DAYS GONE BY: Program chronicles communities

Michael Tortorich
Ira Babin, a native and resident of Oak Grove, gives a presentation on Oak Grove and Hope Villa history at the Ascension Parish Library in Galvez Wednesday night. 
Staff Photos by Michael Tortorich

GALVEZ – It was a trip down memory lane Wednesday night at the Ascension Parish Library’s Galvez branch.

Ira Babin, director of marketing for the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, gave a presentation on two historic communities, Oak Grove and Hope Villa.

Babin, a native and resident of Oak Grove, has worked several years in the tourism industry, beginning as a tour guide at Houmas House when he was 16. He also contributed to the Bicentennial Edition of “Ascension Parish 1807-2007.”

Babin joked he often tells people he lives in a “small community in north Prairieville.”

To be more precise, the north Ascension areas of Oak Grove and Hope Villa are located just south of Bayou Manchac along where Hwy. 73 meets Hwy. 42, east of Airline Highway.

Babin said the two communities were once busy commercial centers.

Oak Grove once had an accredited school for agriculture and home economics where students students from LSU came to learn to grow crops, he said.

While no landmarks remain for Hope Villa to this day, Oak Grove still has a church in its original location, he said. The church building has been replaced.

One structure, the former Puckett’s Trading Post, was moved to the Cajun Village in Sorrento.

Sidney Marchand, a Donaldsonville author, wrote about the area in “The Story of Ascension Parish.”

A post office was established in Hope Villa on March 17, 1873, the second office on the east bank of the parish, New River being the first, Marchand wrote.

The Donaldsonville Chief reported some 100 bags of mail had accumulated at the Donaldsonville post office at the time, leading to a new mail route being established.

Babin said Bayou Manchac, which serves as a rear entrance to the Mississippi River, was a “very popular and necessary route to New Orleans.”

The route encouraged commerce and “put Hope Villa on the map,” he said.

Gov. Huey Long was said to have frequently stopped in the area on his way to New Orleans and shop at local stores for snacks.

The area known as Bullion, which is located on Perkins Road west of Airline Highway, was named after Octavious Bullion. Babin said a model road was installed where Jefferson Highway is and the area thrived.

He said the area was known as “Big Swamp” before it was called Oak Grove. The present-day Swamp Road was a spinoff of the former name, he said.

The local schools of the past were semi-private because the community supported the schools with supplies and donations, Babin said.

The Oak Grove church was established in 1915 on land donated by the Webb family, which owned H.A. Webb and Son.

“Oak Grove School was the pride and joy of the community,” Babin said.

The school closed in 1941 and students were transferred to Gonzales and Dutchtown. Babin said teachers taught for three months without pay.

Ascension Parish Councilman Chris Loar, who represents District 7, also addressed the crowd.

He is working to secure sponsorships to improve the Oak Grove Park and Community Center.

He said the plans are similar to Jambalaya Park in Gonzales.

The plan is to build a sprayground, two playgrounds, a pavillion and a beach volleyball court. All donations of more than $1,000 get an engraved plaque to be displayed on the site as well as a ribbon-cuttig ceremony and check presentation. Individuals and small businesses can donate a tree and receive a commemorative sign at the base. Engraved brick pavers are also available.

For more information, contact Loar at 225-253-1118.

Chris Loar, an Ascension Parish councilman, speaks about plans to improve Oak Grove Park and the Community Center.