the Erath Sugar Co. In 1920, the Corporation bought the Vermilion Sugar Mill in Abbeville. Railroad tracks were placed for the Sugar Cane Refinery to help with the loads of sugar cane. This helped solve the problems of transferring cane on the trains, which could not handle the loads.

Cotton production increased at that time and could not be handled by the railroad. As a result, the farmers in Erath recognized a need for a Cotton Gin. Two farmers, Noe Baudion and Semar Broussard built the first Cotton Gin in Erath. Later another was built. Until the decline of the cotton crops, both gins were assets to the area. In the early 1950′s the first one went out of business. In 1970, the owner Minos Broussard closed that one down as well.

After two decades had passed the town possessed over one thousand citizens. So it was petitioned for Erath to become a town. On July 12, 1923, Erath was proclaimed a town by Governor John Parker.

Resources have always played a vital role in this area. One important at that time was fur trapping. When the fur animals were plentiful, it was another asset to the community. The abundance of wildlife and seafood in the coastal marshes and nearby Vermilion Bay has fostered the natural interest of people in hunting, fishing and trapping. Due to the richness of the soil, crops thrived. Cane, cotton and cattle were part of the original resources.

The oil industry in this community was an influential factor in the progress of this community. The Texaco Gas Processing Plant, located south of Erath serves as the primary function of processing natural gas produced offshore. The Texaco plant was originally built in 1943-1944 as a recycling plant serving the Erath field. The plant is now a processing plant. The gas is pipe lined to the plant in a series of pipelines which comes ashore near Intracoastal City.

Through the years, the small town of Erath overcame many obstacles. But no matter what crossed their path, they kept their eyes on the goal, not the obstacle. Through one century of life, this small community thrives on the resources and its people.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the prairie land that surrounds Erath was considered a risk. But, through the vision of August Erath, railroad officials and early pioneers who believed that this area could flourish, that dream became a reality. Without argument, the implementation of the railroad and August Erath played an instrumental part in the establishment of the Village of Erath in 1899. Although, the face and the personality of the community that has emerged today, lies with the most important factor the people who have expressed pride in their community through and beyond its first century of life.

 

Erath High School

808 S. Broadway Street

Erath, LA 70533

Phone - 337-937-8451

Fax - 337-937-5109

 

Website URL http://www.vrml.k12.la.us/ehs

 

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