Recalling years gone by

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 1999

DEBBIE MUSTIAN / L’Observateur / December 11, 1999

When local resident Ouida Ann Nutt lived on New Era Plantation in LaPlace back in the early 1930s, there was no running water, gas or electricity in her 14-room home. Life was lived at a slower pace. In LaPlace, there wasone general store. White children and black children did not go to schooltogether. There was only one church in the community.During 1929 and the early ’30s, Miss Ouida, now 84, spent her teen-age years growing up on New Era, the only plantation in LaPlace. Seventy yearsago, there was no television or radio to distract Miss Ouida from completing her studies after she came home from Leon Godchaux High School.

“We would sit in a semicircle around a fireplace and do our work for the next day,” Miss Ouida said, describing the scene at home after school with her three sisters and two brothers, Mary Frances, Marjorie Lee, Doris, Sherwood Clay and Harold Burdick. “Then, we would report to our parentswhen we were finished.”Miss Ouida and her siblings had their homework checked by parents who were both educators.

When Miss Ouida and her family came to LaPlace, they moved into New Era Plantation – which faced the Mississippi River in the heart of LaPlace – because it was the only vacant house in the community.

The family moved from Gonzales because Miss Ouida’s father, William Sherwood Edwards, was hired as the principal of John L. Ory School. Hermother, Hattie Belle Burdick Edwards, taught English at Leon Godchaux High School.

Miss Ouida has vivid memories of life at New Era.

“We paid a small amount of money to live there,” she recalled. If theplantation was still standing today, it would be located just across the street from St. Martin’s Pharmacy on West Fifth Street. “You could see the Mississippi River from the house,” Miss Ouida said.

“The front yard was a rose garden.” The plantation property extended to the river. Miss Ouida remembers thather father had a huge vegetable garden where he grew green beans, lima beans, English peas, okra, corn, carrots, lettuce and potatoes.

“We would sit on the porch in the afternoon and Papa would bring a number 2 wash tub to us and we would shell or snap beans,” Miss Ouida said.

She remembers that life on the plantation always revolved around the family.

“We did something as a family together every evening,” she said. “Wewould play games in the yard, sing or play on the porch.”And New Era Plantation’s porch wasn’t just any ordinary porch; it stretched 100 feet in length and was nearly 10 feet wide. And the backporch shared equal dimensions.

While Miss Ouida recalls that the plantation house was enormous, she doesn’t remember being impressed about living on a working sugar cane plantation; she simply remembers that New Era was bigger than any other house she had ever lived in.She recalls the layout of the house: “There were 14 rooms. The upstairsrooms had wooden floors, but the downstairs rooms had dirt floors. We hadfive bedrooms. The original kitchen was downstairs, but the dining roomwas upstairs.”Miss Ouida said her family turned one of the smaller rooms upstairs into a makeshift kitchen. “We had a kerosine stove, two dish pans and sometables and that was our kitchen.” She fondly remembers that the house hadthree double fire places made of marble, which originated in Europe.

In the early 30’s, LaPlace was sparsely populated. New EraPlantation was a working sugar cane plantation while the Edwards family lived there. “A small train went through the plantation and took the caneto the Leon Godchaux Sugar Refinery in Reserve,” she said.

When Miss Ouida’s family needed rice, sugar or shortening, for example, they shopped at a local country store about half-a-mile from New Era. But when they needed clothes, the family headed for New Orleans.Miss Ouida said LaPlace was a much different community in the 1930s.

“There was no Baptist church, so we had church and Sunday school in the phone company’s building on Main Street,” she said. “A student from theNew Orleans Seminary came out every Sunday.” She recalls that the onlychurch in the area at that time was St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. MissOuida’s mother assisted in setting up a place for the Baptist group to meet.

But Mrs. Edwards died in 1936. In 1940, the Baptist group stopped havingservices in the phone company’s building and didn’t have a Baptist mission church until 1957. That mission eventually became First Baptist Church ofLaPlace.

Even though records indicate that New Era Plantation was built around 1840, Miss Ouida thinks the house may have actually been built earlier.

“They didn’t use nails to build the house,” she explained. “They cut woodplanks to fit together and put wooden plugs in to hold them.”New Era Plantation originally belonged to Lucien and Adeline Amelina Haydel Montegut. (Mr. Montegut’s first wife was Delphine St. Martin.) Theproperty was later passed to the Montegut’s son, Dr. Sidney John Montegut,after the death of his parents.

Dr. Montegut practiced medicine at New Era Plantation in a small buildingon the property. After he died in 1918 during a flu epidemic, New Era wasrented. Then in 1936, the plantation was torn down because termitesinvaded the roof of the house.

Miss Ouida left LaPlace in 1934 to attend Louisiana State Teachers College. Then she went on to graduate from Texas Wesleyan College andSouthwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She dedicated her life toreligious education, serving in several different Baptist churches in Texas before becoming a religious educational director for the U.S. Army. She served at both Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and at White Sands MissileRange in New Mexico and retired in 1980. In 1988, she moved back toLaPlace. Although she was gone for a number of years, Miss Ouida visitedLaPlace during the summer and kept up with family members who remained nearby.

“Now, I don’t know where different parts of town are because everything is so different,” she said.

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