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New museum opens at Shell site

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / November 2, 1998

NORCO – The River Road Museum is up and running on Shell’s refinery site, open to the public for tours to link the development of Shell to the sweep and pageantry of history in the River Parishes.

Organized in August 1994, a group from the 400-member strong Shell Retirees Club began collecting, cataloging and selecting donated and loaned items related to the plant’s history over most of the 20th Century.

The idea was spawned by former plant manager Phil Schwin and carried through by Don Baker, Shell’s manager of public affairs.

This is the fifth Shell museum in the nation but the only museum devoted to River Parishes history in St. Charles Parish.The museum will be open Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 to 5 p.m.Visitors must phone ahead for admittance to the Shell refinery grounds.

Features of the museum include a $20,000 interactive map which illustrates not only industrial sites but also the location of Indian and colonial settlements.

Anna Lee Howard and J.L. Robichaux Sr. pored over a collection ofphotographs. She is a retired teacher from St. Joan of Arc and had thechildren of three fatalities in the Shell cat cracker explosion in her class.

Robichaux reminisced over past plant managers, including J.D. Ramsey,who was on a fishing trip with Robichaux when word came down of his promotion to plant manager.

The museum is divided into several sections – “The Mississippi” includes photos and drawings of such displays as a levee crevasse, barge traffic and a real steamboat whistle.

“The Golden Coast” recalls colonial and antebellum days along the river, including St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the German Coastsettlements and a 1721 census.

“The Avenue” concentrates on agricultural development along the River Road, especially sugar cane harvesting and also touches on the War Between the States, including Hahnville resident Gen. Richard Taylor.”The Road to America” relates in words and pictures the introduction of Shell Oil to the United States with many artifacts.

“The Road Through Norco” recalls early refinery development and Trepagnier Plantation, now the site of Shell Chemical.

“The Coast to Coast Pipeline” also recalls early refinery development with photos of company housing, World War II and Shell’s involvement and early photos of the Norco area.

Additional displays continue the development of Shell, including the original scale model of the cat cracker, used in its construction, recreation activities of Shell employees, including baseball, swimming, Scouting and movies.

One wall is covered in framed photos, not only of former plant managers, but also of employees and their families in day to day activities.

Other features of the museum include a continuously-running video introduction, a mural of the first Shell service station and bound volumes of Shell employee newsletters since the 1920s.

More than 250 retirees visited the Museum in a special preview held Oct.

27.

“It’s more than a repository for Shell,” commented curator Don Didier.

“Everything which happened here, happened because of the river. It hasbeen a pleasure to do this.”Much more than a Shell museum, Didier added it depicts more than three centuries of St. Charles Parish history. “First class all the way!” heexclaimed. “To understand your present, you have to understand your past.”Didier, a professional antiquarian, has consulted with Destrehan Plantation and numerous museums across America. “Education should bethe principle thing, or I’m not interested,” he said.

“We became a museum family,” chairman Sis Webb noted. “I told people toplease volunteer your services, as your satisfaction is guaranteed.”For information, phone 465-6333.

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