Scientist seeks colonial sites

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 6, 2002


KILLONA – The three colonial villages which began European settlement in the River Parishes in 1721 are being sought with 21st Century instruments.

Historian and archaeologist John Polk of Luling is organizing a flyover by a commercial airplane equipped with heat-seeking technology. If any sign of remnants of fireplaces are discovered, Polk plans to bring in Earth Search of New Orleans, operated by Dr. Jill-Karen Yakubik, to perform the archaeological digs on the sites. Earth Search performed similar digs on the former plantation site at Cytec Industries in Waggaman. In 1976, Polk searched the probable area of Karlstein, using a hand-held metal detector, but he found nothing.

This time, the president-elect of the Louisiana Archaeological Society will use an airborne thermographer, which measures microscopic temperature changes in soils, comparing them to undisturbed soil nearby. A local chemical company is providing $3,800 for the use of the plane, a cut-rate deal inspired by the pilot’s own interest in the project. However, the Hymelia crevasse of May 21, 1912, may have also seriously compromised the probable site, making it more difficult to locate.

Karlstein is the collective name of the three German colonial villages which opened the River Parishes to colonization. Linked to Karl Friedrich d’Arensbourg, Chevalier of the Military Order of St. Louis. For more than 55 years, he was the acknowledged leader of the German settlers in the region extending roughly from Taft to Lucy.

D’Arensbourg was born in 1693 in Stettin, Pomerania, now on the Polish/German border but then a province of Sweden. He distinguished himself at the battle of Pullawa in the Swedish-Russian War and presented with an inscribed commemorative staff by King Charles XII.

A descendant, Richard Darensbourg (formerly of Reserve and now in Gramercy), said the staff included a golden orb mounted on the its head. The orb was melted down by Richard’s great-uncle, Leon Darensbourg, to use as a belt-buckle. The staff no longer exists and the whereabouts of the buckle is unknown.

The pioneering leader conducted a group of colonists to the German Coast in 1721 and, four years later at the tiny St. Jean des Allemands church in Karlstein, he married Catherine Marguerite Mextrine of Wurtemberg. She presented him with a child, Pierre-Frederick, the following year.

The church itself was the precursor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, located in 1740 in Destrehan. The colonists struggled from disease, natural disasters and the local Indians. The “Le Grand Ouragan” hurricane of Sept. 12, 1722, and the massacre of Nov. 29, 1729, likewise decimated the colony.

D’Arensbourg and the colonists continued to cling to their homes. By 1723, the area included several dozen homes, contained in the settlements of Hoffen (later Glendale, Hymelia, Trinity and Killona plantations), Augsberg (to the rear of Killona and Waterford plantations) and Mariental (behind the present site of Agrico and OxyChem industrial plants).

In Feb. 1765, he was knighted in the French military order of St. Louis. By Oct. 28, 1768, after the secret sale of Louisiana by France to Spain, he helped organize the revolution which expelled the Spanish Louisiana governor, Ulloa. He and his comrades were arrested in August 1769, bringing the short-lived independence to an end, and on Oct. 24, 1769, he was convicted of high treason. Because of his advanced age, however, he was granted a reprieve while other leaders were executed.

D’Arensbourg died Nov. 18, 1777 at the age of 84, leaving his son, Pierre-Frederick, the plantation. He was buried in the St. Charles Borromeo cemetery, but the gravesite is now lost, due to the shifting of the Mississippi River.

In 1791, Pierre-Frederick and his wife, Elizabeth Deselle Duclos Darensbourg, gave permission for their daughter, Louise, to wed Charles Perret of St. Charles Parish. Perret later partnered with Pierre Beauchet St. Martin Sr. In the fullness of time, Pierre St. Martin Jr. married Perret’s daughter and they had a son, Louis.

By 1849, the property was bought by William B. Whitehead and Company. By 1853, Whitehead personally owned it. In 1863, Whitehead abandoned portions of his land in St. John Parish and lower portions of St. Charles Parish. In 1877, he partnered with Richard A. Milliken, who first named the plantation Waterford in 1879. Milliken had teamed with Charles A. Farwell II in 1857 to form Milliken and Farwell Inc. After Milliken died in May 1896 from being struck by the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, Farwell and his family continued administration.

In 1932, the old Waterford sugarhouse burned down. It was rebuilt but dismantled in 1951. F. Evans Farwell, second son of Charles Farwell II, was one of the liquidators of the corporation in 1950. In 1963, the property was acquired by Louisiana Power & Light and the old Waterford plantation bell was donated to LP&L. The bell is now on display outside the offices. Construction of Waterford Units 1 and 2 began in May 1971. On Sept. 16, 1970, plans were announced to build Waterford 3. The nuclear power plant went into operation Sept. 24, 1985.

Karlstein left no visible remnant on the landscape of the area, but the legacy continues to thrive, in the German descendents of those early settlers still thriving in the River Parishes.