Courtesy of L’Observateur
First Published in ‘River Current’ magazine, January 2000
The namesake of Hahnville is Michael Hahn, whose career as an attorney also included stints as a notary public, school board member, police juror, newspaper editor, district judge, U.S. Mint director, congressman and Louisiana governor.
The site of Hahnville was once an Indian village known as Quinnitassa. In 1682, after an arduous journey, Lasalle reached what is now known as St. Charles Parish.
Settlers, especially the German colonists at Karlstein upriver, spread along the riverside. Many local names represented decendents of those first European settlers, including Tregre, Oubre, Schexnaydre, Haydel, Triche and LaBranche.
When the first courthouse was established in 1804, a community known simply as “St. Charles Courthouse” grew up around it. The second courthouse was built in 1826, and that building was remodeled and expanded in 1926. However, in 1976 the historic structure was razed to make way for the present courthouse. In the lobby is a scale model of the old courthouse, constructed and donated to the parish by then-court bailiff Lt. Lawrence Dasch.
The first post office in the area, called St. Charles, was established Dec. 9, 1843, with Francois Chaix the first postmaster. This finally closed on May 13, 1880, and the Hahnville post office opened the following day, with Thomas C. Madere as the first postmaster.
In Feb.1872, civil engineer Thomas Sharpe laid out a village around the courthouse and named it Flaggville, for Othelle J. Flagg, a district judge and one-time elector for the Prohibition Party.
At the same time, Hahn laid out the streets of Hahnville on his sugar plantation just upriver from Flaggville, including stores, streets, a dance hall and an upgraded levee. It was separated from Flaggville by Home Place Plantation. Flaggville, however, never caught on as a name. In time, the entire area became commonly accepted as Hahnville.
Hahn was born in Bavaria, Germany, on Nov. 24, 1830. The family moved to America after his father’s death and settled in New Orleans around 1840. He earned his law degree in 1851 from the University of Louisiana (later Tulane) and became a notary public in 1854. At age 22, he began serving on the Orleans Parish School Board, at one time as its president.
He opposed succession from the Union, but secession came. He remained in New Orleans as Union forces arrived in 1862. Accepting the Union victory, he was elected to Congress representing “Union” Louisiana.
A vigorous opponent of slavery, he made anti-slavery speeches everywhere from Haiti to the halls of Congress. In 1864 he became owner and editor of the New Orleans True Delta.
In February 1864, with Louisiana still split between Union and Confederate control, elections were held for governor. The Union-held portion included St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin and Orleans parishes. The other 35 parishes considered themselves Confederate.
Henry Watkins Allen was elected the Confederate governor and Michael Hahn the Union governor.
In 1865, in the waning days of the war, Hahn resigned to take a seat in the U.S. Senate but was not admitted by the post-war Congress. In 1867 he took over management of the New Orleans Daily Republican, a job he held through 1871. At that point he retired to the sugar plantation he owned in St. Charles Parish.
He was elected to the St. Charles Parish School Board in 1872, founded the St. Charles Herald in 1873, and was elected as state representative in both 1874 and 1876. In August 1876 he was appointed the state Registrar of Voters. In June 1878 he was named superintendent of the New Orleans Mint, and in November 1878 he was elected to the St. Charles Police Jury.
Hahn was elected as a judge in the 26th Judicial District in November 1879, including Jefferson, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, and re-elected in 1884. In November 1885, he won election to Congress but died in Washington, D.C. on March 15, 1886.
Hahn’s old home still stands, unnoticed, at 141 Elm Street, moved in later years from its original location on River Road.
Another area historic figure was Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, whose Fashion Plantation was destroyed in 1862 by Union troops. Following the war, he wrote “Destruction and Reconstruction,” a history of the conflict.
Hahnville High School was dedicated on March 28, 1925 and after years of service, the school was razed in the mid-1970s. A new school, also named Hahnville High School, was built on U.S. Highway 90 in Mozella. While the board briefly considered naming the new school “West St. Charles High School,” popular sentiment prevailed, and Hahnville High School, though now located between Boutte and Paradis, kept its name.
Charlie Oubre Jr., 69 at the time of this writing, says with intermarriage he grew up “related to 90 percent of Hahnville.” His mother, Felicie, was a Keller. His father’s mother was a Madere. His wife, Carol, was a Troxler, and his mother-in-law, Beatrice, was a Triche who once ran the St. Charles Herald.
“When I was a teenager I knew everyone in Hahnville by name,” Oubre said.
He remembered as a young boy playing baseball in vacant fields, swimming (against his parents’ wishes) in the river, fishing and robbing watermelon fields.
“We used to get a watermelon out of the field, put it in a ditch of water for an hour to cool it off, and then eat it,” he said.
There were several small country stores throughout Hahnville, including those of his grandfather, Ulysses Keller, and his uncle, Alvin Keller.
“People used to come sit on the store’s porch and play cards and talk,” Oubre said. “Politics was a favorite topic of conversation on those country store porches, and politics was always punctuated by parades and rallies. You’d better believe everybody voted.”
Ticket-politics were the thing, and political controversy was on everyone’s lips.
Family political affiliations were also all-important.
“If you gave a Madere a job, that took care of the Maderes,” he said.
He graduated in 1947, served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters staff in Korea and played semi-pro baseball. Oubre worked for Shell, then the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office, where he was chief criminal deputy from 1968 until 1972. He was the parish first judicial administrator until 1978 and then elected to Clerk of Court.
As smaller towns faded, Hahnville’s post office came to absorb them. Taft, just upriver, lost its post office in August 1967. Killona likewise lost its post office in 1987. Now Hahnville is considered to stretch from Union Carbide to Matis Curve.