The devastating hurricane of 1915

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In the past few years, we have had hundreds of new residents move into St. John the Baptist Parish. This week I want to tell the longtime residents and the new residents a little about

a storm that struck St. John the Baptist Parish.

The date was Sept. 29, 1915, and several small communities in St. John would be destroyed and wiped off the map forever. Between Manchac and LaPlace along the banks of Lake Pontchartrain were the towns of Ruddock, Napton and Frenier. Ruddock was a saw mill town that cut the large cypress trees from the swamp. The town had about 800 people that lived there. Napton and Frenier were farming towns, and their main crop was cabbage, which was grown and shipped to Chicago by train. Napton and Frenier were mostly German immigrants. Times were really good in these little towns, and the land sold for 25 cents per acre. The railroad came through in 1852, and that really helped the people that had settled in these communities. If the residents needed groceries from New Orleans, they would flag down the conductor on the train, and while in New Orleans he would fill the grocery order and drop the groceries off on the way back north.

For entertainment, every Saturday night the community would hold a party at a different person’s house. They had someone that could play a guitar, fiddle and accordion. One of the families that lived there had boys, the Windecker boys, and they were known as the bullies. At the parties, the girls wouldn’t dance with them because they put alligator oil on their hair, and it smelled really bad.

The people were mostly Catholic, and they had the Holy Cross Church and Holy Cross School. A priest and a school teacher would ride the train from New Orleans, at a cost of 25 cents, whenever they could to teach the children or hold Mass at the church.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 1915, a hurricane hit the towns. The winds were over 100 miles per hour, and waves were more than 25 feet high. The Burg family took refuge in the school house that was located behind the railroad tracks. The waves were so fierce they came over the tracks and hit the side of the school house. All of the children and women were put into a small cypress boat, and the men swam holding onto the boat and pulling it forward.

They would pull the boat deep into the swamp, thinking they would be safe from the storm. After a short time, they heard the sound of the train whistle blowing and blowing. The train was stopping at each home and blowing to alert the families they were there to get them to safety. Many of the residents came out of the dark swamp and climbed into the train. The train would soon fill with water and as the conductor tried to go forward, he found that the track had been washed away. They soon learned that the track in front and back of the train was now gone and they had nowhere to go. The people that had taken shelter in the train from the storm were now trapped inside. The water would continue to rise and got waist deep inside the train.

Many would lose their lives on this day, like Mr. Hazlegrove, an engineer on the train, who was helping get people on the train when the winds forced him and a small child he was carrying away from the train and into the darkness. They would be found a few days later, dead in the swamp, with the small child still cradled in his arms.

There are many other stories but, because of space, I am limited. For a copy of the entire story, please give me a call at Louisiana Treasures Museum and for a small donation you can get a copyright copy to read and enjoy. The museum has lots of artifacts found in these communities that are worth the visit. If only they could talk, what a story they might tell. For more information or to schedule tours and hours of operation for the museum, call Wayne Norwood at 225-294-8352.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum.