Waterford: Agriculture to Industry – Chapter 5 (Richard Miliken & Estate 1879-1917)

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NOTE: The following research material is included on this website courtesy of Entergy and was prepared in 1988 for Louisiana Power & Light Company (presently Entergy) following their purchase of one of the most historical properties in St. Charles Parish dating back to the earliest settlements on the German Coast. Originally known as the Darensbourg Tract, this site at the time of purchase was Waterford Plantation, one of the last surviving plantations in St. Charles Parish.

Richard Miliken & Estate
(From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Enter Richard A. Miliken

Richard Allen Milliken (Figure 5-1) was born in Waterford, Ireland in the year 1817 and migrated to the United States as a teenager, joining his mother in Louisville, Kentucky. At 17 years of age, Milliken moved to New Orleans and entered the sugar brokerage business, later to become one of the most successful sugar producers and businessmen in the state. By careful management, Mr. Milliken came into the ownership of a number of plantations in southern Louisiana, most of them being along the Mississippi River in St. Charles, Jefferson, and Plaquemines Parishes. Among these plantations were Waterford, Grenada, Smithfield, Westover, Hope, Unity, and Stanton. 

Richard Miliken
Figure 5-1: Richard A. Miliken. Source: Louisiana Old Plantation Homes and Family Trees (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Miliken and Farwell, Inc. Gain Pre-Eminence

In 1857, Milliken teamed up with Charles Allen Farwell II and founded Milliken and Farwell, Inc. In 1864, Milliken married Deborah A. Farwell, aunt of Charles A. Farwell II.· During the years of Reconstruction, Milliken and Farwell, Inc. developed into the third-largest sugar producer in the state. At that time, Milliken served on the Board of Directors of the Louisiana Sugar and Rice Exchange and became one of the Board’s Presidents.

Property Named Waterford

The plantation was first named Waterford by Milliken in 1879. It is assumed that he named the plantation after his birthplace in Waterford, Ireland, famous for producing _beautiful crystal. Between the years 1890 and 1917, the Milliken family controlled both Waterford and the 3idjacent Killona Plantations. During Richard Milliken’s ownership, many changes were made on his and other plantations in the area. As’ early as 1870 on Killona and Waterford Plantations, attempts were made to establish narrow gauge railroads for the movement of workers and sugar cane. “Susie,” one such train, was added to the Waterford Plantation during the 1880s (see Figure 5-2). It was a 1-1/2 mile narrow gauge railroad with a 10-ton Porter locomotive and had ten 4-ton cars and eighteen 10-ton cars. In 1882, improvements were made in the sugar production process by adding vacuum strike pans and certrifugals to the sugar house apparatuses.

Even though technological improvements were being made on the plantations, the 1880s produced movements aimed at improving human working conditions throughout the U.S. The Waterford Plantation was no exception and workers there felt that their treatment was unjust. In 1880, workers in St. Charles Parish organized one of the first and largest strikes in the state with workers stopping production for higher wages, demanding an increase from 25 to $1.00 a day. The trouble started on the Waterford and Duggan Plantations with sixteen other plantations similarly affected. Up to 500 striking workers were bullwhipped and several shootings occurred with some strikers wounded. 

Figure 5-2: Locomotive Susie, Waterford Plantation Train. Source: Down Among the Sugar Can (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Electricity Comes of Age

At the turn of the century, more changes affected the plantations. Sugar mills grew in power, efficiency and size, and electricity replaced steam power. By 1900, mills had achieved greater sugar recovery, better finished product, and more economical operations. The Federal government began to take responsibility for the annual floods on the Mississippi River with the construction of a levee system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To the benefit of the sugar planters, they no longer had to suffer from inundation.

Miliken\'s House
Figure 5-3: Richard A. Miliken’s house on the corner of First and Second Streets and St. Charles Avenue. Source: Louisiana Old Plantation Homes and Family Trees (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Sugar Cane Virus

From 1900 onward, there was a rapid decline in the num­ber of sugar houses throughout the area. One reason for the decline was the near annihilation of the sugar industry by the sugar cane mosaic disease (a sugar cane virus which attacks the leaves and thereby weakens the plant making it susceptible to other sugar cane blights and insects) in the 1920s. The onslaught of this parasitic virus brought about the worst decline in the industry since the Civil War, and many of the planters lost both their crops and their livelihood.

The Milikens Join Society

Richard Milliken’s home was located on St. Charles Avenue, between First and Second Streets, and was a replica of the old Mansard Manor in Rue Grand Armee near the palace of Versailles in France. It was expanded to occupy half a block when Milliken bought adjacent land in order to enlarge his garden grounds.

A Tradition of Philanthropic & Community Service

Milliken died in May 1896 at 79 years of age, when he was hit by a streetcar while attempting to cross St. Charles Avenue at Second Street and died shortly thereafter in Touro Infirmary. 

At his death, he left his estate to his sister, Mary Annie Milliken, and to his wife, Deborah Allen Milliken. He advised his wife to have her nephew, Charles Allen Farwell II, assist her in settling the estate, noting that he had the fullest confidence in Charles’ ability and faithfulness. 

In 1898, Mrs. Milliken donated the Milliken Memorial Hospital to the children of Louisiana. This children’s sanitarium adjoined the present-day Charity Hospital in New Orleans and was named in the memory of her husband Richard Milliken. The four wings of the hospital projected outward from the rotunda and vaguely suggested the Irish four-leaved clover. The donor’s room and a waiting room contained portraits of the Milliken family in which the generous benefactor oversaw the maturing of her plans. Until 1900, Waterford and Killona plantations were operated jointly by the Milliken estate. By the time Mrs. D. A. Milliken died, she had accumulated enough wealth to leave large sums of money to friends, family, and even her loyal employees.

Miliken Memorial Hospital
Figure 5-4: Locomotive Susie, Waterford Plantation Train. Source: Down Among the Sugar Cane. (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Turn of the Century

Although the volume of sugar production on Waterford Plantation fluctuated throughout much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the average production rate increased steadily until 1917. ·Then during World War I, the productivity was adversely affected with a general dwindling of the industry which tasted into the 1930s.

This concludes the research material on Waterford Plantation, originally the Darensbourg Tract.