Henry “DeDe” Friloux was educated in Ama schools and attended Soule’ Business College in New Orleans before arriving in Norco in 1924 to begin working for New Orleans Refining Company. In 1931, he acquired Norco Cleaners and Laundry so that Shell workers could have starched and pressed white shirts for their weekend social activities. The cleaning business needed a steady supply of natural gas, so Friloux arranged with a pipeline company to tap their line. Learning of the interest of other parish residents to have natural gas, in September of 1931 Friloux and his investors quickly organized Norco Gas and Fuel, Inc., to distribute natural gas to east bank residents.
He served as chairman of the board and president of the company for decades, and his sons Henry, Jr., and Nash joined him in the business in later years. The success of Norco Gas led Friloux to organize South Coast Gas Company and the Dixie Gas Company. Norco Gas and Dixie Gas were sold to Louisiana Gas Service and eventually became Atmos Energy, which continues to have a presence at the original site in Norco. Of all the utilities enjoyed today by parish residents (natural gas, electricity, water, telephone, garbage pick-up, sewer, cable), Henry Friloux’s natural gas distribution was the “first of its kind” utility in the rural community. Henry Friloux’s entrepreneurial spirit would not only help small businesses but would begin to change the lives of ordinary citizens in St. Charles Parish much like Henry Ford’s wheels brought change to America.
In 1924, Leon Preston Madere, Sr., son of former Sheriff Anthony “Tony” Madere, opened his garage on River Road in Hahnville. Madere would soon own a Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth automobile dealership and continued to serve the river parishes area until the recession of 2009 when Chrysler eliminated many of its franchises. Originally owned by Madere Sr., eventually his son Preston, Jr., daughter Mildred, and his son-in-law Frank Pizzolato, Sr., became co-owners. The garage is currently owned by Preston, Sr.’s youngest son, Jan Madere and grandsons David and Michael Pizzolato. Leon Preston Madere, Sr., served for many years as a member of the parish police jury. He had twelve children and today the Madere family, of German descent, is a large and prominent west bank family whose ancestors have been traced back to Natchitoches in the 1700s where Jean “Matere” and his German Coast wife, Marie Marguerite Materne, lived.
Entrepreneurial Spirit Abounds
Although major industries dominated the headlines during the early part of the 20th Century, all across St. Charles Parish small businesses were also popping up to meet the needs of the ever growing population.
It was not unusual to have “peddlers,” selling everything from brushes to jewelry, go door-to-door with their wares stored in the trunk of their cars.
If the customers couldn’t go to them, the merchants went to their customers.
These merchants were known as drummers. Insurance salesmen visited customers at home.
Ice houses were located at various sites in the parish, but the “ice man” also made the rounds of the neighborhoods. Children would run after the truck shouting, “a chip, a chip.” Many merchants allowed their customers to use the “on credit” system.
As items were purchased, the sale was recorded, often in small receipt books kept on a rack behind the counter in the store, with payment due on “payday.”
Physicians made “house calls,” sometimes receiving goods for services.
The Cobbler Shop
Patriarch of the Medina family in Luling, Francisco Medina came to St. Charles Parish as a railroad employee from Querato, Mexico, to work under railroad stationmaster Laurent J. Labry. As a side job, young Francisco apprenticed under Luling cobbler Ben Paul learning the artistry of shoe repair.
Francisco’s family has owned and operated the Cobbler Shop for decades, mending boots, shoes, purses, belts, and other leather goods. Medina passed away in 2016.
During the Great Depression, there were 120,000 cobbler shops operating in the nation. There are now only 7,000.
West Bank Commerce
Major industrialization would not begin on the west bank of the river for another forty years into the second half of the 20th Century. Commerce was primarily agricultural but pockets of small businesses existed to meet the basic needs of citizens in many villages. Commercial fishing and sugar cane farming supported the economy. Another major player was the lumber industry, which had been an important part of the economy since the early
days of the French colony.
Magnificent forests of oak and other hardwoods were cleared along with cypress trees, which dominated the swamps of the area. Draping the magnificent trees in the marshes was moss, a valuable commodity since colonial and antebellum days when it was used in the bousillage (entre’ pateaux, mud between posts) of Creole homes. Landry’s Moss Gin in Paradis bought moss for three cents a pound but according to the Reverend John Dorsey of Boutte, the backbreaking labor of picking and hauling the moss with a mule-drawn slide paid off as his family thrived from the profits of the hard work. Folklorists Jon and Jocelyn Donlon once recanted the legendary story of Henry Ford purchasing Louisiana moss but requiring that all moss be shipped to him in cypress boxes, the moss to be used for stuffing seats in his Model T, the valuable cypress (free to Ford), as wood interiors in the autos.
Cypress, which has great strength and durability and resists the heat and moisture of the southern climate, was in great demand and had been used by the Germans in colonial times. Although lumber was milled at plantation sawmills during most of the 19th Century, large commercial sawmills were established in the latter part of the century. There were several mills on the west bank including ones at Bayou Gauche and Des Allemands. The largest of these was the Louisiana Cypress Lumber Company mill established by Joseph Cornelius Rathborne in 1889. The company owned 50,000 acres of swampland from which it drew vast supplies of timber. Some of this land was in St. Charles and in June 1911, George Cousin (born in Alsace- Lorraine) signed an agreement with Rathborne and it was at this site that Cousin’s Camp was established and served as home base for the workers. Each of these camps typically offered a variety of necessities including a boarding house, a general merchandise store, a machine shop, an entertainment hall, and a saloon among other things.
Harvesting cypress was a laborious task. The workers went into the swamps in the fall when the water was low and felled trees. When the waters rose in the spring, logs were made into rafts, which were towed by steamers to sawmills. The loggers, who were called “swampers,” endured many hardships including malaria. Cousin’s Camp, located behind the current Lakewood West Subdivision off U.S. Highway 90, was at its peak from 1912 to 1918. The lumber industry faded away as the supply of timber in the vicinity became largely exhausted.
This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.