By Emilee Theriot, Staff Writer
Grand Bayou was once the home to a thriving business community including a saw mill, a cotton gin, a broom factory, a moss gin, a country store, a dance hall and a barber shop, according to the Assumption Pioneer and documents written by former resident Hazel Aucoin.
Growing up, Aucoin says she remembers the men doing mostly swamp work. They cut cypress and floated it down the bayou. They dredged canals, so the men could get to work cutting the cypress trees. They used cypress to make crossties, roofing shingles and cistern staves. Some men worked at a dry dock where boats and barges were built and repaired, while other men did carpentry, picked moss for the moss gin or worked for the sugar factory. People hunted and fished, made gardens and milked their own cows.
“In those days moss was in everything, car seats, mattresses, etc.” says Jerry Rousseau, who grew up in Grand Bayou. “The moss business dried up because something better was developed.” Rousseau’s grandfather ran the moss gin that operated in Grand Bayou, where Rousseau said he remembers playing in the early 1940s, once it was abandoned.
The first bridge over Grand Bayou was named La pon Ford, meaning Ford’s Bridge, after the man who built it. Aucoin says there were no gravel or paved roads, only dirt roads. Businesses and the community used waterways for transportation.
In 1953, Aucoin’s husband died at a young age, leaving her with four children to raise. One of Hazel’s children, Nell Naquin said to support her family, her mother sewed and cut men’s hair. She also made wedding dresses and prom dresses.
“Every Friday men would show up from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, to get their hair cut in the family kitchen,” Naquin says.
Dirt roads turned to gravel roads and ultimately paved roads. Grand Bayou’s businesses and workforce changed from cypress cutting and moss picking to retail and other industry.
By the 1940s and 1950s, Grand Bayou consisted of a grocery store, gas station, Priscilla’s restaurant, wholesale seafood business and trucking companies, says June Dupre Bouchereau, a former resident. Dupre’s family owned and operated the Howard J. Dupre Jr. Grocery Store and gas station. The store carried general merchandise like fresh fruit, beans, kerosene, canned goods, meats, soft drinks, beer, bread, brooms and more.
Residents also worked in businesses outside of Grand Bayou. Bouchereau and some of her friends commuted to Donaldsonville to work at B. Lemann & Bros. Department Store. Some of the Grand Bayou men worked offshore while others worked at chemical plants along the Mississippi River. Sugar cane farming was a common business in and around Grand Bayou.
Bouchereau says her Dupré family store—next to the family home—had a porch in front where men would gather.
“It had double front doors with a cash register to the right of where you walked in. There were great big counters to the left and big shelves in the middle, in the back were more shelves and a back door with wooden steps,” Bouchereau says.
In 1954, her father, with help from the community, built a larger store on the other side of their house.
“At Grand Bayou, everybody kind of helped each other build boats and houses,” Bouchereau says.
Tracy Scioneaux, who lived in Grand Bayou from the 1970s to the early 2000s, says her family also owned businesses. Her grandparents, Youman “Buck” and Maggie Albarado, owned and operated the Buck’s Inn restaurant, a popular eatery that closed in the early 1970s. Her father, Edward Scioneaux, operated a number of businesses to support his family of nine. The family had a trucking company, the Three Way Mobile gas station, and also grew and harvested sugar cane. All seven children worked in one or more of the family businesses.
“My parents taught us to work at a young age,” Scioneaux says.
She says her fondest memory growing up was going to the fields at the end of grinding and celebrating her dad’s last day of harvesting with her family.
Edward Scioneaux sold his sugar cane to a local sugar mill. Jason Blanchard’s grandfather, Morris Daigle, worked at the Lula Sugarcane Factory in Belle Rose, La. for 47 years.
“He ran the repair, maintenance and construction at the mill,” Blanchard says.
He says his grandpa was an engineer and created a hydraulic lift to quickly connect and disconnect trucks from the cane trailers among other inventions.
Grand Bayou has seen a lot of changes over the last one hundred years. Gone are the residents and all the family businesses. The once thriving business community of Grand Bayou consists of one local business, a convenience store on the corner of Louisiana Highway 70 and Highway 69. The sugar cane fields and cotton fields are now the site of the Texas Brine Plant and the Dow Chemical Brine Production and underground storage facility.