Waterford: Agriculture to Industry – Chapter 6 (The Farwell Family 1917-1963)

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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.

Farwell Family Crest
The Farwell Family Crest. Courtesy of F. Evans Farwell. (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

A Prediction of Genius

Charles A. Farwell II, head of Milliken and Farwell, Inc., inherited one of the wealthiest sugar plantations in the south, after starting out as an employee of his uncle, R. A. Milliken. True to his uncle’s prediction, Charles Farwell II gained an understanding of the business so that at Milliken’s death, he took over direction of both the plantations and the city business. 

Much uncertainty spread throughout the United States at the start of World War I. Soon after the roaring 1920s, the Great Depression spread economic chaos throughout the country. In the Louisiana political arena, Governor Huey P. Long, “The Kingfish,” gave the poor in the state the hope of prosperity. Loved and hated by many, hatred won the battle when Long was assassinated.

Charles A. Farwell II

Charles A. Farwell II held an honorable position in society. He headed the committee out of Washington D. C. which looked after the interests of the Louisiana planters, was a member of the Boston Club, a stockholder in the French Opera Company, and was active in many charitable affairs. He was King of “Rex,” which ranks as the highest and most coveted social honor of New Orleans, in the Mardi Gras of 1898. Married to the former Stella Evans French, they had two sons, Charles ill and F. Evans. In 1917, Charles A. Farwell II died, leaving the estate to his two sons.

Caricature of Charles A. Farwell II
Figure 6-1: Caricature of Charles A. Farwell II. Miliken & Farwell, Commission Merchants. Source: Historical New Orleans Collection. (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Chickens in Every Pot

“The Kingfish” had stripped New Orleans of much of its economic control. In desperation, the mayor of the city at the time of Huey Long’s death, Mayor Semmes “Turkey Neck” Walmsley, agreed to resign from office on the condition that Governor-Elect Leche would restore to New Orleans some of its powers. On Walmsley’s resignation, Robert Maestri became the mayor of the bankrupt city of New Orleans and began working financial miracles for the city. The Crescent City was reforming, businessmen were flourishing, and Charles A. Farwell ill and brother F. Evans Farwell had their part in this development.

Charles A. Farwell III

Charles A. Farwell ill was born in New Orleans on September 26, 1902. After high school, he attended Tulane University for one year in 1918. During that time, he served in the students’ military training corps. He received a degree in Chemical Engineering from_ the Virginia Military Institute in June of 1923. After a brief period in the Medical Department of Tulane University, he became the president of Milliken and Farwell, Inc. in 1924. 

He married Edwa Stewart in 1925 and had three children. Charles A. Farwell ill was very active in the community and held many positions: President of Milliken & Farwell, Inc.; President of Westover Planting Co., Ltd.; Member of the Board of Directors for Whitney National Bank of New Orleans, Waterford Sugar Cooperative, Inc., and Cane Products Trade Association; Chairman of the Educational Committee of the American Sugar Cane League of New Orleans; and a Member of the Board of Administrators for Charity Hospital of New Orleans. He held commissions in the Officers Reserve Corps in the U.S. Army, and served in the Infantry, Chemical Warfare, and Military Intelligence sectors. He died of a stroke in 1954, and in his will, left all of his worldly possessions to his wife and children.

F. Evans Farwell
Figure 6-2: F. Evans Farwell. Source: Louisiana Old Plantation Homes and Family Trees. (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

F. Evans Farwell

F. Evans Farwell, younger brother of Charles Farwell III, was born on June 7, 1906. He attended the University of Virginia and graduated in 1929 with a B.S. in Commerce. While attending the University of Virginia, he became president of the Psi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity, a student instructor in Spanish, and was a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the honorary business fraternity. On February 1, 1936, he started working for Milliken & Farwell, as Vice-President, and on November 11, 1936, married Lynne Paxton Evans Farwell.

F. Evans Farwell Assumes Control

In the Fall of 1929, Evans Farwell worked in the New Orleans office and at the sugar plantations of Milliken and Farwell, Inc. In 1930, he began working for the firm of W. H. Edgar and Sons, Inc., a sugar broker in Detroit, Michigan. In 1933, Farwell opened a branch of W. H. Edgar and Sons, Inc. in New Orleans. After working for W. H. Edgar and Sons, Inc. for some years, he returned to Milliken and Farwell, Inc. in 1936 as Vice-President. At the time, Milliken and Farwell, Inc. owned five plantations; Waterford, Ki Ilona, Smithfield, Westover, and Little Texas. After the death of Charles Farwell ill in 1954, F. Evans Farwell became President of Milliken and Farwell, Inc.

Workers’ Cooperative

In 1932, the Waterford sugar house burned down between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and the Farwell family decided not to rebuild. The workers formed a cooperative and rebuilt the structure. The Waterford sugar house was erected for the second time at a cost of $360,000 and was capable of processing an average of 80,000 tons of sugar cane per year. Around 1951, the sugar house was reported to have been dismantled and sold to a South American company.

The Great Depression

World War I brought some relief to the sugar industry, but after the war, prices again fell. Towards the end of 1930, New Orleans had begun to feel the effects of the Great Depression. During this time, a worldwide surplus of sugar depressed market prices far below the production costs, and the sugar industry verged on bankruptcy. The Sugar Act of 1934 raised the value of a crop of sugar cane by over 60 percent, and Congress saved both the domestic and Cuban sugar industries by enacting the quota system as a control measure.

Home of F. Evans Farwell
Figure 6-3: Home of Mr. and Mrs. F. Evans Farwell. Source: Louisiana Old Plantation Homes and Family Trees. (From Waterford: Agriculture to Industry, November 1988)

Developments in Sugar Production

From 1934 to 1938, the cultivated acreage of the sugar plantations in St. Charles Parish increased over 34.5 per­cent. In 1937, sugar cane brought in 78 percent of St. Charles Parish’s agricultural income. With subsequent sugar legislation in 1948, the U. S. Department of Agriculture declared that annual hearings should be held to determine “fair and reasonable” wages for sugar workers. 

Even though there were many advances in the sugar industry from the 1930s to the 1950s, the government­imposed regulations of sugar cane production hurt some farmers. Consequently, the number of sugar cane farms in Louisiana decreased from about 10,000 to slightly over 2,600 during this period. 

Chemical control of weeds became a major development in the industry in the 1940s and 1950s. Herbicides enabled farmers to control weed growth and thus freed-up hands and coped with labor shortages, as well as lowered prices for cane and sugar. Additionally, specialized machinery, such as harvesters and combines, was used to cut the stalks and load them onto wagons in one continuous step. In 1947, Louisiana sugar cane processors pioneered the use of steam turbines to power the cane-milling rollers. Then in 1954, centralized refineries replaced the individual plantation mills, and bulk handling of sugar cane began. After this major development, crops were sent in bulk directly to the refineries.

The End of an Era

On January 6, 1950, The Times-Picayune published an article relating the liquidation of the Waterford Sugar Cooperative, Inc. At a special meeting of preferred stockholders, the liquidation of the company was deliberated. Upon the approval of a majority of the stockholders, W. E. Sullivan, President, F. Evans Farwell, and Henry Landeche, Jr. were appointed liquidators of the Corporation. 

At that time, the United States Department of Agriculture observed that the price of refined sugar was below the $8.40 per hundred set by the OPA Ceiling, and 80 cents a hundred below the price as related to the cost of living. F. Evans Farwell noted that the Department of Agriculture had failed to do anything towards helping the sugar farmers to remain profitable and predicted that at least five other local sugar cane producers would also go out of business before long. A dynasty had ended, and the bells of change rang in a new era of technological innovation.

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