Albert and Cecilia Toups Oaks

(The Albert and Cecilia Toups oaks are located in front of, and on the side of, the historic yellow Creole Cottage home at 2177 Highway 308. This is a private residence.)

The Albert and Cecilia Toups Oaks are registered with the Live Oak Society (#3032 and 3033). The Albert Oak is named after Albert Toups, Sr., the current owner’s great-grandfather. The Cecilia Oak is named after Albert’s second wife, Cecilia. The two lovely oaks shade the yard of the historic 100-plus-year-old Creole cottage-style home, the former residence of Albert and Cecilia. The current owners, Philip and Debbie Toups, have named the historic home the “Cecilia” House after three different Cecilia’s connected with the history of the Toups’ home.

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Cecilia Oak with birdbath and swing, view toward Hwy. 308 from house

According to genealogical research done by Philip, his branch of the Toups family arrived in Lafourche Parish in June of 1817. That’s when Telesphore Toups Sr. purchased land near the present community of St. Charles on Bayou Lafourche and built a home there for his family. Telesphore Toups had been born in Louisiana’s “German Coast” (St. James Parish) on March 25, 1755, to Gaspard Toups and his wife. Gaspard had immigrated to Louisiana in 1721 with some of the first German immigrants to settle the French territory.

Like other settlers to the Bayou Lafourche area, Telesphore moved to Bayou Lafourche from the German Coast of the Mississippi River. Telesphore and his wife had a son, Zephirin, who was born on Bayou Lafourche and later built a home for his family also near the St. Charles community between Thibodaux and Raceland.

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The Albert Toups Oak

In 1974, Philip and his wife Debbie purchased the 109-year-old home of Zephirin Toups. Zephirin was Philip’s great-great-grandfather. At the time, the home was in danger of being torn down by a farmer who owned the property and wished to expand his amount of land under cultivation. Philip and Debbie then moved the Zephirin house to a new location, restored it, and lived there for 23 years. In 1996, they sold Zephirin’s home and purchased Albert Toups Sr.’s home in the St. Charles community. Albert Toups Sr. was Zephirin Toups’ son and Philip’s great-grandfather.

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.

The Boudreaux Oak

(The Boudreaux Oak is located at 2049 LA. Highway. 1, about 1/4 mile south of the St. Charles bridge, on the west bank of Bayou Lafourche. There is another large oak directly on the shoulder of LA. Hwy. 1 at the driveway to the Boudreaux home. This is a private residence.)

This oak is one of the two oldest oaks on Lafourche Live Oak Tour. For comparison, it is a full foot larger in girth (29 feet, 1 inch) than the famous “Angel Oak” (28 ft. girth) on St. John’s Island near Charlotte, North Carolina, which some people claim is more than 1,000 years old (most likely a large overstatement of its age). Though it doesn’t have the same long hanging limbs as the Angel Oak, the Boudreaux Oak is much older.

The Boudreaux Oak is not yet registered with the Live Oak Society but is one of 30 oldest oaks growing in Louisiana. (Yes, Louisiana has even larger and older oaks than this!)

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Boudreaux Oak #2, roadside on LA Hwy. 1

At the highway edge of the property is another old oak (approximately 20 feet in girth). The larger oak is easy to spot – off a private driveway next to the pink/mauve cottage.

Shaded by the massive arching branches of the Boudreaux oak, the home is almost 100 years old and has been in the Boudreaux family for three generations. The current owner, Jerome Boudreaux, runs a gallery and gift shop on 7th Street around the corner from the Cathedral Oaks in Thibodaux.

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Boudreaux Oak, view toward Hwy. 1

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.

Bayou Lafourche Gem Oak

(The Bayou Lafourche Gem Oak is located on the bayou side of the road at 521 LA Highway 308. This is south of Thibodaux.)

According to current Gem Oak owner Sally Marshall Masterson, the tree is named after her father whose initials were G.E.M – George E. Marshall.

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The Bayou Lafourche GEM Oak, view from LA Highway 308

The oak was registered with the Live Oak Society (#4245) with a girth of just under 15 feet. In November of 2016, its girth was 20 feet, 1 inch. This relatively fast growth is not unusual for a live oak that has fertile soil, regular access to water, and little competition for sunlight from other nearby trees. It’s one of the reasons that estimating the age of an old oak can be challenging. This oak tree is likely between 150 and 200 years of age (if you assume that an oak with a girth of 17 feet would be 100 years of age or older).

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The Bayou Lafourche Gem Oak, view from bayou side

When the Louisiana delta was formed, natural ridges were created along the banks of rivers and bayous from the silt deposited by annual flooding (usually in the spring). These natural ridges sloped away from the banks of the bayou into the lower-lying swampland. Many of the oldest oaks along Bayou Lafourche would have taken root on this fertile flood plain.

As immigrants began to settle the area along the bayou, they established farms and built houses on strips of fertile ground close to the bayou. With these early settlements, each landowner was required by law to maintain the natural levee that connected their property to the bayou. Breaks in the levee, called crevasses, were a constant fear. The same rising water that fed the surrounding land with rich sediment and supported settlers’ crops also threatened to wash those crops away.

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Gem Oak, view from LA Hwy. 308, study 4

After a very large flood and break in the levee above Thibodaux in 1903, local residents petitioned the state government to build a dam in Donaldsonville at the mouth of the bayou to protect against future floods. Once this dam was constructed, many of the levees along the length of Bayou Lafourche were removed, so the Bayou Lafourche Gem Oak likely sprouted (or was planted) sometime after 1903.

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.

The Settling of Bayou Lafourche

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Purple Martins over bayou, view from Laurel Valley bridge

The written history of Bayou Lafourche begins in the late 1700s with the arrival of the first European settlers to the area. But the history of the oaks and all they’ve witnessed along the bayou is much older. The name, “Lafourche,” is French and means “the fork.” That’s because the bayou branches off of the Mississippi River at Donaldsonville forming a fork or distributary that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Geologists say that at one time the bayou was the main course of the Mississippi.

Early explorers named the bayou and its surrounding area, La Fourche des Chetimachas, meaning the fork of the Chetimachas, after a Native American tribe they found living in the region along the bayou. The Chetimachas and other native tribes including the Washa (Ouacha), and Chawasha (Chaouacha) were the original inhabitants of Bayou Lafourche. Their settlements often were situated on areas of high ground, the same places where live oaks naturally grow. Some of the oldest oaks in this Lafourche Live Oak Tour could well have shaded the settlements of these native peoples long before European explorers and immigrants arrived.

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Bayou Lafourche in fog, view from St. Charles bridge

Expelled by the British in 1755 from their Canadian homeland, French Acadians began to arrive in Louisiana in a series of waves that lasted several decades. The first Acadians settled primarily along the Mississippi River, on the upper fringe of the German Coast, an area along the Mississippi River above New Orleans where the first successful pioneers were settled in 1721 by John Law’s Company of the Indies.

As the Acadian’s numbers grew, this area on the Mississippi became known as the “Acadian Coast.” In time, the first Acadians were joined by other immigrants – Germans, French, Spanish, Irish, Africans, and others, all seeking their own new “homeland” in the Louisiana territory. With each additional wave of immigrants, their settlements moved farther upriver and then inland along Bayou Lafourche, where new land offered new opportunities for the freedom and peace they sought.

These early immigrants settled first close to the fork of the Mississippi near present-day Donaldsonville, Belle Rose, Paincourtville, and Plattenville. An early census of 1769 estimated the population of Lafourche at 267 persons of all ages, sex, and color, living within a 35-mile stretch from Donaldsonville to approximately where Thibodaux is today. In 1778, a group of Spanish immigrants from the Canary Islands were settled near Donaldsonville by the Spanish Government, and after 1785, additional small groups of Acadians followed after learning of the availability of land offered by Spain. Slowly, settlements were established farther and farther down the length of the bayou.

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Bayou Lafourche, view east from Audubon Ave. bridge in Thibodaux

Following the “Norman long-lot” model begun on the German Coast along the Mississippi River, the early land grant tracts on Bayou Lafourche were shaped like long slender rectangles. Each had a narrow front access to the bayou, usually no more than a few hundred feet wide, and were from 40 to 80 arpents deep (approximately a mile and a half to three miles). This pattern of development was common and can still be seen in rural properties today along the bayou.²

Settlers built their farmsteads on the natural high ground near the bayou built up from centuries of sediment left from spring flooding. This fertile land nearest the bayou was ordinarily used for gardens and larger commercial farms, while the lower-lying areas to the rear of the tract gave each settler access to the swampland and the wildlife that lived there. Access to the bayou gave the settlers an onramp to the main route of trade and transportation in and out of the area. By the early 1900s, homesteads stretched the length of Bayou Lafourche almost 80 miles from Donaldsonville to Golden Meadow, giving rise to Bayou Lafourche being called the “longest main street in the world.”

The descendants of these various cultures and ethnic groups, Germans, Spanish, Americans, Italians, Indians, and Africans eventually merged their unique traditions, cultural practices, and bloodlines to form what’s known today as Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou culture.

The National Park Service offers boat tours of the upper Bayou Lafourche area out of their headquarters in Thibodaux (314 St. Mary Street). Reservations are required; call their Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, at 985-448-1375 for information.

The Lafourche Live Oak Tour was created through the generous support of the Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism. For more information on Lafourche Parish events and activities, visit their website at LACajunBayou.comAll photographs and content ©William Guion, 2017.

Faucheaux and Constant Oaks

(The Faucheaux and Constant Oaks are located at 649 Highway 308, about three miles south of downtown Thibodaux traveling toward Raceland and 3/4 mile past the Laurel Valley Village.)

The Faucheaux Oak (on the left in the photo above) is one of the older oaks along Bayou Lafourche with a girth of 26 ft, 10 inches. It is approximately 250 to 300 years old. The Constant Oak to the right is younger with a girth of 21 ft. 6 inches and an approximate age of maybe 150 to 200 years.

The Faucheaux Oak is an early member of the Live Oak Society – #425 on the Society registry and was registered in the 1970s. The tree is named for Prudent Faucheaux Sr., whose family lived in the Creole-style cottage situated behind the old oaks from 1932 to 1978. Before that, the Faucheaux family leased the land to grow rice, which was the second most common agricultural crop along the bayou at the time. Mr. Prudent Faucheaux, Jr. was  a former postmaster in Thibodaux.

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Constant Oak in foreground; Faucheaux Oak in background

In ithe late 1970s, the home and property were acquired by Nelson and Lena Constant. The Constant Oak (in the foreground of the black-and-white photo above) is named after the Constant family who still owns the home and property today.

According to one Constant family member, Confederate troops made camp around the oaks and cannonballs were found recently indicating they may have left hastily from their camp.

There are several unregistered oaks you’ll notice on either side of this location that are within a similar age range as the Constant Oak (approximately 200 years old). It’s likely they were all planted during the same time period (the late 1700s to early 1800s) as this stretch on the east bank of Bayou Lafourche was settled.

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.

Ridgefield Plantation Oaks

(You can find the Ridgefield Plantation home from two directions – from St. Mary Street, turn at the stoplight onto Ridgefield Road and drive approximately 1/4 mile to Young Place. Turn right and then take the first right turn onto Len Street. Len Street curves around to Len Court which ends in a small cul-de-sac. There, you’ll see the tour sign and a historical marker for the plantation home. Or, if you’re coming from the St. Johns Episcopal Church, travel north on Seventh St. from Jackson St. for two long blocks, then turn left on Ridgefield Road. The first right will be Young Place where you’ll turn right onto Len Street.)

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Ridgefield Oaks study 3

Ridgefield Plantation was possibly originally established by George Seth Guion’s father-in-law, his wife Caroline Winder’s step-father. George and Caroline were given the plantation and they settled there in 1831, in a small cottage, after moving to Thibodaux from Mississippi. As his family grew and the plantation thrived, George and Caroline expanded the home and generously donated land along Jackson Street to support the small but growing community of Thibodaux. They donated land for St. John’s Episcopal Church and Cemetery and for Guion Academy, the first free public school in Thibodaux (both were located on land that today faces Jackson street). George was also a co-founder of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.

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Ridgefield Oaks and bench

The first Ridgefield Plantation home was built in the 1830s by George Seth Guion. His daughter, Caroline Zilpha Guion, eventually inherited the home and married Francis T. Nicholls, the namesake of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Nicholls was an attorney, politician, judge, and brigadier general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He served two terms as Governor of Louisiana – from 1876 to 1880 and from 1888 to 1892 – and was Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1892 to 1911. He died at his Ridgefield Plantation home and is buried in St. John’s Episcopal Church Cemetery.

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Ridgefield Oaks, study 5

Though the original Ridgefield Plantation home burned in 1940, it was replaced by an exact replica and is now privately owned. Some of the oaks around the Ridgefield home date back to the 1830’s when the original home was constructed. The large oak near the entrance to the cul-de-sac drive (photo above) is more than 24 feet in circumference (300+ plus years of age).

The land that once was Ridgefield Plantation now makes up several residential neighborhoods and commercial properties on both sides of Ridgefield Road. A few of the oldest oaks that once graced the plantation are scattered around these neighborhoods.

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.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church Oaks

(St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church is located in the St. John Community at 2085 Hwy. 1, about 4 miles north of downtown Thibodaux. The church building is across LA Hwy. 1 from the St. John bridge. The church is about half-way to Labadieville and developed in much the same way as the St. Charles Borremeo Church south of Thibodaux. As the population along the Bayou grew, the people wanted their own church closer to their home. You can view the oaks on the grounds by pulling into the parking lot behind the church building.)

There are four live oaks on the church grounds that are registered with the Live Oak Society:
•  The Fr. Jules Berthault Oak – 18 ft. girth
•  The Beulah Robinson Robichaux Oak – 16 ft., 2 in.
•  The Fr. Cyril de la Fuente Oak – 13 ft., 4 in.
•  The Monsignor Emile Fossier Oak – 15 ft, 2 in.

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Father Jules Berthault Oak

A combination school and mission was established in 1876 in a small building called “Ecole St. Jean” (French for “school of St. John”). The small school was staffed by two Mount Carmel nuns who were also teachers. Once a week, the school became a chapel and a visiting priest would celebrate mass. In 1919, St. John was officially recognized as a legal entity and in 1935, Father Jules Berthault became its first full-time pastor. The largest oak on the property is named in his honor.

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Father Jules Berthault Oak (left) and Beulah R. Robichaux Oak (right)

Beulah Robinson Robichaux was a housekeeper at the church and rectory for more than 50 years. She was instrumental in getting the St. John Grotto built behind the church. In 1956, she led a fund-raising effort to purchase the old Stations of the Cross from Charity Hospital in New Orleans, after the chapel was removed from the hospital. Those same Stations can be seen today located on posts on a semi-circle walkway in front of the church offices.

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Monsignor Emile Fossier Oak

Monsignor Emile Fossier was pastor of St. John from June 1980 until he retired in 1986. During his time as pastor, he is credited with a number of improvements to the church and surrounding facilities. (The title of monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church is honorary, rather than a specific position in the church hierarchy. It’s granted to a priest who has distinguished himself and has been honored by the Pope for his service to the church.)

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Father de la Fuente Oak

Father Cyril De La Fuente was pastor at St. John Church from 1941 to 1962. During these years the church congregation grew enough that the church had to be enlarged. The structure was split down the middle, spread apart, and a new middle section constructed enlarging the seating capacity to 600.

The church structure you see today is the result of three renovations – one in 1930, one in 1955, and again in 1981. Behind the church, there’s the cemetery, and to the right are the church offices and the Father de la Fuente Parish Hall.

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.