(The Waverly Plantation Oaks are located at 1851 Hwy. 1, approximately 3.9 miles from downtown Thibodaux, just north of the Leighton Plantation Oaks.)
Waverly Plantation was the site of the 1903 crevasse, or break in the levee, north of Thibodaux. In a photograph from Clifton P. Theriot’s book, Lafourche Parish, Judge William E. Howell, the owner of Waverly at the time, can be seen sitting on horseback on top of the Bayou Lafourche levee overseeing the flood damage to his property. Five to six feet of water submerged Waverly’s sugarcane crops and those of surrounding plantations for miles in either direction. It was after this catastrophe that Lafourche residents petitioned the state to block off the mouth of Bayou Lafourche at Donaldsonville to prevent future floods.
In an excerpt from Roland B. Howell’s (son of William E. Howell) recollections of growing up at Waverly Plantation, he recalls how riverboats passing Waverly at night on Bayou Lafourche would direct their strong spotlights onto the eerie moss-draped oak groves surrounding the Howell’s plantation home. When the spotlight shined on the children gathered on the home’s gallery, the kids would excitedly wave handkerchiefs and the riverboat would blow a single blast from its whistle as a salute in response.
The damming of Bayou Lafourche helped to avoid future floods, but it also ended the era of large riverboats on Bayou Lafourche forever. The dam made the fork into the Bayou from the Mississippi unnavigable to large riverboat traffic and it cut off nourishment and replenishment of a huge wetland area of central Louisiana. (Source: Wikipedia). The bayou’s depth after 1905 limited vessels to no more than a five-foot draft, deep enough for flatboats, but not for commercial steamers. (Source: Designing the Bayous: The Control of Water in the Atchafalaya Basin, 1880–1995.) In November 2016, The Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District completed a new phase of restoring water flow back into Bayou Lafourche from the Mississippi River by removing culverts and an earthen levee underneath the Union Pacific railroad bridge in Donaldsonville. Their long-term goal is to improve the freshwater quality for all the communities along the bayou’s banks that depend on Bayou Lafourche for their water supply.
Growing up in Thibodaux, I recall this property being the home of Norbert “Nobby” DeGravelle and his family in the 1960s. Nobby was the only professional photographer I was aware of from this period and was a well-known part of the community and the local Rotary Club. He had a studio on Main Street in downtown Thibodaux as well as a studio adjacent to his home. Nobby’s mailbox along the shoulder of Hwy. 1 at Waverly was shaped like a large view camera with its bellows extended. The door at the front of the camera-mailbox was where the postman would deposit the mail. The Waverly property is now owned by Dr. Jason Higgins and his wife.
The Lafourche Live Oak Tour was created through the generous support of Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism. For more information on Lafourche Parish events and activities, visit their website at LACajunBayou.com.