Obstacles are those
things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.
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 it’s 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 it's 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 lies the people and the
"Cajun" culture that helped in the formation of it's 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
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
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
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
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
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 it's 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 it's first century of life.