by Morgan Ivers, special sections
Ghost stories and slave quarters come to mind when thinking of plantations. But are those legends actual history? And, what are the real stories of these historical complexes?
Laurel Valley Plantation, one of the largest surviving sugar production and manufacturing complexes in the United States, is located right here in South Louisiana and is one of those places steeped in stories.
“Some people have seen what might appear to be a ghost in the store,” says Dr. Paul Leslie, a local historian and history professor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. “There was a person who was killed right here at the end of this counter, with an axe hammer.”
Although at the time of that barroom brawl the store was serving as a bar.
Before the 1930s, Laurel Valley was a world within itself. People lived, worked, worshipped, and died within the confines of the plantation. They could buy supplies at the plantation store, which is still open today, and educate their children at the plantation school. Right from the start, Laurel Valley was different from other plantations because it offered more amenities to the members of its community.
“People tend to associate black workers with plantations, but in fact, for most of Laurel Valley’s existence it had white workers,” says Leslie “The majority of the cabins in the back were occupied by white sugar cane workers.”
The plantation itself has had a variety of owners, but most impactful were J. Wilson Lepine, Sr. and Frank L. Barker. In 1873, they expanded the land to serve as the sugar mill.
“We’ve had a lot of events out here, between slaves, Chinese, Italian, Irish and Acadian field workers,” says Paul Leslie “Each one of those groups had more than enough reason to come back and haunt civilization today.”
And while most locals agree, Alicia Delcambre of Thibodaux says, “but I’m sure if you were to go there with an inkling of suspicion, you’d be sure to have the hairs on the back of your neck stand-up.”
Laurel Valley is a historical representation of the sugar production industry in the deep South. The community around the Thibodaux area needed the resources that the plantation was offering, including the income it was providing. This time is what came to be known as the “sugar boom.” Between 1890-1924, Laurel Valley enjoyed a period of growth and prosperity. Today, there are 76 surviving buildings including a sugar mill ruin, the grinding mill, the worker’s houses, a church, and the store.
Beginning after the Civil War, the towns of Kramer, Choupic, and Chackbay were becoming overcrowded and began running out of jobs. Men used this as an opportunity to come to Laurel Valley to work.
“The plantation consisted of 301 workers, but after WWII we started to have machinery replace the workers and today there are only four,” says Clifton Theriot, archivist and associate professor at Nicholls.
In general, locals around the Thibodaux area all say the same thing when asked what they know about Laurel Valley, “Isn’t that place haunted?”
Of course experts like local historian Paul Leslie say that’s not true.
“A reflection in a window or a gleam of moonlight off the fog can easily convince someone who is looking hard enough that they’ve seen a ghost, especially when they’re surrounded by hundreds of years of history,” says Leslie.
Not that he hasn’t had his imagination tested himself. While working around the shop late at night, strange noises have raised a hair or two on his neck, Leslie said. Especially considering the museum store was once a beer parlor and the site of a brawl that left one man dead. But he remains unconvinced.
Since Laurel Valley Plantation opened in 1830, the experiences have yet to come to a halt as the general store is still open every day, and a small petting zoo visitors can go to. They offer tours of the plantation with historian Paul Leslie and they host an annual arts and craft spring festival.
For more information, look online at facebook.com/laurelvalleyplantationstore where they update their page frequently or call at (985) 446- 7456.