Waverly Plantation Oaks

(The Waverly Plantation Oaks are located at 1851 Hwy. 1, approximately 3.9 miles from downtown Thibodaux, just north of the Leighton Plantation Oaks.)

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Waverly Plantation Oaks, view from Hwy. 1

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.

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Four oaks in old grove, Waverly

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.

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Waverly old grove after rain

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.

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Waverly old grove, morning light

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.

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Two oaks, afternoon light, Waverly

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.

Webre Oaks

(The Webre Oaks are located on the property at 1523 Highway 308; six miles south from downtown Thibodaux and 9 miles from Raceland. This is still within the community of St. Charles.)

There are several old oaks surrounding the weathered Creole Cottage on this property, the largest of which is more than 24 feet in girth (approximately 200-300 years of age).

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Webre Oak, 24 ft. 4 in. in girth

The current owner of these oaks is Lafourche Parish Sheriff, Craig Webre. According to Mr. Webre, the land was never part of any of the neighboring plantations (Melodia Plantation is directly south and Webster Plantation was to the north). But like many of the homes and properties in the St. Charles Community, the land has been owned by a series of descendants of the original French and Acadian families that settled along Bayou Lafourche in the late 1770s and early 1800s. The Zeringue family were the previous owners of the property, and Mr. E.P. Zeringue was born and raised in the Creole Cottage there.

According to Mr. E.P. Zeringue, a Babin family owned the property before the Zeringues and due to inheritance laws, the land was split between two Babin sons, Traisemond and Hector. Mr. Webre was able to purchase both sections of the split property to bring the original land-grant settlement together again. The old Victorian-style home being restored on the property was moved from Homeplace Plantation in Gheens, almost 20 miles away.

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Other Oaks on Webre property

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.

Coulon Plantation Oaks

The Coulon Plantation oaks are located at the corner of Hwy 308 and Hwy 3266 across from the Tiger Drive Bridge.

According to information from descendants of the Leche and Caldwell families, the Coulon House was built around 1940–1941 by John (Jean) Leche for his wife Albertine P. Leche. Leche bought Coulon plantation from E.G. Robichaux and Thomas H. Rogers, possibly in the 1930s.

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Coulon House entry driveway and oaks

Coulon Plantation was named for Victor Coulon, who, according to Charles J. Coulon,  lived on the property prior before 1830, and Charles Coulon and his wife Pauline Ledet lived on the property until it sold in 1835 to Thomas Bibb, who also purchased Rienzi Plantation in that same year.  Bibb served as the second governor of the state of Alabama between 1820 and 1821 and likely kept a home on Bayou Lafourche as a second or third residence. Bibb’s main residence was in Alabama.

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Coulon House and oak, southeast corner

If you’ve read several of the live oak stories on this tour, you’ll likely notice some names repeated as owners of multiple plantation properties around Bayou Lafourche (like Thomas Bibb, Henry S. Thibodaux, William Fields, and the Pugh family). In 1795, the first successful large-scale granulation of sugar occurred near New Orleans opened the way for sugarcane to become a highly profitable crop in Louisiana, far more than tobacco or indigo.

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Coulon House Oak study 2, view from near the edge of Hwy 308

Prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, large tracts of land, called concessions, were granted to very influential people by the ruling governments of France and Spain. Many of these wealthy individuals never even visited Louisiana but still built large agricultural estates. The poorer colonists generally received smaller land grants, called habitations, that had a standard narrow width fronting the bayou or other waterways and stretched back a mile or more into the swamps. These early settlements along Bayou Lafourche developed into a patchwork of landholdings ranging from huge plantations to one- or two-acre vegetable farms. These patterns of settlement can still be seen today. If you cross one of the Mississippi River bridges in rural areas like Gramercy or Donaldsonville, you can look down and see the outlines of long, ribbon-shaped properties even today.

When sugar and cotton became profitable in the 1800s, planters and real-estate speculators purchased many of the original small Acadian land-grant farms and consolidated them into large plantations. This began the era of huge wealthy plantations in Louisiana that lasted through the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

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.

Leighton Plantation Oaks

(The Leighton Plantation Oaks are located at 1801-1811 LA Hwy. 1 (St. Mary Street) about 2.5 miles north of downtown Thibodaux. The oaks are on the property between Leighton Road and Leighton Quarters Road. Turn onto Leighton Quarters Road to get the best view of the trees. The oaks range in age and size, the oldest and largest dating back to the early 1800s. There is a historic marker to Leonidas Polk at the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Thibodaux, and another [small and on the roadside] about a hundred feet north of the Leighton Quarters Road on the west side of Hwy 1.)

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Oak grove behind home, Leighton Plantation property

There is a story that 22 of the oaks at Leighton Plantation belonged to the King of Spain in the late 1700s. As the story goes, the land grant for the property contained a stipulation that the King of Spain (Charles IV) could claim these “Royal Oaks” whenever he needed for construction and repair of his royal navy. At the time, Spain was at war with England (1796–1808), and the wood from Louisiana’s live oaks was known worldwide to be strong enough to deflect an English cannonball.

In the early 1800s, Leighton Plantation was owned by Leonidas Polk (April 10, 1806 – June 14, 1864), an Episcopal Bishop and American Confederate General. Polk was a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1827). After graduation from West Point, he received special permission to resign his new commission in the U.S. Army and attend the Virginia Theological Seminary where he was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He went on to become Missionary Bishop of the Southwest in 1838 and was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana in 1841.

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Leighton Oaks, back entry road to home

Bishop Polk established Leighton Plantation to be closer to his work as he frequently traveled between Thibodaux and New Orleans where he administered the Louisiana Episcopal Diocese from Christ Cathedral, New Orleans’ first Protestant Episcopalian church. During his tenure as bishop, he personally established St. Johns Episcopal Church in Thibodaux, Christ Church in Napoleonville, the Church of the Ascension in Donaldsonville, the Church of the Holy Communion in Plaquemine, and Trinity Church in Natchitoches. Through his crusading evangelical efforts, the Protestant Episcopal religion made a significant foothold in the predominantly Roman Catholic Louisiana.

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Leighton Plantation Oaks, view from Leighton Quarters Road

Bishop Polk strongly believed in states’ rights and felt that the South was a “distinct cultural entity.” After Louisiana seceded from the U.S. in January of 1861 and the Civil War began, he resigned as Bishop of Louisiana and took command of Confederate forces in western Tennessee. His most notable contribution to the Army of Tennessee was his calm ability to inspire confidence and religious beliefs, earning him the nickname, the “Fighting Bishop.” Polk was killed in battle June 1864 at Pine Mountain, Georgia.

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Roadside historic marker for Leighton Plantation

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.

Donald L. Peltier Oak / Grenier Oak

(The Grenier Oak, also called the Donald Louis Peltier Oak, is located on the grounds of what was once called Forest Grove Plantation. It is located at 2123 LA Hwy. 1, approximately four and one-half miles north of downtown Thibodaux. There is a white wooden fence across the front of the property, with several large live oaks set back away from the highway in front of the private home. The Donald L. Peltier Oak / Grenier Oak is the largest oak in this group of trees to the left. This is private property and public entrance is strictly prohibited.)

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The Donal L. Peltier Oak – photo made Feb. 2015 – courtesy of Diane Badeaux

The Grenier Oak was one of the original 43 inductee oaks in the Live Oak Society when the organization was founded in 1934 by Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens. It was registered by Walter S. Lafargue with a girth then of 19 feet 10 inches. W.S. Lafargue is best known for his contribution as long-term Superintendent of Education in Lafourche Parish – he was the first education professional appointed to that position and made significant improvements to the quality of education in the parish. Previously, he was the assistant principal of Thibodaux College (a Catholic boy’s school) and held a part-time editor’s position with the Thibodaux Weekly Sentinel newspaper. Mr. Lafargue would likely have been friends with the Live Oak Society founder, Edwin Lewis Stephens since they were both educators.

The Grenier Oak is named after Joseph Louis Viateur “Cap” Grenier. The connection between W.S. Lafargue and “Cap” Grenier appears to be their shared love of baseball.  W.S. Lafargue helped organize a semi-professional minor-league baseball team in Thibodaux, called the Thibodaux Pilots. Cap Grenier was President of the Bayou Lafourche Baseball Association. The Thibodaux Pilots were part of the Evangeline League and played their games at Stark Field. Stark field used to be located on the west side of Canal Boulevard, past Pecan Street.

For years, Mr. Grenier worked for Horace Williams Construction in New Orleans building highways, bridges, and levees across the South. During Governor Jimmy Davis’ term of office (1944–1948), Mr. Grenier served as Director of Highways for the State Of Louisiana. In that role, he was instrumental in building the paved highway between Thibodaux and Vacherie, the paved road to Grand Isle, and several paved stretches of highway on LA Hwy. 308. As chairman of its building committee, he helped endow Thibodaux General Hospital and was named outstanding citizen for Thibodaux.

Mr. Grenier purchased Forest Grove Plantation in 1942 when he retired from a long and successful career as a construction engineer. He built his home there and named it Oak Terrace. Land and sugar production records show that the name Forest Grove was used to identify this property as early as 1895 when it was owned by John Seely. The oaks on the grounds were likely growing on the land for a hundred years or more before 1900. The Grenier oak tree was re-registered with the Live Oak Society around 2011–2012 and the name changed to the Donald Louis Peltier Oak, a later owner of Grenier’s Oak Terrace home. Today, Forest Grove and the Oak Terrace home have new owners and the property is closed to the public.

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.

Acknowledgements

There are several people, without whose help, this website and the entire Lafourche Live Oak Tour project would not have happened. I feel it’s important that they receive some recognition for their support.

First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge the board members of the Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism. They shared my vision of a tour of historic live oaks and provided the means to make the seed of an idea grow into reality. Thanks also to Marguerite Knight Erwin and John Lafargue for the original brainstorm session over coffee, at which they pointed me in the right direction.

A special thank-you to Jason Graham for his graphic design help and technical expertise with creating the project logo, signs, website, and brochure – Jason, it’s always a pleasure to work with you!

Another mega-Merci’ to the Ellender Memorial Library archivist (and interim library director) Clifton Theriot at Nicholls State University and the dedicated staff of the library archives where much of the research for this project was done. And as other sources of research, I’m much obliged to the many local historians whose stories and anecdotes helped breathe life into the photos on this website and the accompanying brochure – Robert Pugh, Philip Toups, Martin Cortez, and the Lafourche Heritage Society. Their passion and commitment to preserving the rich history of Bayou Lafourche are both an inspiration and a guiding light.

An especially large and heartfelt thank you goes to the Thibodaux Garden Club members and Lafourche-Terrebonne Master Gardeners for their love of the oaks, their ongoing horticultural support, and for introducing me to oak tree owners and caretakers throughout the parish.

Finally, thank you very much to the all of the property owners, live oak friends, and residents of Lafourche Parish who share my appreciation for the old landmark trees and acknowledge their importance to the culture and history of South Louisiana. As Pope Francis advised in 2016 – we are all stewards of the land on which we live and it’s our spiritual responsibility to care for and protect it for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

New Hope Plantation Oaks

(The oldest oaks in the large grove at 4535 LA Highway 308 date back possibly to the late 1700s, when the land was yet undeveloped. By the way, the offices and visitor’s center of the Bayou Lafourche Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are right across Bayou Lafourche from the New Hope Plantation Oaks at 4484 LA. Hwy. 1.  Stop in for a visit!) 

Around 1818, three American brothers from Bertie County, North Carolina, moved to Louisiana with hopes of making a fortune in the agricultural industry. Dr. Whitmell Hill Pugh (1781-1834), Augustin Pugh (1783-1853), with their half-brother Thomas Pugh (1796-1852) initially immigrated to Bayou Teche near Franklin, where they lived for a year. Dissatisfied with their prospects on Bayou Teche, the brothers moved closer to New Orleans and settled along Bayou Lafourche.

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Oldest oak on Gulf Logistics property, view toward Hwy. 308

Whitmell, the oldest brother, purchased a tract of land 18 miles below Thibodaux from Thibodaux businessman and plantation owner William Fields (one of the former owners of Rienzi Plantation). He named his new home, New Hope Plantation, to express his intent that his family would prosper in this new location. Some of the oaks on the property possibly date back to this period when New Hope was established.

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New Hope Plantation Oaks, view east from inside grove

The Pugh brothers and their families did eventually prosper, becoming one of the wealthiest families along Bayou Lafourche and in Louisiana. Between the three brothers and their growing families, by the 1860s, the Pughs owned 13 plantations and were part owners of five more in Lafourche and Assumption Parishes – close to 10,000 acres of plantation land. Because of this, the family was the source of a local riddle, “Why is Bayou Lafourche like the aisle of a church? Because there are Pughs on both sides.”

Whitmell Pugh died in 1834 and his son William Whitmell Hill Pugh took over his father’s estate. William eventually sold New Hope to his uncle Augustin and moved closer to his family’s properties in Assumption Parish where he established Woodlawn Plantation. After the Civil War, the Pugh family plantations quickly declined. Much of the land was sold and eventually, the grand plantation homes faded away and were lost. Thomas Pugh’s Madewood Plantation near Napoleonville is the last surviving — it’s now a National Historic Landmark.

 

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Oldest Oak at New Hope Plantation, the Pugh Oak

New Hope Plantation and its grove of ancient oaks changed hands several times over the years. The home on the property now was built in the last 20 years. Within the last 10 years, the property was purchased by Gulf Offshore Logistics where it built its current corporate offices.

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.

Mount Carmel Oaks

(The Mount Carmel Oaks can be found in a lot on Academy Street, a short semicircular street located behind the Carmel Inn.  The Carmel Inn is located at 400 East 1st Street [LA Hwy 1]. Turn onto St. Charles Street, drive one long block and turn at the first left.)

In 1855, Mount Carmel Academy, a Catholic boarding school for girls under the direction of the Sisters of Mount Carmel, began its first school session at this location. The group of five oaks located on Academy Street is all that remains of the old school grounds where the last Mount Carmel Academy building was located. That structure, completed in 1900, once faced St. Charles and East Second Streets (now the location of the Carmel Inn & Suites). The old oaks date back approximately to the mid-1800s when the first school building was constructed.

Mount Carmel was founded by Père Charles Menard, known locally as the “Apostle of Bayou Lafourche” for his more than 50 years tenure as pastor of Thibodaux and Lafourche Parish. Menard worked tirelessly to fill an important need for the community – to ensure that the children learned to read and write as part of an education in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

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Mount Carmel Oaks, color study 2

During those five-plus decades of work, Père Menard helped establish new churches and schools across the parish including St Charles of Borremeo Church in the community of St. Charles, St. John the Evangelist Church in the community of St. John, Mount Carmel in 1855 and Thibodaux College, the all-boys counterpart in 1861. In 1891, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart came to run Thibodaux College which was originally located just south of Mount Carmel Academy on St. Mary Street (LA Hwy 1).

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Mount Carmel Oaks, view from Academy St. looking east

Both schools operated until 1965 when they moved and merged into E.D. White Catholic High School (which was originally named Thibodaux Central Catholic High School). The new school was under construction at the time that hurricane Betsy swept through in 1965 causing significant damage to both of the old schools.

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.

Joachim and Telesphore Oaks

(The Telesphore and Joachim Oaks are located on the property of the Robichaux family [Dickie Robichaux and Phyllis Toups Robichaux] at 2117 LA. Highway 308. The Joachim Oak is the moss-draped tree closest to the highway.)

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Joachim Oak, view toward highway

The Robichaux’s home is a French Creole Cottage with Greek Revival details. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Lafourche Parish as the “Ledet House.” Misses Leah and Cecilia Ledet, daughters of Joseph Paulin (J.P.) Ledet, were the most recent Ledet family members to occupy the home. Mr. Ledet was born in this house and it’s assumed that the house belonged to his father, Joachim Ledet, the namesake of the Joachim Oak (approximately 21 feet 6 in.).

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Telesphore Oak and Ledet House in background

The Telesphore Oak (22 ft. 4 in. in girth) is named after Telesphore Toups, a relative (several generations back) of Phyllis Toups Robichaux. Telesphore Toups’ son Zephirin once owned the adjacent property to this home’s location. As covered in another post on the Albert and Cecilia Toups Oaks, Telesphore was an early settler of the St. Charles area. The first reference to this land can be traced back to 1817 when Telesphore Toups Sr. settled there.

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Telesphore Oak, full view

Even though the Ledet House has received a fair amount of alteration over time, it is historically significant as a rare example of the “pre-Queen Anne Revival style structure” in Lafourche Parish. Before the 19th century (the 1800s), the dominant style of rural homes was French Creole and Spanish architectural designs. In the early 1800s, ushered in by a wave of economic prosperity, an interest in Greek Revival style architecture began to be seen in several new and remodeled homes, especially in the more grand plantation homes.

The Lafourche Live Oak Tour was created through the generous support of the Bayou Lafourche Convention & Visitors Bureau. For more information on Lafourche Parish events and activities, visit their website at LACajunBayou.com.

The Oaks of St. Charles Community

(The St. Charles Borromeo Church is located at 1985 LA Hwy. 308, approximately 7.1 miles south of downtown Thibodaux. In its vicinity, there are some of the largest and oldest surviving oaks along Bayou Lafourche.)

History:  The Saint Charles Community south of Thibodaux draws its name from the Catholic Church parish of St. Charles Borromeo whose boundaries are roughly Lafourche Crossing on the north and the Ariel Plantation Road to the south. In 1874, Father Charles Menard purchased land from Vasseur Bourgeois on the west bank of Bayou Lafourche (Hwy. 1 side) to establish a mission church and school for the families living mid-way between Thibodaux and Raceland. The Sisters of Mount Carmel in Thibodaux staffed the school and offered classes in both French and English.

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Blanchard Oak, 26 ft. 7 in. girth, view from west side

The St. Charles Borromeo Church parish was established in 1912 and a new wooden church structure was consecrated two years later in 1914 on the east bank of the bayou on land purchased from the estate of Adele Toups Beauvais. Because the new church was on the east bank of the bayou, congregation members from the west bank had to cross the bayou by a ferry that operated until it was replaced by a pontoon bridge in 1932 and a metal one-lane bridge in 1949. The new St. Charles (Hwy. 645) bridge was constructed in 1996. The new modern brick church (to the right of the white wooden building) was built in 1989.

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Melanie Toups Oak, view from church driveway

There are more than a dozen live oaks with girths between 20 and 25 feet and a half dozen more older trees with girths between 25 and 30 feet along Bayou Lafourche in the St. Charles area. This is probably because this area has remained largely agricultural and rural, and sparing the old oaks the fate of being removed to make way for businesses and new housing.

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Blanchard Oak, 26 ft. 7 in. girth, view from the north side

Some of the oldest oaks stand near the heart of the community and close to the St. Charles Borromeo Church. Immediately north and behind the old white wooden church building lives the Blanchard Oak (pictured above). This wizened old tree predates the purchase of the property by Father Charles Menard by as much as 100 years. Church records note that Father Menard commented on the lovely live oaks growing on the property in May 1874.

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Cemetery Oaks, St. Charles Borromeo Church

If you turn into the church driveway and parking area, you can see the Blanchard Oak over the north boundary fence. And just south of the church and toward the rear of the private property on the south side of the new brick church building lives the Melanie Toups Oak with a girth of 26 ft. 9 in. (pictured below).

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Melanie Toups Oak, 26 ft. 9 in., close-up view 

Located approximately midway between Thibodaux and Raceland (7.5 miles from Thibodaux, and 8 miles to Raceland), the larger community emerged from several small farms and plantation communities including Melodia, Bush Grove, Blouin, Ariel, Oak Grove, Home Place, and Scudday plantations on the east bank of Bayou Lafourche and several other farms on the west bank.

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Landry Morello Oak, approximately 28 feet in girth, St. Charles area

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.