St. Rose Town History

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Courtesy of L’Observateur
First Published in ‘River Current’ magazine, January 2000

The town of St. Rose derived its name from St Rose Plantation, located near the present-day intersection of River Road and Louisiana Highway 626. The plantation itself, named for the patron saint of the Americas, survived until 1904.

Moving along River Road, the first site of note is the former Delta Match Corp., which opened in 1952 as the first large wooden match manufacturing plant in the South. It became the largest of its kind in the world before it became TransMatch in 1970 and closed down in the 1980s.

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Next, the present-day Fairfield Subdivision and Riverbend Business Park are on the old Fairfield Plantation of H. Frellsen. The area itself was earlier known as Frellsen Charlestowne Subdivision in the area of Patterson Plantation, a later split-off from Fairfield Plantation.

Next along is the former Luke Plantation, now the site of Bar None Ranch Estates. The LaBranche Plantation Dependency is actually a garconniere of the now-vanishing LaBranche Plantation. Listed on the National Historic Register, it is open to the public for tours. The earlier plantation house, built in the 1790s, was burned during the Civil War.

The Elkinsville post office served the village of that name, established after the Civil War by freed blacks immediately upriver of the St. Rose community, in the area of First through Fourth Streets. This post office opened Nov. 21, 1889 with John B. Walton the first postmaster. It, however, closed in 1893 with mail then going to the St. Rose post office, which opened Oct. 5, 1893, with Blanche Cambre the first postmistress.

Much of Elkinsville history is the living memory of matriarch Virginia Vinnett Harris, 91 at the time of this publication. She was the daughter of Emile and Octavia Clark Vinnett and wife of the Rev. Solomon Harris, the second youngest of 15 children – 12 sons and three daughters.

At the entrance to First Street, for many years, the residents of Elkinsville lived in what might be called today a gated community, with the black residents forced behind a locked gate with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

“They had two big cypress columns and a gate,” she recalled, with the gate only coming down in the 1940s.

She married the Rev. Harris in 1930, at the age of 18, when he was 22. He was employed at Pan-American Refinery and managed the semipro St. Rose Tigers baseball team for 15 years during the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1944, however, the couple attended a church revival and their lives were transformed.

“We went down to the Mississippi River together with 13 others to be baptized,” she recalled.

Once they received the Lord, he soon became a minister at True Vine Baptist Church in Hahnville in 1950, later moving to St. Mary Baptist Church in Luling before his death in 1993.

Living in St. Rose and serving churches on the West Bank meant many trips across the old Luling-Destrehan ferry.

“We’d have to wait on that ferry and it’d be thundering and lightning, and he’d ask if I was scared and I’d say no. But I was scared,” she said.

The church families were loving and made up for the couple being childless. “Anybody’s trouble was everybody’s trouble,” she remembered.

Also fresh with memories of Elkinsville is Lester B. Smith, 82 at the time of this publication.

“The whole St. Rose area was kinfolk when I was a kid,” he said. “Everybody was our uncle or our auntie. You just felt like everybody was kin.”

With everyone living closely together, family ties were strong.

“I remember my grandmother had this thick grapevine on her porch,” Smith said. “One time I walked past, and she could see me through the vines but I couldn’t see her. She called me over and told me whenever I asked, I had to say her to her.”

He remembered some of the old stores in Elkinsville, such as Andre Elfer’s grocery on Fifth Street and the Adam Vinnett store, which yet stands, where he met his wife, Thelma, at a dance.

He had grown up knowing his bride-to-be from the neighborhood and “had the largest crush on her.” They attended “back church” together at Fifth African Baptist Church but she initially didn’t like him much.

“When she was 15, she told me if I was the last thing under the Christmas tree, she’d leave me there,” he recalled.

Two years later, when he was 20 and she was 17, they married. That was more than 60 years ago, and they now have five children – ester, John, Robert, Betty and Graylin – 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Elkinsville ended up with two Baptist churches because the members had originally come from different plantations and stayed together. Fifth African Baptist was established in 1871 and Mt. Zion Baptist in 1874.

After attending St. Rose School through seventh grade, he did field work for several years. “If you didn’t have any money, you couldn’t go no further.”

Later, Smith got a job at Pan-American Refinery in Destrehan, which lasted 15 years until that fateful day in late 1958 when 480 employees were told their jobs would be over that December. The plant closed when the company decided to build a catalytic cracker in Texas City, Texas, instead of in St. Rose. He later ran a janitorial service until his retirement.

Next along from Elkinsville is the noteworthy St. Rose Tavern, established b the Elfer family in 1922 to help service the working men building railroads and the Airline Highway through the area.

Next is the present International Matex Marine Terminal (IMTT), on the site of the former Cedar Grove Plantation. The Cities Service Terminal Company came to St. Rose as an oil export terminal in 1922 on the plantation site, and IMTT took over in later years.

Hilda Trellue of Metairie, part of the Crespo family of St. Rose, is descended from Juaquim Joseph Crespo. She later married into the extended Sellers family of Ama.

Juaquim Crespo, originally from Barcelona, Spain, came to the United States in 1873 as a minor, his total worldly possessions in a knotted silk handkerchief.

His first wife was Elmira Becnel, with whom he had two children, and his second wife was Malvina Songy, with whom he had eight children, including Hilda’s mother, Yrena Crespo.

Juaquim Crespo, a devout Catholic, hosted mass for a time at his home, Cedar Grove Plantation. He also hosted many church fairs to build the present-day St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.

He even reportedly gave the Rev. John Basty of St. Charles Borromeo Church (who served from 1918 to 1949) his first sheep.

After his death, the property was acquired by Cities Service Co., which came to St. Rose as an oil export terminal in 1922.

Combined with the construction of Airline Highway in the early 1930s, St. Rose continued to grow and prosper.

In 1929, the State Bank of St. Rose changed its name to St. Charles Bank and Trust Company and merged with Good Hope State Bank in June 1932.

The lifeblood of St. Rose has always been its sense of community. Virginia Vinnet Harris also exhibits her own comfort, as she says,” I’ve got Jesus, who’s going to take care of me.”