Elfer of Montz, Modoc, St. Rose, Pecan Grove

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German Coast Italian Farmers - Image
At the turn of the century, German Coast Italian farmers grew “truck” crops and took them to packing sheds. Shown is the Christina Packing Shed in Kenner with several St. Rose farmers and their wagons. Crops were shipped by rail across the entire country. In later years a packing facility was opened in St. Rose—the Vitrano Packing Shed. (St. Charles Herald Profile, August 15, 1991)

By Gene Yoes Jr. Published in the St. Charles Herald-Guide Aug. 15, 1991

A petite, attractive lady reli­giously mows the grass over pieces of three par­cels of ground near the St. Rose post office. She is keeping the dreams of Charles Elfer alive. His old home is standing empty and full of dreams.

Joan Elfer Acosta cuts the grass but doesn’t enter the old house. Once it was rented out and the tenants, she says, were not kind to the house. She keeps her memo­ries of the house from her youth. She is the daughter of John Elfer, Sr.

Her eyes become misty as she re­members her father. She remembers her mother’s fright when her daddy left home with his satchel. As a state trooper, he went on duty whenever there was a prison break at Angola prison. She recalls his later years when, at all hours of the day and night, he responded to a telephone call from some­one in trouble in St. Charles Parish.

But that is another story.

Patsy Elfer runs the St. Rose Tavern, lives in the building. Once it was the St. Rose Hotel. Many of the Elfer families have moved away. She still maintains a family tradition begun many years ago. She is the daughter of Eugene Elfer, the grand­daughter of Judge Eugene Elfer.

Charles Elfer Home
The St. Rose home of Charles Elfer was photographed in 1910 when John Elfer Sr. was five years old. Joan Elfer Acosta is unable to identify all those in the photo. From the left she believes are Octave, Phillippe. John is the five-year-old boy in front of his parents, Alice and Charles Elfer. She believes Eugene and Alice are in the photo. The man who owned the Steckler feed company is at the right. The house they stand in front of still stands in St. Rose today. (Courtesy of St. Charles Herald-Guide)

Across Crespo lane is International Materials Tank Terminal (IMTT) the suc­cessor to City Service Refinery that once made St. Rose a bustling community. Patsy laments the ignorance of state officials who dropped St. Rose from the lists of towns in Louisiana. You quickly realize that the St. Rose Hotel is another Elfer story.

Why get involved with Peachtree, Georgia?

You want to find information about the Elfer family, know that it had a con­nection with the Elfer family. You visit Lois Elfer Perrilloux, are referred to an Elfer living in Covington. He gives you an ad­dress and a phone number in Peachtree. Elfer Miller lives in Peachtree, is the family historian. His mother was Mary Claire Elfer, wife of Clifford Buell Miller. Mary Claire was born in 1897, died in 1966. She was the daughter of Charles Elfer (1851- 1927) and Alice Marguerite Thompson (1866-1937). Thus, his first name is the last name of a family very prominent in early St. Charles.

In his book, you obtain a detailed de­scription of the old house that Joan won’t enter, of its development through the years. There is a report of a large wire cage in the front of the house where an eagle was housed, of beehives, of purchase of land for the St. Rose Hotel, of the St. Rose bank.

Elfer Miller wrote and published a book entitled, Elfer, A Family of Farmers, Merchants, River People… in Louisiana. Published in 1988.

“Copies of the book haven’t sold very well in the River Parishes. You will find a copy in the New Orleans Public Library and in the Department of the Archives of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Also, documentation for the book and a copy of it are held in the Howard-­Tilton Memorial Library of Tulane University,” Miller writes.

Joan suggests a copy is available in the St. Charles Parish Library. “Ask for Faye Walker Louque. She knows where it is.”

He is also the author and publisher of The Miller Families of William, Ebenezer (Sr.), Ebenezer (Jr.), Noah, etc., etc., etc.

In the introduction to his Elfer book, he traces the family back to mid to late 1760s in present-day St. Charles. One of the first Elfers was Marie Appolonia, who married Jean Nicholas Viener. The history of that family is traced in The Brignac Family and Their Relatives in Louisiana by Janice Deitch Young. Miller says the book is likely available in most parish libraries in Louisiana.

The Family of Jacob Helfre in Louisiana is available in the St. Charles Parish Library, Miller writes. He does not list the author. Miller introduces a Jacob Helfer in the first Elfer in St. Charles, reports that he married a sister of Maurice Elfer, brother of Marie Appolonia. Jacob moved to “the Attakapas” (the Lafayette general area), disappeared and his wife and children returned to St. Charles.

“It has been my intention that this book of the Elfer family be as complete as I can make it. To this end I have borrowed and reused material about family members from books previously published by me. I have literally used-up all of the information in my files.

“Finally, I’d like to express my deep appreciation to my Uncle John T. Elfer Sr. (posthumously) and to his son John T. Elfer Jr., for their encouragement, and for the informa­tion and written material they so generously shared with me.” (John Elfer died at the age of 80, Patsy says.)

Charles Elfer Children
Taken about 1900, before John Elfer Sr. was born, this photo shows the Charles Elfer children, Alice, Clara, Gustave and Eugene. Eugene is at bottom right, was known as Judge Elfer in St. Rose. Courtesy St. Charles Herald-Guide

Maurice Elfer was the male member of the 1760 clan in St. Charles Parish, but he was a Helfer. Nicholas Maurice Helfer was born in 74. In 1811, Silvain Octave Elfer became the first to bear the present day spelling of the name.

His son was Charles Elfer, a name closely identified with public life in St. Charles at the turn of the century. Records traced by Miller show him as residents of the parishes of St. John, Ascension or Iberville and finally St. Charles. Among his jobs was the operation of a store-boat owned by his father. The boat moved in the river, from plantation to plantation, after the Civil War, according to Miller, because the family was unable to collect outstanding accounts.

Modern day connection of the Elfer name is with St. Rose, but Miller says the home of Charles Elfer was on land inherited from his grandfather, Nicholas Maurice. His descrip­tion of the property puts it in Montz or Kil­lona. An 1858 map of landowners shows the property belonging to O. Elfer, father of Charles. Sylvain Octave Elfer lived from 1811 to 1889.

In 1891, Miller writes, “Charles and his family boarded the side-paddlewheeler ‘Belle of the Coast’ and moved to Modoc Plantation” (Destrehan) with the intention of buying it. He says the “Sarpy Crevasse” of 1893 destroyed his crops.

He provides a brief description of the Modoc Plantation house. It was two stories, antebellum in style with round columns in front and long galleries on the side. In the rear, where the Rome sisters live today, an orchard of fruit trees grew.

Shortly afterwards, Charles moved to St. Rose, survived hard times, and prospered. He also owned a house in New Orleans which, Miller says, the children used while attending school.

By 1900, Charles was assessor and a farmer with eight children. In 1910, John T. Elfer, Joan’s father, was a member of the family. He served in various law enforcement positions, working last as a deputy under the late Sheriff Leon C. Vial, Jr. Gustave, another son, was the father of Lois Elfer Perrilloux.

Judge Elfer and Family
Judge Eugene Elfer, grandfather of Patsy Elfer, is shown with his wife and Julia Elfer. The title “judge” was general given to justices of the peace. Courtesy St. Charles Herald-Guide

Miller records that Charles purchased several tracts of land in Pecan Grove Plantation (near the Bunge Grain Elevator) from Augustin Lassiagne, Ignazio Campigiano, Peter and G. Cerevalo, Salvadore and Rosario DiPovello, James McCutcheon and others.

He also purchased plots of land at Cabanage (at Lake Salvador on the West Bank) and a plot in the Crespo Subdivision (in St. Rose) from Mrs. Carrie Weaver Millet.

Miller records Charles as serving as assessor, member of the school board, president of the police jury and a member of the parish democratic executive committee.

The chapter of the Miller book dealing with Charles is descriptive of the life in early St. Rose, much of it obtained by interviews with John Elfer Sr. It is long on documentation, containing also as many pages of sources as it does narrative.

(We express our appreciation to Miller Elfer for making much of the information in this story available. Although much of the information was known by the writer, Miller provides specific information and suggests that history buffs in St. Charles seek a copy of his books.)