I've had this nagging question for a while. I knew today was the perfect day to ask it when I opened The Times-Picayune and saw two perfect examples of what I'm interested in: the historic markers about Fort Jackson and Marigny. I've seen these informational "monuments" all over the city and even all across the state. They always have the same Louisiana state emblem at the top, and they are always the same size and shape. And, of course, they're always located at some key historical site. Who was responsible for getting them constructed? Most importantly, how many of them are there, and where are they?
The Department of Commerce and Industry began the official historic marker program that covered the years 1951 to l991. Sometime later, the State of Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation administered the program. Each of the markers -- the last time I counted there were about 400 -- had to be approved. Qualification requirements were strict. A site must have lasting importance to the history of Louisiana, and it must have important historical significance. Local parishes, church groups, and civic associations sponsored many of the markers privately. Once a site was approved, the State Department of Transportation and Development put them up.
All of these markers look alike. They are 30 inches high and 42 inches wide and made of aluminum alloy. At the top are a pelican symbol and an outline of the state of Louisiana. And under the official wording is the name of the group that sponsored the marker.
Since our state is so chock full of historical significance, you will find a marker for just about everything imaginable: individuals, settlements, plantation homes, cabins, cathedrals, forts, camps, battle sites, theaters, dance halls, canals, lakes, bayous, schools, cities and Indian burial grounds. There are markers for the first rock salt mine, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, the largest hand-planted forest, and a single tree, the Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville. One of my favorites is a marker in Shreveport for Fort Humbug where charred logs simulating cannon were used to deter Union forces from attacking. There is even a marker for a one-ton figure of Hadrian, the Roman Emperor from 117-138 A.D. Sculpted from life, the figure came to Iberia Parish in 1961 from Rome via London and New Orleans.
If you are determined to track down all the markers, there is a guidebook that you might find useful: Louisiana, Why Stop? by Marael Johnson is subtitled "A Guide to Louisiana's Roadside Historical Markers."
We recently named our baby Octavia. I was wondering about the origin of the name of Octavia Street.
There are many streets in New Orleans that bear the names of women, especially Uptown. When the city began to move upriver from its first suburb, Faubourg Ste. Marie, many speculating Americans looked with great interest at the land -- 15 plantations in all -- that was eventually sold and subdivided as well.
One of the subdivisions was called Rickerville. It was a four-block, eight-arpent property stretching from Valmont to Joseph streets, and from the river back 100 arpents to approximately Claiborne Avenue. In 1849, the City Bank owned half of the area; however, owners of the other half included Leontine Ricker and her sister Octavine, also known as Octavia, Ricker. So they were honored with street names. The widest street was named for City Bank's president, Samuel J. Peters. But in 1924 the street's name became Jefferson.
The story behind the subdivision is scandalous. Samuel Ricker, Jr., had moved to New Orleans probably from Cincinnati in 1820 to make his fortune. He married Eliza Beale, daughter of the Widow Beale, owner of the plantation. However, Ricker, seriously lacking in ethics, defaulted on debts and cheated just about everyone, even his mother-in-law.
When Eliza died, she left two young daughters, Leontine and Octavine, who eventually sued their father for his mismanagement of their mother's estate. In fact, just about everybody including family, businessmen, tradesmen, and tax collectors sued the unscrupulous Ricker, who by 1854 was a wanted man in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Cincinnati. He was never found.