After decades of preserving, highlighting parish’s history, organization dissolves

After preserving and showcasing the history of St. Charles Parish for nearly 30 years, the St. Charles Museum and Historical Association is dissolving the organization.

“When we became the St. Charles Museum and Historical Association, we had a board that went through and decided on what projects we wanted to complete,” board member Rita Carlson said. “We also realized we did not have the manpower beyond that to do other projects, so for quite a few years now we’ve realized that we would be closing when we finished the projects.

“We planned it also for when our money was going to run out.”

The St. Charles Museum and Historical Association was established in 2007 from the merger of River Road Shell Norco Museum and the St. Charles Historical Foundation. At the time of the merger, Shell Norco was closing its museum on company property due to security reasons while the St. Charles Historical Foundation, founded in 1996, was preparing to publish a pictorial book of the history of St. Charles Parish.

Over the years, the organization has either initiated, sponsored, completed or assisted with several important projects in the parish, including the German Coast Farmers’ Market, the historical museum website, the Mile of History in Destrehan, the book “St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History” and the mural on the side of River Road Market and Deli in Destrehan.

The idea for a mural based on the area’s history was first brought up prior to the parish’s bicentennial in 2007. The mural is made up of 17 panels artist Hans Geist painted in his Houma studio and then transported to the site where he and assistant Alvin Naquin installed them. The panels tell the story of the area from the earliest French settlers to now and capture important moments along the way, such as the 1811 slave revolt, the Civil War and the oil industry’s effect on the area.

“St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History” evolved from being just a pictorial history of St. Charles to an extensive review of history as characterized by timelines, first-hand accounts and legal documents, as well as maps, charts, graphs and photographs. The book was written by Joan Becnel, Suzanne Friloux, Marilyn Richoux and Fay Louque and covers more than 300 years of the parish’s history.

Carlson said the creation of the online museum at is particularly close to her heart, for several reasons.

“One is that I had the pleasure of working with Joan (Becnel) who is so wise and reasonable. She always has a wonderful outlook,” Carlson said. “Add that to discovering history in so many ways. It’s almost like detective work. And then the people in this parish are so cooperative, always going out of their way to gather photos of their family history.”

Another favorite was the annual Mothers’ Day parade put on by the Odd Fellows in Hahnville.  The Odd Fellows organized in 1887 and the parade has been going on for almost that long. Carlson also singled out “An Evening with the Notables,” which the association took on in 2003 to celebrate the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. The notables were portrayed by leaders in the parish community, such as Leah Chase as Lindy Boggs, Joel and Sandra Chaisson as Napoleon and Josephine, and Harry and Mary Ann Lemmon as Mr. And Mrs. Robert Livingston.

While the the last three decades were filled with fun and enlightenment, Carlson said it wasn’t a difficult decision when it came to dissolving the organization.

“We were running out of money and manpower,” she said. “But new items, new pieces of history will always keep showing up and since the museum is online it can be added to it any time.”

In fact, Carlson expects the board members to continue to see and contact each other, especially when new historical info becomes available.

She thanked all of them, including Chairman Sue Friloux, Treasurer Coy Landry, Secretary Elizabeth Claudet, fellow board members Harriet Williamson, Joan Becnel, Tony Gullage and deceased board members Don Ellis, Colette Lottinger and Marilyn Richoux for all the time and effort they put in over the years.

She added that it’s important to protect and preserve the historical projects the group has undertaken.

“We have asked the parish government to consider continuing our work either by creating an office or department of culture or creating a board of citizens interested in presenting our history,” she said. “We are so grateful for the public’s interest in all of our projects. We know that they would like this work to be continued.”