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Cistern. (Courtesy of Janis Blair)

Change! How Things Would Continue to Change!

The transition of public roadbeds from dirt to clam shell to gravel to asphalt or concrete in the first half of the 20th Century facilitated the establishment of new businesses, industries, and residential developments. Major changes occurred in the everyday life of the citizens of St. Charles Parish!

Natural gas contracts with private companies and an electricity franchise with Louisiana Power and Light Company were approved by parish officials. In the 1930s natural gas, then electricity, became available to most residents. Wood or coal burning stoves for heating and cooking could then be replaced with natural gas heaters and stoves. Houses would be wired to receive electricity with a meter and a connection to the power company’s main lines running to the edge of residential property lines. Oil and kerosene lamps would be replaced with electric light fixture s and lamps.

Outhouse. (Courtesy of Janis Blair)

Cisterns were used at residences in St. Charles Parish as a rainwater reservoir from earliest colonial times until about the middle of the twentieth century. They were usually made of cypress boards with metal straps; later, some were made of metal. Rainwater used for drinking, cooking, and bathing was channeled by gutters into the cistern. Cistern tops and screens were eventually required for health purposes to eliminate breeding grounds for mosquito larvae and to prevent small animals from entering. Many people also had ground wells, pumping water for animal consumption. The establishment of public waterworks systems in the 1940s usually eliminated the need for cisterns and wells although some continued to be maintained for agricultural purposes.

Outhouses in St. Charles Parish were small stand-alone structures usually built around a “pit” and were used as outdoor toilets or privies at residences from colonial times until about the middle of the twentieth century. The pits were not attached to any sewer system. Outhouses were eventually replaced with indoor plumbing in bathrooms when running water, either piped from wells or received from public water systems, allowed flushing of waste into a yard cesspool. Most outhouses still standing today are President Roosevelt’s WPA structures built in rural areas during the Great Depression. Legend says the crescent cutout in the door was for use by ladies, the star cutout for gentlemen. However, the main purpose of the door cutout was to allow light into the otherwise dark structure. Public sewer systems were constructed in Luling, Norco, and Good Hope in the 1950s and a parish-wide sewer system was completed in the 1980s. Exceptions to these residential situations existed in the industry villages of Mexican Petroleum in Destrehan, Shell in Norco, Cities Service in St. Rose, and General American in Good Hope, where residents living in company houses from 1918 enjoyed heat, electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, and many other amenities courtesy of the company’s systems.

Medical advances in the first decades of the twentieth century would not only improve the longevity statistics of residents in St. Charles but would make life healthier and happier on the German Coast. Improving primitive water and sewer treatment also helped to eliminate illness. Who can forget President Roosevelt’s promotion of the March of Dimes program to stop polio, or how the introduction of sulfa drugs, penicillin, and later other antibiotics, would change lives? Life would become easier on the German Coast, and future generations would never experience the hardships dealt with for over two hundred years from the earliest settlers to the twentieth century. Crevasses, dirt roads, dreaded disease, cisterns, outhouses, and coal burning stoves would all become a thing of the past in a few short decades.

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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Further Reading

The Great River Road 5-Cent Commemorative Stamp
Sponsored by Crescent City Stamp Club

The Life and Times of Dr. John Earle Clayton
By Henry E. Yoes III
River Parish Focus
Vol. 1 No. 8