"Pine and Oak Alley, The Love of a Father"

On the banks of the Teche, on the outskirts of old Petit Paris (St. Martinville, LA), there is an alley of Pine and Oak trees planted by Monsieur Charles Durand...beneath the trees, one of the grandest weddings ever to be held in Louisiana took place. Little did Monseir Durand know that this wedding he gave his two daughters would be relived time and time again in history books, newspaper articles, and magazines for generations to come! Nor did he know, that this "alley" of his beloved trees would become an historical landmark today! A man after his two daughters hearts, left a story to be told, that would touch generations to come! He was a wealthy man, but he shared his love of "extravagance" with his entire Petis Paris community that remarkable night under the Pines and Oaks!

.........A "Collection" of Stories and History ........

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Evangeline" The Song of a Techelander) A.E. Diedonne

(The Song of a Techelander)

by A. E. Diudonne' Copyright 1929

In the beautiful land of the Teche Stream,
place of romance and dream,
There's a story we hear brings a sigh and a tear;
It's a memory year after year.

Oh! Fair was the mil, true was the lad,
That made the story sad.
We wonder and wonder, as we live in this dream,
Oh! What a Queen was Evangeline!

Evangeline! Evangeline!
You live forever on this stream!

The moonlit night, brings us delight,
of you and Gabriel, in your plight;
The same "Old Oak," If it had spoken,
No hearts would ever have been broken.

The Oak's still here,
where you passed near,
Evangline! Evangeline!

Written with Piano Tune Uke, Valse Moderato
(written by our great-grandfather, whose daughter married a descendant of Charles Durand)
Al E. Dieudonne was a composer, songwriter, and later a printer. He opened "The TecheLander Shop" in New Iberia originally to publish his songs and poems. The TecheLander Shop later became known as Al's Print Shop by the banks of the Bayou Teche, which my father, Ron, owned and operated with Albert's son, Al, for many, many years)

Charles' Children

Children of Monsieur Charles Gerome Durand (list is not complete yet)

Children with Amelie Marie Leblanc Durand:
Charles Germone, 1828, Amelie Virginie,1829, Leontine,1832, Constance,1834, Boy Durand,1835, died in infancy, Marie Elmire, 1837, Irma Marie,1839, Marie Rose,1842, Rene Maurice,1845. (Amelie died in 1845)

Children with Eloise Alida Verret: Jerome Oscar, 1846, Marie Charlotte, 1847,died when she was 2 years old, Marie Cecile,1849, Marie Eloise,1850, Marie Philomene,1852, Louis Benjamin,1853 (Charles and Eloise died in 1870)

(list will be update soon)

A Colorful Segment in the Life of Charles Durand I

Traveling up the Teche to a place on the outskirts of the old Petit Paris (St. Martinville, LA) there is another great procession of trees. These lead to no mansion, where there was once a house, there is now only gras and a small history of a planter, two wives, and two daughters.

Monsieur Charles Durand was "an original," in the words of his granddaughter, Mrs. Stella Madere, who rocked in her rocker and told me about it that day. He had his own notions, and not all the Mandame Grundys of the bayou could dissuade him from the smallest of them. He came from France, shortly before 1820, already wealthy; and his first action on arrival were broad ones. He established one of the most extensive plantations for many miles about. He brought scores of slaves. He wanted many trees about him, and he decided to have a long avenue, three miles in extent. Once they began to grow, the alternate pines and oaks became show things of the upper Teche.

Along with the trees, the Durand family waxed. An addition came almost every year, until the children numbered twelve. He, his wife, and the smaller Durands led a spacious life and a mirthful one, for Monsieur Durand believed that wealth was to be enjoyed. Some were certain that, as he sat before his massive desk, he tried to devise ways of spending his riches that no other had ever conceived. He came close to success, his neighbors thought.

He acquire a set of carriages with ornaments of gold, including the harness. The countryside stopped to watch them, glittering in the sun, as Monsieur Durand and all the Durands bowed right and left. He gave orders that the family was to be waked in the morning with sprays of perfume. More and more pleased by this fancy, he installed large supplies and bathed in waters well strewn with crystals which gave off those fine aromas. He suggested that the other Durands follow his example. They did, and they liked it, and insisted that their guests do the same thing. Papa had such gay ideas.

Then the first Madame Durand died, and Papa was as extravagant in sorrow as in everything else. Never would he see the face of another woman without thinking of his poor lost wife, never would he marry again. He swore it for the world to hear and be guided thereby. Daily he went to the cemetery across the Teche and knelt before the tomb. He made his trip in good weather and in bad; when it rained, he wore a covering against the elements. To perpetuate the memory of his grief, he ordered an artist to create an iron statue of him, on his knees, hands crossed clad in his raincoat. At the base was an inscription telling of his oath never to be false to the dear one.

Within less than a year, Charles Durand met a girl whom he liked and was married again. The town tittered. Boys of the area, doing what their elders did not dare do, crept into the cemetery and tossed stones at the statue until the head dropped. Someone scrawled over the graven words at the base: "Do Not Tell Such Lies"

But Monsieur Durand was not one to concern himself with over-meticulous consistencies. His second marraige was as undisturbed, as undilutedly jolly, as his first. Again a child came with every year or so, and again the total reached twelve. His granddaughter said that he had informed everybody: "The number must be the same as before. I cannot be unfair to either lady." There was a man with a delicate sense of rightness of things.

A few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, two of his daughters simultaneously accepted the marriage proposals of members of native Louisiana families. Bayou Teche looked for something unusual from Monsieur Durand for the occasion. Few expected anything like the thing that they experienced.

The planter sat long at that desk, and concentrated, before he conceived his project. He choose spiders for the basis of the ornamentation. One source says that he imported a cargo of enourmous creatures from Cathey. His granddaughter insists that he sent merely to the woods near Catahoula, Louisiana. In any event, they were large spiders, capable of large deeds.

Shortly before the marriage day, the spiders were set loose among the trees in the long avenue. For days the spiders worked, lacing the spaces between the trees with yards of delicate webs. All wondered; would it rain between then and the wedding day, and his efforts melt away? Monsieur Durand was not one to fret over trifles. It would not rain.

It did not rain. On that morning, the planter called his slaves, gave them bellows and supplies of silver and gold dust. Over the long canopy of cobwebs, says the tradition, they spread this gossamer covering. ("It must have been superb." said Mrs. Madere, softly. "So many have they told of it...") Others worked beneath the canopy, laying a series of carpets to cover most of the three-mile passage under the trees. At one end of the avenue they placed an open-air alter; between the trees, at the sides, were tables covered with food, to be served. Bands played from strategic points. The wedding was open to all-French and Americans - up and down the Teche.

Thousands attended and watched. Toasts, dancing, songs, and the giving of gifts continued until dusk. Then up the bayou came a steamboat, to take the two couples on their honeymoon to New Orleans. The crowd accompanied them to the landing, shot off fireworks, and bade the young people good-by; an the four stood at the rail and wave until they were out of sight..........

(little is left of the plantation, but most of the trees remain...Grand-pere Durand died a poorer man, but he remained rich with memories and a life of "fun" for his family and friends....)

John Leonce Durand

John Leonce Durand

In the second picture, John Leonce is seated third.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Costume Exhibit in Petite Paris Museum

To the left of St. Martin de Tours Church, is the Le Petite Paris Museum and Gift Shop. Upstairs houses an interpretive costume exhibit of the Oak and Pine Alley Wedding, circa1870. Must schedule a guided tour with the Tourist Center to view this museum. 337.394.2233

St. Micheal's Cemetary, The Durands


Pine and Oak Alley "Gold Dust Wedding"

Charles Durand

"Gold Dust Wedding"
by Jim Bradshaw

If you follow Hwy. 96 as it winds through the sugar lands to north and east of St. Martinville, you will come upon the remnants of a broad avenue of oak and pine trees that once led to one of the finest plantation homes in Louisiana.

Charles Gerome Durand appeared in this society in the early 1800's. He, or perhaps his parents, brought a fortune from France, and he amassed another one on the sugar plantation he built. It was he who would have 3-miles of oak and pine trees planted that would lead to his mansion, and folks who knew him said he sat up at night trying to devise new ways to outdo his aristocratic neighbors. He usually succeeded, and created a life on his plantation that was as gay and carefree as money could make it.

He traveled in gold-ornamented carriages drawn by horses bedecked in the fanciest of harnesses. His home was ornamented by fine furnishings brought from the continent.

It is said that he gave standing orders that he and his family were to be awakened each morning with delicate sprays of perfume. Liking that so much, he then installed the daily ritual of perfumed baths with fragrant crystals and oils.

There was plenty of family to keep the bath tubs busy. Durand fathered 24 children, 12 by each of his two wives. He is said to have justified his large progeny with the remark, "I could not be unfair to either lady."

When his first wife, Amelie Leblanc, died in December 1845, so goes the tale, the grieving husband swore he would never remarry, and he spent much of his time each day - rain or shine - at her grave side. He placed a statue of himself before the tomb so that he would never be away from it.

But another woman's charms soon erased the sorrow. He was married again within a year, lavishing upon the second Madame Durand, Alida Eloise Verret, the same etravagances he had bestowed on the first.

But all of this was just prelude to the grand gesture for which he is most remembered.

It seems that just after the Civil War, two of the Durand daughters became engaged at the same time: Marie Lucille Heloise Durand to James E. Mouton, and Corinne Marie Philomene Durand to Zachary Fournet. The proud father promised his daughters the most beautiful, elegant, and unusual wedding ever seen in Louisiana.

To fulfill his promise, as the romantic (and perhaps embellished) tale is told, he ordered a million spiders sent from China and sent courier to California to fetch hundreds of pounds of silver and gold dust.

Shortly before the wedding day, the spiders were set loose, and soon had spun millions of yards of delicate webs among the limbs and mosses of the oak and pine trees leading to the mansion. On the morning of the wedding, May 21, 1870, servants armed with bellows filled with silver and gold dust sprayed the cobweb canopy to set it glittering in the sunlight like something from a fairy tale.

Other servants placed elegant carpets beneath the trees, leading to an open-air altar. Tables set between the trees overflowed with rich food and drink, served by as many servants as Durand could muster. Musicians played from hidden spots up and down the avenue.

Two thousand guests attended the marriage ceremony. Toasts, dancing, laughter, and song lasted until dusk, when a steamboat chugged up Bayou Teche to take the newlyweds to New Orleans honeymoons. The crowd shot off fireworks to bid the young couple au revoir. Even the sated folks of Petit Paris were impressed.

The wedding proved to be Durand's last grand gesture. The war had claimed many of his resources. His slaves were freed, his sugar mill seized, his home damaged, much of his wealth and its trappings lost. He died Nov. 26, 1870, just months after the wedding.

During his last months, he sometimes rambled on about money he had hidden somewhere, perhaps beneath the oaks and pines, perhaps somewhere else. He never told where. When he died, one of his sons dug for months beneath the trees, finding nothing.

Over the years, the plantation manor fell into disrepair and eventually tumbled down. The Flood of 1927 washed away what remnants of it were there. Today nothing remains of the grand mansion. The only reminders of Durand's opulent life and death is the mile-long stretch of oak and pine trees he planted.
There is little else there. But, once in a while, in the early morning, when the dew is still bright on the trees and rays of golden sunshine strike them just right, there is a fleeting glimpse down that oak and pine avenue of just what it might have been like that festive day in May, when Charles Durand made his last and grandest gesture!

St. Martinville, LA

Photos by Stephanie Durand and Gordan Copell, May 2010

Bust sculpted by Fred Decourt

Leonce Durand

Leonce Durand, son of John Leonce Durand (picture below)

Leonce Durand was the son of John Leonce Durand and Emiline Marin.

He was born on December 9, 1879 at Gran Bois Plantation in St. Martinville, LA.

He established Pine Grove Canning Co. in 1914.

Products were distributed in 37 states and Canada.

He also developed and cultivated lands for cultivation.

On June 12, 1919, he married Louella Wiltz, daughter of Telesphar Wiltz and Lucie Judice.